Shellfish is a common cause of food poisoning and because the immune systems of young babies are not fully developed, infants are more at risk. Shrimp is also a major choking risk. If you want to introduce shrimp to your baby or toddler take care to source it carefully, cook it thoroughly, and cut it into age appropriate pieces to reduce the choking risk.
When can babies eat shrimp?
Technically shrimp may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids. However, you may want to wait until your baby’s first birthday to serve shrimp with any regularity. Their chewy, slippery texture can be tough for babies to break down, plus the crustaceans are naturally high in sodium, which in excess, is not healthy. Shrimp are a popular ingredient in cooking around the world, but the global shrimp market is not without its flaws.
Is shrimp healthy for babies?
Yes—in moderation. Fresh or frozen shrimp are an excellent source of protein, plus they offer omega-3 fatty acids to help strengthen your baby’s growing cells. The crustaceans also contain plenty of essential nutrients: vitamin B12 and choline to support brain development; selenium to power the immune system and thyroid; and zinc to fuel growth. A bonus: shrimp tends to be lower in mercury than lots of other fish.1
That said, it’s best to serve shrimp in moderation for a couple of reasons. First, shrimp is packed with sodium: a single serving contains 150 milligrams—that’s about 75 percent of the recommended daily sodium for babies under 12 months of age.2 3 4 Second, shrimp is often treated with antibiotics and chemicals to retain color, increase moisture, reduce spoilage, and guard against disease on fish farms.5 6 7 8
If these considerations give you pause, rest assured there are plenty of healthy, sustainable shrimp on the market. As a general rule of thumb, fresh or frozen whole, shell-on shrimp purchased during their peak season (yes, shrimp are seasonal—just like vegetables!) will likely pose fewer problems… just ask your fishmonger to be sure. They love to talk fish!
When purchasing shrimp from a freezer case, read the labels and try to opt for a reliable source just as you would with all your food. Check out the Seafood Watch, a widely respected go-to resource by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for its list of shrimp to buy and avoid, or keep an eye out for certifications on pre-packaged shrimp from industry watchdog groups like the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.9 10 11
Note: Shrimp is associated with human trafficking and forced labor in fisheries that supply Costco, Walmart, and other global retailers.12 13 Finally, wild-caught shrimp often results in damage to ocean habitats and large amounts of bycatch—the fish, turtles, and other sea creatures that are caught in trawlers that fishermen use to scoop up large quantities of the crustaceans at once.14
Is shrimp a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. The rubbery texture of shellfish can present a risk for babies and toddlers especially when served whole. To minimize the risk, mince into other foods or slice very thinly. As always, be sure to create a safe eating environment and stay with in an arm’s reach of your child at meal time.
Is shrimp a common allergen?
Yes. Shrimp is a type of shellfish, which are among the most common food allergens and babies with shrimp allergy are more likely to experience reactions to other shellfish in the crustacean (crawfish, crab, lobster, shrimp) and, to a lesser degree, mollusk (clam, mussel, octopus, oyster, scallop, snail, squid) families.15 16 Shrimp also commonly contain preservatives with sulfites, which some individuals are sensitive to.17 If you have a family history of seafood allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to shellfish, consult an allergist before introducing shrimp.
Interestingly, shellfish allergy commonly develops in adulthood, and for those who develop it in childhood, most will not outgrow it.18 As you would do with all new allergens, introduce shrimp by serving a scant quantity, and watch closely. If there is no adverse reaction during the first couple of servings, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
Note: Being allergic to shellfish doesn’t automatically mean that your little one will also have a finned fish allergy, as they are not closely related.19 However, you may need to be careful about the risk of shellfish proteins contaminating finned fish prepared outside of the home, as they are often prepared in the same kitchens.
How do you prepare shrimp 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 9 months old: Consider waiting. The chewy, slippery texture of shrimp can be tough for babies to break down. If shrimp is an important part of your family food culture, consider offering thinly sliced (lengthwise) or minced cooked shrimp, with the shell and tail removed. Serve the shrimp on its own or fold into other foods for your baby to scoop up with their hands. Alternatively you can offer shrimp cakes (see recipe). While it is more of a choking risk than other foods, you may serve large prawns to let baby gnaw and munch on. If baby is able to bite through the whole prawn, remove it and proceed to the next age bracket for how to prepare.
9 to 12 months old: If your child has established chewing and spitting skills, go ahead and offer finely shredded shrimp (on its own or folded into other foods). Avoid cutting whole shrimp in a way that retains its cylindrical shape. To err on the side of safety, slice the shrimp lengthwise (butterfly it) and then again into smaller pieces so the shape is no longer round (see photo).
12 to 24 months old: As your confidence grows, offer larger bite-size pieces for the child to pierce with a fork or to pick up with chopsticks. Closer to age 2 you may find toddlers are ready to learn about the tail and how to pull it off from a whole shrimp, etc. Be very careful and encourage thorough chewing.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
That dark vein running down the back of a shrimp? It’s a digestive tube. While edible, it may contain flecks of sand and grit. If you’d like to remove it, simply cut along the back of the shrimp with a paring knife and pull out the tube with your fingers.
Recipe: Louisiana Shrimp Cakes
- 1/2 pound shrimp
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small celery stalk
- 1/2 small onion
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, cornmeal, or chickpea flour
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano, and thyme (optional)
- 1/4 cup avocado oil, olive oil, or safflower oil
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 sprigs parsley (optional)
- Wash the shrimp, then steam rapidly on high heat until opaque and firm, about 2 minutes.
- Remove the shrimp from the steamer and let cool. Peel and discard any shells, tails, and veins. Rinse the shrimp once more to wash away any lingering shards of shell.
- Transfer the shrimp to a food processor. Add the juice of the lemon, then pulse until the shrimp is finely minced.
- Wash, peel, and destem the carrot and onion. Roughly chop along with the celery stalk, then add the vegetables to the food processor. Pulse until finely minced.
- Crack the egg into the food processor, then add the mayonnaise, breadcrumbs (or cornmeal or chickpea flour), and spices if you’d like to add flavor. Pulse until the mixture holds together. If the mixture is too wet, add more of the dry ingredient. If too dry, add more mayonnaise.
- Use your hands to form the mixture into cakes that are the size of a golf ball. Gently flatten each cake and reserve on a plate.
- Heat the oil in a skillet set on moderate heat. When the oil is shimmering, place a couple of cakes in the skillet (do not overcrowd the pan!) and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the cakes and fry on the other side until browned, about 2 minutes more.
- Transfer the cakes to a plate lined with a paper towel. While the cakes are cooling, mince the parsley and mix into the yogurt. Add the herby yogurt to a bowl that suctions to the table.
- Place 1 or 2 cooled cakes in your child’s bowl, and store the rest in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer for future meals. Serve and encourage your little one to dip.
A shrimp’s flavor is shaped by the habitat in which it lived, so you may encounter some that are mildly sweet with a hint of minerality while others are bolder with a hint of brine from the ocean. Once cooked, nearly all shrimp have a slight crunch that gives way to a burst of flavor from the tender flesh. Pair with similar sweet-and-savory foods like artichoke, butter, coconut, parsnips, pineapple, taro, or tomatoes, and try flavoring with your favorite spices and herbs—cilantro, dill, lemongrass, or parsley to name a few!
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved September 1, 2020
- The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019, March 5). Sodium and Potassium Dietary Reference Intake Values Updated in New Report; Introduces New Category for Sodium Based on Chronic Disease Risk Reduction [Press release]. Retrieved September 27, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). Shrimp. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Strohm, D., Bechthold, A., Ellinger, S., Leschik-Bonnet, E., Stehle, P., Heseker, H., & German Nutrition Society (DGE). (2018). Revised Reference Values for the Intake of Sodium and Chloride. Annals of nutrition & metabolism, 72(1), 12–17.
- da Costa Machado Matos Carvalho, I.M., Melo Cavalcante, A.A., Dantas, A.F., Aguiar Pereira, D.L., Costa Rocha, F.C., et al. (2011). Environmental mutagenicity and toxicity caused by sodium metabisulfite in sea shrimp harvesting in Piauí, Brazil. Chemosphere, 82(7), 1056-1061. DOI:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.10.042. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- McGee, H. (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York, NY: Scribner.
- Yang, K., Zhou, C., Yang, Z., Yu, L., Cai, M., Wu, C., & Sun, P. (2019). Establishing a method of HPLC involving precolumn derivatization by 2,2′-dithiobis (5-nitropyridine) to determine the sulfites in shrimps in comparison with ion chromatography. Food science & nutrition, 7(6), 2151–2158. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
- Holmström, K., Gräslund, S., Wahlström, A., Poungshompoo, S., Bengtsson, B.E., et al. (2003). Antibiotic use in shrimp farming and implications for environmental impacts and human health. International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 38(3), 255-266. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2621.2003.00671.x. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Shrimp Recommendations. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Global Aquaculture Alliance. Best Aquaculture Practices: Keeping Fish in Our Future. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Aquaculture Stewardship Council. About our certification. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Hodal, K., Kelly, C., Lawrence, F. (2014, June 10). Revealed Asian Slave Labour Producing Prawns for Supermarkets in U.S., U.K. The Guardian. Retrieved September 20, 2020
- Gillet, R. (2008). Global study of shrimp fisheries. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Lopata AL, O’Hehir RE, Lehrer SB. Shellfish allergy. Clin Exp Allergy. 2010;40(6):850-858. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03513.x
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish Allergy. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Vally, H., & Misso, N. L. (2012). Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 5(1), 16–23. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish Allergy. Retrieved September 2, 2020
- Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish Allergy. Retrieved September 9, 2020