Oats

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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Poop Friendly:Whether a food has qualities that help baby poop. Yes
Common Allergen: No
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a pile of quick oats on a white background for babies starting solids

When can babies eat oatmeal?

Oats may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Oats are commonly cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains, rendering them no longer gluten-free, so those with celiac disease should take care and buy certified gluten-free oats. Granola, which often contains oats, is a choking hazard and may contain honey, which is unsafe for babies under 12 months.

Need more first food ideas? Our First Foods Essentials bundle has everything you need to get started.

Oatmeal vs. rice cereal

In general, oat cereal has an edge over rice cereal: rice and rice products tend to be higher in arsenic. While arsenic can be found in many grains and other foods due to contamination of the soil, oats are among the grains lower in arsenic.1 2 To reduce a child’s exposure to heavy metals, focus on products that use multiple grains, including oats.3 Generally speaking, amaranth seed, barley, bulgur (wheat), corn, farro (wheat), or millet as main ingredients have been shown to contain the lowest levels of heavy metals compared to other grains.4 For more information on heavy metals in foods, read our post here.

Riley, 8 mos, eats oatmeal with mashed strawberries.
Isar, 10 months, eats oatmeal two ways: in the form of balls and with a spoon.
Zuri, 15 months, eats oatmeal with a spoon.

Where do oats come from?

Oats are a family of cereal grasses that are widely cultivated for the edible seeds that we call grains. Humans have been consuming oats since ancient times, and while the exact origin of the plant is unknown, historians believe that wild oat grasses may have originated in the fertile lands of North Africa and Southwest Asia. Today, the plant thrives worldwide wherever the weather is wet and cool—from the South American plains where oats are called avena, to the Northern European flatlands where the grain is known as coirce and havre. Whether it’s made of chewy groats, steel-cut oats, or instant oatmeal, oatmeal and other grain porridges have been served to babies since the days before refrigeration.

Are oats and oatmeal healthy for babies?

Yes. Oats and oatmeal are packed with healthy carbohydrates and contain a special form of fiber called beta-glucan, which is particularly beneficial for gut and immune health. They are a great source of zinc, which supports baby’s immune system, taste, and smell, with smaller amounts of other nutrients, including folate, choline, iron, magnesium, and selenium, to name a few. Oats are incredibly dense in phytonutrients— plant compounds that have a host of benefits in the human body—such as quercetin, rutin, phytosterols, alkaloids, and more.5 6 7 Many infant oatmeal products also contain added nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and sometimes vitamin C to aid in iron absorption.

★Tip: When buying instant oatmeal, products marketed for infants aren’t your only option. Regular instant oatmeal is also fine for babies and can expose them to more varied texture than infant cereals. Just take care to read labels closely and opt for products with no added sweeteners.

Does infant cereal have to be baby's first food?

No. Infant cereal, oat-based or otherwise, does not have to be a baby’s first food. Baby cereals were historically recommended as a first food because they are often fortified with iron, an essential nutrient that tends to be low in babies consuming primarily breast/human milk starting around 4-6 months of age. However, other iron-rich foods can be offered instead of or in addition to infant cereals. For a list of foods high in bioavailable iron, check out our Top 25 Iron-Rich Foods for Babies & Toddlers.

Are oats gluten free?

It depends on the specific product. Even though oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains (such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale), rendering them no longer gluten-free.8 9 If a baby or toddler has celiac disease, be sure to read labels and opt for certified gluten-free oats.

Can babies drink oat milk?

No. Prior to 12 months, the only liquids an infant should receive are breast (human) milk, infant formula, and if the baby is older than 6 months of age, water in small amounts (about 2-4 ounces / 60-120 milliliters a day) in an open cup.10 11 If oat milk is used as an ingredient in solid food, then it is acceptable to serve before 12 months of age.

If, after the first birthday, you’d like to introduce unsweetened oat milk as a beverage, it’s fine to do so, but know that oat milk is not the most nutritious plant-based milk for toddlers; typically, fortified soy or pea milk contain more key nutrients.12 While oat milk is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, it’s often very low in protein, which is important for a growing child.13 See our Milk FAQs to learn more.

Can babies have raw oats?

It depends on the type. Most rolled oats or instant oats are typically heat-treated to kill harmful germs, so they’re technically not raw.14 15 On the other hand, steel-cut oats may not be as extensively heat-treated, so there is an increased risk of foodborne illness if this type is not cooked before offering to baby.16 In addition, uncooked oats of any kind can be harder for baby to eat and digest. If offering uncooked oats, then plain rolled or instant oats offer a better choice from a food safety perspective. As always, make sure to store oats in an airtight container in a cool, clean, dry area.17

Can babies have granola?

Yes, as long as the granola is free of honey and finely ground up. If granola contains any common food allergens (such as tree nuts and sesame), make sure that the foods have been safely introduced before grinding up the granola to sprinkle on baby’s food.

Traditionally, granola is dense in texture, requiring advanced chewing skills, and contains nuts and dried fruit which are common choking hazards. In addition, it may contain potentially allergenic foods, such as tree nuts, peanuts, sesame, and wheat. Granola can also often be high in added sugar and possibly contain honey, which is unsafe for babies under 12 months due to the risk of infant botulism. That said, when these issues are addressed, finely ground granola can be a fun topping for yogurt, cooked fruits, and more. For breakfast inspiration, see our strawberry granola or coconut granola recipes.

Can babies have oatmeal made with milk?

Yes. Once dairy has been safely introduced and ruled out as an allergen, cow’s milk can be used to make oatmeal and other solid foods. However, babies should not consume cow’s milk as a drink until closer to 12 months of age because it lacks the nutrition that breast (human) milk and formula offer and can displace the desire for breast (human) milk or formula. For more information on introducing milk and dairy to babies, see our Milk FAQs.

Can oats help baby poop?

Yes. Oats offer good amounts of fiber—beta-glucan in particular—as well as resistant starches, in addition to other qualities, which in combination with a balanced and varied diet, can help support overall digestive health and bowel regularity.18 19 20 Resistant starches “resist” typical digestion and instead travel to the large intestines, where they feed beneficial gut bacteria.21 22 23 Note that 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.

Are oats a common choking hazard for babies?

No, cooked oats and oatmeal do not pose a particular risk of choking, although in theory, an individual could choke on any food. Forms of baked oatmeal, baked goods made with oats, and granola certainly can pose a risk. To minimize the risk, offer baked goods cut into age-appropriate sizes and finely grind granola. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during mealtimes. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Are oats a common allergen?

No, oats are not a common cause of IgE-mediated allergies, although reactions to oats have been reported, particularly when the grains are applied to the skin of sensitive individuals.24 Keep in mind that many foods that are prepared using oats, such as cereals, breads, and other baked goods, may contain common allergens such as dairy, eggs, tree nuts, and wheat.

Oats and other oat products are a common trigger of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, also known as FPIES. FPIES is a rare and delayed allergy to food protein which causes the sudden onset of repetitive vomiting and diarrhea to begin a few hours after ingestion of the food trigger. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration.25 26 Fortunately, most cases resolve completely by early childhood. To learn more about FPIES, read our post on Food Allergens and Babies.

If baby has celiac disease, be sure to read product labels and opt for certified gluten-free oats. Despite oats being naturally gluten-free, many oats and oat products can be cross contaminated with gluten-containing grains (such as wheat, barley, and rye), rendering them no longer gluten-free.27 28 Celiac disease requires a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet and lifestyle.29 A gluten “allergy” is typically a misnomer, often in reference to celiac disease.30

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings and watch closely for any signs of an allergic reaction. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future servings.

How do you prepare oats and oatmeal for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Prepare oatmeal with water, breast (human) milk, formula—or with whole cow’s milk once it has been safely introduced. Read more about cooking with breast milk. Remember, no honey until after age one due to the risk of infant botulism. To encourage self-feeding, preload a spoon with oatmeal and pass it in the air for baby to grab it. Cooking oatmeal a bit longer and uncovered helps it reach a consistency that clings to spoons more easily or can be rolled into balls, which tend to be easier for young babies to self-feed.

9 to 12 months old: Continue to offer oats as oatmeal and try serving it two ways: as a ball for baby to hold and as a porridge that baby can scoop up with hands. You can also experiment with oats in other finger foods for baby: blueberry buttermilk pancakes, grain balls, lamb meatballs, or muffins.

12 to 24 months old: By this age, toddlers may be growing tired of warm cereals if it’s been a regular meal, so don’t worry about taking a break from oatmeal in favor of finger foods like pancakes, energy balls, or meatballs. You can also get creative by offering different types of oats: for example, try using steel-cut oats in place of rice to make butternut squash risotto. When you do serve oatmeal at this age, try sprucing up the dish by adding fruits, pulverized nuts, nut butters, or even a dollop of mascarpone cheese.

a hand holding some oatmeal pressed into a ball for babies 6 mos+
Cook oatmeal with the lid off until stiff, let cool, then form into balls. Oatmeal in this form is easier for babies 6 months+ to self-feed.
How to pre-load spoons for babies to encourage self-feeding

Mix up your mornings with ideas from our guide, 50 Breakfasts for Babies & Toddlers.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with oats?

Oatmeal is a simple way to introduce the grain to baby, and an excellent vehicle with new ingredients and textures. Experiment with alternative cooking liquids like buttermilk or coconut milk. Stir in a pinch of spice like cinnamon or walnut that has been finely ground into powder. Mix in mashed fruit to add bright color, or use oatmeal as a base to make energy balls. Or use rolled oats to make a batch of strawberry granola or coconut granola. Oatmeal is often sweetened, but it tastes delicious with savory flavors, too: try adding squash puree and warm spices like cardamom, garam masala, or mace. Or take a cue from the Scots and make skirlie, a savory oatmeal made with onions, butter, spices, and drippings from cooked meats.

Recipe: Baby’s First Oatmeal

bowl of oatmeal

Yield: 1 cup (240 milliliters)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

This recipe contains common allergen: tree nut (almond). It also contains oatmeal, which may include wheat. Be sure to check the ingredient list on the label and only serve to a child after any allergens have been safely introduced. Avoid oatmeal with honey, which should not be given to babies under 12 months of age.

Directions

  1. Place the instant oats in a baby bowl.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, then pour into the bowl. Stir to combine.
  3. Let the oatmeal sit until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the breast (human) milk or formula.
  5. If you like, sprinkle almond that has been finely ground into powder on top.
  6. Serve the oatmeal and let baby try to self-feed. If baby needs help, preload a spoon and rest it next to the bowl for baby to try to pick up. Alternatively, pass the preloaded spoon in the air for baby to grab from you.

To Store: Baby’s First Oatmeal keeps in a sterile air-tight container in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Learn more about cooking and storing foods made with breast (human) milk or formula.

Flavor Pairings

Oats pair well with blueberry, cherry, coconut, ghee, pear, and strawberry.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP

K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC

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

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

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

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