Scallops

Food Type: ,
Age Suggestion: 12 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: Yes (
  • Shellfish & Arthropods
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May cause allergic reactions.

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three raw scallops on a table before being prepared for babies starting solid food

Warning

Scallops are a common cause of food poisoning (to which infants are particularly susceptible), can contain heavy metals and toxic algae from the water, and a choking hazard for babies and adults alike.1 2 Take care to buy the shellfish fresh from a trusted source, cut the scallop into age-appropriate pieces, and avoid serving baby the gill and digestive gland of the scallop, which more readily accumulate toxins in comparison to the muscle (the part that is typically sold in the market).3

When can babies eat scallops?

Fresh or frozen scallops (not canned, cured, or raw) that have been cooked in an age-appropriate way may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. However, we recommend introducing scallops after your baby’s first birthday because the shellfish is quite high in sodium and the meat can be chewy and slippery—a combination that increases the risk of choking.

Background and origins of scallops

Scallops are free-swimming bivalves that live in coastal and deep sea ocean regions around the world. There are more than 400 species—each with its own features and special taste. In the United States, bay scallops and sea scallops are the most common species available from fishmongers, grocery stores, and online retailers. Wild bay scallops are harvested from estuaries and bays along the East Coast, while wild sea scallops hail mostly from the Northern Atlantic and Alaska coasts of the United States. Most farmed scallops come from China.4

Mahalia, 16 months, eats scallops for the first time.
Callie, 16 months, eats scallops.
Adie, 23 months, eats sautéed scallops.

Are scallops healthy for babies?

Yes—and no. Scallops are an excellent source of protein and minerals, yet they are a common cause of food poisoning and naturally high in sodium, which if consumed in excess, can lead to hypernatremia, a condition of having too much sodium in the blood, which affects the balance of water in our bodies.5 Early and excessive exposure to sodium is also thought to play a role in cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity.6

That said, much of the sodium in scallops comes in the form of iodine, an essential ultra-trace mineral that is not only commonly deficient, but vital for a healthy thyroid, which regulates growth and influences the development of your baby’s immune system and brain. Scallops are also among the fish lowest in mercury in all of the sea.7

Beyond the nutritional value, there are environmental considerations to weigh before serving scallops to your baby. Shellfish concentrate toxic algae from water and then transmit the poisonous algae to other animals or humans that eat them. Many of these toxins are not destroyed with cooking and, in fact, some can become even more toxic with heat.8 The United States monitors ocean waters for toxic algae and issues advisories as needed. Always buy shellfish from a reputable source and avoid eating shellfish in countries where algae is not actively monitored.

Are scallops a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Scallops are a choking hazard, including smaller varieties, such as bay scallops, whose round, small shape can actually increase the hazard as a baby is more likely to try to swallow small pieces whole. To prepare scallops safely for babies and toddlers, cook them well (steaming, poaching, or braising works well) and then slice them thinly to reduce the choking risk.

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

Are scallops a common allergen?

Yes. Scallops are a shellfish, and shellfish are among the most common of food allergens. Shellfish is also an allergy that most kids do not outgrow and can develop in adulthood.9 If you have a family history of allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, consult an allergist before introducing scallops.

As with all new foods, introduce by serving a scant quantity of well-cooked scallops and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction the first couple of times, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.

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

6 to 12 months old: Avoid due to sodium levels or offer in scant amounts just for the taste. If you are offering a taste of your own scallops, make sure that they are fully cooked as the shellfish is notorious for causing food poisoning, which babies will be more susceptible to as their immune systems are not fully developed.

12 to 18 months old: Steam, braise, or poach scallops until they are well done. Once cooked, slice thinly to minimize the choking hazard.

18 to 24 months old: Offer bite-size pieces of scallops and encourage your toddler to spear them with a fork or to pick them up with trainer chopsticks. Continue to model chewing to ensure your child doesn’t try to swallow the pieces whole.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

★ Tip:

Scallops are one of the more sustainable seafood choices you can make. No antibiotics or chemicals are used in scallop farming, and farmed scallops typically feed off phytoplankton, their natural food.

Recipe: Scallops with Cauliflower Dip

Ingredients

  • Scallops
  • 1 Head of Cauliflower
  • Coconut or Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Wash and cut the cauliflower florets from their base and stems.
  2. Steam the florets until soft. In a food processor, combine the cauliflower florets with the ¼ cup of oil and puree until smooth.
  3. Using the same steamer (no need to wash it before again), steam the scallops for 8 minutes until they are well done.
  4. Once cool, cut the scallops into thin slices and serve on top of the cauliflower purée as a dip.

Flavor Pairings

Scallops pair well with parsnips, mango, bacon, and grapefruit.

  1. Lin, Y., Lu, J., & Wu, J. (2021). Heavy metals pollution and health risk assessment in farmed scallops: Low level of Cd in coastal water could lead to high risk of seafood. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 208, 111768. doi:10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.111768
  2. McGee, H. (2004) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York, NY: Scribner.
  3. Kennedy, J. (2020, Jan. 29). Scallop facts: habits, behavior, diet. Thought Co. Retrieved February 2, 2020 from: https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-scallops-2291857
  4. Kennedy, J. (2020, Jan. 29). Scallop facts: habits, behavior, diet. Thought Co. Retrieved February 2, 2020
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
  6. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
  7. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2017, Oct. 25). Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved February 2, 2020
  8. McGee, H. (2004) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York, NY: Scribner.
  9. FARE, Shellfish. [website]. (Retrieved March 3, 2020)