When can babies eat quinoa?
Quinoa may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is native to South America, where the plant has grown wild in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru for thousands of years. In Quechua, the ancestral language of the Incan people, quinoa is known as chisiya mama (or “mother of all grains”) and holds sacred status as a staple food that is believed to hold special powers, including enhancing the quantity of breast milk in women.1 Today, the plant is cultivated primarily for its edible seeds. Yes, quinoa is actually a seed—not a grain! Quinoa seeds have a comparable nutritional make-up and texture to grains. They are even ground down into flour, just like wheat, and used as a substitute for grains in many recipes, from pancakes to tortillas to quick breads and more.
Quinoa has an earthy, nutty flavor with a powerful nutritional profile, which makes it a great first “grain” for babies. Read on for the health benefits, just be forewarned. Those tiny grains are annoying to clean up!
Is quinoa healthy for babies?
Yes! The tiny seeds are packed with nutrients that your baby needs to thrive. Quinoa contains a fair amount of iron and protein, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for heart health, calcium for strong bones, B vitamins for energy, magnesium for cell function, zinc for immune health, and the list goes on!
Quinoa is an excellent replacement for rice and other whole grains. It provides double the protein per serving as wheat or brown rice, and as an added bonus, it boasts a full amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of every protein in the body, and it’s unusual to find all of them in one plant source.
While there are claims that saponin (the protective plant compound in a quinoa seed’s outer coating) is harmful to our gut lining, don’t worry too much. Saponin typically only causes problems for people with sensitivities or individuals with gut disorders who consume high volumes of quinoa. In fact, the phytochemical is actually beneficial with its antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory effects.2
Is quinoa a common choking hazard for babies?
No. Quinoa seeds are not choking hazards, though they can clump together in the cooking process. Be sure to fluff and separate quinoa with a fork before serving to your baby.
Is quinoa a common allergen?
No. Quinoa allergy is rare. If your baby has Celiac Disease, talk with your doctor or allergist before introducing quinoa. There are different varieties of quinoa, one of which has been found to contain a protein component that can cause reactions.3
If you suspect your baby may be allergic to grains, talk with a pediatric allergist before introducing quinoa at home. Otherwise, as with any new food, introduce quinoa in small quantities to start and if there are no adverse reactions, gradually increase the quantity served over future servings.
How do you prepare quinoa 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: Try cooking quinoa as a porridge or fold it into another “scoop-able” dish for your baby, which will lead to fewer quinoa seeds to clean up. Another easy way to serve this superfood: quinoa balls. Mix the cooked seeds with a food that can act as a binding agent—hello, cheese!—and form baby-sized balls for easy grabbing and holding. Look for recipes that are and easy to make and just hold the salt.
12 to 18 months old: Continue with quinoa balls and quinoa porridge. This is also a great age to introduce quinoa salad with a spoon. Help your baby along by adding another splash of olive oil to the cooked quinoa (which causes the seeds to stick to the utensil) and pre-load your baby’s spoon if need be.
18 to 24 months old: Time to play! Quinoa is versatile, so try using it in your favorite recipe and experiment with new ones. Quinoa salad, quinoa burgers, quinoa soup, quinoa casserole, quinoa bread, quinoa muffins, quinoa cakes, the list goes on!
For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.
Some varieties of quinoa have a slight bitterness from the saponin in the seed coating. If bitter is not your thing, minimize the flavor by rinsing quinoa in cold water before cooking.
Recipe: Coconut Quinoa Porridge*
Age: 6 months+
- Coconut milk
- Vanilla extract (optional)
- Finely ground nuts (optional)
- Rinse ½ cup of quinoa in a mesh colander until the water runs clear.
- Bring 1 cup of coconut milk to a gentle simmer. Add the quinoa. Cook until done, about 15 minutes.
- While the quinoa is cooking, peel and mash a banana in a mixing bowl.
- If your baby is 12 months old and up, add a tiny drop of vanilla extract to the banana and 1 teaspoon of finely ground nuts, such as cashews, pecans, or walnuts, if you’d like. Stir to combine.
- Fold in the cooked quinoa to the banana mixture. Cool to room temperature.
- Serve in a bowl that suctions to the table. To encourage self-feeding, pre-load a spoon and hand it to your baby in the air or rest the utensil on the edge of the bowl for an easy pick-up.
*This recipe contains allergens. Only serve after introducing coconut and wheat (since some quinoa strains contain a similar protein), and of course, the nut that you choose to add.
Quinoa is earthy, hearty, and nutty—flavors that pair well with both acidic and sweet foods. Try mixing quinoa with fruits like apple, banana, cranberry, mango, and pear and vegetables like cucumbers, kale, mustard greens, and peppers. Stir in nuts like pecans or walnuts or tangy cheese like feta or chevre for a dose of healthy fats. Add grassy herbs and alliums like chives and scallions to add brightness. You’ve got yourself a salad that is great on its own or paired with pretty much any fish or meat.
- Popence, Hugh. (1989). Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- Graf, B., Rojas-Silva, P., Rojo, L., Delatorre-Herrera, J., Baldeón, M., Raskin, I. (2015). Innovations in Health Value and Functional Food Development of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.). Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 14(4): 431–445. doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12135 Retrieved May 6, 2020
- Zevallos, V., Ellis, J., Šuligoj, T., Herencia, I., Ciclitira, P. (2012). Variable activation of immune response by quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) prolamins in celiac disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(2): 337-344. doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.030684 Retrieved May 6, 2020