Meat, fish, eggs, legumes, and tofu: When can you introduce them to your baby’s diet?
When can you introduce proteins to your baby?
Meat, fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, and other proteins are good sources of iron. You can introduce them to your baby as soon as they start eating solids, around 6 months.
Iron is one of the primary nutrients your baby will lack if they are fed only breast milk or formula, so iron-rich foods should be introduced early on.
What foods contain protein?
How much meat or fish can you give your baby?
Start with 3 to 5 ml (½ to 1 tsp). Gradually increase this amount based on your child’s appetite.
You can give your baby chicken, turkey, beef, veal, pork, lamb, or liver. Babies who are used to purées may find it difficult to chew meat and prefer it served as a smooth purée. If that’s the case for your little one, you can introduce finely ground meat at around 9 months and then move on to meat cut into small pieces.
Avoid giving your baby spicy meats, sausages, and deli meats (ham, smoked turkey, bacon, salami). These foods are much too high in fat, salt, spices, nitrates, and other unhealthy ingredients.
If you’re following the self-feeding method, you can give your child very tender meat (e.g., slow-cooked meat, chicken thighs, or meatballs). You can also give your baby meat on the bone or a strip of steak sliced along the grain to suck on. However, wait until they develop the ability to chew before giving them shredded meat, usually around 7 to 8 months.
You can also give fish to your baby. It’s an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Whether it’s cut into pieces or puréed, be sure to remove all the bones.
Try Pacific halibut, sole, turbot, tilapia, striped bass, Alaskan salmon, American shad, lake whitefish, brook trout, and other trout (except lake trout), smelt, or tomcod.
Avoid fish that may contain pollutants, such as swordfish, shark, bluefin or albacore tuna, bass, pike, walleye, muskellunge, marlin, burbot, and lake trout.
You can introduce egg yolks as soon as your baby starts eating iron-rich foods. They’re an excellent source of protein. Since iron is concentrated in the yolk, it’s best to start with just this part of the egg when your baby is still eating very small portions. You can start giving them both the white and the yolk when their appetite grows.
Hard-boiling an egg is an easy way to separate the white from the yolk. You can then mash the yolk with a fork and add it to purées or mix it with breast milk, formula, or water.
If you’re following the self-feeding method, you can give your baby a small portion of scrambled eggs to eat with their hands.
Legumes and tofu
Legumes and tofu are excellent sources of protein. That means they can replace meat. You can start giving your child legumes and tofu once they start eating iron-rich foods, around 6 months.
Start with chickpeas, lentils, and beans. When cooked well, they are just as delicious puréed as they are when mashed with a fork. Red lentils are the easiest to purée. Start with 30 to 60 ml (2 to 4 tbsp), then adjust the portion based on your child’s appetite.
If you’re following the self-feeding method, you can give your baby very soft beans cut in half or in thirds. Just be sure to wait until they’ve learned to pinch with their thumb and pointer finger.
Don’t serve your child whole chickpeas until they’re at least 4 years old. Because chickpeas are round and firmer than other legumes, they are a choking hazard for very young children. However, you can still give them to your baby as long as they’re mashed or puréed.
Silken tofu can also be mashed and added to a purée. Regular tofu can be crumbled or diced. Start with around 30 g (1 oz.) of tofu, and adjust the portion based on your baby’s appetite.
A number of studies have shown that waiting to introduce common allergens does not protect a child from food allergies. In fact, this practice is linked to a greater risk of allergies.
Therefore, experts no longer recommend waiting to introduce these foods, even for children who are at risk of developing allergies (i.e., those with a parent or sibling with a food allergy, or babies who have eczema or asthma). Giving these children allergenic foods early, between the ages of 4 and 6 months, may actually protect them better.
To learn about the main allergens and the symptoms of a food allergy, read our fact sheet on food allergies (in French) in children.
You can feed your child a vegetarian diet, but you have to keep a close eye on what you feed them to make sure you’re meeting all their nutritional needs. Consulting a nutritionist can help you with this.
If your child is a lacto-ovo vegetarian (i.e., they eat eggs and dairy) or lacto-vegetarian (they eat dairy, but no eggs):
Introduce tofu, legumes, or puréed egg yolk to their diet first, while continuing to feed them breast milk or formula.
Next, introduce cheese and whole eggs.
Opt for iron-fortified baby cereal.
Also feed your baby whole grains, such as quinoa and amaranth, as they have additional protein and iron.
If your child is vegan (i.e., they eat only plant-based foods, so no dairy or eggs):
Encourage them to eat legumes, tofu, and ground nuts regularly. This will help them get enough calories.
Continue feeding them breastmilk or formula at meals and snacks. At around 12 months, you can give them fortified soy beverage. They can have about 750 ml per day.
Also give your child iron-fortified baby cereal.
Monitor your child’s iron intake
Our bodies are better at absorbing the iron found in animal products (heme iron) than the iron found in plant foods (non-heme iron). However, vitamin C helps us absorb non-heme iron. For this reason, make sure to include a fruit or vegetable that is high in vitamin C with every meal, such as red peppers, broccoli, oranges, or berries.
To learn more about feeding your child if they are vegetarian or vegan, see our fact sheet on vegetarianism and veganism (in French).
Things to keep in mind
Proteins are some of the first foods you should introduce to your baby because they are high in iron.
Babies are sometimes put off by the texture of the meat. It’s best to start with smooth purées and very tender meats.
A vegetarian diet can be suitable for your baby as long as you replace meat with good plant-based protein sources.
Scientific review: Stéphanie Côté, M.Sc., nutritionist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2022
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
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Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs. Guide de consommation du poisson de pêche sportive en eau douce. environnement.gouv.qc.ca
Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ). inspq.qc.ca
Lambert-Lagacé, Louise. Comment nourrir son enfant : du lait maternel au repas complet. Montreal, Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2015, 344 pp.
Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. Heard of Omega-3s? Fish, the Environment and Health.publications.msss.gouv.qc.ca
Health Canada. “Canada’s food guide.” 2022. guide-food.canada.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Feeding your baby in the first year.” 2020. www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Healthy eating for children.” 2020. www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Vegetarian diets for children and teens.” 2017. www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Practice point. “Nutrition for healthy term infants, six to 24 months: An overview.” 2020. www.cps.ca