Collard Greens

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 ↓
a bunch of collard greens before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat collard greens?

Collard greens may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. 

Collard greens are a leafy type of brassica—the plant family that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, gai lan, kale, and romanesco. An ancient crop with roots in Eastern Europe and Western Asia, collards (as they are often called) are a staple food in regions around the world, from Africa to the Caribbean Islands to Great Britain to India, but the greens hold a special place in the culinary history of the American South.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, collards were often cultivated by white Americans and by enslaved people of African descent with expertise in growing and cooking techniques for the hearty, leafy greens of their homeland. Collards became a part of the region’s identity that continues to this day, particularly among Black Americans, for whom the greens represent resilience and enrich both everyday dishes and holiday meals, including Juneteenth and New Year’s Day feasts, where they signify good luck and prosperity. Food historian Michael Twitty, in his essay on collards and African American foodways, points out: “This food connects us to the globe. It connects us to Africa. It connects us to slavery, to freedom, to sharecropping, to migration, to triumph, to survival. It’s a powerful symbol of our history, our social identity, and the cultural politics we negotiate our lives by.”

As with all leafy greens, it is easier for a baby to eat collards once the greens are cooked and chopped. Read on for nutrition information and age-appropriate preparation suggestions. 

Hawii, 12 months, eats cooked collard greens.
Kai, 16 months, eats chopped collard greens.

Are collard greens healthy for babies?

Yes. Collards are an incredibly nutrient-dense plant. For starters, this leafy green is packed with vitamin K to support healthy blood and bones. It offers beneficial plant compounds called carotenoids, some of which convert to vitamin A and support a baby’s immune health, skin, and vision. Collards also boast noteworthy levels of essential nutrients like vitamin C, which aids absorption of plant-based iron; folate to build new cells; most B-vitamins, choline for brain health; and calcium to help develop strong bones. And like all leafy greens, collards contain plenty of fiber, an important plant carbohydrate to foster digestion and gut health.

Collards also contain a unique group of nutrients called glucosinolates, which help the body break down toxins from the environment.1 This may not seem like a big deal, but in our modern era in which chemicals are all around us, adding collards and other cruciferous vegetables as a regular part of a baby’s meal can help support the removal of toxins from a baby’s body.2

Collards and many other edible plants (beets, carrots, spinach, and more) contain nitrates, which are naturally occurring compounds that may negatively affect blood oxygen levels when consumed in large amounts.3 Babies—particularly those under 3 months of age—may be more vulnerable to excessive nitrates.4 For this reason, some doctors (particularly those in the European Union) may recommend holding off on introducing nitrate-rich vegetables until a baby’s first birthday. That said, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the European Food Safety Authority summarize that nitrates in vegetables are not a concern for most children, including babies older than 6 months of age.5 6Various organizations point out that the benefits of eating vegetables as part of a varied diet typically outweigh the risks of excess nitrate exposure from vegetables.7 8If you’re worried, excessive nitrate exposure can be reduced by avoiding deli meats and other processed meats preserved with nitrates (here’s looking at you hot dogs and sausages!) and well water, which can be high in nitrates.9 10 11

★Tip: Always wash your greens—and if your budget allows, buy organic if possible. Commercially grown leafy greens are regularly sprayed with pesticides. In a study from the USDA, 44 different pesticides on collard greens were detected, and the levels of some pesticides exceeded pesticide tolerance levels.12

Are collard greens a choking hazard for babies?

No, though an individual can choke on any food. Leafy greens can also cling to the roof of the mouth and cause a fair amount of coughing and sometimes gagging. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of your baby during meals, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions below.

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

Are collard greens a common allergen?

No, though in theory, any food can cause an allergic reaction, so watch closely while your baby eats. 

Information about allergies to collards is limited, however, collards are cruciferous and allergies to other cruciferous vegetables have been reported.13 14 15 Those with allergies to other cruciferous vegetables may experience a similar reaction when eating collards. Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also called pollen fruit syndrome), and in particular, those with sensitivities to mugwort pollen, may also be sensitive to cruciferous vegetables.16 Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction. 

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 collard greens for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Offer cooked and finely chopped collard greens on their own or fold finely chopped collards into mashed beans, casseroles, grains, meat patties, and omelets, or finely shred raw collard greens and offer them on their own or dressed with a healthy oil of your choice.

12 to 18 months old: This is a great time to serve collards and other greens on their own—a more challenging texture to help develop a toddler’s eating skills. Explore recipes for boiled, braised, and stewed collards with your seasonings. Continue to regularly fold collards and other greens into dishes to increase your baby’s exposure to greens. 

18 to 24 months old: At this age, a baby who once ate everything may now be resistant to greens. Don’t give up! Continue to offer collards with meals and fold into foods, and if a child is rejecting greens entirely, try recipes for collard or kale chips. Crunchy foods can be a great gateway to the fruits and vegetables! 

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

★Tip: Stewing collards can soften the tough leaves and stems, just don’t throw away the broth—called pot liquor or “potlikker”, a name that traces back to plantation kitchens, where enslaved people of African descent would reserve the nutrient-rich broth for their families after serving the greens to white slave masters.

Recipe: Quick Cook Collards

Yield: 1 child-sized serving

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 large collard green stalks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (optional)

Directions

  1. Pull the leaves from the stems. Wash and chop the leaves, and compost the stalks.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped collards and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath for the greens.
  3. Drain the cooked collards and add to an ice bath to cool. Drain again.
  4. Warm the oil in a skillet set on medium heat. Add the collards and stir to coat. If you like, add the citrus juice or vinegar to enhance the flavor, then cook for a few seconds more.

To Serve: Scoop ½ cup or more onto a baby’s plate and place a baby spoon on the side. Serve on its own or alongside cooked grains such as couscous or sorghum. Encourage self-feeding by letting a baby scoop with hands or practice using the utensil.

To Store: Cooked collards keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Flavor Pairings

Collards have a hearty texture and earthy, grassy flavor that pairs well with beans (black eyed peasare a time-honored tradition in African American foodways) and sweet fruits and vegetables like apple, carrot, corn, and sweet potato. Collards easily absorbs the flavor of seasonings so try adding bell pepper, celery, coconut milk, garlic, lemon, lime, mushroom, onion, or meat bones from beef or pork to the stewing broth to enhance the nutrients and flavor.

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. Kapusta-Duch, J., Kopeć, A., Piatkowska, E., Borczak, B., Leszczyńska, T. (2012). The beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables on human health. Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny, 63(4):389-95. PMID: 23631258. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  2. Kapusta-Duch, J., Kopeć, A., Piatkowska, E., Borczak, B., Leszczyńska, T. (2012). The beneficial effects of Brassica vegetables on human health. Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny, 63(4):389-95. PMID: 23631258. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  3. Brkić, D., Bošnir, J., Bevardi, M., Bošković, A. G., Miloš, S., et al. (2017). Nitrate in Leafy Green Vegetables and Estimated Intake. African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM, 14(3), 31–41. DOI:10.21010/ajtcam.v14i3.4. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  4. Preboth, M. (2005). AAP Clinical Report on Infant Methemoglobinemia. American Family Physician,72(12),2558. Retrieved January 8, 2020.
  5. Filer, L. J., Lowe, C. J., Barness, L. A., Goldbloom, R. B., Heald, F. P., et al. (1970). Infant Methemoglobinemia: The Role of Dietary Nitrate. Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, 46(3), 475-478. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  6. European Food Safety Authority. (2017). EFSA Explains Risk Assessment: Nitrites and Nitrates Added in Food. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  7. European Food Safety Authority. (2017). EFSA Explains Risk Assessment: Nitrites and Nitrates Added in Food. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  8. Hord, N. G., Tang, Y., Bryan, N. S. (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiological context for potential health benefits. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(1), 1-10. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  9. Hord, N. G., Tang, Y., Bryan, N. S. (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiological context for potential health benefits. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(1), 1-10. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27131. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  10. Ahluwalia, A., Gladwin, M., Coleman, G. D., Hord, N., Howard, G., et al. (2016). Dietary Nitrate and the Epidemiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Report from a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Workshop. Journal of the American Heart Association, 5(7), e003402. DOI:10.1161/JAHA.116.003402. Retrieved September 9, 2020
  11. Greer, F. R., Shannon, M., American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health. (2005). Infant Methemoglobinemia: The Role of Dietary Nitrate in Food and Water. Pediatrics, 116,(3), 784-786. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2005-1497. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  12. United States Department of Agriculture. (2007). Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary Calendar Year 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  13.  Vovolis, V., Poulios, G., Koutsostathis, N. (2009). IgE-mediated allergy to raw cabbage but not to cooked. Allergy, 64(6), 964–965. DOI:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02007. Retrieved January 8, 2020
  14. Scott, O., Galicia-Connolly, E., Adams, D., Surette, S., Vohra, S., et al. (2012). The safety of cruciferous plants in humans: a systematic review. Journal of biomedicine & biotechnology, 503241. DOI:10.1155/2012/503241. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  15. Hermanides, H.K., Laheÿ-de Boer, A.M., Zuidmeer, L., Guikers, C., van Ree, R., et al. (2006). Brassica oleracea pollen, a new source of occupational allergens. Allergy, 61(4), 498–502. DOI:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2006.01055.x. Retrieved January 8, 2021
  16. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and Pollen Fruit Syndrome (PFS). Retrieved January 8, 2021