Coconut

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.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Nut
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a whole coconut before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat coconut?

Coconut may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Even though coconut is botanically a fruit (a drupe to be precise), the United States Food & Drug Administration classifies it as a tree nut, which means it is an allergen by law, even though coconut allergy is rare.1 2

Coconut likely originated in the tropics of Asia and spread around the globe with colonization and trade. It is called the tree of life as the entire plant can be utilized by humans, who turn coconut palms and their fruit into fiber, medicine, musical instruments, shelter, and of course, food. Rich in flavor and full of nutrition, coconut works well in sweet and savory dishes alike, and its use in cooking is widespread. Coconut appears in canjica corn porridge in Brazil, vegetable-packed oil down stew in Grenada, creamy haupia pudding in Hawaii, sweet ondeh-ondeh balls in Indonesia, savory matata with seafood and peanuts in Mozambique, technicolor halo-halo desserts in the Philippines, spiced coconut rice called kiribath in Sri Lanka, and many more beloved dishes around the world. 

Fresh coconuts can be cracked open and consumed straight from the shell. The fresh meat is often processed to make dried coconut flakes (also called desiccated coconut or coconut chips) and other food products. Read on to learn how to introduce fresh and dried coconut—and see our page on coconut milk for more information about the alternative-dairy products made by pressing the fruit’s flesh.

Amelia, 9 months, eats mango with shredded coconut.
Hawii, 11 months, eats mango with shredded coconut.
Julian, 13 months, drinks coconut water for the first time. Coconut water may be introduce after 12 months of age.

Is coconut healthy for babies?

Yes. Nutrient content varies depending on the form of coconut—fresh, dried, or processed into milk, yogurt, oil, butter, flour, sugar, and more—but most coconut products are packed with healthy fat to nourish a baby’s brain and support the nervous system’s development. The healthy fats also provide easily available energy for growing babies, and some are easier to digest and absorb than fats from animal products.3 4 In addition, coconut meat contains plenty of fiber to cultivate a healthy gut and other essential nutrients to help a baby thrive, including copper, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B6. 

★Tip: Whole coconuts in their husks can be stored on the counter for up to one week or in the fridge for up to three weeks. Once the husk is removed and the fruit is cracked open, store in the fridge and use within a week. 

Can babies drink coconut milk?

No. While coconut milk can be a terrific ingredient for cooking food for babies, wait until after your baby’s first birthday to serve it on its own as a drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies should drink only breast milk or formula until the first birthday (and in addition, small amounts of water after six months of age).5 6 For a detailed comparison of plant-based milks and milk alternatives, see our Milk FAQs page.

Can babies drink coconut water?

After 12 months of age. Look for unsweetened brands with no added sugars as coconut water is notorious for having added sweeteners. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies should drink only breast milk or formula until the first birthday (and in addition, small amounts of water after six months of age).7 While a small sip won’t hurt, it’s best to wait until after baby’s first birthday.

Is coconut oil healthy for babies?

Yes, but read the label before purchasing coconut products. They often contain additives and preservatives and are packaged in containers lined with bisphenol A (BPA), which studies have shown can disrupt a baby’s bodily functions.8 9 Choose cans and plastic containers marked with a BPA-free label—and opt for unsweetened products with no added ingredients.

Finally, when purchasing coconut oil, choose brands with a virgin or extra virgin label over refined coconut oil, which is treated with chemicals to remove the aroma—a process that adds potentially carcinogenic substances and eliminates much of the antioxidant benefits.10 11 12 13

Is coconut a choking hazard for babies?

Yes, if you are serving chunks of mature, raw coconut flesh. Young coconut meat is soft and pliable, and should not pose any unusual risk. Shredded coconut and coconut flakes are not choking hazards and may be used liberally. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, to stay within an arm’s reach of the baby during meals, and to check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions below.

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

Is coconut a common allergen?

Yes, and no. Coconut is a fruit, and not actually a nut.14  However, the United States Food & Drug Administration classifies coconut as a tree nut, which means it must be labeled as an allergen by law, even though coconut allergy is rare.15 16 In fact, some organizations advise that individuals with tree nut allergies avoid coconut, even as they acknowledge that coconut can be safely consumed by most individuals with tree nut allergies.17 In the small number of documented coconut allergies, most were not allergic to tree nuts.18 However, in the rare cases when it does occur, coconut allergy has been associated with severe reactions.19

Coconuts and other foods are often preserved with sulfites, which may trigger a reaction with symptoms that mimic anaphylaxis.20 21 Children with asthma may be most susceptible to sulfite sensitivity.22

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 cut coconut for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Mix the soft meat of young coconuts or dried finely shredded coconut into warm cereals and sprinkle on other foods. Coconut oil and unsweetened coconut milk or cream work well as a base for oatmeal, rice, and warm cereals. Avoid large flaked coconut (sometimes called “coconut chips”) at this age as they can be sharp and may cut baby’s gums. 

12 to 18 months old: Continue to mix the soft meat of young coconuts or dried finely shredded coconut into a child’s food and use coconut oil and unsweetened coconut milk or cream liberally in your cooking. If you are feeling adventurous and up for the challenge, break down a whole young coconut and offer small strips of the soft flesh to a child. You may also start to introduce coconut milk or coconut water in small quantities and, perhaps, diluted with plain or filtered water, to encourage development of drinking skills.

18 to 24 months old: Time for hands-on learning! Try serving a bit of diluted coconut water or coconut milk to help your child learn how to hold and drink from a cup. Encourage your child to sprinkle finely shredded coconut on their food by offering a small spoonful on the side at mealtime. If you have access to fresh young coconuts, invite your child try to use a spoon to scoop the soft flesh from one half. And of course, continue cooking with coconut to add lots of healthy fats to your baby’s meal. You may also decide to try serving unsweetened coconut yogurt–a delicious alternative to dairy-based yogurt.

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

★Tip: Finely shredded coconut can add grip to slippery finger foods like avocado and mango slices. If you’re concerned that the pieces of shredded coconut are too large, pulverize in a food processor, grinder, or mortar and pestle to achieve a finer texture.

Recipe: Coconut Mango and Papaya Spears

Yield: 1 child-sized serving

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 mango
  • 1 papaya
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes
  • 1 lime

Directions

  1. Wash the fruit and pat dry.
  2. Prepare the mango. First, cut off a thin slice from the stem end to create a flat surface so that the fruit sits upright on a cutting board, then peel and compost the skin. Next, halve the fruit by slicing along one side of the pit, then along the other side. Store one half and the pit in the fridge for a future meal.
  3. Prepare the papaya. Slice off and discard the stem and flower ends. Cut lengthwise and separate the halves. Peel and compost the skin from one half, then scoop out and discard or reserve its seeds. Store the other half in the fridge for future meals.

Cut the fruit into spears. Sprinkle with the juice of the lime if you’d like to add extra flavor, then roll in the coconut flakes.

To Serve: Serve on a plate and encourage baby to self-feed by trying to pick up the spears. If picking up the food is a struggle, try passing a spear in the air for baby to grab.

To Store: Cut mango keeps in an air-tight container for up to 1 week. Cut papaya keeps for less time—up to 3 days when tightly wrapped in the fridge.

This recipe contains coconut, which is classified as tree nut, a common 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 mint, lemongrass, or makrut lime leaves; citrus like calamansi, lime, or orange; or dried spices like anise, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, pepper, or turmeric.

Reviewed by:

Jamie Truppi, MSN, CNS

Venus Kalami, MNSP, RD

Kimberly Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Sakina Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

Rachel Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Basics for Industry: Section 201(qq). Retrieved December 28, 2020
  2. Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(10), 85. DOI:10.3390/children4100085. Retrieved December 28, 2020
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. Liu R, Cheng M, Kothapalli KSD, et al. Glycerol derived process contaminants in refined coconut oil induce cholesterol synthesis in HepG2 cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 2019;127:135-142. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2019.03.005
  11. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 3-Monochloropropane-1,2-diol (MCPD) Esters and Glycidyl Esters. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  12. Liu, R., Guo, X., Cheng, M., Zheng, L., Gong, M., et al. (2019). Effects of chemical refinement on the quality of coconut oil. Journal of food science and technology, 56(6), 3109–3116. DOI:10.1007/s13197-019-03810-w. Retrieved January 11, 2021
  13. Arris, F.A., Thai, V., Manan, W.N., Sajab, M. S. (2020). A Revisit to the Formation and Mitigation of 3-Chloropropane-1,2-Diol in Palm Oil Production. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(12), 1769. DOI:10.3390/foods9121769. Retrieved January 11, 2021
  14. Library of Congress. Is coconut a fruit, nut or seed? Retrieved January 20, 2021
  15. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Basics for Industry: Section 201(qq). Retrieved December 22, 2020
  16. Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(10), 85. DOI:10.3390/children4100085. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  17. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020
  18. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020
  19. Anagnostou, Katherine. “Coconut Allergy Revisited.” Children (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 4,10 85. 29 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/children4100085
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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