When Can Babies Eat Crab or Imitation Crab? Safety + Benefits

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When starting solids and table foods with your baby, the most common guidance is to choose iron-rich foods, as this is one of the most essential nutrients for little ones starting to eat solids. Beyond simple iron-fortified cereals, meats and seafood, including crab, are other rich sources. 

Because of the concern for mercury content in seafood during pregnancy, many new parents wonder whether this means seafood like crab should only be served to older children. 

Real crab meat is appropriate to serve to babies of all ages, so long as it is served in a developmentally-appropriate size to avoid choking. The ocean is not the only thing that’s salty, however. Higher in sodium than other types of seafood, it is best to offer only small amounts of crab to babies under the age of 1. 

I’ll walk you through how to prepare and serve crab at each developmental stage, as well as which crab-containing dishes are appropriate for little ones. 

Is Crab Safe for Babies? When?

Whether you are choosing to start with purees or following an infant-led feeding program, such as the baby-led weaning approach, you can offer crab as soon as your little one is ready to start solids. 

cooked crabs on a plate

Crab is naturally high in sodium, however. Just 1 oz of lump crab meat has over 100 mg of sodium. Before the age of 1, babies should get no more than 1 gram (1000 mg) of sodium each day (source: NHS).

Both breast milk and infant formula contain the right amount of sodium for babies, so salty foods like crab should only be offered in very small amounts. 

As with all foods, safety is dependent on how your prepare and serve the crab. 

Serving Style6-9 months/9-12+ months
CookedYour baby’s immune system is still developing, meaning it’s easier for them to get sick. 
While it’s unnecessary to serve crab ‘steaming hot’ like what was recommended during your pregnancy, do only serve fully cooked crab. 
Lump CrabLump crab can be offered to babies of all ages, though may be easier for babies older than 9 months to grab for self-feeding. 
Pre-shred or finely chop the crab into small pieces to avoid choking risks. 
Crab Legs/ClawsAvoid offering crab legs or claws to babies. Crab legs and claws can be tough for babies to eat and the hard shell pieces pose a choking risk.
Crab claws also tend to be battered and fried and can be high in sodium.
In Other DishesSmall amounts of crab can be added into other dishes. This is one way to introduce the shellfish allergen and the taste of crab while keeping overall sodium intake low. 
Try making low-sodium crab cakes or adding small bits of crab into rice.
Imitation CrabAvoid imitation crab. Both high in sodium and added sugar, there are many other types of fish with more optimal nutrient profiles to offer your baby. 

As part of the shellfish family, crab is a common allergen. If you have a family history of seafood allergies, ask your child’s pediatrician for individualized guidance on how and when they recommend starting to offer crab. 

Can Babies Eat Imitation Crab (Crab Sticks)?

Known as surimi, krab, and crab stick, imitation crab is not actually crab at all! There’s no doubt that quality crab meat is expensive. Imitation crab is produced to have the same taste minus the hefty price tag. 

Crab Stick Sushi on wood plate - Japanese food style

Made from other fish, typically whiting or pollock, flavoring, food color, sugar, and binders, imitation crab is still seafood, just without real crab. Since imitation crab is processed and packaged, it is typically quite high in sodium- even by adult standards. 

The added sugar is another concern. It is recommended to avoid added sugars and sweeteners until children are at least 2 years old (source: USDA). 

Providing exposure to top allergens is important for babies who are starting solids, but there are many other ways to introduce fish to your little one that are lower in sodium and free of added sugars.

If imitation crab is part of your meal when dining out and you’d like to give your baby a taste and let them participate in your meal, cut or shred it into small pieces and offer only a couple of bites or tastes. 

The Benefits of Crab For Babies

Just like other fish and shellfish, crab meat has no shortage of essential vitamins and minerals. 

Crab is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for a baby’s brain development. Real crab meat is also high in copper, selenium, and zinc to support healthy immune development (source: Food and Function). 

When offering fish and seafood to your baby, it’s impossible to avoid 100% of all mercury traces. All water-dwelling creatures, including crabs, will contain some mercury. Luckily, crab typically has low levels of mercury (source: FDA).

The same guidelines and types of fish that were safe to eat frequently while pregnant apply to babies and young children as well (source: FDA).  

Crab Dishes That Babies Can or Can’t Eat

Babies can safely handle mixed or combined foods- in fact, offering your baby these foods is great for texture and flavor exposure, helping to foster an adventurous eater. Including crab in other dishes is a wonderful way to serve crab to your little one without stacking up the sodium. 

crab legs on a plate

Crab Legs: Crab legs and claws are a cultural staple for many. While eating crab legs might be the adult equivalent of ‘playing with food’ the hard pieces of shell are a choking hazard. In order to keep your baby safe at mealtime, do not offer whole crab legs or claws. Instead, disassemble the appendage yourself and offer a small amount of shredded or finely chopped meat- sans shell.

Crab Rangoon: Crab rangoons are delicious, but also too high in sodium for babies to handle. The crunchy outer wrapper is another safety risk, as it may be too hard for the baby to chew and pose a choking hazard. 

Crab Salad: Crab salad is often made with imitation crab, though can be homemade with lump crab. Due to the sodium and sugar in imitation crab, salads made with this type of meat are not recommended, though are not harmful if your baby does get a small taste. Homemade versions are a better option, as you can choose the lowest sodium crab as well as eliminate any additional salt. 

Crab Cakes: Homemade crab cakes are my favorite way to offer crab to young babies. You can slice or chop the cooked crab cakes into age-appropriate pieces, as well as ensure that any veggies in the cakes are well cooked and finely chopped for safety. Be cautious with sore-bought versions, as packaged meals and snacks can have significant amounts of salt. 

Crab Paste or Spread: The ingredients and utility of crab pastes and spreads vary greatly depending on where you find them. In England, crab spread is used on sandwiches, whereas in Asian countries you will find crab paste used to add flavor to basted meats.

Typically found in a jar, these spreads/pastes do tend to be quite high in sodium as well. When used in small amounts during cooking, such as in a marinade for meat or a tablespoon or two to flavor a rice dish, this is not typically much of a concern. 

You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing which types of seafood to offer as you start introducing solid foods. Hopefully, you’ve found this article to be helpful in deciding when and how crab joins the menu for you and your little one.