How to Serve Meat to Babies
Dust off your slow-cooker and pull out your best roasting pan because today we are looking into how to safely provide meat to babies when doing Baby Led Weaning. No brown purées, no mush and no mess (well, most of the time)!
At around 6 months old, your baby’s iron needs are the highest they will ever be. Meat is not only rich in iron, but it has a special type of iron that’s only found in foods from animals. This type is better absorbed by your baby than the iron found in plants. Meat also has lots of protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and fats. Since your baby is probably not eating a large amount of food at this age, meat is a “bang for your bite” food. Even just sucking on the meat juices provides that precious iron and other minerals.
Before doing Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) with your baby, it is important to proceed safely by contacting a pediatric registered dietitian. Among other things, make sure that:
- your baby is ready and does not start too early
- your baby is sitting at 90 degrees
- you do not place food in his/her mouth with your fingers
- the environment is calm during meals
- you offer the right foods to your baby (always test the texture of the food in between your tongue and roof of your mouth)
- you watch your baby eat at all times
- you contact a pediatric registered dietitian to make sure you are proceeding safely
- you read the warning below
BLW is contraindicated for babies at risk of dysphagia, such as babies who have an anatomic disorder (cleft palate, tongue tie), a neurological disorder (developmental delay, hypotonia, oral hypotonia) or a genetic disorder. Follow-up by a health professional (doctor, pediatric registered dietitian) is necessary for babies at risk of anemia such as babies born prematurely, babies with low birth weight (less than 3000 g), worries related to growth, babies born to an anemic mother, baby for whom cow’s milk was introduced early and/or a vegan baby.
*Cusson and Labonté, Baby-Led Weaning Conference, June 2018, Nutrium, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal
Providing meat to your BLW infant does take a bit of additional care for it to be safe, including the following from Health Canada:
- Avoid meat or fish that is :
- Raw, like sushi or rare steak
- Highly processed like bacon, hotdogs or processed deli meats
- Fried, using breading and unhealthy oils
- Offer meat or fish that has been:
- Cooked at these minimum temps:
- Beef/veal/lamb: 77°C (170°F)
- Pork: 71˚ C (160˚F)
- Ground beef/veal/lamb/pork: 71˚C (160˚F)
- Poultry (pieces): 74˚C (165˚F)
- Poultry (whole): 82˚C (180˚F)
- Ground poultry: 74˚C (165˚F)
- Fish: 70˚C (158˚F)
- Shellfish: 74˚C (165˚F)
- Meat/Fish Leftovers: 74˚C (165˚F); reheat only once
- Checked with a digital thermometer for temperature at the thickest part of the meat (ensure the metal tip is not hitting the bone)
- Properly stored in a ≤4˚C (39˚F) fridge or ≤-18˚C (0˚F) freezer (refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours)
- Made into the right size and shape:
- Pieces of meat about as long as an adult pinkie finger (~2-3 inches long) and that are log shaped work best
- Made safe by removing pointy bones and skin
- Cooked without salt or sugar
- Cooked at these minimum temps:
Buying Your Meat
Deciding where to buy your meat is up to you. Conventional meat, the regular type you’d find at your grocery store, may contain growth hormones and antibiotics. However, Health Canada sets a maximal limit to the amount left in food, which should be below harmful levels. You may choose to buy organic meats, which are those produced without the use of antibiotics or hormones. You may also decide to support local farmers; often small farms cannot afford the organic certification, but do not use antibiotics or hormones in their meat production. At our house, we buy a large animal from a local farm and split it between friends to save time and money. Check out this link for more info about hormones and antibiotics in meat.
When Do I Offer Meat to My Baby?
You can offer meat to your baby any time it is on your menu, so that your baby can be part of the family meal. It is important to offer babies iron-rich foods 2 times per day to help them reach their iron needs. While this does not always have to be meat, it is a well-absorbed option.
How Do I Prepare Meat for My Baby?
You can take 1 lb of ground meat (any meat, so chicken, beef, lamb, veal, bison), add spices and herbs, shape it into meatballs that your baby can easily grab. A 6 month old’s hand movement ability is quite limited and they can’t pick up small pieces of food. They don’t even have the ability to re-position a piece of food in their hands so I found that log-shaped meatballs work best. About the length of an adult pinky finger. That way, the baby will grab the log-shaped meatball and some of it will be sticking out of their fist so they can easily take bites. You can experiment with different shapes like golf ball sized meatballs once your baby gets more practice. You can bake them in the oven at 400˚F (200˚C) for about 20 minutes. Meatballs are super convenient because you could freeze them and take them out when you need them. Check out my minty lamb meatballs for a fancy yet easy meal.
I’m not talking about store-bought sausages because those can be quite tough, salty and might contain some processed ingredients. I’m talking about easy homemade sausages without any casings. You can find my amazingly tasty homemade sausage recipe in my BLW recipe book.
You can make kebabs from ground beef or bison, mixed with your favourite herbs and spices about 4 inches (10 cm) long, thread the seasoned mixture onto a skewer and cook on the barbecue for about 10 minutes.
You can cook meat in a slow cooker or pressure cooker to make meals like pulled pork or stews. Just don’t add salt while you’re preparing the meal because babies really don’t need a lot of salt. Feel free to add salt to your portion!
Meat on the bone
Meat on a bone works really well because there is an integrated handle so babies can get a good grip. Some examples: garlicky chicken drumsticks (recipe in my BLW online course) and grilled lamb chops.
Meat in soup
You can even offer the meat from your soup because it’s usually quite tender. All you need to do is remove the chicken from a chicken soup and offer it to your baby.
The most smooth textured and the highest in iron is liver pâté.