While the FDA deems “canned light tuna” safe for children age 2 and up, the levels of mercury in studies of canned light tuna (or any other kind of canned tuna) did not meet our standards for babies. Further, a Consumer Reports analysis of canned light tuna found that the mercury levels in the samples varied widely, with some containing double the average amount of mercury listed by the FDA. The research and recommendations are unclear around how often a baby younger than 2 years old can have tuna, so consider the risks and explore healthier alternatives.
Tuna is tricky, especially when it comes to babies. We recommend serving other fish that are lower in mercury and to refrain from serving tuna of any variety to babies and toddlers under the age of two.
While the FDA deems “canned light tuna” safe for children age 2 and up, the levels of mercury in studies of canned light tuna (or any other kind of canned tuna) did not meet our fish standards for babies. Further, a Consumer Reports analysis of canned light tuna found that the mercury levels in the samples varied widely, with some containing double the average amount of mercury listed by the FDA.
The research and recommendations are unclear around how often a baby younger than 2 years old can have tuna, so consider the risks and explore healthier alternatives. There are a number of safe canned fish options, including low-sodium sardines and low-sodium, wild-caught salmon.
Recommended Guide: Best & Worst Fish for Babies
Not in our opinion. Tuna contains many essential nutrients including iron, potassium, protein, selenium, and vitamins D and B12. Yet all varieties of tuna, including the commonly recommended “canned light” and skipjack varieties, contain varying levels of mercury, a toxic metal which can have devastating effects on our central nervous and neurological systems. The most vulnerable? Babies.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal and there is no known safe level of exposure. Most fish these days contain varying levels of mercury as a result of pollution from coal and energy plants that emit toxic metals into the air, which then settle into the water and bind to the flesh of fish. Mercury accumulates within the body (and can take decades to expel), which makes it a particularly persistent and progressive toxin.
To make matters worse, of all canned foods, tuna has some of the highest levels of bisphenol-A, or BPA, which is a chemical that’s used to line the interior of plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Toxins bind to fats, and because tuna (and other fish) are naturally high in fats, the fish is highly susceptive to the BPA in a can’s lining. Always purchase cans or pouches marked BPA-free.
We recommend skipping the tuna and serving fish that are lower in mercury for your baby.
If your child is older than age 2, you may introduce canned tuna labeled “canned light” or “skipjack” as a special treat. Just be sure to read the fine print on the labels and avoid albacore tuna as well as tuna labeled “chunk white” and “gourmet” (also referred to as “tonno”), which are typically made from larger species of tuna. Larger tuna species (ahi, albacore, bigeye, bluefin, and yellowfin) are not safe for babies or children because they contain high levels of mercury.
Of all tuna varieties, skipjack tuna has the lowest mercury levels, though it is our opinion that it is best to skip serving tuna—including canned light tuna / skipjack tuna—until your child’s second birthday. Even then, we recommend limiting consumption and exploring healthier options.
Lastly, skipjack tuna is often caught using large nets, called “purse seines,” which result in bycatch of other sea creatures like dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks that are often killed as they are released back into the sea. A respected go-to resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, recommends avoiding many commercial sources of tunas because of these environmental impacts and more. So if you are dead set on buying tuna (and if you can afford it), purchase “canned light” tuna brands labeled “pole-caught” or “line-caught” to minimize the environmental impact.
Tuna is not high on the list of common choking hazard for babies, but it can be hard for babies to swallow. As with any dry fish or meat, adding some oil, mayonnaise, or yogurt will make it easier and safer to swallow. Regardless, always stay close to your children during mealtimes, as in theory any food could present a choking hazard.
Yes. Finned fish is a common food allergen. That said, it’s estimated that only 1% of Americans are allergic to finned fish.
To introduce tuna, start with a small quantity of low sodium “canned light” or “skipjack” tuna and watch closely as your baby eats. If there is no adverse reaction on the first couple of times, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
If you have a family history of allergies, or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, consult an allergist before introducing tuna.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
If your child is older than age 2, and you’d like to introduce tuna, start by purchasing low sodium “canned light” or “skipjack” tuna. To prepare it as a simple tuna fish, drain the tuna from the can, break the fish into flakes, then mix with avocado, mayonnaise, tahini, or a healthy oil of your choice.
Introduce low-sodium canned sardines to your baby early on in your solids journey. Canned sardines are a wonderful alternative to tuna and while a bit on the stinky side, are among the fish lowest in mercury of all the fish in the sea.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
Not sure how to introduce this food? Give this recipe a try. Feel free to substitute ingredients and flavor the food with your favorite seasonings.
Fish fillets (fresh or canned salmon, skipjack tuna, or trout packed in water)
Olive oil or butter
Shallot or onion
Chives or parsley (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Breadcrumbs or garbanzo bean flour
Cook ½ cup of rice according to the package’s instructions, using milk in place of water.
As the rice is cooking, prepare the fish. Using canned fish? Open 2 cans or pouches, rinse the fish, then skip the rest of this step. Opting for fresh fish? Remove the skin from 2 small boneless fillets (around 4 ounces, or 1/4 pound), check for any lingering bones, then cube the flesh.
Add the fish to a medium sauce pot along with a couple slices of lemon and enough water to cover by an inch.
Cover and bring the pot to a boil, then immediately turn down the heat to medium and let it gently simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. The fish is done when the tip of a knife inserted into the thickest part shows no translucent flesh.
Remove the fish to a cutting board and let cool.
As the fish and rice are cooking, peel and mince 2 medium shallots or 1 medium onion, then sauté in a skillet with a pad of butter or splash of olive oil.
Once the onion is translucent, turn off the heat and transfer the mix to a large bowl.
Once the onion has cooled, crack 3 eggs into the mix, then add the cooked rice and fish, plus a couple spoonfuls of minced herbs and a few scoops of parmesan cheese if you want to deepen the flavor.
Mix to create a mash, then chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
While the arancini mash is chilling, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees and add 2 cups of breadcrumbs (or garbanzo bean flour for a gluten-free meal) to a wide, shallow bowl or plate.
Place a baking sheet lined with parchment paper on the counter next to the bowl.
Remove the arancini mash from the fridge, and using your hands or a spoon, form little balls (1 to 2 inches in diameter) and place them on the baking sheet.
Once the tray is full, roll each ball in breadcrumbs or garbanzo bean flour, and return to the baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the balls are golden brown. Let cool before serving to your baby. Store extra arancini in a sealed container in the fridge for future snacking.
While the first batch is baking, prepare a second batch on another baking sheet lined with parchment. Put this batch in the freezer. Once the balls are fully frozen (about 1 hour), transfer to a freezer bag or sealed container and store in the freezer for future mealtimes.
*Note: This recipe contains a number of potentially allergenic foods. Only serve it after dairy, eggs, finned fish, and wheat have been safely introduced.
Canned tuna pairs well with avocado, celery, cucumber, and potatoes, as well as spices like cumin and herbs like chives and dill.
Pediatric registered dietitian & nutritionist
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