Swiss chard may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Swiss chard is a nutritious leafy green in the same plant family as spinach and beets, whose edible leaves are also packed with vitamins and minerals and often used in place of Swiss chard. In American English, chard was supposedly given the “Swiss” label to distinguish the leafy green from spinach. Yet despite what this name implies, the plant originated in the sandy soil on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Trade brought the plant to northern regions of Europe and eventually to other parts of the world, where it is called acelga (Spanish), bettes (French), mangold (German and Russian), and silverbeet (Australian English).
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Malden, 9 months, eats pieces of cooked, chopped Swiss chard
Cooper, 11 months, eats pieces of cooked, chopped Swiss chard
Callie, 17 months, explores the textures of a large, raw stalk of Swiss chard. This activity is mostly for exposure, not consumption, and should be supervised closely
Yes. Swiss chard is packed with vitamin K, an essential nutrient to help develop healthy blood and bones in growing babies and toddlers. The leafy green is also a great source of vitamin A for healthy vision and vitamin E for a healthy immune system. Plus it offers good amounts of iron, fiber, vitamins B and C; minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and plant nutrients that help fight free radicals and inflammation within the body.
You may have heard that Swiss chard contains nitrates—naturally-occurring plant compounds that may negatively affect oxygen levels in blood when consumed in great excess. First, know that the benefits of eating vegetables typically outweigh the risks of any nitrate exposure from vegetables. Second, babies with health concerns or who are under 3 months of age are the most susceptible to the effects of nitrates. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the European Food Safety Authority generally do not view nitrates in vegetables as a concern for most healthy children.
To reduce nitrate exposure, avoid consumption of untested well water and take care with purees. When possible, avoid homemade purees made with higher nitrate vegetables that are stored for more than 24 hours and commercial purees not consumed within 24 hours of opening. Higher nitrate vegetables include arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and squash, among others.
★Tip: When cooking fresh Swiss chard for babies and toddlers, wash the greens first. Raw Swiss chard and other leafy greens can be a higher risk food for E. coli infection. Washing Swiss chard can also minimize exposure to pesticides, which are often used to keep pests away from the leafy green.
No. Swiss chard is not a choking hazard, though, in theory, an individual could choke on any food. Raw Swiss chard is quite challenging for babies to chew and spit back out if needed because it tends to stick to the tongue or palate which can lead to some intense gagging and even vomiting. To minimize the risk, serve Swiss chard that has been cooked and cut into age-appropriate sizes. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby at mealtime. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Allergies to Swiss chard are rare, but they have been reported. Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also known as pollen food allergy syndrome), in particular those who are allergic to grass and mugwort pollens, may also be sensitive to Swiss chard. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching or burning in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction. Cooking Swiss chard can minimize the reaction.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small amount for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount served over future meals.
Like spinach, Swiss chard is prized for its foliage, which has a slightly bitter flavor that intensifies as the plant matures and mellows as it cooks. Swiss chard’s crunchy stalks range in color (white, green, and every hue between red and gold) and its crinkly green leaves can be eaten raw or cooked into salads, soups, stir fries, stews, and savory pastries like torte sucrée aux bettes, a Provencal tart filled with a custard of Swiss chard, cheese, and eggs. The more that a child is exposed to vegetables, the more likely it is that they will eat them later on. Try taking advantage of Swiss chard’s versatility and adding it to your family's favorite rice, pasta, egg, and fritter recipes to keep up your child’s exposure to green vegetables.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Fold cooked and finely chopped Swiss chard into finger food like frittata strips or soft foods that are easy for baby to scoop, like grain porridges, mashed vegetables, or yogurt. If you like, season the cooked and minced greens with a small drizzle of oil and citrus juice, whose vitamin C helps baby’s body absorb the plant-based iron. Alternatively, you can serve whole stalks (stripped of their leaves and cooked until soft) for baby to munch on like a teether. If baby manages to break off a piece of chard stalk, remain calm and give baby a chance to push the food out of the mouth with the tongue – a skill that babies learn to develop as they start eating solid foods.
At this age, babies start to develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and pointer finger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. Once baby shows signs that this development is underway, try offering bite-sized pieces of Swiss chard (leaves and stalk) that have been cooked until soft, and if you like, season the greens with a drizzle of oil and lemon, lime, or orange juice, whose vitamin C helps baby’s body absorb the plant-based iron in the leafy greens. Because picky toddler phases can crop up as early as 12 months and often green vegetables are a target of rejection, sprinkling a teaspoon of finely minced raw leafy greens such as Swiss chard onto rice, pasta, or any other dish can help keep this food and the color green in your baby’s diet now and through toddlerhood.
After 12 months of age, many toddlers may start rejecting vegetables and greens, so keep up the exposure at mealtime. The more that a child is exposed to vegetables, the more likely it is that they will eat them later on. Continue to offer cooked and chopped Swiss chard on its own, fold cooked and chopped Swiss chard into egg dishes and scoopable food, and create zero-pressure opportunities for older toddlers to experience Swiss chard without having to taste it. For example, you can invite the child to help you wash and dry the greens or open a package of frozen greens into a steamer basket. As your child’s chewing skills become more coordinated and you gain confidence in their ability to chew and swallow as well as chew and spit out food that is not safe to swallow (usually closer to 24 months), you may start to offer your child raw Swiss chard as in a salad. Expect that they will likely chew and spit out at first before beginning to chew and swallow. Modeling and coaching how to fully chew a food like raw Swiss chard can go a long way towards helping your toddler learn to eat this food.
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3 cups (12 to 16 fritters)
½ pound (225 grams) fresh or frozen Swiss chard
1 small onion
¼ cup (56 grams) olive oil, separated
1 ½ cups (250 grams) cooked chickpeas
1 cup (92 grams) chickpea flour or gluten-free flour of choice
2 tablespoons (28 grams) lemon juice
½ teaspoon (1 gram) each garlic powder and paprika (optional)
Wash and dry the Swiss chard. Pull the leaves from the stalks. Chop the leaves and the stalks and keep in separate piles on your cutting board.
Peel and mince the onion.
Warm 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of oil in a large skillet set on medium heat. When it shimmers, add the onion and Swiss chard stalks and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the Swiss chard leaves to the skillet and stir to coat in the onion-oil mixture. Cover and steam for 3 minutes, then uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are soft and wilted, about 2 minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat. Cool.
If you are using canned chickpeas, drain the legumes and rinse under cold water to remove excess sodium.
Prepare the batter by placing the Swiss chard mixture, chickpeas, chickpea flour, lemon juice, and spice if you are using it, in a food processor. Blend until mostly smooth. A little texture is okay as long as there are no large clumps of Swiss chard leaves or whole chickpeas. The batter should be moist and thick. If it’s too wet, add more chickpea flour. If it is too dry, add a splash or two of water.
Return the skillet to the stovetop, pour in the remaining olive oil, and set the pan on medium heat. Line a sheet tray with a paper towel and place it next to the stovetop.
When the oil shimmers, scoop some batter (about 3 tablespoons) into the skillet and use the back of the spoon to gently press it into a 3-inch-wide fritter. Repeat. Cook the fritters in batches so that you do not overcrowd the skillet.
Cook the fritters until the bottoms have browned, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook to brown the other side, about 3 minutes more. Transfer the fritters to the tray. Repeat until all batter is used, and let the fritters cool.
Set 1 or 2 fritters on the child’s plate. Exact serving size is variable. Let the child’s appetite determine how much is eaten. If you like, serve the fritters alongside a saucy dip like applesauce, coconut cream, or mashed avocado with lime juice.
Serve and encourage the child to self-feed by trying to pick up the fritters independently. If help is needed, pass a fritter in the air for the child to grab from you.
To Store: Fritters keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for 1 week or the freezer for 2 months.
Swiss chard has a herbaceous, slightly bitter flavor that pairs well with so many foods. Try it with creamy avocado, cheddar, congee (rice porridge), coconut, goat’s cheese, egg, polenta (corn grits), mashed potato, ricotta cheese, or Swiss cheese. Mix in ground earthy nuts like almond, hazelnut, or walnut. Pair it with umami-rich foods like caramelized onion, mushroom, or roasted tomatoes. Use it to brighten up hearty meats like chicken, lamb, or pork; legumes like black-eyed peas, chickpeas, or lentils; or grains like farro, Khorasan wheat, or rice. Or balance its slightly bitter flavor by serving Swiss chard alongside sweet-tart fruits and veggies like bell pepper, nectarines, peaches, plums, or strawberries. As always, a pinch of spice like cumin, garlic, or ginger and a sprinkle of juice from lemon, lime, orange, or your favorite citrus goes a long way to brighten up the flavor!
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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