Crawfish (Crayfish)

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 (
  • Shellfish & Arthropods
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a cooked crawfish before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat crawfish?

Crawfish can be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Take care when sourcing shellfish as mercury levels and regulation standards can vary widely, and as always, cook crawfish thoroughly as the crustaceans can contain harmful bacteria and cause food poisoning. Check out our suggestions on low mercury crawfish and how to safely prepare this nutritious seafood for babies.

Amelia, 7 months, tastes a whole crawfish for the first time. Note: We strongly recommend finely chopping crawfish for consumption but if you’d like to show your baby the whole crustacean for learning purposes, go for it, but remain close to your baby and don’t let them try to eat any part of it with the shell. An experience like this with the whole crawfish is mostly for interest and learning, not eating.
Mahalia, 11 months, eats chopped crawfish meat.
Julian, 11 months, eats roughly chopped crawfish meat. If you are not sure your baby is ready for big pieces like this, chop the meat into smaller pieces.

Background and origins of crawfish

Crawdads, crayfish, mudbugs, koura, kräfta, yabbies, zarigani—no matter what you call them, the crustaceans are the same little critters found lurking under silt and stones in lakes, paddies, rivers, streams, and other bodies of fresh water all over the world. They resemble small lobsters—some with sandy brown shells, others the color of black ink, even some that are cobalt blue—but like their larger cousins, all turn blazing red when cooked. Crawfish are prized for their meaty tails, which are mildly sweet. They are also the star of the show at crawfish boils, a time-honored American and Scandinavian tradition that features large piles of the tiny crustaceans cooked with aromatics, spices, and vegetables and shared during a raucous communal meal. In the United States, crawfish boils and the crustacean’s popularity can be traced back to the Cajuns—the French Canadian people who migrated from Acadia to the bayous of Louisiana in the 18th century. The Cajuns called the tiny creatures by their French name—écrevisse—a word that gradually evolved in American English to become crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish depending on where one lives in the country.

Is crawfish healthy for babies?

Yes. Crawfish contain important nutrients to aid baby’s growth, including B-vitamins to power the brain and cellular health, vitamin E to boost the immune system and protect cells, copper to facilitate absorption of iron, selenium to fuel cell growth, and zinc to energize the body and help fight against germs. Crawfish are also full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, plus the crustaceans contain dietary cholesterol to build healthy cells.

Due to pollution, all fish and shellfish contain varying levels of mercury, a toxic metal that can harm the central nervous and neurological systems, particularly in babies and young children.1 2 While crawfish generally are typically low in mercury and safe for babies, you may want to avoid crawfish from Northern California, which have been shown to have higher mercury levels as well as farmed crawfish from China, due to concerns over environmental contaminants and lack of regulatory oversight.3 4 When possible, purchase crawfish from the Gulf Coast of the United States, particularly Louisiana.5

Is crawfish a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Crawfish and shellfish can be tough for babies to chew, especially when their jaw lacks strength and endurance. To minimize the risk, shred or finely chop crawfish meat and serve on its own or incorporate into casseroles and other soft dishes. As always, be sure to create a safe eating environment, stay near baby at mealtime, 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 crawfish a common allergen?

Yes. Crawfish are a type of shellfish, which are among the most common food allergens. Babies with an allergy to one shellfish are more likely to experience reactions to other shellfish in the crustacean (crawfish, crab, lobster, shrimp) and, to a lesser degree, mollusk (clam, mussel, octopus, oyster, scallop, snail, squid) families.6 7 If you have a family history of seafood allergies, or suspect baby may be allergic to shellfish, consult an allergist before introducing crawfish.

Interestingly, shellfish allergy commonly develops in adulthood, but for those who develop it in childhood, most will not outgrow it.8 As you would do with all new allergens, introduce crawfish by serving a small quantity at first, and watch closely. If there is no adverse reaction during the first couple of servings, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

Note: Being allergic to shellfish doesn’t automatically mean that baby will also have a finned fish allergy, as they are not closely related.9 However, you may need to be careful about the risk of shellfish proteins contaminating finned fish prepared outside of the home, as they are often prepared in the same kitchens.

Money Saver Icon Save the shells! Crawfish shells can be boiled in water to create a rich stock that will add a punch of umami in your next stew. Store crawfish stock in the freezer for up to 6 months.

How do you prepare crawfish for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Serve finely chopped or shredded cooked crawfish meat on its own at first, then try mixing with butter, serving as a patty, or stirring into foods that are easy for baby to scoop with hands, such as mashed root vegetables. Hold off on letting baby dig in at a crawfish boil for now as the stewing liquid can be extremely high in sodium.

12 to 18 months old: This is a great age for crawfish balls, burgers, and patties—shapes that are easy and fun for babies to eat independently. This is also a good time to increase seasonings and spices, for a Cajun-inspired dish, mix cooked crawfish with cayenne, garlic powder, oregano, and/or paprika.

18 to 24 months old: Continue to shape finely chopped crawfish into balls, burgers, and patties or mix into other foods like grains, pastas, or vegetable dishes. Once toddlers understand how to follow instructions, invite them to join you in cracking open the shells of cooked crawfish and show how to suck the meat and juices.

Introducing common allergens to babies can be scary. We have a First 100 Days plan that walks you through exactly when to introduce each one with the right amount of time between them.

Recipe: Crawfish Étouffée

a square bowl filled with chopped crawfish meat cooked with vegetables, herbs, and rice with a spoon of broth next to the bowl

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pre-cooked crawfish meat or 7 pounds live crawfish
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 quart homemade crawfish or store-bought low-sodium seafood stock
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 3 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • Rice
  • 4 sprigs parsley

Directions

  1. If you are using pre-cooked crawfish, defrost in the package in the fridge and skip to Step 6.
  2. For live crawfish, begin by soaking the crustaceans in a large vat of cold water for 5 minutes (a bathtub works wonders here!) to purge them of sand and silt. Drain and repeat until the discarded water is clear. Discard any crawfish that float as they are dead and crawfish are best when boiled alive.
  3. As the crawfish are purging, fill a large pot halfway with water and place on high heat to bring to a boil. Wash and slice the lemons in half. When the crawfish are ready, transfer the crustaceans to the boiling water along with the sliced lemon and paprika. Cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and let the crawfish sit in the poaching liquid for 15 minutes. You need to crack open a crawfish to test for doneness. When the tail meat is white, opaque, and no longer rubbery, the crawfish are ready.
  4. Use a strainer to transfer the crawfish to a colander. Now it’s time to break down the crawfish. This is a messy business—wear an apron and have a towel nearby. To peel each crawfish, start by holding the tail in one hand and the upper body in the other. Twist your hands in the opposite direction to crack the tail from the upper body. Set aside the head and claws in a bowl and hold the tail in one of your palms with the spiky side up. Squeeze your palm to crack it open, then pop the tail out of the shell. Add the shell to the bowl and place the tail in a separate bowl. For any crawfish that are not fully cooked, drop it in the pot of hot water for another minute or two to finish the cooking. Continue until all crawfish are shelled.
  5. Now prepare the crawfish stock. Drain the large pot of water with the crawfish cooking liquid. Add 4 cups of fresh water and set the pot on high heat. While the water is warming, peel and halve the onion, wash the celery stalks, peel the garlic cloves, and wash and halve the pepper. When the water is boiling, add 1/2 onion, 1 celery stalk, 4 garlic cloves, 1/2 pepper, and the reserved crawfish heads, claws, and shells. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then turn the heat down to create a gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to the compost and the crawfish parts to the trash. Place a fine-mesh strainer lined with a heavy-duty paper towel or cheesecloth over a large bowl. Slowly ladle the stock into the strainer, letting the liquid fall into the bowl below. Continue until all stock is strained.
  6. Mince the remaining onion, celery, garlic, and pepper.
  7. Melt the butter in a large pot set on medium heat. When the butter is done foaming, add the minced vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes.
  8. Chop the crawfish meat while the vegetables are cooking in the butter.
  9. Add the crawfish meat and herbs to the vegetable mixture. Stir to coat.
  10. Add the stock, stir, and bring to a simmer, then lower the heat. Cook until the flavors are fully incorporated, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool.

To serve: Measure 1/2 cup of étouffée, pour on top of cooked rice, and top with a few parsley leaves for your child. For children under 18 months of age, serve in a bowl that suctions to the table and place a spoon on the edge. They can eat independently by hand scooping, practicing with a utensil, or both!

Flavor Pairings

Crawfish are mild and sweet—like shrimp but with none of the brininess of the ocean. Balance the sweetness with acidic foods like lemon, lime, or tomato, or complement it with similarly sweet vegetables like bell pepper, corn, or squash. Butter or cream enhance the sweetness in crawfish, and herbs like dill, oregano, or thyme and spices like cayenne, coriander, and paprika can add layers of flavor.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

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

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Bose-O’Reilly, S., McKarty, K., Steckling, N., & Lettmeier, B. (2011). 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. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  2. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved September 30, 2020
  3. Hothem, R.L., Bergen, D.R., Bauer, M.L., Crayon, J.J., Meckstroth, A.M. (2007). Mercury and trace elements in crayfish from Northern California. Bulletin of environmental contamination and toxicology, 79(6), 628–632. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  4. Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. (2013). Red Swap Crayfish. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  5. Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Crayfish Recommendations. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  6. Lopata AL, O’Hehir RE, Lehrer SB. Shellfish allergy. Clin Exp Allergy. 2010;40(6):850-858. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03513.x
  7. Food Allergy Research & Education. Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved September 2, 2020
  8. Food Allergy Research & Education. Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved September 2, 2020
  9. Food Allergy Research & Education. Shellfish Allergy. Retrieved September 2, 2020