When can babies eat salmon?
Salmon may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. When serving fish to your baby, it is important that the fish is cooked all the way through (and never served undercooked or raw, such as in sushi) and that you refrain from serving cured, dried, salted fish, or smoked fish (such as gravlax), all of which contain high amounts of sodium. Excess sodium can prime your baby’s palate for salty foods, increase the risk of obesity, and put your child at greater risk of developing hypertension, which can lead to heart disease and stroke later in life.1 2
Compared to tuna and other popular fish, salmon is low in mercury, high in omega-3 fatty acids, and a terrific fish for babies and adults alike.3
Is salmon safe and healthy for babies?
Yes, in moderation. Salmon contains many essential nutrients that babies need to thrive, including vitamin D (often deficient in babies), iron, selenium, and zinc. Salmon is also one of the top seafood sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, which makes up a large percentage a baby’s brain and is critical for visual and cognitive development.4
However, because chemical pollution emitted into the air from coal, oil, and natural gas plants is washed by rain into our oceans and rivers, nearly all fish now contain varying levels of toxic metals and pollutants. Of particular concern is mercury, a metal that once in water, is converted by microorganisms to methylmercury, a neurotoxin that builds up in fish and is known to cause brain damage.5 The most susceptible? Babies, unborn babies in utero, and children.6
When shopping for salmon, look for wild-caught fresh salmon from Alaska, which tends to be low in toxins.7 Wild Alaskan salmon varieties include Chinook (King), Chum, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye. Canned salmon is an excellent option, too—just be sure the can is marked “no salt added” or “low sodium” as well as “BPA-free”. Canned fish can be high in sodium—which, in excess, is not good for babies or adults alike—and BPA is a chemical used to line the interior of cans and pouches that can disrupt your baby’s hormone levels and bodily functions.
Of note, in 2015, the FDA approved genetically engineered salmon (called “AquAdvantage® Salmon”) which is the first federally-approved genetically modified animal species.8 Its genetic make-up enables the fish to grow year-round in land-based production facilities. AquAdvantage® Salmon is expected to hit the market in 2020, but it may not be labeled as such until 2022.9 How the bioengineered fish will impact human health is unclear.
Is wild-caught salmon better than farmed salmon?
It’s complicated. There are three main considerations here: contamination levels; omega-3 fatty acid content; and the environment. When selecting salmon you typically need to prioritize one of those considerations.
From a standpoint of health, wild Alaskan salmon is our preferred choice for babies and adults alike. Wild salmon are caught in their natural environment, where they eat a diet from the waters they call home. Most of the wild-caught salmon in American grocery stores comes from the Pacific Ocean, where the fish populations have yet to be depleted by human consumption. Wild-caught salmon is often available year-round, but its peak season for taste is late summer (when the salmon have fattened themselves by months of feasting in preparation for their spawning season).10
Farmed salmon are raised year-round in shoreline ocean pens all over the world, from Asia to Europe to North and South America. Any “Atlantic salmon” you see is typically farmed salmon. In addition to toxins from pollutants in the ocean, farmed salmon often contain antibiotics and pesticides used to control the spread of sea lice, a common problem when fish are penned up in small spaces. Farmed salmon may also be fed nutrient-poor food that is not natural for the fish, thereby reducing the nutritional benefits.11 As with ocean fish, farmed salmon contains traces of toxins as a result of water pollution.
Like so many other fish, salmon are overfished to the point where some regulatory bodies have limited or banned the catch in an effort to avoid extinction. Fish population decline is not just a bummer for parents who want to introduce fish and help their baby learn to love the taste. Overfishing of salmon has a major ripple effect on the health and well-being of our ocean’s ecosystem and creatures who depend on the food supply, including whales, seals, and other sea life. When possible, purchase products from fisheries that prioritize sustainability.
Is salmon a common choking hazard?
Unlike shrimp and shellfish, salmon is not a common choking hazard for babies and children, though bones in fresh fish can present a hazard if not removed. Always pick out any bones and run your fingers through the fish to ensure no bones remain.
Is salmon a common allergen?
As with all new foods, introduce salmon by serving a scant quantity for the first couple of times and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future servings.
If you have a family history of allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, consult an allergist before introducing seafood at home.
How do you prepare salmon 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: To serve fresh salmon, first make sure you remove all the bones and that you cook it all the way through. You can offer your baby pieces of the cooked fish about the size of two adult pinky fingers together. This size is a safe amount for your baby to consume but also easier for babies to grab ahold of than small flakes of fish are. If you do opt to flake the fish into other dishes, serving in a bowl that suctions to the table will help with hand-scooping.
12 to 18 months old: This is a great age to introduce canned salmon, in the form of patties or salmon salad. To serve canned salmon, just open the package, rinse the fish to get rid of any excess sodium, and use as you would fresh salmon. To make salmon salad, just mix well with mashed avocado, mayonnaise, olive oil, or yogurt.
18 to 24 months old: This is a good time to focus on fresh salmon while your toddler’s food preferences take root. Serve it flaked on its own or mixed into other foods, preloading the fork as necessary. If you’d like to introduce smoked salmon or gravlax, you may do so, though it’s best to hold off on cured and smoked fish in general as it tends to be exceedingly high in sodium.
For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.
★ Tip: When introducing a new food, try serving it two ways: for example, salmon fish cakes and plain salmon flakes. Every child is different, and certain textures and shapes will appeal to your baby more than others.
Recipe: Salmon Cakes*
- Wild Alaskan salmon filet
- Onion or shallot
- Unsalted butter or olive oil
- Paprika (sweet, not hot)
- Panko Breadcrumbs
- Coconut or avocado oil
- Remove any pin bones from the fish. Place the fillet (it’s okay to leave the skin on) in about an inch of water in a non-stick skillet. Place a couple lemon slices on top of the fillet, and cover the pan with a lid.
- Simmer for a few minutes, until the fish is fully cooked. Lift the fillet out of the water and set it aside on a cutting board. Once cool, peel off the skin and discard.
- While the salmon is poaching, finely dice 1 small onion or medium-sized shallot. Place the onion along with 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Lightly beat two eggs in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in a small spoonful of mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a hearty sprinkle of sweet paprika. Stir in the sautéed onions (reserve the skillet to cook the patties).
- Add the cooked fish a spoonful of breadcrumbs, and mix well. If the mixture seems too wet to form patties, add more breadcrumbs. If too dry, add more mayo.
- Scoop up a small handful of the mix, form it into a small patty, and place on a large plate. Continue until all of the mix is formed into patties.
- Add a generous pour of coconut oil or avocado oil to the skillet and reheat it over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until a small drop of water sizzles in it.
- Gently set a couple patties in the pan (don’t overcrowd) and cook for a few minutes, until its lightly browned. Flip and cook for a few minutes more. Lift the patties out and cool on a paper towel-lined plate while you cook the remaining patties. Serve at room temperature on top of mayonnaise or yogurt for dipping.
*Note: this recipe contains a number of potentially allergenic foods. Only serve it after wheat and eggs have been safely introduced.
Salmon is a fatty, oily fish that pairs well with lots of ingredients, from acidic foods like lemon and lime; to flavorful produce like asparagus, avocado, broccoli, and mushrooms; to fresh herbs like chives, cilantro, and dill. When you feel your baby is ready, try serving salmon with bold flavors like tart gooseberries and spicy horseradish.
- Baker SS, Baker RD. Early Exposure to Dietary Sugar and Salt. Pediatrics March 2015, 135 (3) 550-551
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- 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
- NCBI, The Relationship of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) with Learning and Behavior in Healthy Children: A Review (website). Retrieved February 3, 2020.
- Mercury Emissions: Global Context. Environmental Protection Agency. (website). Retrieved February 3, 2020.
- Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury, Environmental Protection Agency.(website). Retrieved February 3, 2020.
- Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector. Salmon. Retrieved January 27, 2020
- GMO Answers. Nine Things You Need to Know about GMO Salmon. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
- Evich, H. & Crampton, L. (2019, Mar. 8). FDA paves the way for GMO salmon to hit the market. Politico. Retrieved January 27, 2020.
- Kummer, C. (2006, October). Salmon Time. The Atlantic.
- Sprague, M., Dick, J. & Tocher, D. (2016, Feb. 22). Impact of sustainable feeds on omega-3 long-chain fatty acid levels in farmed Atlantic salmon, 2006–2015. Scientific Reports, 6(21892). doi.org/10.1038/srep21892. Retrieved January 9, 2020
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish allergy. Retrieved January 27, 2020.
- Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team. Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis – Fish. Retrieved January 9, 2020