When can babies eat turkey?
Freshly cooked turkey (not processed turkey meat from the deli counter) that has been prepared in an age-appropriate way may be offered as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Deli meats are not recommended for babies as they are high in sodium and heavily processed, often with fillers like emulsifiers, nitrates, and preservatives.
Is turkey healthy for babies?
Yes! Freshly cooked turkey is a lean meat with a ton of protein and nutrients that power your baby’s growth and development. The meat (particularly the dark meat from the leg bone) contains B-vitamins, iron, selenium, and zinc, which bolster your baby’s immune system. However, there are different labels for turkey that speak to the quality of the meat. Free-range, vegetarian-fed, pasture-raised—what is healthiest for babies?
Look for turkey that’s marked as “pasture-raised” when purchasing meat from your butcher or grocer. Like chickens, turkeys are omnivores who eat a wide variety of fruits, grass, insects, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and worms when they’re free to roam on pasture. Their natural diet results in greater nutritional value.
Labels like “free range” and “vegetarian-fed” can be misleading in that they suggest a higher quality, but the opposite is often true. These animals are often exclusively fed commodity grains like soy and corn and live in overcrowded grow houses with limited access to the outdoors. Most never actually venture outside to eat a natural diet.
Because “free-range” and “vegetarian-fed” animals may have been raised on commodity crops, eating the meat potentially exposes your babies to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.1 What’s more, the animal’s grain-based diet decreases the amount of nutrients in the meat and can result in an imbalanced level of omega fatty acids in humans who consume it. Recent studies show an imbalanced consumption of omega fatty acids can contribute to depression, inflammation, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems in humans.2
Bottom line: Stick to organic “pasture-raised” turkey.
Is turkey a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Meat is a common choking hazard. There are a couple ways to minimize the risk: 1) offer ground turkey in the form of patties; 2) finely shred cooked turkey breast or leg meat; or 3) cut cooked turkey breast into paper-thin strips. Whichever method you choose, always remove the skin, loose fat, and grizzle, and be sure to watch closely as your baby eats.
Is turkey a common allergen?
No. Turkey is not a common food allergen, but in theory an individual can be allergic to any food. If you are concerned about allergies, start off by serving a small amount for the first couple of times and watch closely for any reactions.
How do you prepare turkey for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 9 months old: Remove the skin and serve large strips of cooked turkey meat about the size and length of two adult fingers next to one another. You can also use ground turkey to make meat patties to be served alongside applesauce, Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, or another sauce to aid swallowing. Lastly, if you are able to get your hands on a small turkey, your baby can munch on a turkey drumstick whole. (Just be sure to remove the skin, grizzle, and any loose bones or cartilage before serving.)
9 to 12 months old: Continue serving turkey patties, or try offering freshly cooked turkey breast. To serve, remove any skin and loose grizzle, then shred or finely chop the cooked meat. Serve the turkey meat on its own, alongside a sauce, or folded into other dishes like quinoa, rice, or soup.
12 to 24 months old: Continue to offer turkey patties or shredded or finely chopped turkey meat. At this age your baby may also be strong enough to hold a whole turkey drumstick, which can be quite the show at Thanksgiving dinner! Just be sure to remove the skin, grizzle, and any loose bones or cartilage before offering the drumstick to your baby.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
When roasting a whole turkey, set aside some meat to freeze. Shredded turkey can be added to casseroles, rice dishes, soups, stews, or just served on its own at future mealtimes.
Recipe: Turkey Meatballs
- Olive oil
- Garlic clove
- 1lb ground turkey
- Sauce or dip (optional)
- Finely chop 1 onion and sauté with a splash of olive oil in a skillet on medium low heat. While the onion is cooking, finely chop 1 clove of garlic and add it to the pan. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- While the onion is cooking, place 1 pound of ground turkey in a mixing bowl. Add the cooked onion and garlic once it’s soft, and set aside the skillet to use shortly. Use your hands to mix the onion into the ground meat. It’s not necessary, but at this stage, you could also add an egg, a scoop of breadcrumbs, or a spoonful of parmesan cheese (12 months+) for extra flavor.
- Form the meat into balls about 2-inches in diameter. Cook in the same skillet over medium heat. For faster cooking, cover the skillet while the meatballs are cooking. After a few minutes, turn the balls. To test readiness, cut one meatball in half and make sure it’s well done, with no pink meat inside.
- Serve a couple meatballs on their own—or with a sauce like pesto or crushed tomatoes. You might also try serving the meat alongside Greek yogurt as a dip, with a splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of sweet paprika mixed in for a flavor boost.
Turkey is quite versatile and can be used as a substitute for chicken. It tastes great with a wide range of fruits and vegetables—from apples and pears, to carrots and potatoes, to peppers and squash. It also pairs nicely with a variety of herbs and spices, from warm flavors like allspice and cinnamon, to savory herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme.
- Smith-Spangler, S., Brandeau, M. et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: A systematic review. Stanford Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research. California. (2012) Retrieved December 19, 2019
- Alagawany, M., Elnesr, S., Farag, M., et al. (2019, Aug. 18). Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Poultry Nutrition: Effect on Production Performance and Health. Animals, 9(8), 573. doi: 10.3390/ani9080573