When can babies eat sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, as long as the seeds are finely ground or blended into smooth sunflower seed butter (and then thinned out with breast milk, formula, or yogurt to reduce the choking risk). Sunflower seed butter is widely available online and often sold under the brand name Sunbutter.
Background and origins of sunflower seeds
Did you know that sunflowers were one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas? For centuries, Native Americans have grown and used the plant as a form of medicine; as a dye for textiles, ceramics, and paint; and as an important food source. Today, much of the world’s production of the sunflower plant supports the demand for its versatile seeds, which can be eaten in dried, raw, or roasted form; milled into sunflower seed flour; pressed to make sunflower oil; and ground to make sunflower seed butter.
Sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter are full of nutrients, but they are both choking hazards for babies and toddlers. Check out our info on how to safely introduce this nutritious seed to your baby.
Is sunflower seed healthy for babies?
Yes! Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of fat, fiber, protein, and vitamin E, which helps protect cell membranes and support blood cells and tissues. The seeds also contain plenty of B-vitamins, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc—key nutrients with antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive properties.1
Sunflower seeds are most easily introduced to babies in the form of sunflower seed butter. Can’t find sunflower seed butter at your local market? You can easily make your own by running shelled sunflower seeds through a food processor until smooth. Be sure to start with raw, unsalted sunflower seeds as they’re often much lower in sodium than roasted seeds.
When shopping for sunflower seed oil, you may notice it marketed as “high linoleic” or “high oleic” – indicating the presence of heart-healthy fats linoleic and oleic acids. While both are perfectly healthy for babies, oleic oil is often made with seeds from plants that have been genetically modified to slow the rate of spoiling.2
★Tip: Refrigerating nut and seed butters prevents them from going rancid. Let the butter come to room temperature before trying to thin it with yogurt or other liquids.
Is sunflower seed a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Just like nuts, all seeds and seed butters are choking hazards for babies, so they must be prepared in a way that is safe to consume. To minimize the risk, purchase smooth sunflower seed butter and mix with with breast milk, formula, water or yogurt to thin it out or finely grind shelled sunflower seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. From there, sprinkle on top of yogurt, fruit, or other foods. Never serve whole sunflower seeds to a baby.
Is sunflower seed a common allergen?
No. An allergy to sunflower seeds is quite rare.3 In fact, sunflower seed butter is a recommended alternative to peanut butter and is generally allowed in nut-free schools and daycare facilities. It’s also easy to find sunflower seed butters that are made in tree-nut-free facilities.
Regardless, as you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity on its own for the first couple of servings and watch closely for any signs of an allergic reaction. If no adverse reaction occurs, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
How do you prepare sunflower seeds for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Offer small amounts of smooth sunflower seed butter thinned with breast milk, formula, or yogurt or sprinkle finely-ground sunflower seed in warm cereal or on fruit. Use a food processor, coffee grinder, or spice grinder to pulverize the seeds until they are finely ground.
12 to 24 months old: Continue serving sunflower seed butter that has been thinned with yogurt or applesauce or sprinkle finely-ground seeds on other dishes and foods. To serve on toast, make sure the butter is thinly spread and that no clumps remain.
24 months and older: If you feel your child is ready and has a molar or two, you can try introducing whole sunflower seeds (shells removed) on their own. Whole seeds and nuts (and seed and nut pieces) are a choking hazard until age four or five, so if you do introduce the whole seed, make sure you are creating a safe eating environment and within an arm’s reach of your child.
Check out our Baby-Led Weaning for Daycare & Caregivers guide for allergen-free, minimal mess recipes for lunches and snacks.
Recipe: Sunflower Seed Butter Yogurt
- 1 tablespoon smooth sunflower seed butter
- 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt (plain, full fat)
- ½ banana
- Remove the sunflower seed butter from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
- Scoop a spoonful (or ¼ teaspoon if you are introducing sunflower seed for the first time) into a bowl that suctions to the table.
- Add Greek yogurt and mix well with a fork, making sure no clumps remain.
- Serve with bananas as “sticks” in the yogurt (see our banana page for a great video on how to easily split a banana vertically) or mash the banana into the yogurt mix before offering to your baby.
Sunflower seed has a strong earthy flavor that pairs well with sweet foods like banana, coconut, and mango, as well as tart ones like cherries, pineapple, and strawberries. The seeds are delicious additions to all sorts of sweet and savory dishes, from breakfast oatmeal, to tuna salad, to even grain dishes. When serving sunflower seed butter, try spicing it up with your family’s favorite flavors. We love ground cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and a touch of vanilla!
- Guo, S., Ge, Y., & Na Jom, K. (2017). A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and medicinal uses of the common sunflower seed and sprouts (Helianthus annuus L.). Chemistry Central journal, 11(1), 95. doi:10.1186/s13065-017-0328-7 Retrieved July 7, 2020
- Skorić D, Jocić S, Sakac Z, Lecić N. Genetic possibilities for altering sunflower oil quality to obtain novel oils. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 86(4), 215‐221. doi:10.1139/Y08-008 Retrieved July 7, 2020
- Ukleja-Sokołowska, N., Gawrońska-Ukleja, E., Żbikowska-Gotz, M., Bartuzi, Z., & Sokołowski, Ł. (2016). Sunflower seed allergy. International journal of immunopathology and pharmacology, 29(3), 498–503. doi:10.1177/0394632016651648 Retrieved July 7, 2020