When can babies eat chicken?
Chicken may be offered as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months old. Surprisingly, chicken drumsticks, if skinned and any lose fat and bones are removed, are a great first food for babies who are starting solids with baby-led weaning and finger foods. The shape is easy for young babies to pick up and they can get a decent amount of nutrients just by sucking on the meat.
Is chicken healthy for my baby?
Yes—but how healthy depends on the source. Generally speaking, chicken contains a wide range of nutrients, including selenium and all B-vitamins, with high amounts of vitamins B3 and B6. Chicken is also a great source of protein, with amino acids that help your babies build their heart and skeletal muscles. However, there are many types of labels for chicken that speak to the quality of the meat. Free-range, organic, vegetarian-fed, cage-free, pasture-raised—what is healthiest for babies?
When purchasing chicken for your family, look for chicken that’s marked as “organic” and/or “pasture-raised”. Chickens are omnivores who eat a wide variety of fruits, grass, insects, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and worms when they’re free to roam on pasture. Recent studies show that pasture-raised chickens have less fat 1 and oxidative damage; higher concentrations of nutrients, including vitamin A (beta-carotene) and the antioxidant vitamin E; and more omega-3 fatty acids and protein2 than chickens that are raised in overcrowded grow houses.
Other labels can be misleading. For example, the common label “vegetarian-fed” suggests a certain quality, but these animals are often exclusively fed commodity grains like soy and corn. Grain-based diets decrease the amount of nutrients in the meat and increases pro-inflammatory compounds. They also potentially expose your babies to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.3
So “free-range” and “cage-free” are okay, right? Not necessarily. These common labels mean that chickens have access the outdoors, yet most are still raised in overcrowded grow houses on commodity grains. Most chickens never actually venture outside to eat a natural diet.
Bottom line: stick to “organic” and “pasture-raised” chicken, and if you can, get to know the farm that’s raising the chickens that you’re feeding to your babies.
Is chicken a choking hazard for my baby?
Yes. Like all meat and poultry, chicken is a common cause of choking. There are a couple ways to minimize the risk: 1) offer whole cooked drumsticks with the skin and any loose fat pieces removed, 2) pull apart a cooked chicken breast or leg and tease into fine shreds, or 3) cut cooked chicken breast into paper-thin slices. Whichever method you choose, always remove the skin, loose fat, and any loose tendons or bone pieces, and as always, be sure to closely monitor your babies while they eat.
Is chicken a common allergen?
No. Chicken is not a common food allergen. In theory, one could be allergic to any food, and there are rare cases of meat and poultry allergies. When introducing chicken to your babies for the first couple of times, serve a small quantity and watch closely as they eat to monitor for any signs of a reaction.
How do you prepare chicken 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: Believe it or not, whole drumsticks (with the skin and any loose cartilage and pin bones removed) are great first foods as they are easy for babies to pick up and munch on. If a too big piece of chicken breaks off in your baby’s mouth, give your child the opportunity to work the food forward on their own before intervening. If the drumstick is too much for you, try a slice of chicken breast the size of an adult finger and as your baby advances, make that slice thinner in size.
9 to 12 months: Finely shred or slice chicken into paper-thin pieces or continue with chicken drumsticks. At this age babies can get ambitious and start stuffing and shoveling food in their mouths. While a good learning experience, it can be quite stressful. Nervous? Shredding the meat minimizes the risk.
12 to 24 months: Offer bite-size pieces of chicken as a finger food or to practice with a fork. To reduce the risk of choking, refrain from offering chunks of chicken or serving perfectly sized cubes. When you feel your child is ready, you can go back up in size to a whole drumstick, continuing to remove the skin, loose bones, and loose cartilage or fat.
For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.
★Tip: Roasting a whole chicken is easy and feeds the whole family. All it takes is a roasting pan, a hot oven, and 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size of the bird. When it’s done, remove the skin from the drumsticks for your babies, serve the thighs to yourself, and save the rest of the meat for tomorrow. Don’t throw away the bones—simmer them in a pot of water for an hour or two to make a quick and nutritious chicken stock.
Recipe: Simple Roast Chicken
- Whole chicken
- Unsalted butter at room temperature
- Carrots, potatoes, or parsnips (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove any giblets from the inside of the chicken and set it into an oven-safe pot.
- Wedge your finger under the skin at the base of the chicken breast to loosen the skin, then push a little butter beneath the skin and rub all over the breast without tearing the skin off. Continue to work butter under the skin around the whole chicken.
- Peel and chop the root vegetables if using, then scatter them around the bird in the pot. Cover the pot and roast for 60 to 120 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken (a 3 pound chicken might take 60 minutes, whereas a 6 pound chicken might take 2 hours). The chicken is done when the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees.
- Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes. Carve the chicken into parts—drumstick, thigh, and breast—then remove the skin the meat before serving it to your babies.
Chicken is one of the most versatile meats. It pairs well with fatty, rich foods like avocado, cheese, and cream-based sauces; savory foods like celery, onions, mushrooms, and potatoes; and spices like anise, basil, cilantro, rosemary, saffron, sage, and thyme.
- Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products. Eat Wild. Retrieved December 19, 2019 from: http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
- Sales, J. Effects of access to pasture on performance, carcass composition, and meat quality in broilers: a meta-analysis. Department of Nutrition and Feeding of Farm Animals, Institute of Animal Science. Czech Republic. (2014) doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03499. Retrieved December 19, 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24879702
- Smith-Spangler, S., Brandeau, M. et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Stanford Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research. California. (2012) Retrieved December 19, 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875