It’s best to wait on introducing bacon until after a baby’s first birthday and even then, serve bacon sparingly. While a small amount here and there is okay once in a while, the preserved meat is packed with sodium, nitrates, nitrites, and potential carcinogens.
The technique of curing meat traces back to the days long before refrigeration, when humans created different ways to keep meat from spoiling – dehydrating, smoking, slowly cooking in fat, curing in brine – all of which impart delicious flavor. The method of curing pork came from China, where people learned to domesticate wild boar and preserve fatty cuts of belly meat with salt. As pigs and meat preservation methods traveled the globe through colonization and trade, the recipe evolved into the different forms of bacon that we know today.
Depending on where you live bacon will look a bit different. In Italy there is pancetta – a salt-cured and dried pork that can be thinly sliced and eaten raw, wrapped around foods, or rendered to flavor dishes. In Canada and Northern Europe, bacon consists of thick slices of the leaner pork loin that have been cured and rolled in ground corn or peas to create a thin rind. And in the United States, the most popular bacon are strips of fat-streaked pork belly that have been flavored with seasonings and cured with nitrates and nitrites, which preserve the meat’s color and prevent bacteria growth. No matter what kind you have available, serve on occasion rather than every day.
Hawii, 12 months, eats bacon for the first time.
Callie, 13 months, tastes bacon for the first time.
Leila, 17 months, eats bacon.
No. First and foremost, bacon and other preserved pork products contain loads of sodium, which you want to limit in a child’s diet. Early and excessive exposure to sodium can prime the palate for salty foods and increase the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, which may contribute to heart disease and stroke later in life.
Bacon and other processed meats also appear to have an association with cancer. Bacon is often smoked, and meat that is exposed to smoke (either on a grill or smoker) may contain additional carcinogens.
Bacon also contains added nitrates and nitrites, which are naturally occurring compounds produced by the human body and plants that may be associated with an increased risk of cancer when consumed in excess. Increasingly in the United States and other markets, “no nitrate” or “no nitrate added” bacon is marketed on food labels, though the language can be misleading. For example, nitrates and nitrites do not need to be listed on the label if the amount is less than the amount that the United States Department of Agriculture requires for cured products. Producers may add naturally occurring nitrates from plants, often in the form of celery juice or celery extract, and while the whole vegetable is a healthy addition to a balanced diet, plant nitrites do not make bacon a healthy choice.
Bottom line: it is best to limit bacon and other processed meats in a child’s diet. The adage “all things in moderation” is a great way to serve bacon and all meats, for that matter. Serving a small amount of bacon occasionally as part of a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods and plants can minimize exposure to toxins and impact on the planet.
★Tip: Do not burn bacon, which can increase the formation of potential carcinogens. Check out our recipe for how to bake bacon!
Yes. Crispy bacon or chewy bacon do have higher potential to lead to choking in a young baby. Crispy bacon can be difficult for a baby to breakdown with chewing, and would likely be swallowed whole, and chewy bacon would also be more challenging to chew. To minimize the risk, wait until after your child’s first birthday to serve bacon and if you decide to serve it, cook until crisp and remove any thick gristle or fatty parts. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of baby at mealtime, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions.
For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Bacon is not a common food allergen, although reactions to bacon have been reported. Some bacon can be considered a “high-histamine” food, which can be problematic for children with reliably diagnosed histamine intolerance.
It’s important to point out that certain tick bites (mainly the Lone Star tick in the continental United States, but other ticks in different parts of the world), are associated with the development of an allergy to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose (“alpha gal”), a sugar which is present in all non-primate mammalian meat. This results in a delayed allergic reaction 3-8 hours after red meat, such as bacon, is consumed. However, some individuals with alpha gal allergy also react to small amounts of the sugar present in dairy products, gelatin, or organ tissues from mammals. Alpha gal allergy is more prevalent in the southeastern United States but is starting to become more common in other areas as the geographic distribution of the Lone Star tick expands.
Although rare, some individuals with cat allergies may also develop a cross-reactive allergy to pork, a condition known as pork-cat syndrome. Pork-cat syndrome would result in an increased risk of allergy to all pork-derived foods, such as bacon.
Lastly, when buying bacon, be sure to read the label: in some cases, bacon may have added ingredients that are common allergens, such as soy.
As you would do when introducing any new food, start by serving a small amount at first. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount served over future meals.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
Avoid due to high sodium and added preservatives.
Limit consumption due to sodium and preservatives and cook until crisp but not burned. At one year of age a toddler can eat bacon as a strip or in small pieces.
How often should you offer solids? See our sample feeding schedules for babies of every age.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (204 C).
Place an oven-safe wire rack on a sheet tray.
Lay the bacon in a single layer on the rack. Leave a little space between each strip so they do not stick together.
Bake until the bacon has crisped but not burned, between 15 and 20 minutes. Cook time depends on the thickness of the meat. Check frequently after the 15-minute mark to make sure it does not burn.
Transfer the bacon strips to a plate lined with a paper towel. Store leftover bacon fat in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
Serve the Bacon
Offer bacon, then let the child self-feed
If help is needed, hold a strip of bacon in the air in front of your toddler, then let the child reach for it. Alternatively, crumble the bacon into tiny bits to mix into mashed vegetables or sauce and let the child practice with utensils.
Eat some bacon alongside baby to model how it’s done.
To Store: Easy Baked Bacon keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. When freezing cooked bacon strips, keep them from sticking together with this method: line a plate with wax paper, then lay the strips in an even layer and place the plate in the freezer. Once the bacon is fully frozen (about 30 minutes later), transfer the strips to an airtight container.
Bacon is packed with salt and umami – a delicious flavor to season grassy vegetables like asparagus, garden pea, snap pea, and snow pea; starchy roots like carrot, cassava (yuca), fennel, potato, rutabaga, and turnip; and greens like bok choy, collard greens, kale, and spinach. Bacon also works as a flavor enhancer for rich meats like beef, lamb, and pork and lean shellfish like clams, crabs, crayfish, lobster, and scallops.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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