Coconut Milk

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.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Common Allergen: No
Jump to Recipe ↓
An opened can of coconut milk before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies have coconut milk?

While coconut milk can be a terrific ingredient for cooking food for babies as young as 6 months of age, wait until after your baby’s first birthday to serve it on its own as a drink so it doesn’t displace valuable nutrition from breast milk or formula. For a detailed comparison of plant-based milks and milk alternatives, see our Milk FAQs page.

Background and origins of coconut milk

Coconut is a fruit that grows abundantly on palms in tropical climates. Within the hard shell are two nutritious staple foods for cultures around the world: the refreshing water and the creamy white meat. While coconut water is best reserved for toddlers 12 months and up, the meat can be eaten fresh or processed to make coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut butter, coconut yogurt, and more. Learn more—and see our coconut page for more information about introducing fresh or dried coconut meat and coconut oil.

Cooper, 8 months, eats amaranth porridge cooked in coconut milk.
Kalani, 14 months, tastes coconut milk for the first time as a drink.
Mahalia, 16 months, tastes coconut milk for the first time as a drink.

Is coconut milk healthy for babies?

Yes, if used as an ingredient in solid food. Never serve coconut milk to a baby younger than 12 months of age as it can displace critical nutrition from breast milk or formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies should drink only breast milk or formula until the first birthday (and optionally, small amounts of water after six months of age).1

Nutritionally coconut milk boasts a good amount of healthy fats—some of which are easier to digest and absorb than fats from animal products.2 3That said, nutrition varies widely depending on the brand, so read labels closely. For example, canned coconut milk can have different nutrients than boxed dairy-free coconut milk alternatives, which are sometimes sweetened and/or fortified with vitamins and minerals. Some milk is thick because the meat is pressed only once to extract the fruit’s liquid, while others are watery from a second pressing that results in a thinner liquid. Some contain stabilizers like guar gum (a thickener made from beans) to help maintain the liquid’s creamy texture. Other brands are flavored with added sugar to make dairy-free milk alternatives and sweetened, condensed “cream of coconut”—which are very different food products than unsweetened coconut milk and coconut cream.

To complicate matters, coconut milk is often packaged in containers lined with bisphenol A (BPA), which studies have shown can disrupt a baby’s bodily functions.4 5 Choose cans and plastic containers marked with a BPA-free label—and opt for unsweetened products with no added ingredients.

If you are not familiar with the brands, knowing what to expect when opening a container is a bit of a guessing game because there are no global standards to regulate how the products are labeled. As always, read the fine print on the label, choose products with the fewest added ingredients, and pay attention to a recipe’s instructions. Recipes often specify a specific brand and/or the type of coconut product, i.e. “full-fat unsweetened coconut milk” or “lite coconut milk” or “unsweetened coconut milk beverage”.

Coconut yogurt is a popular dairy-free alternative but tends to be low in protein, which is not ideal for babies. (Soy-based yogurt would offer more protein, just make sure you buy an unsweetened.) If soy yogurt is not possible and you are set on buying coconut yogurt, purchase products that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

★Tip: Unopened containers of coconut cream and coconut milk have a long shelf life—two years or more depending on the product. Once a container has been opened, store (ideally in a glass jar) in the fridge and use within 4 days if canned or 1 week if boxed. Alternatively, freeze it in a sealed container for up to 3 months.

Is coconut milk a common choking hazard for babies?

No. Coconut milk is not a common choking hazard, though infants can choke on liquid. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, to stay within an arm’s reach of a baby during mealtime, and to check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions.

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is coconut milk a common allergen?

Yes and no. While coconut is technically a fruit, the United States Food & Drug Administration classifies coconut as a tree nut, even though coconut allergy is rare.6 7However, in the rare cases where coconut allergy does exist, it has been associated with severe reactions.8 Of note, coconut is often preserved with sulfites, which may trigger a reaction with symptoms that mimic anaphylaxis.9 10 Children with asthma may be most susceptible to sulfite sensitivity.11

Some organizations advise that individuals with tree nut allergies avoid coconut while simultaneously acknowledging that coconut can be safely consumed by most individuals with tree nut allergies.12 In the small number of documented coconut allergies, most were not allergic to tree nuts.13

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few times. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How to prepare coconut milk for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Hold off on serving coconut milk as a drink and instead use unsweetened coconut milk or coconut cream as a base for oatmeal, rice, and warm cereals, taking care to thoroughly mix until smooth. You may also try adding a splash of coconut milk to loosen mashed fruits and vegetables to boost fat content.

12 to 18 months old: Use unsweetened coconut cream and coconut milk in your cooking. You may also encourage drinking skills by serving a small quantity of unsweetened coconut milk beverage. If you are up for a kitchen project, make fresh coconut milk by soaking in hot water either dried coconut flakes or the grated the meat of a whole coconut, then pressing through a fine-mesh colander to extract the milk.

18 to 24 months old: Smoothie time! Use unsweetened coconut cream or coconut milk liberally in smoothie recipes to boost fat and continue to cook with it as desired.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

The solids and liquids often separate in canned coconut milk. To combine, simply transfer all contents from the can to a Mason jar, screw on the lid, and shake vigorously. Use the amount called for in a recipe, then use the glass jar as the container to store the milk in the fridge.

Recipe: Coconut Root Veggie Mash

mashed veggies and coconut milk in a bowl

Yield: 1 child-sized serving
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1-2 medium beets, plantains, purple potatoes, yams, or starchy vegetable of choice
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened full-fat coconut milk or cream (from a can with a BPA-free label)
  • 1 pinch ground coriander, ginger, or spice of choice (optional)
  • 1 lime wedge (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash the vegetables, then peel and discard the skin. Chop the vegetable into chunks.
  2. Place in a steamer basket. Add 1 cup of water to the pot. Cover and place on high heat.
  3. Steam until the vegetable chunks are soft and easily pierced with a tip of a knife, between 10 and 20 minutes depending on their size.
  4. Transfer the steamed vegetables to a mixing bowl. Add the coconut milk or cream and the spices and the juice of the lime wedge if you’d like to add extra flavor.
  5. Mash and mix until the mixture is mostly smooth. A little texture is okay as long as there are no clumps. Add more coconut milk or cream if the mixture is too thick. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before serving.

To Serve: Scoop ½ cup or more of the coconut mash into a baby bowl. Portion size if variable; let a baby’s appetite determine how much is eaten. Stick a baby spoon in the mash and encourage the child to self-feed with hands or use the utensil. You can help with utensil practice by pre-loading the spoon and passing it in the air to the baby.

To Store: Mashed vegetables with coconut milk or cream keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

This recipe contains coconut, which is classified as an allergen. Only serve to a child after coconut has been safely introduced.

Flavor Pairings

Coconut is mildly earthy and slightly sweet with a distinctive aroma of fresh fruit, toasted nuts, and vanilla. Coconut pairs well with fellow tropical fruits and vegetables like banana, cassava (yuca), mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, and plantain, but tastes just delicious with produce from cooler climates like beet, blueberry, cabbage, carrot, peach, raspberry, and strawberry. It also works well as a flavor enhancer for chicken, egg, fish, pork, and other hearty proteins. Brighten the creaminess of coconut by seasoning with fresh herbs like basil, dill, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and mint; citrus like calamansi, lime, or orange; or dried spices like anise, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, pepper, or turmeric.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  2. You, Y.Q., Ling, P.R., Qu, J. Z., Bistrian, B. R. (2008). Effects of medium-chain triglycerides, long-chain triglycerides, or 2-monododecanoin on fatty acid composition in the portal vein, intestinal lymph, and systemic circulation in rats. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition, 32(2), 169–175. DOI:10.1177/0148607108314758. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  3. Amarasiri, W.A., Dissanayake, A.S. (2006). Coconut fats. Ceylon Medical Journal, 51(2):47-51. DOI:10.4038/cmj.v51i2.1351. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  4. Braun, J.M. (2017). Early-life exposure to EDCs: role in childhood obesity and neurodevelopment. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 13(3):161-173. DOI:10.1038/nrendo.2016.186. Retrieved October 13, 2020
  5. Pjanic, M. (2017). The role of polycarbonate monomer bisphenol-A in insulin resistance. PeerJ, 13;5:e3809. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3809. Retrieved January 5, 2021
  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Basics for Industry: Section 201(qq). Retrieved December 22, 2020
  7. Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(10), 85. DOI:10.3390/children4100085. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  8. Anagnostou, Katherine. “Coconut Allergy Revisited.” Children (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 4,10 85. 29 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/children4100085
  9. Bold J. (2012). Considerations for the diagnosis and management of sulphite sensitivity. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 5(1), 3–6. Retrieved January 5, 2021
  10. Vally, H., Misso, N.L. (2012). Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 5(1), 16–23. Retrieved January 5, 2021
  11. Vally, H., Misso, N.L. (2012). Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 5(1), 16–23. Retrieved January 5, 2021
  12. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020
  13. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020