This post is a collaboration with Beef Loving Texans. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.
The first 1,000 days of life are when your little one’s brain begins to grow and develop. This is when the foundations for their lifelong health are built!
Every bite your baby or toddler takes counts, and that’s why we strongly prioritize good nutrition when they’re first starting out with solids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Women Infants and Children’s Program and now for the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) recommend introducing solid foods, like beef, to infants and toddlers, in order to pack in every bite with protein, iron, zinc and choline (1-8).
Benefits of beef
Starting your baby with beef as a complementary first food can ensure they get nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.
Did you know that the high quality protein, iron, zinc and choline found in beef support growing bodies and healthy brain development in babies and toddlers (1-4)?
Iron is of particular importance, and beef provides the type of iron (heme iron) that’s best absorbed in your baby or toddler’s body (1-2).
But it can be hard to know how to start feeding beef to your little one, when it’s okay to start, and how to make it safe.
When is it safe to introduce beef?
You may hear recommendations to stick to only baby cereals, veggies, and fruit when starting solids. But we now know that foods like properly cooked beef are safe AND encouraged for your little one, even when they are new to solids. If you have specific questions about your child starting solids, be sure to ask your physician healthcare professional.
Serving beef is actually simple and easy for babies and toddlers! You can puree, mash, chop, or shred meat at various stages to meet their changing feeding needs.
Pureeing works well for the first few weeks you introduce solids, to get both you and baby comfortable and in the swing of things.
Once they’re ready to advance, you can try mashing some ground beef into mashed sweet potatoes.
Then you can move on to bigger pieces, like with the Mini Meatloaf recipe I share below! You’ll see how to modify serving for each age.
Ground beef is a great way to serve beef to babies and toddlers, but it’s certainly not the only way. Meat from beef stew or a roast, when tender and shredded, can work well for littles.
Is beef a choking hazard?
Like other foods, it can be, but these tips will help you to offer beef in safe and appropriate forms. Avoid chunks of meat, and make sure it is soft, tender, and moist when serving to baby. Anything that is round and hard will be more of a choking hazard (think baby carrot). Always be close by and monitor baby when they’re eating.
But even without teeth, baby can mash the food with their gums. If you smush the food between your thumb and forefinger easily, baby likely will be able to handle it without any teeth.
How much beef should my baby or toddler eat?
For babies and toddlers, up to 1 to 2 ounces is an appropriate serving size at a meal. I recommend starting with about 1 ounce, and then allowing more if they want it. In the Mini Meatloaf recipe below, if you cut a meatloaf into four pieces, each piece will have about 1 ounce of meat.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends between about 4 and 16 ounces of red meat per week for babies, and up to about 8 ounces per week for toddlers (2).
The reason the weekly recommendation for babies is higher is due to babies having higher iron needs than toddlers.
The DGAs recognized lean meat nourishes a healthy lifestyle, and that the nutrients found in beef are essential at every life stage.
Beef on the Table
If you’re looking for great beef recipes for the whole family, the Beef Loving Texans website is a great resource. In fact, they have a post with recipes that are perfect for babies and toddlers and the rest of the family, too!
Beef Loving Texans celebrates the pride and values deeply rooted in Texans through family, community, and tradition. It’s a great one-stop shop for both recipes and Texas stories (like why taco night is a thing!) brought to you by the Texas Beef Council.
Baby and Toddler-Friendly Mini Beef Meatloaves
As a dietitian, I love recipes that pack in a ton of nutrition (and taste)! These mini meatloaves have beef, egg, carrot, and oats, all amazing foods for your baby or toddler.
Mini meatloaves make it easier to serve the youngest ones in the family, and make dinnertime come together faster, since you’ll only have to bake them for about ¼ the time of a traditional meatloaf.
Ground beef should be cooked to a safe and savory 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meatloaves to check for doneness.
I haven’t tried the recipe with a flax egg, but if you can’t use eggs, that would be my top suggestion. Also, you can substitute almond flour for the oats, if needed or preferred.
Baby-friendly Mini Meatloaves with Roasted Green Beans
- 1 lb ground beef 90% lean
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup finely grated carrot from one large carrot
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp tomato sauce, low sodium for baby divided
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp avocado or vegetable oil divided
- 3/4 tsp salt, divided optional
- 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
- 12-16 oz green beans ends removed
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or grease lightly with oil.
- In a bowl, add ground beef, egg, grated carrot, 1/4 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp salt (optional), and 1/2 cup quick oats. Mix with a large spoon or spatula until well combined. If you want to prepare without added salt for baby’s portion, mix these ingredients together without the salt; remove ¼ of the mixture for baby, then add a scant ½ tsp salt to the remaining ¾.
- Divide meat mixture into 4, and form equal-sized mini meatloaves on the sheet pan.
- Spoon remaining 2 tablespoons tomato sauce over the top of the meatloaves, and spread with the back of the spoon.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss the green beans with 1 tsp of oil; remove a few green beans and wrap them in foil (these are for baby). Sprinkle the remaining green beans with a pinch of salt. Remove pan from the oven after 10 min and scatter green beans on the pan. Place foil packet with green beans for baby on the pan.
- Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until green beans are tender and cooked to your liking, and the internal temperature of the meatloaves has reached 160 degrees F. Check baby’s green beans for softness. They may need an additional 5 minutes. Place the foil packet directly onto the oven rack to finish cooking if needed.
Safe serving, by age
- 6-9 months (still using palmar grasp, cannot use fingertips to pick up small pieces):
- Slice meatloaf lengthwise into four strips. Serve green beans as-is, as long as they are cooked soft enough to easily smush between your fingers.
- 9-12 months with pincer grasp:
- Cut meatloaf into small pieces, about the size of a chickpea, for baby to pick up with their fingers. Soft cooked green beans can be served whole.
- 12-18 months:
- Cut meatloaf into pieces, they can be slightly larger now, and offer your child a fork. You can pre-load the fork each time for them if needed. Do the same for the green beans.
- 18 months+:
- Cut meatloaf into pieces and offer a fork. Green beans can be whole or chopped, and can be cooked slightly shorter (they don’t need to be as mushy at this age).
The content in this post is for general educational purposes and is not a substitute for a consult with a health care provider for specific questions related to your child. If you have questions about starting solid foods, please consult a physician or health care provider.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014.
- Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
- Schwarzenberg SJ, et al. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics 2018;141:e20173716.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. https://www.fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170208/nutrients
- American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Starting-Solid-Foods.aspx
- American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/growing-healthy/Pages/assessment.aspx
- USDA WIC Works Resource System. Infant Nutrition and Feeding Guide. https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/Infant_Nutrition_and_Feeding_Guide.pdf
- USDA WIC Works Resource System. Starting Solid Foods Handout https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/resources/starting-solid-foods