Chicken may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Need ideas for the best first foods for babies? See our guides.
Thousands of years ago, humans domesticated a scrawny fowl that had been running wild in the jungles of South Asia since prehistoric times. From that agricultural innovation came the bird we know and love today. In our modern era, 50 billion chickens are raised as a source of meat and eggs each year. How did the scrappy junglefowl become one of the world’s most consumed proteins? A mix of technological, cultural, and historical forces over centuries have helped ensure a chicken in every pot. Genetic and agricultural strategies have turned the lean-and-mean bird into plump poultry with maximized egg production. These efforts continue today, with lab-grown meat that is spurring conversation around ethics, sustainability, health, and the future of the bird.
Almost the entire chicken can be used to cook delicious dishes, from pâtés of iron-rich chicken liver; to protein-packed stocks filled with collagen from the carcass, feet, and head; to schmaltz, a flavorful fat extracted from the skin. Introducing chicken to babies can be as easy as passing a drumstick—a terrific shape to hold and munch.
Eunoia, 6 months, eats a chicken drumstick.
Kalani, 10 months, eats shreds of chicken.
Zeke, 14 months, eats a chicken drumstick.
Yes. Chicken contains many nutrients that babies need to thrive, including vitamins B6 and B12, iron, zinc, choline, selenium, and vitamin B3. Together, these nutrients help support antioxidant activities, fuel cell energy, create healthy blood, promote a strong sense of taste and smell, and boost brain health. Chicken is also a great source of protein, with the full spectrum of amino acids that help develop a growing baby’s brain, muscles, nervous system, heart, skin, and hair.
There are many labels for chicken. Free-range, organic, vegetarian-fed, cage-free, pasture-raised… What do they mean, and which one is best? Labels can help consumers, but sometimes they can be misleading. Some chickens are “vegetarian-fed”, which suggests a certain quality, but the label often means the birds are eating commodity grains like corn and soy. “Free-range” and “cage-free” chickens have access to the outdoors where they can eat a more natural diet of worms and bugs in addition to plant-based foods. Unfortunately, outdoor space is often limited, and many birds do not venture outside; instead, they remain in their (often overcrowded) grow houses where they eat commodity grains. Even “organic” chickens are not necessarily raised outdoors on a natural diet, though the animals are fed food that has been certified as organic.
Chickens raised on pastures have more nutrients, fewer additives, fewer toxins, and fewer pesticides than chickens raised indoors on grains. The downside is that pasture-raised chicken can be prohibitively expensive.
Bottom line: chicken delivers plenty of nutrients to nourish a growing baby. No label is perfect so do what you can with the resources available to you—and if you’d like, learn more about where and how the bird was raised.
★Tip: Chicken is often associated with food-borne illness from bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter. Taking the appropriate precautions can minimize the risk: Keep chicken in the refrigerator or freezer—and store it separately from produce. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator (never on the counter) and cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) before serving. Always wash your hands and surfaces that come in contact with the raw meat.
Yes. Like all meat and poultry, chicken is a choking hazard, so avoid offering large chunks or cubes to babies. To minimize the risk, refrain from cutting chicken in cubes and instead follow our age-appropriate guidelines. Also, be sure not to overcook chicken as this causes it to be dry and more challenging to chew and swallow. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals.
For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Chicken is not a common food allergen. However, cases of poultry allergy have been reported. Chicken has been reported as a trigger for FPIES (Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome), which results in delayed vomiting with or without diarrhea 2 to 4 hours after the ingestion of chicken meat. While rare, certain individuals with fish allergies may have an increased risk of being sensitive to chicken. Some individuals with known allergy to feather and egg also have positive allergy test results to chicken meat. However, this does not commonly result in symptoms after the ingestion of well-cooked meat, as the allergenic protein is heat sensitive. Therefore, routine testing for chicken meat allergy is not recommended in cases of egg allergy.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity during the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future meals.
It's our opinion that it is best to hold off on serving chicken nuggets due to the high sodium content. After 12 months of age, chicken nuggets are fine in moderation though it would be best to only serve on occasion as they are usually highly processed with high amounts of sodium.
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.
Go big! Serve a whole drumstick with the skin and any loose cartilage, pin bones, and fat removed. Babies love to pick up and munch on drumsticks—and it is fantastic for oral-motor skills. Baby will not likely consume much, and this is okay. If a too-big piece of meat is torn off, give baby time to work with the food before intervening. Babies have innate reflexes to help push food forward and spit it out before it gets far enough back to cause choking. Also keep in mind that chicken drumsticks, depending on how they're cooked, can become brittle and easily breakable, especially at the edges. Cooking chicken for longer periods of time at lower temperatures can help prevent the bones from becoming brittle. We strongly recommend checking and testing the bone prior to offering by trying to bend it and pushing on the edges. Strong, firm bones are the way to go. If the bone breaks easily, crumbles at the edges, or splinters, the risk for bone to break off in baby’s mouth increases.
In addition to drumsticks, you can serve chicken breast sliced into strips about the size of two adult fingers pressed together. Once a baby is able to bite and tear food (around 8 to 9 months of age), try serving thinner slices—about the size of an adult pinky finger. You can also serve ground chicken meatballs or meatloaf at this age as ground meats are soft and easy to mash with gums.
Finely shred or slice chicken into very thin strips or offer ground chicken sprinkled on veggies, pasta, or any other dish. 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? Shred the meat to minimize the risk.
Offer bite-sized pieces of chicken as finger food or let the toddler practice with a utensil. To reduce the risk of choking, refrain from offering chunks of chicken or serving perfectly sized cubes. When you feel a child’s eating skills have developed, increase the size of food by serving a whole drumstick with the skin, pin bones, and loose cartilage or fat removed.
Removing skin from a chicken drumstick.
Removing skin from the knuckle
Take the stress out of day-to-day cooking with our Meal & Recipe Ideas Kit.
3 cups (420 grams)
1 whole chicken
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) olive oil, separated
2 teaspoon (2 grams) dried oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, or thyme (optional)
3 cups (450 grams) carrots, parsnips, potatoes, or root vegetables of choice (optional)
If you are starting with frozen chicken, transfer the meat to the refrigerator to thaw the day before you plan to cook.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius).
Remove any giblets from the inside of the chicken and reserve for another use. Season the chicken with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the herbs.
Wash, dry, peel, and cut the root vegetables into spears.
Transfer the vegetables to a roasting pan. Coat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
Roast until the chicken skin is golden brown, between 45 and 60 minutes. Use a kitchen thermometer to measure the chicken’s internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh: the chicken is done when the temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).
Remove the pan from the oven. Use tongs to tilt the chicken in the pan to drain the juices in the cavity. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes.
Carve the chicken into parts—drumstick, thigh, and breast. Save the carcass and bones to make chicken stock.
Remove the skin and any loose meat or cartilage from the child’s portion and cut into age-appropriate sizes. Cool the meat to room temperature before serving.
Serve: Let baby self-feed with hands. If help is needed, pass a drumstick in the air for them to grab from you or remove the meat from the bones and shred.
To Store: Cooked chicken keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for 4 months. Store the carcass in an air-tight container in freezer to use at a later date to make chicken stock.
Dinnertime fast approaching and all out of ideas? Our dinner guide has 100 baby- and toddler-friendly recipes that are easy to make, each accompanied with gorgeous photos.
Chicken is versatile! The plain meat pairs just as well with rich, fatty foods like almond, avocado, butter, cashew, coconut, peanut butter, pistachio, and yogurt as with nutrient-packed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, pumpkin, purple potato, and sweet potato and leafy greens like bok choy, collard greens, kale, and spinach. Try serving chicken alongside nutty grains like freekeh, Khorasan wheat, quinoa, and rice and mixing in fruits like apple, pear, pomegranate, or pineapple to bring out its sweetness. Chicken can taste pretty mild, so try seasoning the meat with garlic, lemon, or aromatics and herbs like achiote, lemongrass, saffron, and thyme to add layers of flavor.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Speech-language pathologist & feeding therapist
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