When can babies eat dates?
Because they are sticky and very high in sugar, it’s best to wait until your baby is 18 months or older before introducing dates and processed bars and snacks that contain them. Even after 18 months of age, dates should be carefully prepared to minimize the risk of choking and served as a treat rather than an everyday snack.
Background and origins of dates
A super sweet fruit that’s native to the Middle East, dates are sold fresh on the stem from their palm tree when in season, while others are available year-round in their dried, pitted, and packaged form. Medjool is the most common variety of dried date in American grocery stores, while markets that specialize in Middle Eastern products often have a more diverse selection.
Dates are increasingly available for purchase in a variety of processed forms—date sugar, date syrup, date paste, date bars, and the list goes on. The reason? Dates are marketed as a “healthy” sugar, and food makers are using processed date sugar products to replace traditional white sugar products made from cane plants.
Are dates healthy for babies?
Yes, in moderation. Dried dates are full of vitamins and minerals but are also extremely high in naturally-occurring sugar. On the plus side, they contain a whopping 15 minerals: B-vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, selenium, and zinc, and are also high in fiber, which helps regulate the bowels and promote gut health. The downside, however, is significant, as dates are 66% sugar. Because this, dried dates and their processed products can serve as excellent replacements for brown or white sugar in almost any recipe.
Are dates a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Dried fruit, because it is sticky and hard to chew, is a common choking hazard for babies. Dates also have hard, inedible pits that can be a choking hazard if not removed.
To serve dates to a baby you must pit and finely mince them. To further lower the risk of choking, soak pitted dates in hot water and run them through a food processor until they break up into tiny pieces or even a paste. A spoonful of the paste or minced dates can be used a natural sweetener in oatmeal, grain salads, and yogurt.
Are dates a common allergen?
While dates are not among the top food allergens in the United States, they can cause serious reactions in some individuals.1 Individuals with pollen allergy or the related Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen-food allergy) may be sensitive to dates.2 As with any potential allergen, introduce a scant quantity at first and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity in following servings.
How do you prepare dates for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. 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 choking risk and sugar levels.
12 to 18 months old: Avoid due to sugar levels.
18 to 24 months old: If you feel your child has developed excellent biting, tearing, chewing, and swallowing skills, you can offer pitted dates whole and teach your child to take small bites by modeling the same. To use dates to sweeten other foods, just soak the dates in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Then drain, pit, and pulse them in a food processor until they resemble a paste. Incorporate a small amount of the processed dates (no more than one small spoonful) into your child’s meal, and save the “date water” strained from the processed dates. It makes a great natural sweetener in your coffee, tea, or smoothie. Otherwise, see energy ball recipe!
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
Dates last longer when kept at a cool temperature. Store them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life.
Recipe: Date Energy Balls*
- Almonds or cashews
- Pitted dried dates
- Nut or seed butter (we like sunflower seed butter!)
- Vanilla extract
- Tahini (optional)
- In a food processor, combine 1 cup of almonds or cashews, 1/2 cup of pitted dates, 1/4 cup of the nut or seed butter of your choice, and 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla extract. Add 1 tablespoon of tahini if you like.
- Pulse until the mixture is completely ground and resembles a fine, wet sand with no large chunks of date or nut. If the mixture turns into a ball in the food processor, use a spoon to break it apart and ensure there are no chunks remaining.
- Scoop out some of the mixture with your hands or a spoon, and form into little balls, around 1- to 2-inches in diameter. Refrigerate the balls until firm. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for one week, or in the freezer for up to one month.
*Note: This recipe contains potential allergens: nuts and tahini (sesame). Only serve after each allergen has been safely introduced and an allergy ruled out. If your child is allergic to tahini, skip it and add a bit more nut or seed butter. If your child is allergic to nut or seed butter, skip it and add a bit more tahini.
Dates are remarkably versatile and can be used as a sugar replacement in almost any recipe. They pair particularly well with banana, coconut, sesame, and tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. In savory foods, try pairing dates with ginger, fennel, quinoa, and shallots. They also go well with herbs like mint parsley and bitter greens like arugula and watercress.
- NCBI, Allergy to date fruits: characterization of antigens and allergens of fruits of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.). (website) Retrieved January 6, 2020.
- NCBI, Cross-reactivities between date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) polypeptides and foods implicated in the oral allergy syndrome. (website) Retrieved January 6, 2020.