Ham

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 24 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: No
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slices of ham ready to be prepared for children to eat

When can babies eat ham?

It’s best to wait on introducing ham, including deli meat and cured and glazed hams, until after a child’s second birthday and even then, serve sparingly. Regular consumption of preserved and/or smoked meats like ham and bacon increases sodium, nitrates, nitrites, and potential carcinogens in the body.1 2

If you’d like to start early with ham, a good alternative is cooking raw ham (also called fresh ham) at home. Like other cuts of pork, raw ham cooked at home may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.

How is ham made?

Ham refers to the upper portion of a pig’s hind leg. The cut can be purchased raw (also called fresh ham) or preserved with brine, salt, or smoke—preservation methods that have been used for thousands of years. While ham has its origins in Asia and Europe, there are myriad regional specialties, of which many are cured with salt and air, like Jīnhuá huǒ tuǐ of China—the forerunner to Spanish jamón serrano, Italian prosciutto, and American country ham. Other hams are injected with brine and cooked with heat or smoke. This method includes the baked glazed hams available at holidays and deli-style sliced ham used in Cuban medianoche and French croque monsieur sandwiches. While cured ham is best reserved for older children, babies can have fresh ham cooked at home, as long as it is served in an age-appropriate way. Fresh ham is sold raw and either boneless or bone-in—a popular cut for many holidays.

Is ham healthy for babies?

Yes, if it is fresh and prepared from raw ham. Like other cuts of pork, fresh, raw ham cooked at home offers plenty of the nutrients babies need, including excellent amounts of protein, zinc, choline, and vitamins B6 and B12.

However, the majority of products marked as “ham” tend to be cured or processed in some way, and these should generally be reserved for after the second birthday. Processed hams, including prosciutto, jamon iberico, Spam (a canned ham product), and deli meats, among others, are excessively high in sodium, which can prime baby’s palate for salty foods, increase the risk of obesity, and put a child at greater risk of developing hypertension.3 Some of these meats are also cured with nitrates, which may negatively affect oxygen levels in the blood when consumed in excess.4 5 In addition, processed meats appear to have an association with cancer.6 7 8 While small taste of cured or deli ham is okay before age 2, make sure the product does not contain honey before offering to babies under 12 months of age.

★Tip: Ham is also sometimes sold in glass jars, including in pureed forms marketed as being for babies. These can be an affordable option, but make sure to look for low-sodium versions.

Is it okay to serve ham hock to baby? What about ham shank?

Only if purchased raw and prepared at home. Just like ham, the hocks and shanks are best reserved until after the second birthday because they are often quite salty from the curing process. However, these cuts can also be purchased fresh (raw, unsalted, uncured, unsmoked) to cook at home. Starting at 6 months of age, if you’d like to offer baby pieces of shredded meat from a fresh hock or shank that you’ve cooked at home, go for it—just be sure to remove any loose cartilage, fat, and bone before serving.

Is ham a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. For babies and toddlers, chunks and cubes of meat are a choking hazard, as they are difficult to chew. To minimize the risk, shred or mince the meat, serve just a little at a time, and serve directly on the child’s highchair tray or the surface of the table in front of the child (and not in a suction bowl or plate, which makes it easier for baby to scoop up big handfuls of food). As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby at mealtime. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is ham a common allergen?

No. Ham is not a common food allergen, although reactions to pork have been reported.9 10 Certain tick bites (mainly the Lone Star tick in the continental United States, but other ticks in different parts of the world), are associated with the development of an allergy to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose (“alpha gal”), a sugar which is present in many red meats. This results in a delayed allergic reaction 3-8 hours after the consumption of red meat, such as ham.11 However, some individuals with alpha gal allergy also react to small amounts of the sugar present in dairy products, gelatin, or organ tissues from mammals.12  Alpha gal allergy is more prevalent in the southeastern United States but is starting to become more common in other areas as the geographic distribution of the Lone Star tick expands. Although rare, some individuals with cat allergies may also develop a cross-reactive allergy to pork products, a condition known as pork-cat syndrome.13

As you would do when introducing any new food, start by serving a small amount at first. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount served over future meals.

Can ham help babies poop?

Ham meat isn’t generally considered as a food that promotes pooping. That said, it can play a supporting role in healthy bowel movements as a part of a balanced and varied diet. Pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child, so be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping or digestive function.

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

6 to 9 months: Avoid offering store-bought baked ham, cured ham (jamón, prosciutto, and other dry-aged meats), deli meat, pre-cooked ham, and ham glazed with honey, syrup, or sugar. That said, a small taste for baby as part of a special occasion is okay, just make sure there is no honey in the ingredients. Instead, try fresh ham cooked at home to control the amount of salt, sugar, and other ingredients. Offer strips of ham cooked at home that are approximately the size of two adult fingers placed next to one another. Baby can suck and munch on the strip, and if a too-big piece breaks off in baby’s mouth, stay calm and give baby a chance to work the food forward in the mouth before intervening.

9 to 24 months: Avoid cured hams and deli meat, as well as store-bought baked and glazed hams. If you’d like to a small taste of these products as part of a special occasion, that’s fine, just make sure that there is no honey in the ingredients if the child is under 12 months of age. Keep offering fresh ham cooked at home and when you see signs that baby has developed the pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet), try moving down in size by offering bite-sized pieces or shredded ham. You can offer it on its own to encourage baby to practice picking up small pieces of food or mixed into other dishes. Avoid cubed ham—the kind found on pre-packaged cheese plates—due to its shape (a choking hazard) and its ingredients, which include lots of sodium, nitrites, and other additives.

24 months and up: Anything goes: Offer a small amount your family’s favorite ham and try to serve in moderation due to salt, sugar, and other additives. Cut into bite-sized pieces or shreds and avoid serving meat cut into cubes. If offering tastes of thinly-sliced cured hams like prosciutto, serrano, and speck, consider offering bite-sized pieces, one at a time. These thin meats can easily roll up in the mouth, stick in a ball, and become challenging to chew. Try to opt for other cuts like ground pork or spare rib if you like to eat pork with regularity.

a hand holding bite-sized shreds of ham
Bite-sized shreds of ham for children 24 months+

Read our Sodium FAQs to learn more about how much salt babies should have.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with ham?

Ham is a popular centerpiece on holiday tables—and for good reason. The giant cut of pork feeds a crowd and often there are leftovers to spare. Experiment with fresh ham in celebratory dishes like buzhenina, Christmas ham, crispy pata, hamon, julskinka, and pernil. Then use the leftovers in congee, fried rice, frittatas, quiches, salads, sandwiches, savory pies, soups, stews, and stir-frys, or try leftover ham with pineapple on pizza—a classic sweet-and-salty flavor pairing.

Recipe: Pernil Asado (Roasted Pork Leg)

Yield: 5 to 8 pounds (2.3 to 3.6 kilograms)
Cook Time: 5 hours + overnight marinade
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 bone-in skin-on fresh (raw) half ham (from either the butt or shank end)
  • 3 tablespoons (27 grams) kosher salt
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 3 teaspoons (6 grams) dried oregano
  • 3 teaspoons (6 grams) ground cumin
  • 3 teaspoons (6 grams) ground pepper
  • 3 ½ cups (840 milliliters) orange juice
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) lemon juice
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) lime juice

Directions

  1. This recipe requires marinating ham for 24 hours before cooking. If your ham is frozen, defrost the meat in the refrigerator two days before you plan to serve the meal.
  2. Select a glass or plastic container with some sort of cover to marinate the meat. Do not use a metal container because the acids in the marinade can interact with the metal.
  3. Place the ham in the container. Rub 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of salt over the ham.
  4. Make the marinade by grating or mincing the garlic cloves and mixing with the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of salt, as well as the spices and the citrus juice.
  5. Pour the marinade over the ham. Use your hands to rub the marinade into the meat.
  6. Seal the container and marinate the meat in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Rotate the meat two or three times to let all sides of the ham soak in the marinade.
  7. Five hours before you plan to serve the meal, remove the ham from the refrigerator, then remove the ham from the marinade. Pat dry. Let the meat rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.
  8. While the ham rests, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Remove one rack from the oven and place the other rack on the lowest setting.
  9. Lay the ham on a roasting rack inside a deep roasting pan with the skin facing up and the bone facing to the side. If you don’t have a roasting rack, you can make one by rolling aluminum foil into a snake-like shape and curving it across the bottom of the roasting pan. Or you can make a bed of chopped root vegetables tossed with oil, salt, and any seasonings that you like.
  10. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the skin starts to brown, about 20 minutes.
  11. Lower the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius) and cook until the meat is fully done, between 2 and 3 hours depending on the size of the ham. Check the ham every 30 minutes to avoid burning the skin. Once you see that the skin has become crispy and deeply browned, loosely cover the ham with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
  12. After 2 hours, start checking to see if the ham is done. It is ready when the meat is pulling away from the bone and the bone is loose when wiggled. If you’d like, use a kitchen thermometer to check that the internal temperature has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius). If you like your ham to be well done, continue to cook until the thermometer reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). Note that after you pull the pan from the oven, the meat will continue to cook and increase in temperature by several degrees.
  13. Let the ham rest in the pan at room temperature for 10 minutes, then transfer the ham to a cutting board. Place a serving platter next to the cutting board.
  14. Carve the ham into thin slices and arrange the slices on the platter.
  15. Set aside 1 or 2 slices for baby, offering the slices in age-appropriate sizes and removing the crispy skin. Exact serving size varies. Let the child decide how much to eat.
  16. Serve the ham and let the child try to self-feed. If baby struggles with picking up the food, pass a piece of ham in the air for baby to grab from you.

To Store: Pernil Asado keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

★Tip: Fresh ham can be purchased whole or cut in half. Half hams range between 5 and 10 pounds. Not sure how much ham to buy? Plan on serving at least ½ pound (227 grams) per adult and older child.

Flavor Pairings

Ham pairs well with barley, collard greens, orange, rice, sweet potato, and turnip.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS. Certified Nutrition Specialist®

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian & Nutritionist.

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Specialist.

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

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

  1. Karwowska, M., Kononiuk, A. (2020). Nitrates/Nitrites in Food-Risk for Nitrosative Stress and Benefits. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(3), 241. DOI:10.3390/antiox9030241. Retrieved June 4, 2021
  2. Lippi, G., Mattiuzzi, C., Cervellin, G. (2016). Meat consumption and cancer risk: a critical review of published meta-analyses. Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology, 97, 1-14. DOI:10.1016/j.critrevonc.2015.11.008. Epub 2015 Nov 17. PMID: 26633248. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  4. Karwowska, M., Kononiuk, A. (2020). Nitrates/Nitrites in Food-Risk for Nitrosative Stress and Benefits. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(3), 241. DOI:10.3390/antiox9030241. Retrieved June 4, 2021
  5. Ferysiuk, K., Wójciak, K.M. (2020). Reduction of Nitrite in Meat Products through the Application of Various Plant-Based Ingredients. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(8), 711. DOI:10.3390/antiox9080711. Retrieved June 4, 2021
  6. Lippi, G., Mattiuzzi, C., Cervellin, G. (2016). Meat consumption and cancer risk: a critical review of published meta-analyses. Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology, 97, 1-14. DOI:10.1016/j.critrevonc.2015.11.008. Epub 2015 Nov 17. PMID: 26633248. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  7. World Health Organization. (2015). Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  8. Carr, P.R., Walter, V., Brenner, H., Hoffmeister, M. (2016). Meat subtypes and their association with colorectal cancer: Systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Cancer, 138(2),293-302. DOI:10.1002/ijc.29423. Epub 2015 Feb 24. PMID: 25583132. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  9. American College of Asthma, Allergy, & Immunology. Meat Allergy. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  10. Wilson, J.M., Platts-Mills, T. (2018). Meat allergy and allergens. Molecular immunology, 100, 107–112. DOI:10.1016/j.molimm.2018.03.018. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  11. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Alpha-gal defined. Retrieved June 1, 2021
  12. Centers for Disease Control. Alpha-gal. Retrieved February 22, 2022
  13. Wilson, J.M., Platts-Mills, T. (2018). Meat allergy and allergens. Molecular immunology, 100, 107–112. DOI:10.1016/j.molimm.2018.03.018. Retrieved June 1, 2021