We’ve all seen the videos: Someone hands a baby their first lemon and awaits the stunned reaction.
Sure enough, the shock of the lemon’s tartness hits with dramatic, often comical results. The tiny eyes screw up, the mouth puckers, and baby freezes for a moment in complete surprise. (And then, on occasion, astounds everyone by asking for more.)
As you introduce solid foods, you may wonder exactly when it’s safe to give your baby lemon or foods that contain its juice (or whether it’s all that nice to do it for a YouTube video).
Here’s a look at what you need to know about babies and lemons, from benefits to precautions to serving ideas.
Citrus fruits make a healthy addition to just about any diet, including babies’. One lemon weighing 84 grams contains an impressive
Getting enough vitamin C helps your child’s body absorb iron, create collagen, and maintain a healthy immune system. Plus, as an antioxidant, vitamin C combats the harmful effects of free radicals, which can damage cells.
In addition to their nutrition benefits, lemons and their juice can provide a flavor boost to baby’s mealtimes. “Lemon juice is a great way to add flavor to [babies’] food, since it’s not recommended to use added salt before 12 months,” says pediatric dietitian Amy Chow, RD.
Lemon juice can also offer an advantage for infants’ teeth, which may not be used to chewing: “Lemon juice can act as a natural meat tenderizer, making meat softer for babies to manage,” says Chow.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies can start solid foods around 6 months of age — and there’s no exact science to the order in which to introduce new foods.
While you may not want to lead with a flavor as striking as lemon, there’s nothing unsafe about incorporating a bit of lemon juice into recipes for baby around the 6-month mark.
Rather than diving right into the “baby lemon challenge,” a la viral videos, however, it’s best to introduce lemons and their juice in smaller quantities — “typically a squirt of lemon juice and no more than a quarter of a lemon in a recipe,” advises Chow.
Including lemon juice in familiar, well-liked foods is a tried-and-true strategy. If your child enjoys yogurt, for example, mix a bit of lemon juice into plain yogurt and serve with bite-sized pieces of fruit. If they’re a fan of baked goods, let them sample muffins or bread made with lemon juice.
Need some more lemony mealtime ideas? Try these options:
- Marinate meat, such as steak or chicken, in a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil as a flavorful meat tenderizer. (Be sure to cut or shred meat into small pieces before serving.)
- Squeeze lemon juice onto cooked or roasted veggies, like broccoli, green beans, or kale.
- Sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice into water to make its flavor more interesting for baby. (You can introduce babies to water around 6 months as well.)
Even adults have been known to turn up their noses at too-tart flavors. Is lemon juice too strong for little palates?
Again, it’s best not to overwhelm baby with a full lemon or its juice, straight up. “I would not recommend introducing lemon on its own,” says Chow. “Lemon juice to drink or a lemon wedge for the baby is highly acidic.”
Lemons’ acidity not only means a potentially sour reaction from your child — it may also aggravate certain health conditions when served alone.
Rather than let your kiddo go to town sucking on wedges, be sure to introduce lemon juice gradually in other familiar foods.
And when life gives you lemons, it’s not always a good idea to make lemonade. While giving baby lemon juice in the form of lemonade might have them lapping up its tart flavor, lemonade contains more sugar than is good for your little one.
In fact, the AAP says babies under 12 months shouldn’t drink juice at all, and toddlers ages 1 to 3 should limit juice to 4 ounces per day.
As for allergy concerns, the risk of an allergic reaction to lemon is low, as it’s not among the top eight food allergens. However, the AAP recommends introducing only one new food at a time to pinpoint allergic reactions.
Every baby’s palate is different, so your little one may have a range of reactions to their first taste of lemon’s tangy bite — from “yes, please!” to “no way!”
Even if baby isn’t a fan of lemons initially, don’t swear them off forever.