When can babies eat asparagus?
Asparagus may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. The long, stick-like shape of asparagus makes for an easy food for babies to grab and hold. Just don’t expect much consumption at first: the vegetable’s fibrous texture can be a challenge for early eaters to bite, chew, and swallow.
★Tip: When shopping for asparagus, pay attention to a spear’s tip and cut end, not its thickness. Fresh asparagus have tightly furled tips and moist flesh at the cut end. Try to choose spears that have similar widths so that they will cook evenly.
Background and origins of asparagus
Asparagus is a flowering perennial that humans have cultivated worldwide as a source of food and medicine since ancient times. The plant thrives in sunny locales, where its young, tender spears are harvested before their skins grow woody and their flower buds (also called asparagus tips) start to open. Some think of asparagus spears as a green vegetable, but there are purple and white varieties, each offering nuanced flavor—some more herbaceous and sweeter than others. Asparagus spears don’t need much in terms of seasoning. The vegetable can be eaten raw in salads, lightly steamed and served with a simple sauce, and grilled or roasted for deeper caramelized flavor.
Is asparagus healthy for babies?
Yes. Asparagus contains lots of folate to promote cell health and amino acid production, as well as vitamin B6 to help children process protein and carbohydrates. Generally speaking, the more colorful the food, the more vitamins and antioxidants within it. Asparagus is no exception: green and purple asparagus contain more vitamin A, plant-based iron, and antioxidants than white asparagus.1 2 3 No matter the color, all asparagus contain plenty of fiber, including prebiotic fiber, to help with digestion and a healthy microbiome.
It is not uncommon for asparagus to cause gas and some intestinal discomfort as a result of its carbohydrates and fiber content, so consider introducing asparagus slowly. Raffinose, a type of sugar also present in beans, whole grains, and other vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, is one culprit.4 Asparagus also contains fructans, which can be difficult to digest for some people and causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea, and other symptoms.5 Lastly, the fiber in asparagus remains undigested until reaching the large intestine, where bacteria digest it through fermentation, causing gas. Start slowly and work your way up.
When shopping for asparagus, opt for fresh when possible. When fresh isn’t an option, opt for canned asparagus with low-sodium and a BPA-free label when possible and rinse the asparagus under water before serving to reduce the sodium levels.6
★Tip: Asparagus spears must be stored in the fridge—either wrapped in a damp towel in the produce drawer or standing upright in a glass of water, like flowers. The nutrients break down within a few days after harvest, so eat them within a day or two after purchasing.
Why does urine smell after eating asparagus?
Consuming asparagus can result in a harmless but strong urine smell. The odor is believed to be caused by asparagusic acid being converted in the body to sulfur-containing chemicals that wind up in urine.7 Not everyone carries the gene that triggers the smell, and some people cannot smell the odor at all.8
Is asparagus a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Asparagus is cylindrical, plus it can be tough to chew. Ironically, the risk can be higher with chopped asparagus as a baby can more easily attempt to swallow a small round piece of food without chewing than a whole stalk, which would most likely be softened and flattened by munching or would trigger a strong gag. To minimize the risk of choking, cook asparagus until soft and halve the stalk lengthwise so that the asparagus is no longer round. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals, and check out the age-appropriate serving suggestions.
Is asparagus a common allergen?
No. Allergies to asparagus are rare but have been reported.9 Individuals who are sensitive to plants in the Liliaceae family (chives, garlic, leek, onion, and shallots) may have an increased risk for asparagus allergy or experience hives or contact dermatitis from handling asparagus.10
As with introducing any new food, start by serving a small quantity during the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future meals.
How do you prepare asparagus for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 9 months old: Offer whole cooked asparagus spears that have been cooked until soft. If you steam or boil asparagus, it may become limp and difficult for young eaters to pick up, so consider other preparations like grilling, sautéing, or roasting. Whole spears won’t yield much in the belly, but they are a fantastic food for building oral-motor skills, specifically tongue movement and chewing. If you’d like to maximize consumption, slice cooked asparagus lengthwise and then chop and mix it into scoopable foods like egg dishes, grain salads, and mashed vegetables. And remember, eating asparagus might give a child’s urine a strong odor!
9 to 12 months old: At this age babies are likely developing their pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet) enabling them to pick up smaller pieces of food. As such, it’s a good time to go down in size from a whole spear to chopped or minced asparagus that has been cooked until soft. To reduce the risk of choking, first halve the spear lengthwise so that it is no longer round and then proceed to cut it into small, bite-size pieces. You can, of course, continue with large asparagus spears for biting and tearing practice.
12 to 24 months old: You have more choices at this age. Try increasing the size and serving a whole asparagus spear to teach a toddler how to take bites and how to chew (or spit if necessary). Or try serving chopped asparagus either on its own, with simple seasoning, or folded into soft foods that are easier for a child to eat. Around 18 months of age, many toddlers are also ready to tackle raw asparagus. Just remember that an asparagus spear’s woody, fibrous texture makes it quite challenging to chew, so expect lots of spitting until closer to age two.
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Recipe: Lemony Asparagus
Yield: 1 ½ cups (225 grams)
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Age: 9 months+
- ½ pound (225 grams) fresh asparagus
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) olive oil
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) lemon juice
- Wash the asparagus.
- Snap or cut off the woody ends. Discard or reserve for another use, like soup or stock.
- Cut the asparagus into age-appropriate sizes or keep the spears whole if you prefer.
- Steam the asparagus until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the asparagus to a mixing bowl. Toss with the oil and lemon juice.
- Scoop some asparagus into the child’s bowl. The exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determine how much is eaten.
- Serve: Let the child self-feed with hands. If you’d like to encourage the use of a utensil, simply pre-load a fork and rest it next to the bowl for the child to try to pick up. Alternatively, pass the pre-loaded fork in the air for the child to grab from you.
To Store: Cooked asparagus keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 2 days.
Asparagus tastes herbaceous with a touch of sweetness. Use asparagus to add brightness to starchy foods like couscous, freekeh, Khorasan wheat, quinoa, pasta, purple potato, sweet potato, and white potato; hearty proteins like egg, scallop, and sardine; nuts like almond, peanut, and walnut; and earthy fungi like shiitake mushroom, oyster mushroom, and white button mushroom. Pairing asparagus with fellow grassy vegetables like artichoke, broccoli, garden peas, or snap peas compliments its slightly sweet flavor. You can also amplify asparagus with tangy seasoning from lemon, lime, or orange juice and umami-rich foods like parmesan cheese and tomato.
- Amaro-López, M.A., Zurera-Cosano, G., Moreno-Rojas, R. (1998). Trends and nutritional significance of mineral content in fresh white asparagus spears. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 49(5), 353-363. DOI:10.3109/09637489809089410. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
- Wang, M., Tadmor, Y., Wu, Q.L., Chin, C.K., Garrison, S.A., et al. (2003). Quantification of protodioscin and rutin in asparagus shoots by LC/MS and HPLC methods. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 51(21), 6132-6136. DOI:10.1021/jf0344587. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
- Maeda, T., Kakuta, H., Sonoda, T., Motoki, S., Ueno, R., et al. (2005). Antioxidation Capacities of Extracts from Green, Purple, and White Asparagus Spears Related to Polyphenol Concentration. HortScience: A Publication of the American Society of Horticultural Science, 40(5), 1221-1224. DOI:10.21273/HORTSCI.40.5.1221. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. (n.d.) Foods that may cause gas. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
- Chong, L. (2019). Should you avoid eating fructans? The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
- Vermeulen, R.T., Sedor, F.A., Kimm, S.Y. (1983). Effect of Water Rinsing on Sodium Content of Selected Foods. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 82(4), 949-969. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
- Mitchell, S.C. (2013). Asparagus, Urinary Odor, and 1,2-Dithiolane-4-Carboxylic Acid. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 56(3), 341-351. DOI:10.1353/pbm.2013.0031. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
- Lison M., Blondheim S.H., Melmed R.N. (1980). A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus. The BMJ, 281(6256),1676-1678. DOI:10.1136/bmj.281.6256.1676. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
- Tabar, A. I., Alvarez-Puebla, M.J., Gomez, B., Sanchez-Monge, R., García, B.E., et al. (2004). Diversity of asparagus allergy: Clinical and immunological features. Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 34(1), 131–136. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2004.01856.x. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
- Tabar, A. I., Alvarez-Puebla, M. J., Gomez, B., Sanchez-Monge, R., García, B. E., Echechipia, S., Olaguibel, J. M., & Salcedo, G. (2004). Diversity of asparagus allergy: Clinical and immunological features. Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 34(1), 131–136. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2004.01856.x. Retrieved May 28, 2021.