When can babies eat crab?
Fresh or frozen crab meat is best introduced after your baby’s first birthday as the natural sodium in crab is a bit high for young babies. When you are ready to introduce crab, take care to purchase fresh or frozen crab and avoid imitation crab, which has flooded the market. While imitation crab does contain actual fish (typically pollock), it also contains artificial food dye and flavors that are inappropriate to introduce to babies.
Is crab healthy for babies?
After your baby’s first birthday, yes! Crab meat is a lean source of quality protein that offers high levels of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, selenium, copper and zinc, which fuels a baby’s developing blood cells, nervous and immune systems. Crab is also a good source omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain development, and provides noteworthy levels of other B-vitamins for energy metabolism. Crab also contains dietary cholesterol which, contrary to popular media, is super important for cell integrity (and will not increase your baby’s total cholesterol levels). On the downside, crab is naturally high in sodium.
Like all ocean fish, crab and other shellfish contain toxins as a result of water pollution, including traces of mercury, which can have devastating effects on central nervous and neurological systems, particularly in babies and young children.1 2 While crab is not among the fish with high mercury levels, there is no known acceptable level of mercury exposure. When it comes to seafood, the old adage “all things in moderation” is a good rule of thumb for babies and adults alike. When served on occasion, crab can be a real treat for the whole family.
Is crab a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Crab—and especially the claws—can be tough for little babies to chew, and it’s easy for them to accidentally swallow a piece that is too big. If your baby is younger than 18 months, or has not mastered chewing and swallowing, finely chop or shred cooked crab meat. Alternatively, use the finely chopped crab meat to make a fish patty.
Which types of crab meat are best for babies?
When shopping for your baby, try to buy fresh or frozen blue crab meat from Maryland or dungeness crab meat from the West Coast.
There are more than 850 species of crab living in fresh, saltwater, and terrestrial habitats around the world, and they vary greatly in color, size, taste, and texture. In the United States, popular species for cooking include king and snow crabs from the Bering Sea, blue crab along the East Coast, dungeness crab along the West Coast, jonah and peekytoe crabs in New England, and stone crabs along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Live crabs can be purchased at some grocery stores, specialty fish counters, and farmer’s markets, but fresh or frozen cooked crab meat is fine. The meat is sold in different grades (colossal or jumbo lump, lump, backfin, special, or claw) depending the size of the crab and the body part from which the meat was taken.
When you see packaged lump or jumbo lump crab meat for sale, chances are it’s blue crab.3 Blue crab comprises the largest crab fishing industry in the United States, and about 50% of blue crab in the United States hail from Maryland waters.4 5Just like all crab species, blue crab has a season, which means their availability can be limited for those who want to purchase “fresh local crabs” from a reliable fishery.6 Maryland’s blue crab season starts in April and runs through December, but the popular shellfish is available for purchase year-round from other states like North Carolina and Louisiana, or as far away as China, Indonesia, or Venezuela.7
Packaged crab tastes nearly as sweet as freshly cooked crabs—plus it can be more readily available and affordable. Just be sure to read the fine print on the labels:
- Watch the salt. From seafood to produce, canned products often have high levels of sodium. Crab meat is naturally high in sodium, so any additional salt added during the preserving process can elevate the sodium level considerably. Canned crab meat is best reserved for special meals after your baby’s first birthday.
- Be careful with BPA. BPA is a chemical used to line the interior of cans and plastic bottles that can disrupt your baby’s bodily functions. Because it attaches to fats, BPA is often found in fatty fish and seafood. Look for cans or pouches that are marked “BPA-free” when purchasing crab for a baby.
Finally, consider the environmental impact of your purchase. Like so many other seafood, some crab populations are under threat of being overfished while others are caught using fishing methods and equipment that damage our oceans. A widely-respected go-to resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends avoiding many domestic and international sources of crab because of these environmental impacts and more.8
Is crab a common allergen?
Yes. Crab is a type of shellfish, and shellfish are among the most common of food allergens. While 60% of people allergic to shellfish experience their first reaction as an adult, it’s possible that a shellfish allergy will also develop in childhood.9 Unfortunately, most shellfish allergies are lifelong.10 If you have a family history of allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish or shellfish, consult an allergist before introducing crab.
As with all new foods, introduce by serving a scant quantity of cooked crab and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
How do you prepare crab for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Avoid due to sodium levels. A small taste here and there is fine, however.
12 to 18 months old: While there are a number of ways that you could serve shredded crab (in pasta or risotto, on its own, mixed with mayonnaise or butter), you may find that homemade crab cakes are best as the disc shape makes it easy for little ones to pick up and eat independently.
18 to 24 months old: Offer shredded crab meat on its own or crab cakes. If you feel your baby is ready, you can try serving crab claws (a choking hazard) as well. If you do, be sure that you are creating a safe eating environment.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
When buying fresh or frozen packaged crab meat, take care to wash and pick through the flesh to ensure there are no lingering shards of shell.
Recipe: Maryland Crab Cakes
- Cooked lump blue crab meat (fresh or defrosted frozen)
- Lemon juice (optional)
- Old Bay seasoning (optional)
- Coconut oil
- Rinse the crab meat under cool water and transfer to a bowl. Pick through the crab meat to make sure there are no lingering shards of crab shell or any too-large pieces of crab meat.
- Add a scoop of mayo, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning if you like. Mix to create a mash and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture firms up.
- Heat a generous pour of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Remove the bowl from the fridge. Use your hand or a spoon to form a small ball of the crab mixture, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
- Place the crab cake in the oil and fry as you form the next crab cake. Repeat until the pan is full but not overcrowded with cakes, then start flipping once the underside is golden brown. Fry each side until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. When they’re done, use a spatula to transfer the crab cakes to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat until all the crab mixture is gone.Alternatively, you can also bake the crab cakes. To do so, preheat oven to 375, and lightly grease a glass or ceramic baking dish with olive oil or coconut oil. Prepare all crab cakes by shaping into balls and then press down each one to ¾” thickness. Bake for 15 minutes; turn each cake, then bake another 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Bose-O’Reilly, S., McKarty, K., Steckling, N., & Lettmeier, B. (2011, May 17). Mercury exposure and children’s health. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health, 40(8), 186-215. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2010.07.002
- United States Food and Drug Administration. (2017, Oct. 25). Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Bilow, R. (2015, Jun. 13). Claws out: the BA guide to crab types (and how to cook them). Bon Appetit. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Seafoodhealthfacts.org. Seafood Health Facts: Making Smart Choices. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Liu, J. (2015, Jun. 15). Maryland crabs: a guide to the East Coast’s essential summer feast. Eater. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Inamine, E. (2015, Apr. 24). Rule of claw: everything you need to know about buying crab. Tasting Table. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Carmin, T. (2012, Jul. 3). Cracking the code on crab meat. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Crab Recommendations. Retrieved February 2, 2020
- Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved March 26, 2020 (website).
- Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved March 26, 2020 (website).