Before You Give Your Baby Turkey This Thanksgiving, Here's What You Need To Know
Make sure you prepare it correctly for them.
There's so much to love about Thanksgiving: getting to be with family and friends, making pumpkin pies, and preparing for holiday shopping. But there’s no question as to who the real star is on Thanksgiving day: the turkey. Its juicy goodness can have the whole party’s mouths watering. But if you have a little one, you may find yourself wondering, “Is turkey safe for babies?” And if so, at what age? After all, they should be able to gobble up on the Thanksgiving action, right?
When it comes to babies, Thanksgiving turkey is a fine treat for them — in fact, it’s actually quite a healthy option. “Turkey fits in well with a baby’s diet because it’s lean meat, a good protein source, and it’s high in nutrients that can continue to help babies as they grow and develop,” Dr. Syeda Amna Husain, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. “Some of the meat, especially if it’s dark meat, can have a high content of iron, zinc, and even B vitamins, which can help a baby as they continue to grow.”
Turkey can provide little ones with a powerhouse of nutrients in just a few bites. “Babies begin to lose their iron stores from in utero around six months of age, and animal-based meats like turkey are a great way to give them the iron they need,” Caitlin Kiarie, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Mom-N-Tot Nutrition, tells Romper.
Now that it’s settled that Thanksgiving turkey is generally a nutritious option for your baby, it’s important to know how and when babies can eat turkey safely. Below, you’ll find what the experts have to say on the subject for all of your burning (or roasting?) Thanksgiving meal questions.
When Can Babies Eat Turkey?
There are some general restrictions to keep in mind when feeding turkey to a baby. Even though it’s full of beneficial nutrients, it’s not always the easiest food for them to digest. According to Husain, the six-month mark is a safe estimate for when babies can begin eating turkey in solid form. “Once babies are about six months old and begin eating solids, they can eat turkey,” she says. “Especially if they are already able to sit up and sit supported in a high chair with a five-point harness, if they have lost their tongue-thrust reflex, and [if they] are beginning to show interest in food.”
The most important thing is to make sure that the portions of turkey you are giving your baby are appropriate for their eating stage and don’t pose a choking risk, Husain explains. The consistency of the turkey you feed them should be the same as the stage of baby food they are currently eating, which depends on their age. Once babies start to develop more hand control, they might even be able to pick up the turkey and eat it as finger food, meaning that you can offer it in pea-sized solid amounts.
How To Prepare Turkey For A Baby
So, given that turkey is actually pretty good for babies, you can begin to think about how to prepare it safely for them. It can be soft and sliced, or (more likely for a younger baby) puréed — just make sure the turkey is cooked properly before you proceed to purée it.
When thawing your turkey before cooking it, make sure to do so in the refrigerator or under cold water — not at room temperature. “When meat like turkey is left in the temperature danger zone, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees [Fahrenheit],” food safety expert and microbiologist Irrem Jamal tells Romper, “it can allow harmful bacteria to grow.”
Then, when cooking your turkey, Jamal suggests using a thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the same temperature applies for reheating leftovers. Following these guidelines will ensure that turkey is not only safe for your baby, but for your whole family to consume. Additionally, Kiarie explains, if you intend on feeding slices of solid turkey to your baby, make sure it is cooked in low-sodium broth to make the meat juicy and tender, which will be easier for a baby to eat.
Now that your turkey is cooked and ready, you can go on to the puréeing. All you need is a blender or food processor and your cooked turkey meat. “If the baby is younger than six months, then it's a good idea to blend the turkey — either with some of its natural juices from the pan, which add nutrition, or breastmilk [or] formula, which helps to both thin the consistency [and] also add a touch of familiar flavor, helping the baby to enjoy the food more readily,” explains Kiarie. From there, you can store the leftover turkey purée in the refrigerator for three days in an airtight container, or freeze it for up to three months.
And who says turkey purée has to be boring? You can actually get a little creative and add more flavors. “If you are doing purees, you could always puree a little bit of the turkey and add in some rice or some veggies that you might feel comfortable with, or other sides you might have around Thanksgiving,” says Husain — perhaps even some stuffing, she suggests.
Even if preparing turkey for your baby is a bit of a hassle, ultimately it’s worth it. As Kiarie says: “Most importantly, it is beneficial to include your baby in the traditions and flavors of the family as early as possible, so use this holiday time to offer your baby some of the same foods the rest of the family is enjoying, allowing them to build a preference for these flavors for years to come!”
And if you had to pull out the food processor, just remember that you won’t have to purée the Thanksgiving turkey again next year. When your baby is older, eating foods with a more solid consistency, and actually has teeth to chew, you should be able to give them turkey without puréeing it. And by the time your baby is a toddler, they should be able to feed themselves small pieces of turkey and join in on the family dinner and fun.
Dr. Syeda Amna Husain, M.D., board-certified pediatrician
Caitlin Kiarie, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Mom-N-Tot Nutrition
Irrem Jamal, M.Sc., food safety expert and microbiologist
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