When can babies eat clams?
Fresh or canned clams (not cured or raw) are best introduced after your baby’s first birthday. Clams and shellfish in general are quite high in sodium and the meat can be chewy and slippery—a combination that increases the risk of choking. Undercooked clams and shellfish are also a common source of food poisoning.1
On a lighter note, there are many varieties of clams and lots of ways to prepare them for babies and toddlers. Become friends with your local seafood expert and ask a lot of questions!
Clams are a choking hazard and can accumulate toxic algae. The U.S. FDA and coastal state governments monitor ocean waters in the US for toxic algae where commercial shellfish is harvested and advisories are issued as needed, but you should avoid shellfish in locations and countries where algae is not actively monitored.2 Undercooked clams and shellfish are also a common source of food poisoning.3
Are clams healthy for babies?
In moderation, if your baby is 12 months or older. Clams are an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, and minerals such as iron and selenium, yet they are naturally high in sodium, which if consumed in excess, can lead to hypernatremia, a condition of having too much sodium in the blood, which affects the balance of water in our bodies.4 Early and excessive exposure to sodium is also thought to play a role in cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity.5 That said, much of the sodium in clams comes in the form of iodine, an essential ultra-trace mineral that is not only commonly deficient, but vital for a healthy thyroid, which regulates growth and influences the development of your baby’s immune system and brain.
Of note, shellfish can concentrate toxic algae from water and then transmit the poisonous algae to other animals or humans that eat them. Many of these toxins are not destroyed with cooking and, in fact, some can become even more toxic with heat.6 The United States monitors ocean waters for toxic algae and issues advisories as needed, but you should avoid shellfish in countries where algae is not actively monitored.
Canned clams are a great alternative to the freshly cooked shellfish—plus they can be more readily available and affordable. Just be sure to stay away from canned clam chowder (too high in sodium) and read the fine print on the labels:
- Watch the salt. From seafood to produce, canned products often have high levels of sodium. Clam meat is naturally high in sodium, so any additional salt added during the preserving process can elevate the sodium level to a dangerous level for babies who are starting solids.
- Look for BPA-free labels. BPA is a synthetic chemical used to line the interior of cans and plastic bottles that can disrupt your baby’s bodily functions. Look for cans or pouches that are marked “BPA-free” when purchasing clams for a baby.
Fresh clams are purchased alive. Once home, thoroughly wash the outer shells to remove all debris before cooking. A fresh clam is done when its shell opens completely during the cooking process. If a shell doesn’t open, toss it: the clam may be contaminated.
Are clams a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Because clams are round, rubbery, and slippery, they are a choking hazard and must be prepared in an age-appropriate way before serving to babies and children. To minimize the risk, mince or finely chop clams before serving them to your baby.
Are clams a common allergen?
Yes. Clams are a shellfish, and shellfish are among the most common of food allergens. It is also common to develop a shellfish allergy later in life, with as many as 60% of people experiencing their first allergic reaction to shellfish as adults.7 If you have a family history of allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, consult an allergist before introducing clams. As with all new foods, introduce by serving a scant quantity of cooked clams and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
How do you prepare clams 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 12 months old: Avoid due to sodium levels.
18 to 24 months old: This is a great age to introduce clam chowder. Just watch the labels if purchasing canned soup, however, as clam chowder can be exceptionally high in sodium.
For more information on introducing allergens like shellfish, visit our video library.
Recipe: Thick Clam Chowder
- Olive oil
- New potatoes
- Heavy cream or chopped tomatoes
- Bring 1 pound of clams and a couple cups of water to a boil in a pot. Boil for 5 minutes, or until all the clams open. Toss any clams that did not open and remove the opened clams from their shells and place on a cutting board.
- Mince the clam meat.
- While the clams are cooking, mince 1 onion and 1 celery stalk. Heat a pour of olive oil in a skillet and cook the onion and celery until translucent and fragrant.
- While the celery and onion are sautéing, clean, peel and quarter 1.5 pounds of potatoes.
- Add the potatoes to the skillet along with 1 cup of water and a pinch of fresh or dried thyme. Bring to a boil, then uncover and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add in a generous pour of heavy cream or a couple spoonfuls of chopped tomatoes.
- Decision time! From here, you can either transfer the hot soup mix to a blender (make sure to use a device that is built to withstand heat) or use a potato masher to break down the potatoes. If the soup is too thin, boil for a bit longer in an uncovered pot until it reaches the desired thickness.
- Add the minced clams into the soup. Serve at room temperature in a bowl that suctions to the table to help your little one scoop with their hands.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, Oct. 11). Foods that can cause food poisoning. Retrieved February 16, 2020
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, Oct. 11). Foods that can cause food poisoning. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- McGee, H. (2004) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York, NY: Scribner.
- FARE, Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved February 3, 2020