By the time your child reaches toddlerhood, no one will be surprised if some of their favorite foods include tomatoes. Pizza, spaghetti with marinara, and French fries with ketchup are all surefire kid pleasers. (No wonder they’re on every restaurant kids’ menu.)
With a lifetime of tomato-y meals ahead, when is the time “ripe” to give your little one their first taste of the juicy red fruits? Are tomatoes too acidic for babies? Too seedy? Too… something else that you haven’t even thought of yet?
Here’s everything you need to know about getting your baby started on the delicious, nutritious path toward tomato-based foods.
As a new parent, it’s always reassuring when a trusted authority can tell you how (and when and why) to do things just right for your baby. But when it comes to introducing your child to new foods, the instructions aren’t as specific as you might expect.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children should begin eating solid foods around 6 months. And, believe it or not, according to the AAP, their first foods don’t actually have to be rice cereal and mashed banana. In fact, the decision of when to give baby various foods is largely up to you.
So is tomato on the table? You bet! “Babies can safely consume tomatoes as soon as they are ready for solids, which is generally around 6 months of age,” says pediatric dietitian Amy Chow, RDN.
Just keep in mind that first foods should be rich in iron and protein. Tomatoes are not a good source of either of these nutrients so it’s important that tomatoes be one of many foods that are introduced during weaning.
How you serve tomatoes depends on your baby’s age and their ability to properly chew foods. Tomato purées or mashes without skin are good for young babies just starting to eat solids.
Small, cut-up (and peeled) tomatoes also make an ideal choice for baby-led weaning if your baby is a bit older. This practice involves letting kiddos feed themselves — rather than be spoon-fed — to foster independence and self-determination with food.
Pieces of colorful, ripe tomato on a high chair tray may be just the thing to entice your baby into chowing down of their own volition.
Homemade tomato sauce, soups, stews, and meat dishes are additional vehicles for allowing baby to try (and enjoy) tomatoes.
Sure, tomatoes may serve as the base for less-than-super-healthy foods like pizza and ketchup, but the fruits themselves are extremely nutritious. For babies, tomatoes provide a number of health benefits. They’re:
- High in vitamin C. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C. At
16.9 milligrams (mg), one medium fruit knocks out 34 percent of the daily vitamin C requirementfor babies 7 to 12 months. “Vitamin C can help with iron absorption when consumed with a source of iron,” says Chow. Plus, this micronutrient boosts immunity and helps wound healing.
- High in provitamin A. Add provitamin A to tomatoes’ impressive micronutrient mix. (The body converts provitamin A carotenoids to vitamin A.) A medium fresh tomato contains
51 micrograms (mcg), or about 10 percent of 7- to 12 month-olds’ daily needs. This nutrient promotes cellular communication and growth, vision development, and immune function.
- Packed with antioxidants. If you’ve ever read a ketchup label, you’ve probably heard of lycopene, tomatoes’ power-player antioxidant. Lycopene helps protect against the damage created by free radicals, reducing oxidative stress in the body.
- Helpful for hydration. You know tomatoes are juicy, but just how juicy? The average tomato contains 94 percent water. If baby is struggling with constipation or jaundice, extra fluids from tomatoes can help.
Seems like — with any food — there’s always something to watch out for. Fortunately, tomatoes aren’t likely to pose serious issues for your baby. First, they’re not one of the top eight food allergens, so an allergic reaction to tomatoes is rare (though not totally unheard of).
To monitor potential allergic reactions, it’s best to introduce only one new food to your baby every 3 to 5 days. If a rash, diarrhea, wheezing, or other adverse symptoms show up after a few bites of diced Roma, it’s time to chat with your pediatrician about the possibility of an allergy.
As for concerns about tomatoes being a choking hazard, you can take steps to ensure they go down easy.
“Tomatoes should be peeled unless offered in very small pieces,” Chow advises. Pieces should be no larger than a half inch. Oh, and good news about seeds: “The tomato seeds are very small and not a choking risk.”
Finally, what about tomatoes for babies with reflux or otherwise sensitive tummies? Are the red fruits so acidic that they’ll come right back up again? It depends. If your little one has reflux, keep a close eye on their reaction to Grandma’s marinara.
“Tomatoes can increase acid production in the stomach and worsen reflux; however, the need to avoid tomatoes and tomato products is individually based,” says Chow. “If it doesn’t bother your child, there’s no need to avoid them.”
Unlike other veggies such as carrots or peas, you probably won’t find jars of puréed tomatoes in the baby food aisle. (After all, most grown-ups don’t sit around lapping up tomato sauce straight from the jar, either.)
And while you may come across premade baby foods that contain tomatoes, such as meat or pasta blends, home-cooked meals can be even more nutritious and palatable for your child.
Here are a few simple recipes to introduce your baby to the plump and juicy world of tomato foods.
Basic tomato sauce
- Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
- Add 1/2 cup diced onion and cook until softened, about 3–5 minutes.
- Add 2 cloves minced garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Pour in 28 oz. can whole tomatoes (with juice), mashing the tomatoes slightly.
- Stir in 1/2 tsp. dried basil or oregano.
- Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up tomatoes, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Store uneaten portion in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
This one’s for your older baby, who’s well seasoned at chowing down on solids.
Once you’ve made a basic tomato sauce, you’re good to go for pizza night! Spoon tomato sauce onto pizza dough, flatbreads, or English muffins. Top with shredded mozzarella and bake at 400°F (204°C) about 10 minutes. Cool and cut into small bites.
Fresh tomato pasta
Prepare a small whole wheat pasta, such as shells, elbows, or orzo according to package directions. Add quartered cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan.
This is a great meal for older babies who can chew their food safely.
- Heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat in a nonstick pan.
- Add a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes and sauté until softened, about 2–3 minutes.
- Add 2 beaten eggs and cook, lifting the edges periodically to cook evenly.
- Sprinkle on cheese of your choice, then fold carefully.
- Let cool and cut into wedges or small pieces.
Once your child is ready for solid foods at around 6 months, you can go ahead offering tomatoes and tomato-based foods. (Just be sure to cook or peel the fruits when first starting out.) Pretty soon your little one is likely to join the ranks of tomato lovers worldwide.