Tofu

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.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Soy
  • )

May cause allergic reactions.

Jump to Recipe ↓
a block of tofu before it is prepared for a baby starting solids

When can babies eat tofu?

Tofu may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Tofu is made of soybean, a common allergen, and some ready-to-eat brands can contain other common allergens such as sesame and wheat as well, so read labels closely before serving to babies.1

Where does tofu come from?

Thousands of years ago in Central Asia, humans learned how to turn soybeans into tofu. Legend suggests that tofu was created by a happy accident when ground soybeans curdled as they cooked in water. Others believe that an ancient nobleman invented the culinary process of pressing coagulated soy milk to make tofu. There are also theories that tofu was influenced by cultural connections with people in North and West Asia, where it was common to make cheese from cow’s milk. The process of making tofu is very similar to cheese-making techniques, but instead of cow’s milk, tofu is made with soy milk from cooked soybeans, a sacred staple in Central Asian cultures.

Caden, 7 months, tries tofu for the first time.
Callie, 10 months, eats tofu. Note: Spitting is common when babies learn to eat and does not indicate a distaste for the food.
Max, 15 months, eats firm tofu with a fork.

Is tofu healthy for babies?

Yes. Tofu is an excellent food with plenty of plant-based protein and essential nutrients for babies and toddlers. It is packed with alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) for healthy brains and eyes.2 Tofu also contains lots of iron and zinc, which babies need to grow and thrive. To help baby’s body absorb the plant-based iron, pair tofu with foods that are rich in vitamin C, like red bell pepper, broccoli, and citrus.

When shopping for tofu, read the labels closely. Some brands of ready-to-eat tofu include common allergens like sesame and wheat, so be sure to separately introduce these allergens before offering all together safely. Choose plain tofu with minimal ingredients and no added seasonings, which often include salt and sugar, which you want to limit in a child’s diet.

If you are looking to add calcium in a child’s diet, read the label and choose brands that include calcium sulfate on the ingredient list. Tofu can be high in calcium, but some brands are higher than others. Brands prepared with calcium sulfate, a natural coagulant that turns soy milk into tofu, are higher in calcium than brands that use other types of coagulants.

Wondering if you need to buy organic tofu? Rest assured that tofu made from either organic or non-organic soybeans delivers plenty of nutrients to nourish a growing baby. The key is to understand the labels: to be labeled “organic” in the United States, a food must not be genetically modified, among other requirements.3 More than 90% of soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically modified to withstand pesticides.4 Studies show that genetically modified foods and pesticides appear to contribute to impaired liver and kidney function in animal testing and negatively impact farming land.5 6 7 8 You can minimize exposure to pesticides used on soybean farms by serving tofu as part of a balanced diet with lots of different fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. Occasionally swapping non-organic tofu for other protein-rich plant foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds also helps.

What kind of tofu is best for babies?

All tofu contains essential nutrients to nourish a growing child, although some offer more nutrition. For example, silken tofu often contains less protein and micronutrients than firm and extra-firm tofu, which are loaded with protein, iron, and zinc. Sprouted tofu tends to have more protein, less fat, and fewer antinutrients than non-sprouted types.9

Food texture is an integral part of developing a baby’s eating habits, and different types of tofu offer different experiences. Silken tofu is so soft that it can easily be mixed into scoopable foods or used as a substitute for dairy products like cream or yogurt. Firm and extra-firm tofu can be a great finger food and seasoned with spices to introduce new flavors.

Some kinds of tofu are best served when a child is older, like those marinated, pickled, or fermented with salt and sugar, which are ingredients to minimize in the diets of babies and toddlers. Fried tofu is another type to avoid serving to babies and toddlers, as it is often cooked in oils that contain trans fats, which ideally are limited in children and adults alike.

★Tip: How do you know if tofu has spoiled? Smell it. If there is a sour note, toss it. An open package of tofu keeps in the fridge for 3 days and in the freezer for 5 months. Freezing tofu will transform its texture into a spongy delight – this is normal and even revered in some parts of the world.

Can babies eat raw tofu?

Yes. Store-bought tofu can be eaten straight from the container as long as it has been pasteurized to kill any potentially harmful bacteria and safely packaged and stored. Tofu made from scratch at home may be more susceptible to bacteria. Because babies are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of pathogens, homemade tofu should be cooked before serving to babies and toddlers.

As always, be sure to practice food safety by separating foods at high risk for foodborne illness (such as meats, dairy, and eggs) from tofu, fruits, vegetables, and other foods in your shopping cart and fridge.

Can babies eat fermented tofu and stinky tofu?

No. Stinky tofu and other types of fermented tofu preserved in brines and marinades are best reserved for adults and older children because there is a higher risk of foodborne illness.10 11 12

Stinky tofu is a popular ingredient in cooking, adding pungent flavor to dishes and lots of nutrition thanks to additional fermentation time. That said, it would be wise to avoid serving stinky tofu and other types of fermented tofu in brines and marinades to young children because it often contains excess sodium and hidden common allergens (such as dairy and seafood). Once a child is older, and you are ready to serve fermented tofu, be sure to safely introduce any allergens used to make the tofu before offering the food.

Do I need to worry about anti-nutrients and phytoestrogens in tofu?

Plant compounds such as lectins, oxalates, and phytates are often called anti-nutrients and are naturally present in legumes, including soybeans.13 Many of these plant compounds break down during the cooking process and are mostly harmless in healthy people when consumed as part of a balanced diet.14 15 They can even offer health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.16 17

Tofu and other soy products also contain phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that mimic estrogen in the human body. More research is needed to determine the impact of phytoestrogens, however, studies have found that they can offer beneficial properties.18 19 For example, phytoestrogens in soy may decrease the risk of breast cancer and promote bone health.20 That said, there is no perfect food, and consuming a balanced diet with a wide variety of whole foods is key to one’s health.

Is tofu a common choking hazard for babies?

No. Tofu is not a choking hazard, though, in theory, an individual could choke on any food. 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.

Is tofu a common allergen?

Yes. Tofu is made of soybeans, a common allergen, and some ready-to-eat brands include other common allergens like sesame and wheat.21 To complicate matters, recipes and prepared foods with tofu often include other ingredients that are common allergens, such as egg, fish, and peanut.

When introducing tofu to baby, start with plain, pasteurized tofu at home, where you can isolate the ingredient and watch for any adverse reactions. While soy is one of the most common food allergens, there is good news: less than 1% of children are allergic to it, and almost 70% of children outgrow their allergy by age 10.22 23 Although a significant percentage of children with soy allergies may also be sensitized to peanut on testing, this does not always translate to a peanut allergy.24 If your baby has experienced a reaction to soy, they will not necessarily be allergic to peanut, but you may wish to introduce it under the supervision of an allergist. There is no need to remove peanut from the diet if it is already being eaten without any reaction.

As you would do when introducing any new food, start by offering a small amount for the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount served over future meals.

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

6 to 9 months old: Silken tofu offers a smooth texture that can be eaten on its own or stirred into soft, scoopable foods. You can also offer long, thick strips of firm or extra-firm tofu for baby to suck and munch on. If a piece breaks off in baby’s mouth, take a deep breath, stay calm, and allow baby to start to chew the tofu, or move it forward and spit it out. You can also coach them to spit it out by sticking out your tongue. Refrain from offering stinky tofu and other fermented tofu in brines or marinades until a child is much older.

9 to 12 months old: At this age, babies start to get ambitious and shovel food into the mouth. It’s also the age when babies develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and pointer finger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. When you see these signs, try moving down in size to smaller, bite-sized cubes of firm or extra-firm tofu alongside some larger strips for biting practice. At this age, silken tofu is also great as it can help with utensil practice. Try preloading a spoon and passing the spoon in the air for baby to grab.

12 to 24 months old: Continue offering bite-sized cubes of firm or extra-firm tofu and consider introducing trainer chopsticks or a fork to encourage utensil practice. You can also preload a spoon of silken tofu and rest it next to the food for the child to try to pick up. If the child rejects the utensil, don’t worry: learning to use utensils is exhausting for young eaters and many babies toggle between eating with hands and utensils. Be patient: consistent, independent utensil use may not come until closer to 15-18 months of age.

a hand holding a strip of cooked tofu the width of two fingers for babies starting solids
A strip of cooked tofu about the width of two adult fingers pressed together for babies 6 months+
a hand holding bite-sized pieces of cooked tofu for toddlers 12 months+
Bite-sized pieces of cooked tofu for toddlers 12 months+

Learn which nutrients are most important for vegetarian and vegan babies in our guide, Best & Worst Plant-Based Foods for Babies.

What are some recipe ideas for cooking with tofu?

As the tofu-making process spread from its place of origin to other areas of Asia and the Pacific Islands, different cultures embraced the protein-rich food in their cooking. As a result, tofu goes by many names: bean curd, doufu, dubu, tahu, and taum paj, to name a few. In China, super-soft tofu is flavored with sweet or savory ingredients to make a pudding called douhua. In Japan, agedashi tofu features fried silken tofu cubes in a flavorful broth of seaweed, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. In Korea, firm tofu is lightly braised and topped with spicy fermented vegetables to make dobu kimchi. In the Philippines, a popular snack called taho consists of silken tofu mixed with sugary sauce and tapioca pearls.

Recipe: Tofu and Bell Pepper Stir Fry

Yield: ¾ cup (150 grams)
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup (60 grams) extra-firm or firm tofu
  • ½ cup (90 grams) bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) avocado oil, sunflower oil, or neutral oil of choice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) lemon, lime, or orange juice (optional)

This recipe contains a common allergen: soy (tofu). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. Wash, dry, and slice the tofu into long, wide sticks.
  2. Place the tofu on a plate lined with a paper towel and lay another paper towel on top.
  3. Gently press the paper towel into the tofu to absorb some of the moisture. Set aside while you prepare the bell pepper.
  4. Wash, dry, and cut the bell pepper into age-appropriate sizes, discarding the seeds, pith, or stem.
  5. Heat the oil in a skillet set on medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the tofu and bell pepper.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper has softened and the tofu is golden on all sides, about 10 minutes.
  7. Scoop some of the tofu and bell peppers into the child’s bowl. Exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determine how much is eaten.
  8. Sprinkle the citrus juice on top if you are using it. Cool the food to room temperature.
  9. Serve as finger food and let the child self-feed by scooping with hands. If help is needed, preload a fork or coach your child on how to use trainer chopsticks.

To Store: Tofu and bell pepper stir fry keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 4 days.

Flavor Pairings

Tofu has a neutral taste and a spongy texture that picks up flavor from other foods and seasonings. Try pairing tofu with fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C like , bell pepper, cabbage, green beans, orange, papaya, snap peas, snow peas, spinach, and tomato. Experiment with flavor by cooking tofu in flavorful fats like peanut oil or sesame oil and mixing in aromatics like chive, garlic, ginger, onion, or parsley. Serve with bold seasonings like cayenne pepper, cinnamon, kimchi, Sichuan peppercorn, and soy sauce for extra flavor!

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

  1. Food Allergy Research and Education. Soy Allergy. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  2. Rizzo, G., Baroni, L. (2018). Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets. Nutrients, 10(1), 43. DOI:10.3390/nu10010043. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  3. McEvoy, M. Understanding the Organic Label. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  4. United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). Recent Trends in GE Adoption. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  5. Perry, E.D., Ciliberto, F., Hennessy, D.A., Moschini, G. (2016). Genetically engineered crops and pesticide use in U.S. maize and soybeans. Science advances, 2(8), e1600850. DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1600850. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  6. Bøhn, T., Millstone, E. (2019). The Introduction of Thousands of Tonnes of Glyphosate in the Food Chain: An Evaluation of Glyphosate Tolerant Soybeans. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 8(12), 669. DOI:10.3390/foods8120669. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  7. Séralini, G., Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., Spiroux de Vendômois, J. et al. (2011). Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. Environmental Sciences Europe, 23,10. DOI:10.1186/2190-4715-23-10. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  8. Boerema, A., Peeters, A., Swolfs, S., Vandevenne, F., Jacobs, S., et al. (2016). Soybean Trade: Balancing Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts of an Intercontinental Market. PloS one, 11(5), e0155222. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0155222. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  9. Murugkar D.A. (2014). Effect of sprouting of soybean on the chemical composition and quality of soymilk and tofu. Journal of food science and technology, 51(5), 915–921. DOI:10.1007/s13197-011-0576-9. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Botulism associated with home-fermented tofu in two Chinese immigrants–New York City, March-April 2012. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 62(26), 529–532. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Foodborne botulism from home-prepared fermented tofu–California, 2006. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 56(5), 96–97. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  12. Gu, J., Liu, T., Hou, J., Pan, L., Sadiq, F.A., et al. (2018). Analysis of bacterial diversity and biogenic amines content during the fermentation processing of stinky tofu. Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.), 111, 689–698. DOI:10.1016/j.foodres.2018.05.065. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  13. Attalla, K., De, S., Monga, M. (2014). Oxalate content of food: a tangled web. Urology, 84(3), 555–560. DOI:10.1016/j.urology.2014.03.053. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  14. Deol, J. K., Bains, K. (2010). Effect of household cooking methods on nutritional and anti nutritional factors in green cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) pods. Journal of food science and technology, 47(5), 579–581. DOI:10.1007/s13197-010-0112-3. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  15. Chitra, U., Singh, U., Rao, P.V. (1996). Phytic acid, in vitro protein digestibility, dietary fiber, and minerals of pulses as influenced by processing methods. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 49(4), 307–316. DOI:10.1007/BF01091980. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  16. Grases, F., Costa-Bauza, A., Prieto, R.M. (2006). Renal lithiasis and nutrition. Nutrition journal, 5, 23. DOI:10.1186/1475-2891-5-23. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  17. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful? Retrieved August 4, 2021.
  18. Desmawati, D., Sulastri, D. (2019). Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect. Open access Macedonian journal of medical sciences, 7(3), 495–499. DOI:10.3889/oamjms.2019.044. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  19. Rietjens, I., Louisse, J., Beekmann, K. (2017). The potential health effects of dietary phytoestrogens. British journal of pharmacology, 174(11), 1263–1280. DOI:10.1111/bph.13622. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  20. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2020). Soy. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  21. Food Allergy Research and Education. Soy Allergy. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  22. Food Allergy Research and Education. Soy Allergy. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  23. Savage, J.H., Kaeding, A.J., Matsui, E.C., Wood, R.A. (2010). The natural history of soy allergy. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 125(3), 683–686. DOI:10.1016/j.jaci.2009.12.994. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  24. Savage, J.H., Kaeding, A.J., Matsui, E.C., Wood, R.A. (2010). The natural history of soy allergy. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 125(3), 683–686. DOI:10.1016/j.jaci.2009.12.994. Retrieved July 15, 2021.