Yams, when soft and fully cooked, may be introduced as soon as baby is ready for solids, which is usually around 6 months of age. Note: This page is about the true yam. See our sweet potato page for information about the smaller, sweeter tuber.
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Yams are tubers with a rough, scaly brown skin and hearty, starchy flesh that originated in Asia and Africa. Sometimes other roots like oca and taro are called yam, but they are botanically distinct from the true yam, which was first cultivated some 18,000 years ago in Africa. Yams can be boiled, mashed, fried, and even made into a flour, and they play a vital role in African and Caribbean cuisines, from rich stews to the celebratory dish called oto or eto, a puree made with yams or plantains and served with hard-boiled eggs in Ghanaian homes and festivals.
In the United States and some other regions, sweet potatoes are often called yams, but the two are from completely different botanical families. So why the confusion? According to Maricel Presilla, author of Gran Cocina Latina, the answer goes back to Portuguese voyages to Africa, where the West African term nyami (yam) was appropriated for similar-looking root vegetables. The relationship between yam and sweet potato also connects to the Middle Passage: enslaved people from Africa ate yams on the journey from their homelands across the Atlantic, and then used the term to refer to the sweet potatoes growing in the Americas.
Wei Wei, 7 months, eats cooked yam on yogurt.
Amelia, 12 mos, eats boiled yam.
Eri, 12 months, eats boiled yam.
Yes. Yams are dense in carbohydrates and offer good amounts of fiber. They are an excellent source of potassium, a good source of B-vitamins, including B6, and also offer some vitamin C. Yams also contain many compounds that benefit the body in a wide range of ways, such as providing antioxidants (especially purple yams) and supporting the immune system. As with cassava, wheat, and other staple foods worldwide that are made into flours, yam flour may be fortified with added nutrients, such as protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, or zinc - which are essential for a growing baby. If you’re interested in fortified yam flour, just check the nutrition label to see if your yam flour has had these nutrients added.
When serving yams to baby, keep in mind:
Yams, like some other food crops, can contain trace amounts of heavy metals (such as lead and arsenic) from the soil as a result of industrial pollution and contamination leaching into the ground over many years, including some mining locations in Africa. Even organically grown produce may contain heavy metals. As long as you offer baby a wide variety of foods without relying too heavily on foods that tend to be high in heavy metals, like rice, yam, and sweet potato, you need not worry.
Always serve yam that has been fully cooked. In addition to being a choking hazard, raw yam sometimes contains cyanogens as well as a group of plant compounds sometimes called “anti-nutrients”. Many of these plant compounds break down during the washing, soaking, and boiling or roasting of yams and are generally harmless in healthy people when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Certain antinutrients may even offer health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Avoid wild bitter yam, which can be toxic.
★Tip: Yams love the dark! Storing yams in a cool, dark, and well-aerated area will allow them to maintain their nutritional value for about 2 weeks. Avoid storing them in the fridge or in a container or wrapping yams, as that can encourage spoiling.
If cooked to a soft consistency, yams should not be a choking hazard for babies. To minimize the risk, make sure the yam is fully cooked and soft before serving. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby at mealtime. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Yams are not a common allergen, although yam allergies have been reported. In theory, an individual can be allergic to any food. Oral Allergy Syndrome (also called pollen food allergy syndrome) to yam is rare, but has been reported. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction. Cooking yam can minimize the reaction.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Cook yam until soft (at least pierceable with a fork), then cut it into spears, lightly mash it, or puree it. Either way, yam can be served as finger food for baby to scoop up with hands. You can also season the yam with a healthy fat like butter, oil, or yogurt to add nutrition and a pinch of your favorite spice to add flavor. If you’d like to encourage use of a utensil, pre-load a spoon and rest it next to the food for baby to try to pick up—or pass it in the air for baby to grab.
At this age, babies develop a 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 happening, try serving bite-sized pieces of cooked yam for baby to try to pick up. You can also continue to offer cooked yam spears for practice with biting and managing bigger pieces of food. Consider serving thinner slices of cooked yam with the skin. Babies often chew on the skin and spit it out, and while this seems like waste, building familiarity with skin can help encourage a child to eat fruits and vegetables with the skin later in life. It also encourages the development of grinding skills, which will be useful soon with the newly popped molars in toddlerhood! The act of chewing and spitting the skin also helps develop oral-motor skills. Learning to spit is actually quite important. Of course, you may continue serving mashed yam for baby to eat with hands or a utensil if it would make you feel more comfortable.
Continue serving cooked yam on its own or as part of other family dishes. You can also take this opportunity to encourage utensil practice: offer bite-sized pieces of cooked yam along with a fork and help show how it’s done by pre-loading the fork for baby to pick up independently. You can also try spearing the yam while making a sound (boink!) to make it fun to use the utensil. If the child is not interested in using a fork or spoon, keep in mind that using utensils can be exhausting for new eaters, and many children toggle back and forth between feeding themselves with their fingers and utensils. Try not to apply too much pressure—consistent and accurate utensil use will come in due time—probably between 18 and 24 months of age.
Our Nutrient Cheat Sheet is a quick reference to all the nutrients babies need.
3 cups (500 grams)
This recipe contains common allergens: egg and peanut. Only serve to a child after these allergens have been safely introduced.
Peel the yam, discarding the skin. Chop the yam into cubes.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the yams. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain.
Scoop 2 cups of chopped yam into a mixing bowl. Store any extra yam in an air-tight container in the freezer for a future meal.
Prepare the remaining ingredients while the chopped yam is cooking. First, peel and finely chop the onion, discarding the skin. If you are using the bell pepper, wash and halve the pepper, then discard the stem, seeds, and pith. Finely chop the flesh.
Heat the oil in a skillet set on medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has turned golden and the pepper has softened, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the onion, pepper, and oil to the bowl with the yam. Add the peanut butter. Mash to form a paste. A little texture is okay as long as there are no clumps of peanut butter.
Scoop some of the mashed yam and onions into the child’s bowl. Exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determine how much is eaten.
In Ghana, etor is often served with a hard-boiled egg during celebratory meals sometimes with avocado for extra flavor and nutrition. If you like, top the child’s mashed yam and onions with a hard-boiled egg cut into age-appropriate sizes and serve with some sliced avocado on the side.
Season the mashed yam and onions for adults and older children with salt to taste.
Serve the mashed yam and onion as finger food. If you’d like to encourage use of a utensil, simply preload an age-appropriate utensil and rest it next to the food for the child to try to pick up. Alternatively, pass the preloaded utensil in the air for the child to grab.
To Store: Mashed Yam and Onion keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3 days.
★ Tip: Like plantain and potato, cooked yam stiffens as it cools. To serve leftovers, simply reheat with a little water or milk and stir to combine, adding more liquid as needed to reach the desired consistency.
Yams hearty starch pairs well with egg, garlic, ginger, onion, peanut, plantain.
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
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