Bell peppers cross-cultural cuisines, found everywhere from hearty European-style soups to Latin-inspired and Asian-style dishes.
Many new parents start solids by offering pieces of the foods they’re preparing for their own meals (hello, time saver) so it’s no wonder bell pepper makes the list of first foods. What are the guidelines for serving peppers to your babies?
High in vitamin C for immune support and iron absorption, peppers make a great first food. Raw vegetables like pepper can be a choking risk, but taking steps to cook, cut, and prep according to your baby’s age can help you keep your little one safe while exploring the sweet flavor of peppers.
Raw pepper can indeed be a choking risk, but is there a time when babies ‘outgrow’ this and can start trying peppers raw? I’ll walk you through this and more below.
Note: In this article, we will be focusing specifically on bell peppers, however many other peppers (jalapeno, shishito, poblano, etc.) have a similar texture. Some of this information may also apply to different types of pepper as well.
Are Peppers Safe to Give to Babies?
Most of us are familiar with common choking hazards like whole grapes and cherry tomatoes, nuts, and hot dogs (source: CDC). Peppers can also pose a choking risk if not prepared with safety top of mind.
For babies 6-9 months:
First, remove the stem, seeds, and pith (the white spongy part on the inside of the pepper). Cook the pepper, let cool, then remove the skin. Offer half or a quarter of pepper for your baby to self-feed.
For babies 9-12+ months:
You can continue to offer cooked halves or quarters with skins removed. Once your baby is able to pick up smaller pieces, you can start offering cooked bell pepper that is chopped. Thinly sliced raw bell pepper, even with the skin on, is safe to start offering at this time too. A ‘thin slice’ should be no more than half the width of your finger.
Bell pepper purees, like roasted pepper bisque or smooth red pepper hummus, are appropriate for all ages.
How to Cook and Serve Peppers to Baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting to offer babies solids around the time they turn 6 months old (source: AAP).
This is when babies will have developed good head control and can sit upright without additional support which are important skills for your baby to have when starting solids, even if you’re starting them off with purees.
Some families choose to start solids with purees or other smooth foods. Both jarred baby foods and homemade smooth foods can fit into this category.
If you’re buying prepared foods that aren’t made specifically for babies, one thing to watch out for is sodium content. Many foods made for children and adults contain much more sodium than babies need.
It can be tempting to give your baby some canned roasted red pepper soups or store-bought red pepper hummus, especially if they’re already in your pantry. Keep these tastes to a minimum and instead offer made-for-baby or homemade versions sans salt.
When offering whole pieces of food to older babies and to those following baby-led weaning, follow the serving guidelines above.
Raw peppers can be a choking hazard if not cut into the right size pieces. This is because both the crunchy texture and outer skin can be tough to chew without molars, which haven’t erupted in babies just yet. Slicing thinly is the key to safely serving raw peppers.
For other serving sizes (chopped, halved, and quartered), cooking the pepper until soft and removing the skin helps reduce choking risk. Steaming is a quick and hands-off way to cook peppers. To steam peppers:
- Place the peppers (either whole or pre-cut) into a pan with 1-2 inches of water.
- Cover and place over medium heat until the water boils, then turn to a simmer.
- Let simmer until the peppers are soft and you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.
- You can also use a steamer basket for easy cleanup. This method can also be adapted for the microwave, just use a microwave-safe dish.
Can Babies Eat Bell Pepper Skin?
As I already mentioned, bell pepper skin is tough for babies to chew without molars. This is what makes the skin a choking hazard on larger pieces of pepper.
There are two times you don’t need to remove the pepper skin before serving. The first is if your baby has shown mature eating, which typically happens around a year and a half of age. The second time when pepper skin is safe is when thinly sliced raw pepper is offered. You can start offering pepper in this way around 9 months of age.
What Are The Benefits of Peppers for Babies?
Bell peppers make a fantastic first food. They are a rich source of vitamin C, especially in red and orange varieties. Not only is vitamin C helpful for strengthening your baby’s developing immune system, but also helps their body absorb plant-based iron better.
Iron is an essential nutrient for babies starting solid foods, as this is around the time their iron stores from in-utero become depleted. Iron-fortified cereals are often recommended for babies for this reason, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only source of iron.
Meats are concentrated sources of heme iron, and non-heme iron is found in foods like beans, lentils, and dark lefty greens. These plant sources of iron need some help getting absorbed, which is where vitamin C comes in.
To help your little one absorb some much-needed iron, try offering a quarter of steamed bell pepper with a few tablespoons of smashed beans for fajita night baby-style.
Knowing what to do and how to avoid a scary event like choking can feel like a full-time job. Hopefully, this article has reassured you that peppers can be safely incorporated into your little one’s mealtime.