Beef Liver

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: No
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When can babies eat beef liver?

Beef liver may be introduced as soon as baby is ready for solids, which is typically around 6 months of age, although it is better to wait until baby is older. Why? Because beef liver contains extremely high amounts of vitamin A, which babies need for their developing immune systems, eyes, and skin, yet can be toxic if consumed in excess.1 For this reason, beef liver should only be served in very small quantities (no more than 1 teaspoon per serving, no more than 1-2 times per week). Chicken liver is a great option for babies 6 months and older.

Warning

Beef liver has exceedingly high levels of vitamin A, an essential nutrient that can be toxic when consumed in excess.2 For this reason, take care to limit the serving size and frequency: no more than 1 teaspoon per serving, no more than 1-2 times per week.

About beef liver

Liver (from cow, chicken, fish, and many more animals) is one of the most nutritious meats we can eat. This vital organ purifies toxins and processes vitamins and minerals during digestion, passing some to fuel bodily functions and storing others for energy. People often love or hate liver for its distinctive taste—an intense minerality that pairs well with sweeter vegetables and fruits. Beef liver and onions is a dish prepared across the globe, the sweetness of the caramelized onions complementing the earthiness of the liver. But there’s no need to stop at onions! In dishes from various cultures, beef liver is also cooked with tomato sauce, boiled bananas, or even caramelized peaches to achieve a similar balance of sweet and savory.

Zuri, 10 months, gums on a slice of beef liver.
Adie, 12 months, works with a slice of tough beef liver.

Is beef liver healthy for babies?

Yes, in very small amounts. Beef liver is incredibly nutrient rich, including amino acids to build new proteins, zinc for immune system support, selenium for thyroid function, and choline for brain health, as well as vitamin B12 and folate for healthy neurodevelopment. It also contains plenty of iron, though only about half as much as chicken liver.

What makes beef liver nutritious is its dense combination of all of these essential nutrients, many of which are often low in the diets of infants and toddlers.3 4 However, beef liver has extremely high levels of vitamin A (2.5 times more than chicken liver), and despite vitamin A being an essential nutrient, too much can be extremely toxic and can lead to irritability, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and more.5 6 7 For that reason, limit offerings of beef liver to once – and no more than twice – per week and serve small quantities of no more than 1 teaspoon at a time.8 If that is challenging to keep track of, consider avoiding beef liver entirely. If taking a multivitamin or any other supplements, children may already be receiving adequate or excessive vitamin A, so be sure to talk to your pediatric health professional for further guidance.

While a key role of the liver is to filter toxins, it turns out that, just like other parts of the animal, the liver can accumulate metals, pesticides, and other contaminants from the animal’s environment. Further, liver stores minerals – including heavy metals, the levels of which vary greatly – and can be toxic when consumed in excess.9 Studies show that chicken liver contains some of the lowest amounts of these metals.10

Note: Sometimes, liver is packed with the gallbladder, a greenish organ that stores a digestive fluid called bile. Keep it or discard it—you decide. The gallbladder and bile are edible, add bitterness to food (a notable flavor in some cuisines, particularly in South Asia and in some Native American tribes), and sometimes serve as medicine.11

★Tip: Beef liver is typically sold by the pound. If you purchase an entire liver, you will surely have leftovers – you won’t use it all of it at once because you’re limiting the amount served to baby. Instead, cut into sizes that are more suitable for your needs, then freeze whatever you don’t plan to prepare right away. Alternatively, ask your local butcher to cut liver into smaller sections, and buy only what you need.

Is beef liver a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Beef liver is a potential choking hazard due to its tough and chewy consistency. To minimize the risk, consider making a homemade pâté or finely chop beef liver and add to other foods. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals.

For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is beef liver a common allergen?

No. Allergies to beef liver are rare, although it is not unheard of.12 There is a type of allergy that can develop when a person is bitten by the Lone Star tick, which puts a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the person’s body, which then triggers an allergic response when red meat is consumed in certain people.13 Individuals with a dairy allergy may have an increased risk of being sensitive to beef, although this is uncommon.14

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings and watch closely as baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the serving size over time.

Which is best for babies: chicken liver or beef liver?

Chicken liver. While both chicken and beef liver are suitable for babies when offered in small quantities, chicken liver is almost twice as rich in iron per serving and is a bit more tender and, therefore, easier for babies to chew than beef liver. Also, beef liver is much higher in vitamin A than chicken liver.15 16 This is important because vitamin A is toxic in excess.17

How do you introduce beef liver for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Cook beef liver until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) before serving.18 Once cooked, blend the liver with a healthy fat like butter, olive oil, or water to serve as a spread. Take care to limit the amount offered to 1 teaspoon per serving, no more than 1-2 times per week to minimize the risk of vitamin A toxicity. Try serving liver with a sweet fruit like stewed apple or pear or offer a teething rusk or a baby spoon with a small amount of beef liver pate.

9 to 12 months old: This is a great age to offer thin slices or bite size pieces of cooked beef liver as finger food as around this age babies develop a pincer grasp, enabling them to pick up smaller pieces of food. Of course, you can also continue with blending liver into a homemade pâté to spread on thin rice cakes or strips of toast. Explore adding onions, rosemary, and other savory spices.

12 to 24 months old: Offer slices or bite size pieces of liver on its own as a finger food (the exact size of the slice or piece does not matter as much at this age) or continue to offer homemade pâté liver on toast or thin rice cakes. At this age you can also offer store bought pâté, though keep tabs on overall sodium intake.

★ Learn more about how much salt babies can have on our Sodium FAQ page.

Recipe: Beef Pâté Patties

eleven meat patties on a white background

Yield: 12 patties
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Age: 6+ months

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (.45 kilograms) ground beef (preferably 80/20%)
  • 2 ounces (56 grams) beef liver, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons (29 milliliters) yellow onion, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) garlic powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Make 12 very thin burger patties and place them on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until cooked through. Let the patties cool before serving.
  5. Serve: Offer a maximum of 1 patty per serving no more than 1-2 times per week. You can offer the patty whole or cut the patty into long strips and hand them to the baby on their tray or in the air. Try offering the patties with a sugar-free ketchup, mayonnaise, or mustard. For babies with a pincer grasp, you can also cut the patty into small bite size pieces.

To Store: Allow the patties to cool completely, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Alternatively, wrap each patty individually in plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Flavor Pairings

Beef liver comes together nicely with other ground red meats, such as lamb, cow, bison or wild game, and pairs well with butter, onions, shallots, rosemary and thyme, garlic, and pomegranate, all of which can go into the pan while the liver is sautéing.

Reviewed by

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 & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Johnson, L. E. (2020). Vitamin A toxicity. Merck Manual Professional Version. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  2. Johnson, L. E. (2020). Vitamin A toxicity. Merck Manual Professional Version. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  3. Hilger, J., Goerig, T., Weber, P., Hoeft, B., Eggersdorfer, M., Costa Carvalho, N., Goldberger, U., & Hoffmann, K. (2015). Micronutrient Intake in Healthy Toddlers: A Multinational Perspective. Nutrients, 7(8), 6938–6955. DOI: 10.3390/nu7085316. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  4. Schwarzenberg, S. J., Georgieff, M. K., & COMMITTEE ON NUTRITION. (2018). Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics, 141(2), e20173716. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-3716. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2020). Beef liver, fried. FoodData Central. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  6. National Institutes of Health. (2021). Vitamin A. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  7. Johnson, L. E. (2020). Vitamin A toxicity. Merck Manual Professional Version. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  8. NHS. (2018). Meat in your diet. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  9. European Food Safety Authority. (2018). The 2016 European Union report on pesticide residues in foodEFSA Journal, 16(7), e05348. DOI:10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5348. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  10. Kicińska, A., Glichowska, P., & Mamak, M. (2019). Micro- and macroelement contents in the liver of farm and wild animals and the health risks involved in liver consumptionEnvironmental monitoring and assessment, 191(3), 132. DOI: 10.1007/s10661-019-7274-x. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  11. Wang, D.Q., Carey, M.C. (2014). Therapeutic uses of animal biles in traditional Chinese medicine: an ethnopharmacological, biophysical chemical and medicinal reviewWorld journal of gastroenterology, 20(29), 9952–9975. DOI:10.3748/wjg.v20.i29.9952. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  12. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019). Alpha-gal and red meat allergy. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  13. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019). Alpha-gal and red meat allergy. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  14. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019). Meat allergy. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  15. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2020). Beef liver, fried. FoodData Central. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  16. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2020). Chicken liver, pan-fried. FoodData Central. Retrieved August 14, 2021.
  17. Vitamin A. (2020, November 4). LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  18. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). What is the safe temperature to cook organ meat? Ask USDA. Retrieved May 27, 2021.