Spare Ribs

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 rack of raw spare ribs before being prepared for a baby starting solids

When can babies eat spare ribs?

Spare ribs may be introduced as soon as baby is ready for solids, which is generally around 6 months old. Whole ribs are fantastic teethers and you’re likely to see a baby go at them for a good 10 minutes. The long, thick bone and tough meat make it easy for babies to hold and can be a particularly good food for young eaters with special needs or who need jaw strengthening.

Amelia, 7 months, eats spare ribs for the first time.
Quentin, 11 months, eats spare ribs for the first time.
Adie, 16 months, eats spare ribs for the first time.

Are spare ribs healthy for babies?

Yes. Along with fat, iron, and protein, which babies need oodles of at this stage in their lives, spare ribs have a decent amount of B-vitamins. In particular, they have vitamins B1 (aids cognitive development), B3 (cell development and function), and B6 (brain function). Lastly, spare ribs have high amounts of selenium, which is essential for immune defense and thyroid development.

Unlike short ribs (which are beef) spare ribs are the side ribs from a pig. They are big and flat, with meat all around the bone. Commonly used in American and Chinese cuisines, spare ribs are easy to make and fun for the whole family.

★ Tip: Be careful with rib seasonings! Spare rib recipes tend to call for barbecue sauce, salt, and sugar, which are not ideal for babies younger than age 2, and homemade recipes sometimes call for honey, which is not safe for babies younger than 12 months old because it can cause infant botulism. The good news is that spare ribs are delicious on their own and need little—if any—sauce to be tasty.

Are spare ribs a common choking hazard for babies?

Spare ribs are safer for young babies than say, a chunk of meat on its own would be. However, chunks of meat that may be pulled off a rib—and especially chunks that are on the small to medium size—can be choking hazards. Baby is likely to just suck or gnaw on a rib, getting small bits of meat at a time, but pull off any loose pieces of meat and gristle before serving and watch baby as they eat to be safe. Also keep in mind that some ribs, depending on how they have been cooked, can become brittle and easily breakable, especially at the edges. We strongly recommend checking and testing your ribs prior to offering by attempting to bend them, and push on the edges. Strong, firm bones are the way to go. If the bone breaks easily, crumbles at the edges, or splinters, the risk for bone to break off in baby’s mouth increases. If a piece of meat gets pulled off that concerns you, coach the child to spit it out by sticking out your own tongue dramatically.

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

Are spare ribs a common allergen?

No. Allergies to pork are rare, though studies have shown that there is a relationship between cat allergies and pork allergies (cat serum albumin cross-reacts with pork albumin).1 Basically, if a baby is allergic to pork, it may actually stem from an allergy to cats.

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

6 to 9 months old: Spare ribs are a terrific first food as they are easy to pick up and enable baby to practice key oral development skills, such as tongue movement, biting and chewing. Make sure to test your ribs before offering to make sure the bone is not brittle enough to break or splinter when baby gnaws on it. If a too big piece of meat or any of the bone breaks off in baby’s mouth, coach them to spit it out and give your baby the opportunity to push the food forward on their own.

9 to 12 months old: Continue to offer whole ribs for baby to gnaw and chew on. Make sure to test your ribs before offering to make sure the bone is not brittle enough to break or splinter when baby gnaws on it. If a too big piece of meat or any of the bone breaks off in baby’s mouth, coach them to spit it out and give your baby the opportunity to push the food forward on their own.

12 to 24 months old: If you feel comfortable with it, continue offering whole spare ribs. Alternatively, you may slice the meat off of the bones and chop it.

What are the signs that baby is ready to start solids? Read all about them on our Readiness to Start Solid Food FAQ page.

Recipe: Baby's Got Ribs

cooked spare ribs on a white background for babies starting solids

Ingredients

  • Slab of spare ribs (pork side ribs)
  • Sweet paprika
  • Chipotle powder (optional)
  • Allspice
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato paste

Directions

  1. Mix 1 tsp of sweet paprika with ½ tsp of chipotle powder and ¼ teaspoon of allspice in a small bowl. Pat the spice rub all over the ribs. Once your child is 12 months old, try adding some molasses to the dry rub mix for a different taste.
  2. Put the spiced ribs on a plate, cover, and place the plate in the fridge to let the ribs rest for an hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Open 1 small can of diced tomatoes and 1 small can of tomato paste. Dump the tomatoes and paste in a bowl, and whisk to combine. You need not measure; this is just to provide a little liquid for the ribs to rest upon in the oven.
  4. Pour the tomato mixture into a wide, shallow casserole dish and set the ribs on top. Cover the casserole dish tightly with foil or with a ceramic cover.
  5. Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the ribs reaches 145 °F.

Flavor Pairings

Spare ribs taste great with seasonings such as chipotle pepper, garlic, paprika, and soy- and tomato-based sauces. Serve with the ribs with a creamy side like baked beans, collard greens, polenta, or mashed potatoes as it’s easy to eat and swallow and gives your baby a little break from working on the ribs.