Alcohol-free swaps are a hot topic in my house right now, as a number of our favorite dishes are on the boozy side. During pregnancy, there are still many alcohol-containing foods that are safe to enjoy, but how does this change when you’re offering solid foods directly to the baby?
Different than plain alcoholic drinks, the rules are a little murky on this one. Offering your baby foods made with alcohol should be at your own risk as far as government health organizations are concerned.
There are, however, a few ways to both reduce or eliminate alcohol from recipes so long as you’re cooking at home.
If you’re still pregnant, check out our pregnancy-specific article here on food containing alcohol when you’re expecting.
Can Babies Eat Food Cooked with Alcohol?
Internationally, there are no set rules for when it’s okay to start drinking alcohol. In the US, the legal drinking age is 21 years though some states allow children and teens to partake in alcoholic beverages with parental supervision.
In the UK, Australia, and some parts of Canada the bar is slightly lower at 18 years. But for most (if not all) families giving, say, a beer, to the baby would certainly never happen.
So what’s the difference between food cooked with alcohol? Most folks would answer that the alcohol is ‘cooked off’ but that’s not always the case.
Alcohol gets cooked off when it boils, turning to steam and evaporating. Since the boiling point of alcohol is 173°F, the dish needs to be heated to at least 173°F for any alcohol to get cooked off.
The amount of alcohol remaining in a dish after cooking depends on a number of factors, though a period of time is one of the biggest. Below is the amount of alcohol remaining after a dish based on how long it cooked at 173°F.
|Percent of Alcohol Remaining
|2-3 seconds (flambe)
|2 and a half hours
Let’s say you make a beef stew with a 13% bottle of red wine. If you simmered the stew on the stovetop for 30 minutes you’d be left with about a 5% alcohol content. Cooking the same stew in the crockpot for 2 and a half hours you’d be left with less than 1%.
Using a wider or larger pan and stirring the dish frequently both reduce the alcohol content. These tactics increase the amount of the dish that is open to the air, allowing more alcohol to evaporate (source: Idaho State University).
When cooking at home, you are better able to control how much alcohol you use and choose a cooking method that allows for as much to be cooked off as possible versus a restaurant where it can be harder to ask for foods to be cooked extra to evaporate more alcohol.
Regardless of age, alcohol affects the brain. That’s where the drunk feelings come from when you’ve had a bit too much to drink. For young children and babies with developing brains, alcohol from foods, even in smaller amounts, interferes with this development (source: Journal of Analytical Toxicology, NHS).
While the official recommendations from health agencies are limited to avoiding alcoholic drinks for children, there aren’t any official guidelines when it comes to foods cooked with alcohol.
If you choose to give your little one foods cooked with alcohol it’s at your own risk, though it’s likely smart to cook the food as long as possible or limit it to a taste or two off your own plate.
Is Food Cooked with Wine or Beer Safe for Babies?
Cooking Wine and beer are no strangers to the kitchen. Used to flavor soups, stews, risotto, pasta sauces, gravy and so on it can be tough to find a non-alcoholic swap in your tried-and-true recipes.
The same principles above apply to cooking wine and beer in foods. The longer it cooks the less amounts of alcohol remains. This means that quick-cooking items like sauces and gravies will likely have more amounts of alcohol remaining, whereas slow-simmered stews and risotto will have the least.
Wine-marinated meats are also common, though unless you are simmering them in a soup or stew, they will likely cook too quickly and leave much of the alcohol remaining.
Red wine vinegar is more similar to other fermented ingredients like apple cider vinegar and kombucha. Red wine vinegar will likely have traces (less than 2%) of alcohol from fermentation, but not enough to warrant concern- you don’t even need to show ID to buy it!
Again, offering foods cooked with alcohol, including cooking wine and beer, should be done at your own risk.
If you’ve incidentally offered your little one a bite of boozy food and are worried, keep in mind that they likely consumed only a small amount of alcohol. Portions for baby are usually small and alcohol affects people most when in large amounts or done on the regular.
How to Reduce Alcohol in Food for Babies
Following baby-led weaning or homemade baby food can be a time saver if you’re feeding your baby the same foods you’re eating- but what if the foods you eat contain alcohol?
Think ahead to prep. You likely know what food you’re making for the week, so as you compose your list take stock of any alcohol and how that dish is prepared.
For stovetop cooking, opt for a longer simmer time uncovered. When possible, using a wider pot or pan can also help.
If the dish is quick to cook and you want to reduce the alcohol, try swapping the booze for a non-alcoholic ingredient. There are a number of ways to swap out alcoholic ingredients.
- To replace red wine, try: beef or mushroom broth, juice (pomegranate, red grape, tomato), a splash of red wine vinegar, or if your recipe calls for tomato sauce or paste try doubling up
- To replace white wine, try: chicken, veggie, or seafood broth, white grape juice, a splash of white wine or rice vinegar
- To replace beer, try: broth (beef for dark beers, veggie or chicken for light beers), seltzer or sodas, apple juice
Non-alcoholic (NA) spirits, beers, and wines are also more popular than ever and can be used in cooking! Your local grocery or liquor store likely carries a few different options. NA spirits work well for uncooked, boozy dishes like chilled desserts.
What Foods With Alcohol Should Babies Avoid?
Like in pregnancy, there are some scenarios where there might be a bit “too much” alcohol, especially in desserts, when it’s often not cooked out such as tiramisu, rum/bourbon balls, and bananas foster.
Since even foods cooked with alcohol may still be risky, uncooked alcoholic dishes or those that have only been flambeed (heated with a flame for a few seconds) are likely best reserved until your little one is older as most or all of the alcohol still remains.
Alcohol isn’t the only hold-up on these desserts, however. Nearly all of them are sweet treats, and added sugar should be avoided until your little one is at least 2 years old.
While no one is going around offering babies boozy beverages, alcohol in food is a gray area. Only you can decide what you feel comfortable serving your family with this handy guide to offering the safest foods possible.