Baby Food With Lentils

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We’re getting our kids set up for success! We all know that the most important thing you can do for your child’s health is to make sure they’re eating real food. The vast majority of commercial baby foods contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, trans fats and preservatives. So when my friend told me about developing an organic baby food line with lentils, I was intrigued.

Baby Food With Lentils

Lentils may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.

What type of lentil is best for babies?

There are many kinds of lentils – each with a distinctive color, flavor, and texture. While there are slight variations in the nutrients from one type to another, all lentils are a fantastic first food because they add tons of plant-based iron and protein to a child’s diet. In fact, lentils have been sustaining humans since ancient times. The tiny legumes originated in the area around the Mediterranean Sea and were introduced to other parts of the globe through colonization and trade. Today, lentils are one of the most widely-used legumes and a staple food in Africa and South Asia, where lentils (called dal) are enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

★Tip: Lentils cook quickly, though cooking time varies. For example, whole lentils (such as Beluga lentils, Puy lentils, or Sabut Masoor dal) take longer to cook than split lentils (such as Dhuli Masoor dal, Moong dal, Urad dal). You can swap one for another, but pay attention when a recipe calls for a specific type. Whole lentils are great to mix with grains and vegetables because they keep their shape, while split lentils are excellent thickeners for soups and stews because they break down as they cook.

Are lentils healthy for babies?

Yes. It cannot be overstated how beneficial lentils can be for babies. The legumes are rich in B-vitamins, including folate to support the nervous system, as well as protein to fuel the muscles and fiber to nourish the gut microbiome. In fact, lentils contain traces of almost every vitamin and mineral that children need as they grow.

The best part about lentils: they are packed with iron and zinc, two essential nutrients that babies often don’t get enough of in their diets.1 Around 6 months of age, all babies, particularly breastfed babies, need iron- and zinc-rich foods on a regular basis because their reserves become naturally depleted.2 3 Lentils deliver these essential nutrients in spades. When served with foods that contain lots of vitamin C (berries, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, red bell pepper), the body absorbs more of the iron in the lentils.

You may have heard debate over the health implications of antinutrients such as lectins, oxalates, and phytates, which are naturally present in lentils.5 6 Fear not: these plant compounds are generally safe when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, and they also contain many beneficial properties.7 Plus, cooking significantly decreases the antinutrients in lentils and other legumes.8

★Tip: Dried lentils do not need to be soaked, though it reduces cooking time for some varieties and improves digestion.

Are lentils a choking hazard for babies?

No. Lentils are not a common choking hazard, though they can solidify and form larger shapes when cooked with cheese or other sticky ingredients, so take care to break up any clumps that concern you. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within arm’s reach of baby at mealtime, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions.

For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

How do you prepare lentils for babies with baby-led weaning?

Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.

6 to 9 months old: Serve cooked lentils on top of foods that are easy to scoop, such as mashed vegetables, grain porridges, or yogurt. Encourage self-feeding by letting baby scoop with hands or by pre-loading a utensil for baby to grab. This is also a great age to explore using lentils to make burgers, patties, and other round foods, whose shapes are easier for babies to pick up and hold.

9 to 12 months old: Continue serving cooked lentils on scoopable foods and letting baby self-feed with hands or a pre-loaded spoon. At this age, baby may enjoy trying to pick up tiny lentils on their own so try any recipes that call for whole lentils, which retain their shape as they cook. You can also explore a range of seasoning and flavors: lentils marinated in citrus juice, lentils mixed with vitamin C-rich vegetables, or lentils tossed with minced herbs and served with yogurt.

12 to 24 months old: Utensil time! Help show how a spoon is used by pre-loading it and resting it next to the bowl or plate for the toddler to try to pick up. If the child is not interested in using a utensil, don’t worry. 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.

Want more guidance as baby starts solids? Check out our comprehensive Video Library.

Recipe: Lentils with Yogurt

a square bowl filled with yogurt mixed with cooked lentils and dusted with spice, next to a scattering of lentils on a white background

Yield: 2 cups (400 grams)
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (90 grams) whole lentils
  • 1 ½ cups (360 milliliters) water or unsalted meat or vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) olive oil
  • ½ cup (140 grams) unsweetened full-fat Greek-style yogurt or fortified plant-based yogurt (for dairy free, swap in mashed potatoes)
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, or spice of choice (optional)

This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy. Only serve to a child after dairy has been introduced safely.

Directions

  1. Rinse the lentils to remove any dirt and debris.
  2. Combine the lentils and the water in pot set on medium-high heat. When the pot comes to a boil, lower the heat to create a gentle simmer.
  3. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, between 20 and 30 minutes.
  4. Drain the lentils, then transfer them to a mixing bowl. Add the oil and stir to coat.
  5. Scoop the yogurt into the child’s bowl and stir in some lentils. Exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determined how much is eaten.
  6. If you like, stir in the spice to add extra flavor.
  7. Serve: Let the child self-feed with hands. If you’d like to encourage the use of a utensil, simply pre-load a spoon and rest it next to the bowl for the child to try to pick up. Alternatively, pass a pre-loaded spoon in the air for the child to grab from you.

To Store: Cooked lentils keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for 1 week or in the freezer for 2 months.

Flavor Pairings

Lentils taste earthy and nutty with a starchy texture that soaks up the flavors from foods in which the legumes are cooked. Try cooking lentils with carrot, chicken, garlic, ginger, onion, pork, potato, and tomato and season them with lemon, lime, orange, or other citrus; fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, or parsley; and bold spices like cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, mustard seed, or star anise. The possibilities are truly limitless! Serve lentils with foods that are rich in vitamin C like bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach to help a baby absorb more plant-based iron from the legumes.

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