Rice

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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Common Allergen: No
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a pile of arborio rice before being prepared for babies starting solid food

When can babies eat rice?

Rice and rice products may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. However, it is important to point out that rice and rice products (including organic rice cereal made for babies) contain trace amounts of arsenic (a toxic metal).1 As such, it is our opinion that you should avoid serving rice cereal to your baby.

Rice is the grain of a diverse family of grasses and a beloved staple food for nearly half of the world’s population.2 Arborio rice, basmati rice, bomba rice, sticky rice, wild rice—there are more than 100,000 varieties of rice and each has distinct tastes and culinary uses.3 While rice is known to take up toxic metals from polluted soils more easily than other plants, certain varieties can be safe and healthy additions to your baby’s diet in moderation.

Isar, 11 months, eats brown rice with black beans.
Adie, 12 months old, eats rice with minced chicken.
Hawii, 14 months, eats rice pilaf.

Is rice healthy for babies?

It depends on the variety and where it was grown. All rice contains traces of arsenic, a toxic metal and known carcinogen.4 This includes organic rice and brown rice. (In fact, brown rice tends to have higher levels of arsenic because, as a plant, rice stores arsenic in rice bran, the outer layer of the grain that is left intact for “brown” rice rather than removed during milling to create “white” rice.)5

Infants and children are particularly susceptible to adverse neurodevelopmental effects of exposure to arsenic.6 Furthermore, exposure to the toxic metal is associated with an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.7 Unfortunately, studies have demonstrated that infant rice cereal contributes to a baby’s dietary exposure to arsenic.8 9 10

Nutritionally, rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates to power our bodies with energy. Generally speaking, brown rice contains more protein and essential nutrients like B vitamins, copper, fiber, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than white rice, whose grain kernel is stripped of its nutritious bran coating during processing. That said, sometimes white rice is artificially enriched with nutrients, so the nutritional profile of rice really depends on where it was grown and how it was processed. Yet another reason to read the fine print on food labels!

Why does rice contain arsenic?

Many fruits, vegetables, and edible plants have trace amounts of arsenic and other chemicals as a result of pesticide residue in the soils from long ago (and pollution), but rice is especially susceptible.11 The plant soaks up toxins in the soil and water in which it grows, and because rice is typically grown in a paddy, the risk is greater.12 Water and soil contain arsenic because of lead-arsenate insecticides used before the 1980s (when they were banned), animal feed, and certain fertilizers.13 The amount varies by location, and as a result, the amount of arsenic in rice depends on the source and processing method.

Which rice is lowest in arsenic?

White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan and sushi rice from the United States.14

Organically grown rice absorbs arsenic in the same way as conventionally grown rice, so you can’t rely on the organic labels to avoid arsenic altogether.15 The level depends on where it was grown, but generally speaking, brown rice tends to have more arsenic than white rice.16 Why? Arsenic accumulates in rice bran, the outer layer of the grain that is left intact for “brown” rice rather than removed during milling to create “white” rice. Pay attention to the labels as some regions produce rice with higher amounts of arsenic than others.17 Regions known to produce rice with the highest levels of arsenic include Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

Is it possible to reduce the arsenic in rice?

Yes. Using a high ratio of 6 to 10 parts water to 1 part rice when boiling will reduce arsenic levels, though doing so will also reduce its nutritional content.18 While rinsing has minimal effects on reducing arsenic in rice, there is a study that demonstrated that soaking brown rice in filtered water helps, and that the longer it soaks, and the higher the temperature of the soaking water, the more arsenic is removed.19 When cooking, the more water added to the pot, the more arsenic is removed from the rice.20 Just be sure to drain the excess water after cooking!

How much rice is safe for babies to eat?

Our professional opinion is to serve rice and rice products to infants no more than two times per week and, whenever possible, to opt for alternative grains that tend to be lower in heavy metals.

As part of its extensive analysis of arsenic in rice and rice products, Consumer Reports developed a helpful point system based on serving size and frequency to limit arsenic exposure in babies. It is worth studying before serving rice to your baby. But the fact is that there is no known safe level of exposure to arsenic, and babies are particularly susceptible to toxins in our food. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration set a limit for levels of arsenic in food and declared that parents should consider alternatives to rice cereal for a baby’s first food.21

What grains and rice alternatives are lowest in arsenic?

All grains have trace amounts of arsenic and other toxic metals from the soil and water in which they are grown. However, studies show that the grains below tend to have the lowest amounts of arsenic.22

What’s the best rice cereal for babies?

Rice cereal need not be a first food. Not only does rice cereal contain elevated levels of arsenic, a bland, texture-less diet can cause babies to develop a preference for such foods, thereby increasing the risk of picky eating.23 Our professional opinion is that rice cereal (both infant rice cereal and cereals made from rice for children) should be avoided. Instead, serve iron-fortified cereals made from amaranth, barley, buckwheat, kamut, organic oats, quinoa, or wheat—all which have lower levels of arsenic than rice.24

What’s the best rice cracker for babies?

It depends on your goals. If you want to minimize exposure to arsenic, opt for thin puffed cakes made from ingredients other than rice, such as Suzie’s spelt cakes or Suzie’s corn and quinoa cakes. If your goal is to minimize sodium or serve gluten-free food, choose thin-style rice cakes, such as Lundberg’s 5 grain cakes. This information is not sponsored—we simply want to give you examples as a starting point in your research.

Is rice a common choking hazard for babies?

It’s tricky. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention names rice as a choking hazard for babies younger than 12 months old.25 Sound crazy?

Our swallowing experts and pediatrician question the CDC’s classification of grains of rice as a choking hazard for 6 to 12 months olds because grains of rice are significantly smaller than the size of an infant airway. However, the way we tend to eat rice —several grains at a time—make it a little challenging for babies to manage, which could possibly lead to this food scattering as the baby swallows and possibly getting into baby’s airway (aspiration) causing a lot of coughing and discomfort. Encouraging small bites and helping your child bind the individual grains using a sauce such as yogurt or hummus can help reduce the risk of scatter while your baby is swallowing.

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is rice a common allergen?

No, though it’s not unheard of.26 As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity of rice on its own at first. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the serving size over future mealtimes.

How do you prepare rice for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Flatten rice with the back of a fork and serve as you wish. Forming it into a ball will help babies at this age self feed. Thin rice cakes are a terrific vehicle for low-sodium cheese like ricotta and high-protein spreadable foods like liver and sardines, which are packed with iron. Avoid rice cereal; instead, serve focus on pseudograins like amaranth and quinoa or organic oats.

12 to 18 months old: Offer rice as you wish. Toddlers will love a good rice ball as the round shape makes it easy for them to self-feed. Try recipes for arancini, sticky rice, or any dish that can be formed into a patty, and swap rice for alternatives grains when possible.

18 to 24 months old: Explore any grain dish in any format you like! At this age, babies still love round patties but they will also happily scoop rice with hands and utensils. Introduce the concept of flavors by serving rice two ways, such as plain rice with butter and seasoned rice. Babies love choice just like adults!

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Recipe: Kimchi Rice Balls

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sticky rice (also known as “glutinous” and “sweet” rice)
  • 1 teaspoon kimchi

Directions

  1. Put rice in a colander and rinse until the water runs clear.
  2. Place rice in a bowl and cover with at least 3 inches of liquid so the rice has room to expand while soaking. Soak for at least 4 hours. Drain.
  3. Place rice in a steamer (a colander lined with cheesecloth and placed in a large covered pot will do) and steam for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and flip the rice. Cover and steam until the rice is done, approximately 10 to 20 minutes more. The grains will be translucent and glossy.
  4. Rinse the kimchi in a colander to remove excess sodium and heat. Finely mince.
  5. When the rice is done, remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Mix in the kimchi with a fork. Form into balls and serve immediately.

Flavor Pairings

Brown and white rice have distinctive tastes—and even within those categories, there are different varieties of rice with varying flavors and textures. Generally speaking, brown rice has an earthy, nutty flavor and chewy texture, while white rice has a bland flavor and stickier texture. Both brown and white are best paired with your favorite seasonings. Try mixing rice with bold herbs like basil and parsley, cooking rice in flavor-forward liquids like bone broth or coconut milk, or serving in a casserole or salad with fruits and vegetables to add taste and texture.

  1. Consumer Reports. (2012). Arsenic in your food. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  2. McGee, Harold. 1984. On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. New York, NY: Scribner.
  3. Tucker, A. (2018). Here’s the verdict on if rice is healthy, including brown versus white. Well + Good. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  4. Consumer Reports. (2012). Arsenic in your food. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  5. Ibid.
  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Supporting Document for Draft Guidance for Industry on Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants: Action Level. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  7. Consumer Reports. (2015). How much arsenic is in your rice? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  8. Healthy Babies Bright Future. (2019). What’s in my baby food? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  9. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Supporting Document for Draft Guidance for Industry on Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants: Action Level. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  10. Consumer Reports. (2015). How much arsenic is in your rice? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  11. Consumer Reports. (2015). How much arsenic is in your rice? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  12. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Supporting Document for Draft Guidance for Industry on Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants: Action Level. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  13. Consumer Reports. (2012). Arsenic in your food. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  14. Consumer Reports. (2015). How much arsenic is in your rice? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  15. Consumer Reports. (2015). How much arsenic is in your rice? Retrieved May 21, 2020
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. U.S. Federal Drug Administration. What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic. Retrieved February 2021.
  19. Zhang, F., Gu, F., Yan, H., He, Z., Wang, B. et al. (2020). Effects of soaking process on arsenic and other mineral elements in brown rice. Food Science and Human Wellness. DOI: 10.1016/j.fshw.2020.01.005. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  20. Sohn, E. (2015). Simple cooking method flushes arsenic out of rice. Scientific American. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  21. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Supporting Document for Draft Guidance for Industry on Inorganic Arsenic in Rice Cereals for Infants: Action Level. Retrieved May 21, 2020
  22. Consumer Reports. (2012). Arsenic in your food. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  23. Bentley, A. (2014). Inventing baby food: Taste, health, and the industrialization of the American diet. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
  24. Consumer Reports. (2012). Results of our tests of rice and rice products. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  25. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Choking Hazards. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  26. Jeon, Y., Oh, S., Yang, H., Lee, S., Pyun, B. (2011). Identification of Major Rice Allergen and Their Clinical Significance in Children. Korean Journal of Pediatrics, 54(10), 414-421.. DOI: 10.3345/kjp.2011.54.10.414. Retrieved May 21, 2020.