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.
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 <a href="https://solidstarts.com/foods/amaranth/#recipe">amaranth porridge </a> 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....
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).
Nutritionally coconut milk boasts a good amount of healthy fats—some of which are easier to digest and absorb than fats from animal products. That 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. 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.
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.
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. However, in the rare cases where coconut allergy does exist, it has been associated with severe reactions. Of note, coconut is often preserved with sulfites, which may trigger a reaction with symptoms that mimic anaphylaxis. Children with asthma may be most susceptible to sulfite sensitivity.
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. In the small number of documented coconut allergies, most were not allergic to tree nuts.
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.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
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.
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.
Smoothie time! Use unsweetened coconut cream or coconut milk liberally in smoothie recipes to boost fat and continue to cook with it as desired.
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.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
This recipe contains a common allergen: coconut (milk). While coconut allergy is rare, it is classified as a tree nut by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced. Always check for potential allergens in ingredients listed on the labels of store-bought processed foods, such as coconut milk. Added ingredients may include honey, which should not be given to babies younger than 12 months.
Rinse the rice until the water runs clear.
Place the rice and coconut milk in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
Keep the rice covered in the pot and let it steam for 10 minutes.
While the rice is steaming, peel the mango, then mash or finely chop the fruit.
After 10 minutes of resting, stir the mashed mango into the rice. Use your hands to form the rice into balls about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Set aside 1 or 2 balls for baby, then store the rest for future meals.
Serve the Balls
Offer mango coconut rice balls to baby, then let the child self-feed.
If help is needed, hold the ball in the air in front of baby, then let the child reach for it. Once baby grabs the ball, let go.
Eat a mango coconut rice ball alongside bay to model how it’s done.
To Store: Mango Coconut Rice Balls keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. When freezing, use this method to keep the balls from sticking together: evenly space the balls on a plate or tray, then transfer them to the freezer. Once the balls are fully frozen (about 30 minutes later), transfer them to an airtight container.
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.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Registered dietitian and public health/clinical nutritionist
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