Manoomin (wild rice), while challenging for young babies to eat, may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Note: Rice is notorious for causing harmless gagging in babies as it scatters in the mouth. Read on for ideas on how to make it easier for babies to eat.
Manoomin are the edible seeds from a family of North American marsh grasses, harvested in the shallow waters around the Great Lakes. Manoomin remains a staple food in this region, home of the Anishinaabe, Chippewa, Ojibwe, and other First Nations peoples who understand the “good seed” to be a sacred gift of the land. The grains are traditionally threshed by hand while giving thanks. Once enough manoomin has been gathered for one’s community, the plants are left intact with plenty of seeds on the stems—a practice of reciprocity that feeds animals and aquatic creatures and naturally propagates the next growing season. Much of the “wild rice” sold in stores has actually been cultivated in commercial rice paddies and is not harvested using these traditional methods.
Wei Wei, 7 months, eats wild rice on yogurt.
Aarav, 9 months, eats wild rice. Notice how he's happily eating, but at this age, struggles a bit to successfully get much rice into his mouth....
Oliver, 15 months, eats wild rice with a fork....
Yes. While nutritional information is limited, manoomin in both wild and cultivated forms is a good source of the essential vitamin B6, which supports many bodily functions, and the mineral zinc to support the immune system, taste, and smell. Manoomin is also a good source of protein and carbohydrates to support baby’s rapid growth, as well as smaller amounts of many other important nutrients including fiber, folate, and iron. Lastly, manoomin has a diverse concentration of antioxidants (called gamma-oryzanols), which have numerous benefits, from supporting cognition to anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.
Similar to white and brown rice, manoomin faces the risk of contamination from heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, depending on where the rice was grown. Using a high ratio of water to rice when cooking (6-10 parts water to 1 part rice) can help reduce arsenic levels. As always, aim for a varied and balanced diet to avoid excessive intake of heavy metals.
★Tip: If you want to purchase true manoomin, read the label closely and look for products that are called “manoomin” or labeled as “hand-harvested.” The commercial version cultivated in paddies is often labeled (confusingly) as “wild rice.” The two versions of the rice also look and taste different: truly wild manoomin is lighter in color and taste than commercial grains, which have harder seed coats and are almost black.
Yes. Manoomin offers some fiber and prebiotics which, as part of a balanced and varied diet, can help support overall digestive health and bowel regularity. Pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.
No, but it can be an aspiration risk. While rice is named as a common choking hazard by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, manoomin doesn’t tend to clump up the same way cooked white and brown rice do. That said, the way we tend to eat foods like manoomin—several grains at a time—can make it challenging for babies to manage, which could possibly lead to this food scattering in the mouth as baby goes to swallow. When a person tries to swallow an incohesive mouthful of food, they are at higher risk for some of those pieces to inadvertently fall into the airway (aspiration). If this were to happen, baby would cough, and most likely expel this piece from the airway. To make it easier for babies to eat, prepare manoomin with sauce or other binders to help the individual grains clump together. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Allergies to manoomin are rare, though allergic-type reactions to other forms of rice have been reported.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
Manoomin tastes wildly different from brown and white rice. It has a chewier texture and an herbal flavor that works as the centerpiece in casseroles, pilafs, and salads. Try mixing in a tart fruit like blueberry, juneberry, or strawberry to balance its earthy flavor. Manoomin also adds heartiness to casseroles, soups, and stews, as well as stuffing for meats like duck, turkey, or vegetables like acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, or zucchini. Or use them in pudding or porridge, and if you like, add a drizzle of cranberry sauce—a traditional pairing in some of the cultures that have harvested manoomin for generations.
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.
Offer bean patties, grain balls, or meatballs with cooked manoomin mixed in. Alternatively, offer pudding, porridge, or cooked manoomin mixed into soft, scoopable foods like mashed fruit, mashed vegetables, or yogurt. These dishes bind manoomin, which helps baby hand-scoop the food while minimizing the mess of scattered grains.
Continue offering manoomin mixed into baby’s bean patties, grain balls, or meatballs. You may offer these foods whole, or as baby’s pincer grasp develops, broken into bite-sized pieces. Of course, you may also continue offering manoomin mixed into porridge and other soft, scoopable foods.
At this age, toddlers are more able to manage loose rice grains in their mouth and may enjoy manoomin on its own. If you’d like to encourage utensil use, pre-load an age-appropriate utensil and rest it next to the food for the child to pick up. Try not to apply too much pressure: using utensils can be exhausting for new eaters. Many children toggle back and forth between feeding themselves with their fingers and utensils, and consistent and accurate utensil use will come in due time—probably between 18 and 24 months of age.
Break out of your lunch rut with ideas from our guide, 75 Lunches for Babies & Toddlers.
Yield: 2 cups (480 milliliters)Cook Time: 45 minutesAge: 6 months+
This recipe contains common allergens: dairy (mascarpone cheese, milk) and tree nut (hazelnut). Only serve to a child after these allergens have been safely introduced.
Rinse the manoomin to remove dirt and debris.
Combine the manoomin and at least 2 cups (480 milliliters) of water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. The ratio of grain to water differs by brand of manoomin, with some requiring a ratio as high as 4:1. Read the instructions on the package and add more water if directed.
Cover and bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to create a steady simmer. Let the grains simmer until they are tender, between 25 and 45 minutes. Cooking time also differs by brand, with foraged manoomin cooking more quickly than commercially-grown brands.
Drain the water, then stir the milk and berries into the cooked manoomin. Cranberries are quite tart, so if you’d prefer a naturally sweeter porridge, swap the cranberries for blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries.
Cover and set the pot on medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries have softened and started to burst, about 10 minutes. Use the back of a fork to flatten any cranberries that did not burst.
Uncover the pot and stir in the mascarpone cheese, then scoop some porridge into baby’s bowl. Exact serving size varies. Let the child decide how much to eat.
If you like, sprinkle finely ground hazelnut or any other nut that has been safely introduced. If you are introducing any kind of nut for the first time, use a scant amount—about ¼ teaspoon (½ gram).
Serve the porridge and let the child try and self-feed. If you’d like to encourage baby to use utensils, pre-load a utensil and place it next to the food for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass a pre-loaded utensil in the air for the child to grab. Eat your porridge alongside baby to model how it’s done!
To Store: Manoomin Porridge keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP
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
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