A meal rich in symbolic foods, or simanim, Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful opportunity to model love and connection through the sharing of food at the family meal. That said, holiday meals often include foods that are not yet safe for babies or young toddlers. Here are some tips to safely involve baby in your Rosh Hashanah celebration and joyfully start the new year.
Pay attention to honey at Rosh Hashana celebrations. While honey is key in many Rosh Hashanah celebrations, symbolizing the sweetness and goodness of the coming year, honey is not safe to share with babies. It can contain Clostridium botulinum, spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but potentially fatal illness to which babies under 12 months of age are most vulnerable. When cooking dishes, omit sweeteners or use maple syrup or sugar. If you are a guest, ask which dishes have honey added and avoid those for baby.
Like many holidays, Rosh Hashanah dishes often include common choking hazards that should be modified for babies or avoided entirely. Dried fruit, like dates and raisins, are challenging to chew and best avoided for babies unless rehydrated and finely chopped. Nuts like almonds and walnuts pose a high choking risk and are common allergens; make sure to finely crush all nuts and seeds and consider removing them if the allergens have not been safely introduced. For information on how to cut and serve particular foods for babies, search for each food in our free First Foods database.
Tips for baby’s first Rosh Hashanah dinner
- Avoid offering baby anything with honey. Rosh Hashanah dishes that often contain honey include challah, tsimmes, carrot coins, and cakes.
- Watch out for allergens and choking hazards. Nuts play a large role in Rosh Hashanah dinners. Crush all nuts until they resemble a fine powder. Hold off introducing new nuts to your baby on the holiday to avoid a potential allergic reaction in the middle of the celebration.
- Don’t worry about sodium for one or two nights. One higher-in-sodium-than-normal meal or day isn’t going to make much of a difference, and you can always offset any increased sodium intake by offering fresh foods made at home for the rest of the week.
- Bring baby to the table. Take the tray off the high chair and bring it to the table so baby can be part of the family experience.
- Manage your expectations. Big celebratory meals can be overwhelming for babies, which can impact how much they eat. Serve or bring some foods you know baby enjoys and focus on the experience and memories rather than consumption.
- Use a straw cup at the table to minimize spills and mess. If baby has yet to learn to use a straw, see our page on cup drinking for some quick tips and videos. Most babies learn to use a straw cup in less than a day.
- If you are a guest, bring a splat mat (or two!), an extra set of clothes, wipes, baby’s cup and plate, and baggies for soiled bibs and clothes.
- If you are a guest, prepare your host for the mess and request that the high chair is placed away from foot traffic, so any discarded or thrown food is not in the main pathway. Alternatively, place baby on your lap and keep a napkin under their bottom to protect your clothes.
- If food is served off-schedule and you have a baby who doesn’t adapt well to schedule changes, feed baby on their normal schedule with the foods you brought. When the meal is served, bring baby to the table when everyone else eats and offer baby a toy or utensil to teethe on. Optionally, offer baby a lamb shank bone, which is fantastic for mapping the mouth and advancing oral motor skills.
- Take photos early, when everyone is happy and clean! A tired or hangry baby does not make for a cute photo.
Apples are an essential part of many Rosh Hashanah celebrations, but this sweet, symbolic fruit is also a common choking hazard. To share with young babies, serve a cooked apple half with the core, seeds, and skin removed. Alternatively, mash the cooked apple into applesauce that baby can self-feed with their hands or a pre-loaded spoon. For a complete list of foods that are unsafe for babies, see our guide 25 Foods Never to Feed Your Baby
Messy but delicious and nutritious, beets can be shared with babies. Cook the whole beet until completely soft and easily pierced with a knife, then peel and discard the skin. If the beet is very large, you can serve it whole, in halves, or in large quarters. If the beet is smaller (like many pre-packaged beets), you may want to mash or grate for baby.
Beef brisket may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids. At this stage, babies need lots of iron, protein, and zinc, and brisket delivers plenty of these essential nutrients. Bonus: Tough cuts of meat like brisket are relatively simple to prepare in advance using a pressure cooker or slow cooker.
Commonly served as part of many Jewish holidays, challah is sometimes made in a round shape for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the cycle of one year ending and another beginning. Just be sure the bread does not contain honey and if baking your own, consider reducing the sugar content and making it a little extra toasty to reduce the risk of choking.
The beginning of the new year is often identified as the “head” of the year. As a symbolism for leadership and strength for the new year, Rosh Hashanah celebrations often feature a fish head or a whole fish with the head intact. While the fish head has textures that are too challenging for babies to chew, many fish are healthy and delicious parts of the meal to share with babies. Just be sure to remove any lingering bones. Look up the specific fish you’re serving in our free First Foods database for more guidance.
Gourds and squashes
From acorn squash to kabocha squash to pumpkin and many more, there are many gourds to choose from and many ways to cook them. As long as they are cooked, almost any size works—offer squash in handles or spears that have been cooked until very soft, with any skin and seeds removed.
Babies can share this traditional noodle pudding, but make sure you know what’s inside it before serving. Some varieties contain raisins and walnuts, both choking hazards for babies. Make sure baby’s portion isn’t too hot and break off any noodle pieces that are charred or sharp to ensure baby doesn’t hurt their mouth.
Often served in patties like keftes de prassa, leeks are a common part of many Rosh Hashanah meals. Leek patties, as long as they are large and soft, can be offered whole to young babies to munch on. While a dish like this is often higher in sodium than is ideal for babies, remember that one higher sodium meal in the context of a whole day or week is not a problem and won’t hurt baby.
Pomegranate seeds or arils are packed with nutrition and tart, sweet flavor, but their round shape can pose a choking risk to babies under 12 months of age. To share with baby, crush or flatten the arils with the back of a spoon or between your thumb and forefinger.
Sweet root vegetables (like carrot and sweet potato) are stewed with dried fruit (like dates and raisins) to symbolize hope for a sweet and prosperous new year. If you plan on sharing tzimmes with baby, cook with sugar or maple syrup instead of honey, or skip the added sweetener entirely. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables are great foods for babies—just make sure they are cooked until completely soft and cut into sizes appropriate for baby’s age. If the tzimmes has dried fruit, make sure it has fully softened and rehydrated in the cooking process, then finely chop.
Lastly, know that holiday meals can be overwhelming for babies and toddlers—and their caregivers!—so manage expectations accordingly. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t eat much or if they only focus on one or two foods. This is normal. Focus on what matters the most during the holiday and let the rest go.