Couscous

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 (
  • Wheat
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a pile of couscous before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat couscous?

Couscous may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. If you haven’t already introduced wheat, start with a scant amount of couscous at the start, as couscous often contains wheat, a common food allergen in children.1

Background and origins of couscous

Couscous are tiny beads of dough made with semolina, the same type of nutrient-rich wheat that gives pasta its shape and texture. The name comes from North and West Africa, where the staple food is traditionally hand-rolled and served alongside sweet and savory soups and stews at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For those short on time, instant couscous can be prepared quickly—sometimes in less than 5 minutes. There are lots of different styles to try, such as Palestinian maftoul made with bulgur; the garden pea-sized moghrabieh of Lebanese cooking; handmade and toasted Sardinian fregola, Senagalese thiéré made of millet, and p’titim, a beloved pearled variety in Jewish cooking that is commonly called Israeli couscous in the United States.

★Tip: Brace for mess! Couscous is notoriously messy when it comes to babies. Serve couscous on a day you can get a bit messy.

When can babies eat couscous?

Cooper, 8 months, eats couscous for the first time.
Broly, 10 months, eats couscous.
Callie, 14 months, eats couscous with a spoon.

Is couscous healthy for babies?

Yes, when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Couscous offers plenty of carbohydrates to energize a baby’s growing body. Vitamins and minerals vary based on the kind of grain used to make couscous, with whole grain and enriched grains offering more fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients like iron. Aim to serve couscous as a part of a nutritious and balanced meal, ideally with cooked vegetables and protein from meat, seafood, or legumes and experiment with cooking couscous in different liquids like milk, meat stock, or vegetable broth to increase flavor and nutrition. Check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions.

★Tip: Choose organic couscous when budget and access allow for it—or opt for alternative grains like amaranthbuckwheatKhorasan wheat, or quinoa. Couscous made with conventionally-grown wheat that is commonly sprayed with pesticides that can negatively impact human and environmental health.2 3

Can babies eat gluten?

Yes—as long as a child does not have wheat allergy, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease.  Gluten is simply a type of protein in wheat and other grains such as barley, rye, and some oats. Gluten is edible, but it becomes problematic for individuals with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, characterized by damage of the small intestine when gluten is consumed.4 5 6 Some individuals may be sensitive to gluten, but may not have a wheat allergy or celiac disease. In some cases, this may be non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, gluten-containing grains can also contain certain carbohydrates that are difficult for some individuals to digest.

Is couscous a common choking hazard for babies?

It can be. Couscous is not a common choking hazard though the larger pearl-size varieties, including Lebanese moghrabieh can be. (Israeli pearl style couscous should be fine.) As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of your baby during meals, and 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 couscous a common allergen?

Yes. Couscous is often made of wheat, which is one of the most common food allergens in children.7 Fortunately, two-thirds of children outgrow the allergy by their 12th birthday.8 Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen food allergy syndrome) may be sensitive to wheat, particularly those who are allergic to grass pollen. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching in the mouth. It is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction.9

While rare, some individuals have a condition known as wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which can result in a severe allergic reaction if the person exercises within a few hours after eating wheat. These patients should avoid eating wheat in the four hours before strenuous activity.10

It is important to note that wheat allergy is not the same as celiac disease. While a wheat allergy may be outgrown, celiac disease requires a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet and lifestyle.11 A gluten “allergy” is typically a misnomer, often in reference to celiac disease.12

If your baby has a family history of allergies, or you suspect your baby is allergic to wheat, talk to a pediatric health care provider before introducing couscous at home. As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first couple of servings and watch closely for any signs of an allergic reaction. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future servings.

How to serve couscous for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Serve couscous alongside soft foods like mashed fruits or cooked vegetables, legumes, unsweetened yogurt, or your favorite tagine recipe so the tiny beads more easily cling to hands. When serving couscous, it is a good idea to offer water from a cup or straw to ensure that the mouth is empty after the meal, as the small pieces of couscous could easily be left behind. Finally, serve couscous on a day when you have the energy for a clean-up, as couscous tends to wind up everywhere when baby digs in.

12 to 24 months old: Time for utensils! Continue to serve couscous with soft, scoopable foods that it can bind to and try offering a fork, a spoon, or a utensil of choice for baby to practice. Don’t worry if a toddler is not interested in using a utensil and wants to continue scooping with hands. Eating couscous with hands is traditional in some cultures, plus learning to use utensils can be exhausting for new eaters and many toddlers go back and forth feeding with fingers and utensils. Try not to apply too much pressure—consistent and accurate utensil use will come in due time—probably between 18 and 24 months of age.

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

Recipe: Orange Couscous

pile of couscous atop yogurt, sitting on a countertop

Yield: 1 cup couscous
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dry instant couscous
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ small onion
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom, cinnamon, or nutmeg (optional)
  • ½ cup water or unsalted meat or vegetable stock (ideally BPA-free if store-bought)
  • ½ cup unsweetened whole milk yogurt or leftover mashed veggies
  • ½ teaspoon ground pistachio (optional)

Directions

  1. Rinse the couscous, then transfer to a mixing bowl.
  2. Wash and dry the orange, then zest the rind into the bowl with the couscous.
  3. Peel and mince the garlic and shallot, then add to the bowl along with the spice.
  4. Bring the water or stock to a boil, then pour into the bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff the couscous.
  5. Cut the zested orange into quarters. Juice one quarter, then strain the pulp and seeds and pour the juice over the couscous. Stir to combine. Cool to room temperature. Store the other orange quarters for a future meal—or enjoy a snack as baby eats!

To Serve: Scoop the yogurt or mashed veggies into baby’s bowl, then scoop some couscous on top. Exact serving size is variable. Let baby’s appetite determine how much is eaten. Sprinkle ground pistachio on top. Let your child self-feed by scooping with their hands. If you’d like to work utensils, pass a pre-loaded spoon to your child in the air for them to grab from you. Couscous doesn’t stay on utensils well so be prepared for some mess and frustration!

To Store: Orange couscous keeps when sealed in the fridge for 3 days.

This recipe contains common allergens: dairy, tree nut (pistachio), and wheat. Only serve to your child after each of these individual allergens have been introduced safely

Flavor Pairings

Couscous tastes nutty with a hint of honey—a flavor that pairs well with sweet and savory foods alike. Brighten its earthy flavor with sweet and tart fruits like appleapricotbananafigpearpeachpomegranate, and tomato or with starchy, fiber-rich vegetables like beetcarrotpumpkin, rutabaga, squashsweet potato, turnip. Couscous soaks up flavor from seasonings, so try cooking in meat or vegetable stocks and serving with beefchicken, or lamb. Mix in grassy herbs like basil, chives, dill, fenugreek, mint, parsley, savory, scallions, tarragon or bold spices like allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, mace, nutmeg, or sumac. Sprinkle ground almondhazelnutpistachio, or walnut to complement the nutty flavor!

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. Food Allergy Research & Education. Common Allergens. Retrieved February 22, 2021
  2. Ram, H., Rashid, A., Zhang, W. et al. Biofortification of wheat, rice and common bean by applying foliar zinc fertilizer along with pesticides in seven countries. Plant Soil 403, 389–401 (2016). DOI:10.1007/s11104-016-2815-3. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  3. Yılmaz, H., Cagla Ormeci Kart, M., Demircan, V. (2016). Economic analysis of pesticide use in wheat production for sustainable rural development. International Conference: Economic Science for Rural Development, 42(16), 295-302. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  4. Celiac Disease Foundation. What is Celiac Disease? Retrieved February 17, 2021
  5. Massachusetts General Hospital. Center for Celiac Research: Celiac Disease FAQ. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  6. Elli, L., Branchi, F., Tomba, C., Villalta, D., Norsa, L., et al. (2015). Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World journal of gastroenterology, 21(23), 7110–7119. DOI:10.3748/wjg.v21.i23.7110. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  7. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  8. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  9. Kashyap, R. R., & Kashyap, R. S. (2015). Oral Allergy Syndrome: An Update for Stomatologists. Journal of allergy, 2015, 543928. DOI:10.1155/2015/543928. Retrieved February 17, 2021
  10. Feldweg AM. Food-Dependent, Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: Diagnosis and Management in the Outpatient Setting. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2017 Mar-Apr;5(2):283-288. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2016.11.022. PMID: 28283153.
  11. Food Allergy Research & Education. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved June 7, 2020
  12. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Wheat Allergy. Retrieved February 17, 2021