By six months, the iron stores that your baby was born with are starting to deplete, so they need to be replenished with iron-rich foods – and one of the best sources is meat.
Iron is an essential component of the blood, carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and organs of the body. Meat also contains protein, which is vital for your baby’s growth and development.
Whilst vegetarian mums may rely on alternative sources of iron and protein, most parents opt for meat as their child’s primary source.
The current UK advice is to stick to breastmilk (or formula) for the first six months. If you feel your baby needs solids sooner than this, talk to your GP or health visitor first. After six months, you can start to introduce meat, but it’s best to start weaning initially with fruit and vegetable purees.
In the same way that you introduced other weaning foods one by one, when you first give your baby meat, don’t try any other ‘new’ foods at the same time.
Introducing one new food at a time means that if your baby has any reaction, you’ll know exactly what caused it. You can, however, serve it with ingredients that you’ve already given to your baby.
Chicken is the best meat to introduce first but has a milder taste than beef and other red meats. It also goes well with fruity tastes such as apple, apricot or sweet potato, which you’re likely to have introduced already.
Meat is a difficult texture for many young babies, so start by pureeing it. To appeal to tiny tastebuds, combine it with a higher proportion of sweet fruit or vegetable.
Cooking it in a casserole in the oven or a slow cooker will help keep it moist and tender. Blend the cooked chicken well, adding plenty of fluid: it can develop a grainy texture in a food processor.
As your baby gets used to the flavour and texture of meat, you can introduce different types and different cooking methods, such as grilling or roasting.
Beef is a great source of iron but has a stronger taste than chicken, so cook it slowly to ensure it’s sufficiently tender, such as in a casserole with plenty of salt-free stock and veggies.
It also combines well with root vegetables or pasta, making a smoother texture which is easier to swallow.
As with all solids, you should move on from pureed meat as your baby becomes more adept at chewing and swallowing.
As your baby approaches nine months, you can introduce minced meat, for example in a Bolognese sauce or shepherd’s pie, and by 12 months, he should be able to cope with meat chopped into bite-size pieces.
Introducing meat when you’re baby-led weaning
If you’re following a baby-led approach to weaning, you can start offering meat from six months: try grilled pieces of chicken in chip-shaped pieces, or small meatballs made of minced chicken or beef.
Your baby may not be able to bite and chew it yet, but sucking the meat will still extract vital juices and get him used to the taste.
Raw meat contains lots of bacteria, so always wash your hands before and after handling meat. Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight, rather than leaving it out on the worktop, and use separate chopping boards for vegetables and meat. After handling meat, use a good antibacterial spray to clean your work surfaces.
To ensure meat is cooked properly, check that the juices run clear before you serve it to your baby, and be careful to remove any bones.
If meat is rejected…
Meat provides a number of important nutrients, so if your baby isn’t keen at first, you’ll need to make sure he’s getting other foods that are rich in iron and protein, such as beans, lentils, green veggies, pulses and well-cooked eggs.
But children’s tastes change all the time, so keep trying. He may be more willing to eat meat once he has some teeth and is better at chewing and swallowing.