Turkey

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 whole raw turkey on a white background

When can babies eat turkey?

Freshly cooked turkey may be offered as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Note: Turkey deli / sandwich meat is high in sodium and nitrates and should not be offered to babies.

Where do turkeys come from?

Turkeys are large birds that originated in the fields and forests of the Americas. Thousands of years ago, people in Mesoamerica revered the bird’s wild ancestors, not only as a source of food and medicine, but also for its role in ceremonies and rituals. Today, the bird still holds significance as a celebratory food at gatherings, holidays, and weddings worldwide, especially in the Americas, where the majority of domesticated turkeys are raised. So why the name “turkey”? Evidence points to medieval London, where merchants sold imported poultry as “Turkish cocks” or “Turkish hens” to appeal to English consumers who valued goods from afar. Eventually the shorthand “turkey” became associated with the specific bird known as guajolote and pavo by the Spanish, the ancestor of the modern, domesticated turkey.

Amelia, 8 months, eats roast turkey.
Max, 11 months, eats turkey meatloaf.
Cooper, 18 months, eats a turkey drumstick. Offering a whole drumstick can be great for oral motor skills, biting and tearing practice, but be sure to remove skin and sharp bones and to stay very close to your child.

Is turkey healthy for babies?

Yes. Turkey is packed with protein and plenty of nutrients to support baby’s growth and development. The meat contains all B vitamins (including folate and B12), choline, selenium, and zinc, which bolster baby’s immune system, growth, and development, as well as taste perception. The dark meat contains more iron and B12 than the white meat. Nutritional information for wild and heritage turkeys is limited.

The giblets (the turkey’s heart, liver, and gizzard) are nutrient rich, but offer them in small amounts to babies (no more than 1-2 teaspoons of cooked giblets per week). The giblets are very high in vitamin A and rich in B-vitamins, folate, choline, iron, and selenium. While these are all essential nutrients for baby’s health and development, vitamin A can be toxic when consumed in high amounts.1

Nutritionally, turkeys raised outside will offer higher levels of vitamins A, E, and essential omega-3 fatty acids.2 3 4 Around 83% of turkeys raised in the United States live in crowded large-scale farms with limited or no access to the outdoors.5 6The downside is that pasture-raised turkeys can be prohibitively expensive and difficult to find. As always, do the best you can with the resources available to you and know that, pasture-raised or not, turkey is a nutritious food for babies.

★Tip: Take precautions to minimize the risk of food-borne illness from bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter when preparing turkey. Keep raw turkey in the refrigerator or freezer and store it separately from produce. Thaw frozen raw turkey in the refrigerator (never on the counter) and cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) before serving.7 8 Always wash your hands and any surfaces that come into contact with raw poultry. Lastly, do not wash your turkey before cooking. Washing raw turkey creates droplets that can contaminate the kitchen and increase the risk of foodborne illness.9

Can turkey help baby poop?

Turkey meat isn’t generally thought of as a food that promotes pooping. That said, it can play an important role in healthy bowel movements as part of a balanced and varied diet. Diets featuring white meats like poultry may promote the presence of beneficial bacteria, like Lactobacillus, which contributes to a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.10 11 12 Pooping patterns can vary significantly from baby to baby, so be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about your baby’s pooping or digestive function.

Can babies have deli turkey?

No. Due to excessive amounts of sodium in preserved meats, avoid serving deli turkey slices, turkey pepperoni, turkey bacon, and other processed and high-sodium turkey products to babies. Just one ounce of deli turkey can exceed the daily sodium recommendation for a 6-month-old, and turkey pepperoni can have even more sodium than deli meat. For more guidance, check out our Sodium and Babies FAQ page.

Is turkey a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Like all meat and poultry, turkey is a potential choking hazard. To minimize the risk, avoid offering turkey meat that has been cut into cubes or large chunks of ground turkey, and try not to overcook turkey, as this causes the meat to be dry and more challenging to chew and swallow. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is turkey a common allergen?

No. Turkey is not a common food allergen; however, cases of turkey allergy have been reported.13 Additionally, individuals with allergies to chicken meat may have an increased risk of allergy to turkey due to cross-reactivity.14 Turkey has been reported as a potential trigger for FPIES (Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome), which results in delayed vomiting with or without diarrhea beginning 2 to 4 hours after the ingestion of the meat.15 16 Some individuals with known allergy to feather and egg also have positive allergy test results to poultry meat.17 However, this does not commonly result in symptoms after the ingestion of well-cooked meat, as the allergenic protein is heat-sensitive. Therefore, routine testing for turkey meat allergy is not recommended in cases of egg allergy.

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity during the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the amount over future meals.

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

an infographic with the header "how to serve turkey for babies": a bone or thin strip for babies 6 months +, shreds of turkey meat for babies 9 months +, and bite-sized pieces for toddlers 12 months+

6 to 9 months old: Offer long, thin strips of cooked turkey meat (bone and skin removed) for baby to suck and munch on. Dark meat will hold together better than white meat and is often softer and moister as well. You can also mix ground turkey into cooked grains for baby to scoop up with their hands or offer a turkey meatball, as long as it is relatively large and soft. You may also give baby a drumstick bone with all meat, loose cartilage, shards of bone, and skin removed. While baby won’t get any food in the belly this way, the drumstick offers fantastic practice for baby’s developing oral-motor skills and overall strength. Also keep in mind that turkey drumsticks, depending on how they’re cooked, can become brittle and easily breakable, especially at the edges. Cooking turkey for longer periods of time at lower temperatures can help prevent the bones from becoming brittle. We strongly recommend checking and testing the bone prior to offering by trying to bend it and pushing 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.

9 to 12 months old: At this age, babies develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. When you see signs of this development, try moving down in size by offering shreds of cooked turkey breast or bite-sized pieces of ground turkey meatballs or patties. To minimize the risk of choking, refrain from offering cubes of meat. Try not to fret when you see baby trying to shovel food into the mouth: it is normal at this age and a good learning experience for the child.

12 to 24 months old: Serve bite-sized pieces of turkey as finger food for toddler to practice picking up with fingers or a utensil. You can also try serving crumbled ground turkey or shredded turkey mixed with grains, pasta, or vegetables. When you feel comfortable, try going back up in size to a whole drumstick to work on biting and tearing skills. Just be sure to remove the skin, pin bones, and loose cartilage or fat.

a hand holding a long thin strip of cooked turkey for babies 6 months+
A long, thin strip of turkey for babies 6 months +
a hand holding five small shreds of cooked turkey for babies 9 months +
Small bite-size shreds of turkey for babies 9 months +. Avoid offering bite-size pieces in cube shapes.

Get inspired with new cooking ideas from our guide, 100 Dinners for Babies & Toddlers.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with turkey?

From curries to stews, meatballs to nuggets, salads to stir-frys, turkey can be used in any recipe that calls for chicken, the world’s most consumed meat. Look to the cooking of Central America, where turkey originated, for inspiration and serve turkey with molé sauce or turkey mixed with masa (cornmeal) and seasonings to make tamales. Commercially-raised birds have a mild flavor similar to chicken, while wild turkeys and heritage breeds have a deeper, gamier flavor that works beautifully in holiday dishes like pavochon—a roasted whole turkey. When cooking whole turkey, set aside some meat to freeze. Shredded turkey can be easily added to grains, pasta, salads, and soups or simply served on its own at future mealtimes.

Recipe: Turkey Meatballs

twelve turkey meatballs on a countertop, one of which is topped with Greek yogurt

Yield: 10-12 meatballs
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (454 grams) ground turkey
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup (38 grams) cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon (2 grams) garlic powder (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon (2 grams) onion powder (optional)
  • salt to taste for adults and older children (optional for children 12 months+)

This recipe contains a common allergen: egg. Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. If using frozen meat, defrost in the fridge before you plan to cook.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius). Line a sheet tray with parchment paper.
  3. Place turkey, egg, and cornmeal in a mixing bowl.
  4. If you like, mix in the spices for extra flavor.
  5. Mash and mix the ingredients to form a paste.
  6. Shape the mixture into 2-inch-wide meatballs. Evenly space meatballs on the sheet tray.
  7. Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes, then flip them and bake for another 5 minutes, or until no pink meat remains in the center of a meatball when it is cut open. If you like, use a food thermometer to check that a meatball’s internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).
  8. Set aside 1 or 2 meatballs for baby’s meal. Exact serving size varies. Let the child decide how much to eat. Let baby’s food cool a bit before serving.
  9. Serve the meatballs and let the child try to self-feed. If help is needed, pass a meatball in the air for baby to grab. Alternatively, crumble baby’s meatballs and mix into a soft, scoopable food like applesauce, mashed vegetables, or yogurt. Serve the mixture on its own for baby to scoop, or pre-load a utensil and rest it next to the food for baby to try to pick up.

To Store: Turkey Meatballs keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

★Tip: This recipe can easily be scaled up to freeze for future meals. Just don’t salt the food until serving. That way, meatballs are ready to serve to baby at future mealtimes, and you can add salt to taste for adults and older children.

Flavor Pairings

Turkey is quite versatile and can be used as a substitute for chicken. It tastes great with cassava (yuca), corn, pinto bean, quinoa, sweet potato, and tomato.

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)

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Carpenter TO, Pettifor JM, Russell RM, et al. (1987). Severe hypervitaminosis A in siblings: evidence of variable tolerance to retinol intakeJ Pediatr, 111(4), 507-512. doi:10.1016/s0022-3476(87)80109-9. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  2. Spencer, T. (2013). Pastured poultry nutrition and forages. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Retrieved January 4, 2022
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  7. Centers for Disease Control. (2021). Salmonella and food. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  8. Scott, L. (2021). Countdown to a food safe Thanksgiving day – FAQs. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  9. Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2020). Washing food: does it promote food safety? U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  10. Zhu, Y., Shi, X., Lin, X., Ye, K., Xu, X., Li, C., Zhou, G. (2017). Beef, chicken, and soy proteins in diets induce different gut microbiota and metabolites in rats. Front. Microbiol. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01395. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  11. Zhu, Y., Lin, X., Zhao, F. et al. Meat, dairy and plant proteins alter bacterial composition of rat gut bacteriaSci Rep 515220 (2015). DOI: 10.1038/srep15220. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  12. Azad, M., Sarker, M., Li, T., & Yin, J. (2018). Probiotic Species in the Modulation of Gut Microbiota: An Overview. BioMed research international, 2018, 9478630. DOI: 10.1155/2018/9478630. Retrieved January 4, 2022
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  14. Hemmer, W., Klug, C., & Swoboda, I. (2016). Update on the bird-egg syndrome and genuine poultry meat allergy. Allergo journal international, 25, 68–75. DOI: 10.1007/s40629-016-0108-2. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  15. What is FPIES? International FPIES Association. Retrieved January 4, 2022
  16. Introducing food to the infant with FPIES. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Retrieved January 4, 2022.
  17. Hemmer, W., Klug, C., & Swoboda, I. (2016). Update on the bird-egg syndrome and genuine poultry meat allergy. Allergo journal international, 25, 68–75. DOI: 10.1007/s40629-016-0108-2. Retrieved January 4, 2022