When can babies eat bulgur?
Bulgur may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Bulgur—often called “bulgur wheat”—is a form of wheat, which is a common allergen. As with other forms of wheat, bulgur contains gluten and is therefore not safe for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Where does bulgur come from?
Bulgur is one of the world’s first convenience foods. The quick-cooking grain originated in the fertile lands east of the Mediterranean Sea, where humans first learned to cultivate wild wheat grasses. Bulgur is traditionally made from durum wheat, but freekeh, Khorasan wheat (kamut), and farro can also be used. To make bulgur, grains are processed into groats, then parboiled, dried, ground, and sifted to separate the different sizes of cracked grain, from finely ground (sometimes labeled #1) to extra coarse (labeled #4). Bulgur is widely grown in Turkey, where it is a staple food, but the plant is also cultivated in India and Pakistan, where adai (crepe), biryani (pilaf), kheer (sweet pudding), and upma (porridge) are sometimes made with bulgur instead of rice.
Is bulgur healthy for babies?
Yes. Bulgur offers plenty of carbohydrates, plus some protein and more fiber than many other grains. Milled and cut from whole wheat berries, bulgur is typically considered a whole grain and, as such, is more nutrient-dense than refined wheat products, offering many B vitamins in addition to iron, magnesium, zinc, as well as some antioxidants and phytochemicals.1 2
Soaking then cooking bulgur improves nutrient absorption.3 If you have time to soak bulgur before cooking, that’s great! Otherwise, don’t worry—soaked or unsoaked, bulgur provides plenty of benefits as part of a varied diet.
★ Tip: Purchasing bulgur in bulk is typically more affordable, and bulgur keeps well in an air-tight container, away from light and moisture.
Can babies eat gluten?
Yes—if a child does not have an allergy to gluten-containing grains, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a type of protein in wheat and other grains such as barley, rye, and triticale, and can also be present in certain kinds of oats. Gluten is fine to consume, but it becomes problematic for individuals with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects an estimated 1-2% of the Western world.4 When an individual with celiac disease consumes food with gluten, the small intestine becomes damaged.5 6 7 Some individuals may be sensitive to gluten but may not have a wheat allergy or celiac disease – this reaction may be non-celiac gluten sensitivity (not generally common in babies and toddlers). However, gluten-containing grains can also contain carbohydrates like fructans that are difficult for some individuals to digest, which can be mistaken for allergies or intolerance to gluten.
Is bulgur a common choking hazard for babies?
No, cooked bulgur does not pose a high choking risk, though in theory an individual can choke on any food. As bulgur grains are quite small, they are unlikely to be a true choking hazard, but they do pose an aspiration risk—when a small grain accidentally enters the trachea while baby eats. The body coughs reflexively when this occurs, protecting the airway. To reduce the risk, never place foods like bulgur into a baby’s mouth, as aspiration risk is significantly lowered when babies self-feed. To minimize the risk, break up any large clumps of cooked bulgur. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and 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 bulgur a common allergen?
Yes. Bulgur is made from wheat and wheat is one of the most common food allergens in children.8 Fortunately, two-thirds of children outgrow the allergy by their 12th birthday.9 Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen food allergy syndrome) may be sensitive to wheat, particularly those who are allergic to grass pollen. In some cases, patients with pollen food allergy syndrome develop bloating and abdominal discomfort after consuming increased quantities of wheat.
While rare, some individuals have a condition known as wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which can result in a severe allergic reaction if the person exercises within a few hours after eating wheat. These patients should avoid eating wheat in the four hours before strenuous activity.10
Wheat and other wheat products have been reported as a trigger of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, also known as FPIES.11 12 13 FPIES is a rare and delayed allergy to food protein which causes the sudden onset of repetitive vomiting and diarrhea to begin a few hours after ingestion of the food trigger. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration.14 15 Fortunately, most cases resolve completely during childhood. To learn more about FPIES, read our post on Food Allergens and Babies.
Bulgur, as a type of wheat, does contain gluten. It is important to note that wheat allergy is not the same as celiac disease. While a wheat allergy may be outgrown, celiac disease requires a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet and lifestyle.16 A gluten “allergy” is typically a misnomer, often in reference to celiac disease.17
If you are concerned that your baby may be allergic to wheat, talk to your baby’s doctor before introducing bulgur at home. As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings and watch closely for any signs of an allergic reaction. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future servings.
Can bulgur help babies poop?
Yes. Bulgur offers good amounts of fiber, as well as resistant starches and other qualities that, in combination with a balanced and varied diet, can help support overall digestive health and bowel regularity.18 Resistant starches “resist” typical digestion and instead travel to the large intestines, where they feed beneficial gut bacteria.19 20 21 Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.
How do you introduce bulgur to babies with baby-led weaning?
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.
6 to 9 months old: Once wheat is introduced and ruled out as an allergen, use fine bulgur to make porridge, which can be an excellent vehicle for new flavors: your favorite spices, mashed fruits and vegetables, or finely ground-up nut, for example. To serve coarse bulgur as finger food, mix the cooked grains into large, soft meatballs, fritters, or pancakes—shapes that are easier for baby to grab.
9 to 12 months old: Continue to serve bulgur porridge, fritters, pancakes, or meatballs. At this age, offering foods like pancakes and meatballs cut into bite-sized pieces allows baby to practice their developing pincer grasp. You may also offer bulgur on its own or as part of a grain salad, but if baby needs help picking up the tiny grains, try mixing the bulgur salad with a soft, scoopable food like mashed vegetables or yogurt. Remember, never put bulgur into a baby’s mouth. Flattening the grains with a fork can make them easier for baby to self-feed.
12 to 24 months old: Continue serving bulgur in pancakes, patties, porridge, and meatballs, as well as bulgur on its own or as part of a grain salad. Coarse bulgur also helps thicken curries, soups, and stews, which can make it easier for toddlers to practice using a spoon. If the child is not interested in using a spoon, keep in mind that using utensils can be exhausting for new eaters, and many children toggle back and forth between feeding themselves with their fingers and utensils. Try not to apply too much pressure—consistent and accurate utensil use will come in due time—probably between 18 and 24 months of age.
Babies need variety, just like the rest of us, so get some new ideas from our 75 Lunches for Babies & Toddlers.
What are recipe ideas for cooking with bulgur?
Bulgur works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but how you prepare the grain depends on what type you have. Coarser bulgur works well as a substitute in recipes that call for couscous or rice. You can also mix it with herbs to make a stuffing for bell peppers, eggplant, portobello mushrooms, or squash. If you’ve got time to bake, experiment with coarser bulgur in pancakes, muffins, and breads. Bulgur works well in pilafs (grain salads) like tabbouleh mixed with ingredients like lemon, mint, tomato, and parsley. Because fine bulgur helps bind foods, you can use it in meatballs or kibbeh—a paste of meat, vegetables, and grains that is shaped and seasoned in hundreds of ways across the Mediterranean region.
★ Tip: To prepare coarse bulgur, pour boiling water over the grains and let them steep on the countertop for about 1 hour. Alternatively, simmer the grains in boiling water on the stovetop for about 15 minutes. The grains are ready when they are soft and chewy.
Recipe: Baked Lamb Kibbeh (Meat Patties)
Yield: 8-10 slices
Cook Time: 2 hours
Age: 6 months+
- 1 ½ pounds (680 grams) ground lamb
- 1 cup (140 grams) fine bulgur
- 2 large onions
- ½ cup (68 grams) pine nuts
- 2 teaspoons (6 grams) salt (optional: 12 months+)
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon (½ gram) ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil
- ½ cup (114 grams) plain yogurt per person
This recipe contains common allergens: dairy (yogurt) and tree nut (pine nut). Yogurt may include coconut, soy, or other common allergens. Be sure to check the ingredient list on the label and only serve to a child after any allergens have been safely introduced. Avoid yogurt with honey, which should not be given to babies under 12 months of age.
Prepare the Ingredients
- Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator before you plan to cook.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).
- Rinse the bulgur, then place it in a large bowl.
- Add cold water to cover the bulgur by 1 inch. Soak for 20 minutes, then drain.
- Prepare the vegetables, nuts, and spices while the bulgur is soaking. Peel and finely chop the onions. Toast and finely grind the nuts. Whisk the spices together in a bowl, holding the salt for babies under 12 months of age.
Prepare the Filling
- Warm 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of oil in an ovenproof skillet set on medium heat. A 12-inch cast-iron skillet works well in this recipe, but you can use whatever ovenproof skillet you have on hand. Just make sure it is large enough to fit all the ingredients, as you will use the skillet to bake the kibbeh.
- When the oil shimmers, add half of the finely chopped onion, then stir to coat. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 30 minutes.
- Add ½ pound (227 grams) of the ground lamb to the skillet and use a sturdy utensil to break apart the meat into small crumbles. Stir to coat the meat in the caramelized onions, then increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has browned and fully cooked, about 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle half of the spices over the meat-onion mixture, then stir to combine. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then turn off the heat. Stir in the finely ground pine nuts.
- Place a colander over a bowl, then scrape the mixture into the colander so excess oil drains from the meat mixture. Let the mixture cool while you prepare the dough.
Prepare the Dough
- A food processor speeds up this step, but if you do not have one, you can make the dough by hand.
- Combine the drained bulgur, the remaining 1 pound (454 grams) of ground lamb, the remaining finely chopped onion, and the remaining spices in the food processor or a mixing bowl.
- Blend the ingredients until smooth. If you are making the dough by hand, start by mixing and mashing the ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Once the ingredients are fully incorporated, add a splash of ice water and use the spoon to beat the water into the dough.
- The dough should be smooth and spreadable—like a paste. If the dough seems too dry, stir in more ice water until it reaches the desired consistency. If the dough is too wet, stir in a spoonful of flour.
Assemble and Bake the Kibbeh
- Wipe out the skillet that you used to cook the lamb. You’ll use it to assemble the kibbeh. Grease the skillet with the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of olive oil.
- Scoop half of the dough into the skillet, then use clean hands to press the dough to evenly cover the bottom of the skillet.
- Scoop the filling on top of the dough, and spread to evenly cover the skillet.
- Scoop the remaining dough on top of the filling, then use your hands to press the dough to evenly cover the filling.
- Bake the kibbeh until the top is golden, about 30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes.
Serve the Kibbeh
- For baby, cut the kibbeh into a strip about the size of two adult fingers pressed together and set aside with some yogurt. Serving size varies. Let a child determine how much to eat. Let the kibbeh cool until warm, not hot.
- If you omitted salt from the dough and filling, season wedges of kibbeh for adults and older children with salt to taste.
- Serve kibbeh as finger food for baby and let the child try to self-feed. If help is needed, pass a piece of kibbeh in the air for baby to grab or crumble it into pieces and stir the pieces into the yogurt.
To Store: Baked Lamb Kibbeh keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
J. Truppi, MS, CNS. Certified Nutrition Specialist®
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC. Pediatric Feeding Therapist
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist
Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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