You might think of babies as mini bodybuilders…though they’re far from pumping iron, they make incredible gains during their first year of life! Babies triple their size by 12 months, and that massive amount of growth requires plenty of nutrition (especially from protein).

When introducing solids, many parents’ first instinct might be to load Baby up with fruits and veggies. And while, yes, fruits and veggies offer lots of valuable nutrients, they come up short on the protein babies need. On average, your babbling bundle needs about 11 grams of protein daily, which can be broken down into one to four tablespoons servings between 6 months and 12 months of age.  

So, alongside those carrot and spinach purees, make sure you’re serving up plenty of muscle-building proteins too. A good place to start? These 10 protein-rich foods that will help support your baby’s growth and development.

Salmon

Though your baby isn’t quite ready for sushi or sashimi, fully cooked salmon is a perfect match. Salmon boasts lots of potassium, brain-building choline, and—you guessed it—protein! Two tablespoons of salmon contains a whopping 5.6 grams of protein. The pink fatty fish is rich in omega-3s, to boot, which supports your little one’s vision, brain, and nerves. And good news for busy parents: There’s no shame in offering canned salmon, which has higher amounts of bone-friendly nutrients like calcium and vitamin D!

Ground Beef

Though many parents may feel nervous about offering babies meat, know that beef is a gold-mine of good nutrition. Beef contains must-have nutrients for babies, including iron for healthy blood cells and anemia prevention, zinc for an immunity boost, and choline for brain power. To serve, brown some raw lean ground beef on your stove until no pink parts are left. You can puree the meat while it’s hot and moisten with water, breastmilk, formula, or a low-sodium broth. Blending beef with pureed veggies or rice is another option, too! Two tablespoons of ground beef supplies 5.5 grams of protein. 

Chicken

A popular first food, chicken doesn’t disappoint nutrition-wise because it’s a healthy source of niacin for energy, selenium for healthy skin and heart tissues, and protein for growth. You can prep cooked chicken by shredding, pureeing, or cutting it into tiny pieces. Create your own baby-food blend by pureeing chicken with green peas or pears. 

Peanut Butter

There was a time when parents held off on introducing peanut butter out of concern that their little one would have an allergic reaction. Now, there’s evidence that introducing peanut butter early can lower the chances of developing a peanut allergy. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, your baby can benefit from eating peanut butter at around 6 months of age.

However, straight peanut butter is too thick and sticky for babies and can pose a choking risk. So, before offering peanut butter to your little eater, thin it with breastmilk, formula, or pureed fruit. When possible, stick to varieties that are low in sodium or salt-free. Babies have immature kidneys, which can become overloaded with too much salt.  One tablespoon of peanut butter gives your babe 3.5 grams of muscle-building protein. 

Eggs

There isn’t much to eggs-plain, as eggs are famous for their protein benefits (two tablespoons of eggs have 2.7 grams of protein). They also contain choline for your baby’s brain health. Thoroughly cook eggs by scrambling them on your stovetop, you can make your scramble softer by whisking your raw eggs with breastmilk or formula milk before cooking. Babies who are eating finger foods can try a cut-up omelet or hard-boiled egg.

Tofu

Tofu is an easy-to-munch nutrient powerhouse, making it a great food for infants. In addition to serving up 1.8 grams of protein, tofu is excellent source of calcium to protect your baby's teeth and gums. You can offer small pieces of soft tofu or puree with fruit for a creamy snack that’s sure to fill little tummies.

Cottage Cheese

Add some new textures to your wee one’s diet with cottage cheese. Two tablespoons of cottage cheese give your babe 1.6 grams of protein. The dairy-based food loads your little one up with calcium, choline, and vitamin A for those developing peepers. Stick to lower sodium varieties with under 100 grams of sodium per serving. Serve cottage cheese plain or mix it with mashed sweet potato or a fruit puree.

Greek Yogurt

While cow’s milk is a no-no for babies until they reach 12 months, yogurt is fair game. Greek yogurt is one of the most protein-wealthy yogurts and is a good source of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous to nourish your babe’s growing bones. Two tablespoons of Greek yogurt contain 1.4 grams of protein. Offer your mini muncher plain whole milk Greek yogurt mixed with some pureed fruit for a spoon-able snack.

Lentils

Lentils are easy-to-digest plant proteins that are a must-have food for babies because they’re brimming with nutrients like iron, calcium, phosphorus, calcium, choline, and folate, as well as 1.1 grams of protein. Before cooking, rinse and sift through raw lentils to remove any possible debris from harvest, making them safer for your tiny nosher to nibble.

Quinoa 

Quinoa grains are soft-cooked edible seeds. They’re chock-full of nutrients like folate and iron for your baby’s developing brain. Quinoa is considered a complete protein. That means it’s packed with all nine essential amino acids the body cannot make on its own but relies on to support rapid growth. There’s a natural coating of saponin on quinoa that you’ll need to rinse off before cooking as it can have toxic effects and a bitter taste. Boil quinoa seeds in water or a low-sodium chicken or veggie broth for extra flavor. Two tablespoons of quinoa have 0.5 grams of protein. 

More advice about feeding babies:

About Gabrielle McPherson

Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN is registered dietitian in Missouri who specializes in community and pediatric nutrition. Gaby is passionate about encouraging families to eat well in simple, practical ways that are realistic...and delicious! When not working, Gaby loves cooking, baking, and making messes and memories with her sous-chef/preschooler Charlotte.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.