Pork is a red meat, though a generation of Americans know it otherwise. Confusion stems from an advertising campaign in the 1980s. At that time, United States pig farmers saw an opportunity when chicken began to compete with beef as America’s favorite meat. The industry launched a campaign to promote pork as “the other white meat” to an increasingly health-conscious American public, and the catchy phrase worked. Rich in fat and flavor, pork grew in popularity among Americans who were beginning to catch onto what many cooks have known for centuries: pork is delicious.
Humans have been raising domestic pigs and hunting wild boar for tens of thousands of years, and it has long been the world’s most consumed meat, despite two world religions that prohibit its consumption. Pork is cured to make bacon, sausage, and other preserved meats and freshly cooked into myriad delicacies, from Canadian tourtière to Cantonese char siu to Cuban lechon. In fact, cooks put the entire animal to use – from rich stews flavored with hocks and trotters, to crunchy cracklins made of fried skin, to jellies and sauces made of pork blood.
★Tip: When shopping for fresh pork, choose meat that is rosy pink to greyish pink in color. Avoid pork that smells bad, feels soft, or looks slimy. And if you buy a bigger cut, don’t worry about the rest going to waste, as cooked pork freezes very well. After cooking a big cut – such as pork shoulder or pork butt – portion the cooked meat into small containers to freeze for up to 6 months. This way, you’ll have easy access to child-sized portions at future mealtimes.
Mila, 8 months, eats a pork meatball
Amelia, 11 months, eats bite-size pieces of pork chop. Note how Amelia's mom tears the cubes of meat into smaller pieces here to reduce the risk of choking
Callie, 16 months, eats bite-size cubes of pork chop. Cubes of meat are a choking hazard for babies, especially those younger than 12 months. Wait until your child has strong chewing, spitting and swallowing skills before offering
Yes. Freshly cooked pork can be a healthy meat for babies when served as part of a balanced diet. The meat offers plenty of essential nutrients, including protein, vitamin B12, choline, and zinc. It also contains a bit of vitamin D, potassium, and selenium. Together, these nutrients fuel a child’s cell growth and cognition and power the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems.
Keep in mind that the type of meat matters: freshly cooked pork is generally a healthier choice for babies and toddlers because processed pork products like bacon, ham, salami, and sausage are usually very high in sodium and contain additives like nitrates, which may negatively affect oxygen levels in the blood when consumed in excess. In addition, processed meats (including cured pork) appear to have an association with cancer, while studies of freshly cooked pork’s association with cancer are not as conclusive.
You may also consider how the animal was raised. Humans are just beginning to better understand the impacts of our use of pesticides, chemicals, and antibiotics. More than 90% of pigs in the United States are raised indoors on large-scale farms, given growth enhancers, and consume primarily grains like corn, soy, and wheat. These farming practices take a toll on the health of not just people but the land that we call home. While pork has less impact on the climate than beef, it consumes three times the amount of land and emits three times more carbon emissions than beans. Sustainable pork is a growing market, but agricultural challenges and the availability and price of the product may make it an impracticable option. Rest assured that the adage “all things in moderation” is a great way to serve pork and if pork is a major part of your family’s diet, this is a good area to spend a bit more for quality meat.
★Tip: Cook pork chops and other cuts of fresh pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) and cook ground pork to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) before serving. Undercooked and raw pork is a high-risk food and is associated with trichinosis (a parasite infection), taenesis (a parasite infection), yersiniosis (a bacterial infection), and other food-borne illnesses.
Yes. All meat, especially chunks and cubes of meat, is a choking hazard for babies and toddlers. 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 to scoop up big handfuls of food). As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of baby at mealtime, and check out our age-appropriate serve suggestions.
No. Pork is not a common food allergen, although reactions to pork have been reported. 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 all non-primate mammalian meat. This results in a delayed allergic reaction 3-8 hours after red meat, such as pork, is consumed. 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. 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, a condition known as pork-cat syndrome.
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.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
At this age, bigger is better—and safer. Offer baby a pork chop on the bone with most of the meat cut off (make sure no parts of the bone are brittle or sharp). You can also serve large strips of pork chop about the size of two adult fingers held together or the pork chop bone (with any loose cartilage, gristle, chunks of meat, or bone removed) for baby to suck and munch on. Alternatively you could serve whole meatballs made from ground pork. Keep in mind that cooked pork can be quite resistive, and baby may not swallow much. If baby succeeds in biting off a too-big piece of meat, take a deep breath and give the child the opportunity to work with the food independently. Coaching baby to spit out too-big pieces of food by sticking out your own tongue can be helpful, too.
At this age, babies develop a pincer grasp (where the thumb and pointer finger meet), which enables the child to pick up smaller pieces of food. That’s when you know that the time has come to move down in size and offer bite-sized pieces of pork (avoid cube shapes) or shredded pork, ground pork, or minced pork. You may also continue with whole pork ribs, making sure to model dramatic chewing and, as needed, spitting for safety.
Continue to offer bite-sized pieces of pork chop; shredded, chopped, or pulled pork; and whole spare ribs. If you feel comfortable you can also offer thin matchstick pieces for your toddler to practice biting and tearing. The thinner the matchstick, the lower the risk.
Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator the day before you plan to cook it.
Season the pork chops with black pepper. Feel free to swap the pepper for any seasoning that you want your child to learn to love. Babies and toddlers tend to like flavors that they try early and often, and there is no need to wait to introduce seasoning.
Set a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat. Once the skillet is very hot, sear the chops. To test if the skillet is ready, flick a drop of water into it. If the water sizzles, the skillet is hot enough to sear the chops.
Cook until the chops have browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes, then flip the chops to brown the other side, about 4 minutes more. If the chops have a large fat cap along the side, use tongs to turn the chops so the fat cap faces down, then hold the chops there for a minute or so. Once the fat is lightly browned, lay the chops flat again and let them soak up the flavor from the rendered fat.
Test that the chops are done: they are ready when there is still a bit of pink meat in the center, and a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 145 F (63 C). Transfer the chops to a cutting board. Let them rest for 5 minutes.
Cut 1 chop into age-appropriate sizes for your child. Season the other chop with salt to taste for yourself. If you like, set aside a pork chop bone to offer to your child as a resistive food teether. Pull off and discard any loose pin bones, gristle, and meat to minimize the risk.
Serve the Chops
Offer pork chop, then let your child self-feed.
If help is needed, hold the pork chop bone or a strip of pork in the air in front of your child, then let them grab it from you.
Eat some pork chop alongside the child to model how it’s done.
To Store: Cooked pork chops keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
Fresh pork has a mild gamey and sweet flavor that pairs well with fruits and vegetables like apple, apricot, asparagus, beetroot, black beans, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, cassava (yuca), celery, chayote, garden pea, onion, pear, potato, rutabaga, snap pea, snow pea, and more. Pork also tastes delicious with rich foods like chestnut, coconut, and egg. Pork tends to absorb flavor, so try cooking the meat with acidic fruits like lime, orange, papaya, pineapple, or tomato and seasoning the meat with spices like chili, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, or herbs like cilantro, dill, or thyme.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Registered dietitian and public health/clinical nutritionist
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