When can babies eat mackerel?
North Atlantic mackerel may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Keep in mind, however, there are many species of mackerel in the sea, and not all are safe for babies to eat.
Is mackerel healthy for babies?
It depends on the species. Mackerel, like all ocean fish, contain toxins from pollution, including traces of mercury, which can have devastating effects on the central nervous and neurological systems, and particularly so in babies and young children.1
North Atlantic mackerel have a big advantage over their cousins: far less mercury.2 When served in moderation, North Atlantic mackerel (also called Atlantic chub, Boston mackerel, Norwegian mackerel, Scottish mackerel, and tinker) can be a healthy addition to your baby’s diet. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, including the critical docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, North Atlantic mackerel helps to support your baby’s cardiovascular health, cell growth, and eyesight during this early stage of life. The fish also contains B-vitamins to provide energy and selenium to power organ function and protect against toxins.
North Atlantic mackerel is often sold in cans and is a fantastic substitute for canned tuna, which contains more than double the amount of mercury.3 If you can’t find North Atlantic mackerel, opt for Pacific chub. It’s not as low in mercury as its North Atlantic cousin, but within an acceptable range for babies and lower in mercury than canned light tuna.4
Avoid king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. These species from the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic Ocean contain high levels of mercury and are not safe for babies.
When shopping for canned mackerel, be sure to read the fine print on the labels:
- Watch the salt. From fish to fruits and vegetables, canned products often have high levels of sodium. While fish packed in oils and flavorings can have higher levels of nutrients thanks to preservation methods, they are likely too high in sodium for babies younger than 12 months old. A good rule of thumb would be to look for canned fish with less than 100mg of sodium per serving.
- Be careful with BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in plastics and resins, and in the interior lining of cans, amongst many other packaging materials. Unfortunately, BPA has been linked to cellular damage, including disrupting your baby’s endocrine (hormone) functions, affecting growth in many ways. When purchasing preserved products for your baby, look for cans or pouches that are marked “BPA-free”.
As you do with all fish, consider where and how mackerel were caught when purchasing for your baby. A widely respected go-to resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, points out that North Atlantic mackerel are overfished and often caught using methods that put other oceanic species in danger, with no regulatory initiatives to replenish fish stocks.5
Can babies choke on fish?
Unlike shrimp and shellfish, mackerel is not a common choking hazard for babies and children. That said, fish bones do present a risk, so be sure to remove any lingering bones before serving mackerel and stay close during mealtime to watch as your baby eats.
Is mackerel a common allergen?
Yes. Finned fish like mackerel are a top food allergen.6 However, it’s estimated that only 1% of Americans are allergic to finned fish.7 As with all new foods, introduce mackerel by serving a scant amount and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
If you have a family history of allergies or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, make an appointment with an allergist before introducing mackerel.
How do you prepare mackerel 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: Rinse canned mackerel, remove any remaining bones, and serve whole as a finger food. Alternatively, try flaking fresh or canned mackerel and mixing it with mashed avocado, mayonnaise, olive oil, or yogurt. From there, offer the fish mash on a pre-loaded spoon or serve atop thin rice cakes or baby crackers.
12 to 18 months old: At this age your baby may enjoy scooping up mashed mackerel mixed with avocado or mayonnaise with a spoon or a fork. You can also continue to serve whole pieces as described above.
18 to 24 months old: For more advanced eaters, try breaking the fish into flakes and piling high on buttered toast or serving any of the ways described above.
For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.
Recipe: Mackerel Mash
- Canned North Atlantic or Pacific Chub mackerel
- Lemon or citrus
- Chives (optional)
- Celery seed or paprika
- Open a tin of canned mackerel. Rinse the fish in a fine mesh colander, picking out any lingering bones or skin.
- Place the fish in a small mixing bowl and use a fork to break apart the fillets. Add the flesh of an avocado. Use the fork to mix until a paste is formed.
- If you’d like to add a little zing, add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or citrus of your choice. Minced chives or parsley will add color and texture. If you want a little added more flavor, now is the time to add spices, such as celery seed or paprika. Once all your seasonings are in, stir to incorporate.
- Serve the mash on its own in a bowl, aside a grain dish like quinoa, or spread atop thin rice cakes. Enjoy along with your baby—this one is a great dish for adults and kids alike!
Mackerel is as versatile as canned salmon or canned tuna. Mild in taste and rich in fat, mackerel are delicious on their own, with a squeeze of citrus or vinegar, mixed into a tomato sauce with pasta, or topped with spices like cumin and paprika and fresh herbs like chives, dill, and parsley.
- 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
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Mackerel Recommendations. Retrieved April 12, 2020
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish allergy. Retrieved January 27, 2020
- Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team. Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis – Fish. Retrieved January 9, 2020