Here is everything you need to know about baby-led weaning with quinoa, from a pediatric registered dietitian. Whether you’re doing baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding, or a combination, this post will walk you through, step-by-step how to introduce quinoa to your baby.
Quinoa is an ancient grain first grown as a food crop 7000 years ago in the Andes. Over the last 20 years quinoa has become more and more popular around the world, often touted as a “superfood”. Although it is technically a seed, quinoa is cooked and eaten in the same way as other cereal grains such as rice and oats. This tiny hard seed doubles in size and fluffs up when cooked, imparting a delicious nutty flavor and pleasing texture. It can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes that the whole family (including your new eater!) will enjoy. It is especially loved by families who have members with celiac disease (an inflammatory bowel disease that is triggered by eating gluten) as it is naturally gluten free! Continue to read through this blog for delicious ideas on how to incorporate this nutritious grain into your baby’s eating journey! Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- When to introduce quinoa to baby
- What is baby-led weaning?
- Benefits of quinoa
- How to cook quinoa for baby
- How to serve quinoa to baby
- How to store cooked quinoa
- Easy BLW recipe ideas using quinoa
- Frequently asked questions
- More recipes!
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When to introduce quinoa to baby
You can introduce quinoa as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, most often at around 6 months of age. This post outlines in detail all of the readiness signs to watch for when determining if your little one is ready to start eating solids. Some babies may show readiness signs before 6 months, and others may exhibit them closer to 7 months. All babies develop at their own pace, and that is ok! If you would like help navigating the process of starting solids with your baby, please do not hesitate to book an appointment with a pediatric dietitian who specializes in this area.
What is baby-led weaning (and why is quinoa a great baby-led weaning food)?
Baby-led weaning is different from traditional spoon feeding in that larger pieces of soft-cooked whole foods are offered to baby, as opposed to the caregiver spoon feeding purees. At around 6 moths of age, baby is encouraged to self-feed soft, safely prepared finger foods, strengthening their oral motor muscles and manual dexterity required to bring food up to their mouth. At first your baby will use the “palmer grasp”, which means grabbing the food with their palm. Once they’re a little bit older (around 9-10 months), they will learn how to master the “pincer grasp” where you can start offering smaller pieces of food that they can pick up with their fingers. At around this time your little one will also be able to practice bringing spoons up to their mouth. This is especially relevant when offering quinoa cooked on its own, as it can be preloaded onto a spoon for your baby to bring to their mouth.
Starting solids? Don’t panic.
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Quinoa is a great baby-led weaning food because of its versatility. It not only can be used to encourage your little one to practice using a spoon, but it can be incorporated into countless dishes your whole family will enjoy! From quinoa meat balls to warm quinoa breakfast cereal, the meal options using this ancient grain are endless! This is great news as quinoa is packed full of powerful nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, b vitamins and much more!
Benefits of quinoa
Quinoa is often referred to as a “superfood”. This term is used as a marketing strategy for nutritious foods that promote health benefits. However, a “superfood” on its own, does not have the power to guarantee your health and wellness. With that said, the nutrition profile of quinoa is impressive to say the least. Many of the nutrients abundant in quinoa are essential for your little one, and support the growth and development of your eating newbie.
Just 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa contains:
- About 2g of dietary fibre important for feeding healthy gut bacteria and preventing constipation in your little one. Fibre and hydration are key for regular bowel movements!
- About 25% of your baby’s daily protein needs: Protein is acts as the building blocks your baby needs to grow and stay healthy
- About 9% of your baby’s daily iron needs: Iron stores become depleted at around 6 months, making it a key nutrient for focus in your little one’s diet. It is essential for oxygen transport to organs and tissues, as well as physical growth and brain development.
- About 70% of your baby’s daily manganese needs: Manganese is a mineral involved in bone formation, blood clotting, supporting healthy immune function and protects cells from damage.
- 55% of your baby’s daily magnesium needs: Magnesium is an essential mineral for healthy bones, muscle and nerve function as well as regulating blood pressure and blood sugars.
- About 25% of your baby’s daily zinc needs: You baby needs enough zinc for proper growth and development. It is essential for protein and DNA production. This mineral also works to help your little ones immune system fight off bacteria and viruses.
- About 23% of your baby’s daily vitamin B1 (thiamin) needs: This B vitamin helps your little one turn food into the energy that they need to grow and develop. It is essential for healthy cell function.
- About 18% of your baby’s daily vitamin B2 (riboflavin) needs. Riboflavin is essential for proper cellular growth, function, and metabolism.
- About 130% of your baby’s daily vitamin B9 (folate) needs. Folate is important for the formation of genetic material (DNA), healthy cell division and maintaining healthy red blood cells.
How to cook quinoa for baby
Quinoa is available in more than one form! The most common being its whole seed form, however, quinoa flour and flakes are also available on the market.
How to boil whole quinoa:
Boil quinoa in a 2:1 ration of liquid to dry quinoa. For every 1 cup of quinoa, add 2 cups of water to boil it in. Bring the water and quinoa up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Take the cooked quinoa off the stove and fluff up with a fork. It is optional to soak quinoa in water prior to cooking. Dump through a fine mesh strainer and rinse well, then add to fresh water to cook. This helps to reduce bitter flavor.
How to use quinoa flour:
Quinoa flour is great to use in gluten free baking such as pancakes, waffles, cookies, muffins and loaves. It is higher in protein and fibre than regular all-purpose flour, and packs extra vitamins and minerals into your baked goods! See this webpage for some great ideas on how to use quinoa flour. When making baked goods for your little one (under the age of 1 year old) aim to sweeten things naturally with blended fruit like apple sauce, dates, or mashed banana instead of adding in sugar, maple syrup or honey.
How to use quinoa flakes:
Quinoa flakes are whole quinoa seeds that have been flattened but a grain flaker. Quinoa flakes can be used in many of the same recipes as quinoa and quinoa flour. Because the seed has been flattened it will cook faster than whole quinoa. Quinoa flakes would work great to make an overnight quinoa “oatmeal” or a hot quinoa breakfast cereal for your little one. Check out this webpage for some more great ideas on how to use quinoa flakes!
How to serve quinoa to baby
On its own:
Whole cooked quinoa
Simply cook quinoa by the boil method above. You can cook it in water or no-salt-added vegetable or chicken broth to add some savory flavor. Let the cooked quinoa cool so your baby will not burn their mouth. You can preload quinoa onto a spoon such as this self-feeding baby spoon.
Take cooked quinoa and puree in a high-powered blender or food processor with some water, breastmilk, formula, or no-salt-added broth. Add more liquid for a thinner puree, or sparingly for a thicker puree. You can then preload quinoa puree onto a spoon for you little one to self-feed. If your baby is less than 9 months old, you can spoon feed them yourself as they will struggle to bring the spoon to their mouth without spilling the puree. Spoon feeding purees, yogurts, and oatmeal to your little one (especially before they are 9 months old) can be done in conjunction with baby-led feeding. There is nothing wrong with doing a combination of both baby-led weaning and spoon feeding! In fact, it is 100% up to you to decide if baby-led weaning or spoon feeding, (or a combination of both) work best for you and your little one. See this blog (add link to baby led weaning versus puree blog) for an evidence-based review on both feeding methods.
Mixed with vegetable/fruit pouches, mashed banana or avocado:
Take cooked quinoa and mix it in with pureed fruit and veggie pouches for a quick option! Or to expose your little one to a thicker/chunkier texture try mixing it up with mashed avocado or banana (or both!). Adding quinoa to different purees and mashes is a great way to introduce this food with a variety of different flavors and textures. You may find your little one spits out quinoa mashed with banana, but loves it with creamy avocado! Continue to serve quinoa in many ways to encourage a varied palate and matured tolerance for texture variation.
As a warm breakfast cereal:
Cooked quinoa is a great way pack fibre, protein and essential nutrients into your baby’s breakfast meal! There are many possible combinations to use quinoa as a warm cereal, a good rule of thumb is to add a protein, fat, and fruit to the mixture. For example, try adding hemp hearts (protein and fat), and apple sauce (fruit). Another simple option is to add plain whole yogurt (protein), some peanut butter (fat/protein) and mashed banana (fruit). Serve quinoa cereal on a preloaded spoon for baby to bring to their mouth, or another option is to spoon feed baby (especially if they are less than 9 months or struggle to bring a loaded spoon to their mouth independently).
Mix into baked goods:
Mix leftover cooked quinoa into baked good like muffins, loafs, waffles, and pancakes. This is a great way to pack essential vitamins and minerals into your baking, while introducing yet another delicious way for your baby to enjoy quinoa! Serve baked goods in fingerlike strips that are easy to for baby to hold using their palmer grasp before they are 9 months old. Eventually start serving smaller pieces of soft baked goods to help them practice their developing pincer grasp. Ensure that your quinoa baked goods do not contain pieces of nuts or seeds in them, as they are choking hazards. However, there is the option to finely grind nuts and seeds before mixing into the batter or opt for nut/seed butters instead.
Cooked into meat balls:
Quinoa can be used in the place of bread crumbs when making meat balls, meat loaf, or vegetarian bean-based patties such as black bean or lentil burgers. The small fluffy grains of cooked quinoa add nutty flavor and texture dimension to a meatball or burger. It is easy to shape meatballs into rolled out finger-like pieces so that baby has an easier time holding onto it. As their fine motor skills improve (at around 9-10 months) you can serve smaller pieces of soft meatball or bean patty mixture.
How to store cooked quinoa
After quinoa is cooked, cool it within an hour before storing in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Quinoa can be frozen for 1-2 months before it should be reheated and served to baby. You can safety store quinoa in the fridge for up to 2 days before serving to baby. Do not reheat the quinoa more than once, discard leftover quinoa from baby’s meal and do not reserve later. Infants under 1 year old are more susceptible to foodborne illness due to their immature immune systems compared to stronger adult immune systems.
Five simple baby-led weaning quinoa recipe ideas
1. Quinoa mixed with mashed avocado:
Mix 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa with ½ small avocado mashed. Preload a self-feeding spoon with the mixture and let your baby feed themselves. You can also spoon feed baby yourself! Whatever works best.
2. Apple quinoa breakfast cereal:
Mix 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa with 2-3 tbsp. of unsweetened applesauce, 1-2 tbsp. of whole plain yogurt, and a sprinkling of cinnamon (optional). Serve the same way as recipe #1!
3. Salmon quinoa salad:
Mix ¼ cup of flaked cooked salmon (fresh or canned no salt added) with 2-3 tbsp. of 3.25% or higher percentage plain yogurt, and ¼ cup of cooked quinoa. Serve the same way as recipe #1! (Tip: cook quinoa in no salt added broth for added flavor!)
4. Baked banana raspberry quinoa:
Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl mix together 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, 2 cups of milk (cow’s milk or plant-based), 2 tbsp of melted butter (or avocado oil), 1 tsp. of vanilla, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 3 ripe mashed bananas, 1 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries, and 2 eggs (Try chia eggs if you need an egg-free recipe: 1 tbsp. chia seeds + 3 tbsp. water = 1 chia egg). Pour mixture in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Bake for about an hour or until quinoa is fully cooked and the mixture has solidified in the middle. Once cooled cut the baked quinoa into finger-like strips to serve to baby, or smaller pieces if they are older than 9 months old and can start practicing their pincer grasp!
5. Quinoa meat balls:
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl mix together 1lb of ground beef, ¾-1 cup of cooked quinoa (tip: cook quinoa in no salt added broth for more flavor), 1 cup of grated carrot, ½ cup grated zucchini, 1 minced garlic clove, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. of dried thyme, 1 tbsp. of tomato paste, 1 whisked egg. Shape mixture into little meatball logs (more finger shaped than round so that they are easier to hold in a tiny fist). Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature comes up to 160°F using a food thermometer. Once cooled, serve to baby as is, or add some no salt added tomato sauce!
No, quinoa cooked on its own does not pose a high risk for choking as the grains are tiny and not very sticky. Read this blog for more information everything you need to know about choking and baby-led weaning.
Soaking quinoa before cooking can help to remove the saponins located on the outer layer of the quinoa. Saponins are naturally occurring compounds produced by some plants (including quinoa) that help ward off insects, fungus, and birds. Not to worry, the levels present in quinoa are not toxic to humans, so it is not necessary to soak quinoa to remove saponins before cooking. However, some people prefer the taste of pre-soaked quinoa as saponins can impart a bitter/soapy flavor to the grain if they are not soaked first. If you find that you or your little one dislike the taste of quinoa, try soaking it in water for an hour or two before cooking, then drain the liquid and cook in fresh water. This may help to improve the flavor!
Quinoa is not considered a common food allergen and does not make it onto the common food allergen list (Common food allergens – Canada.ca). However, although very rare, quinoa allergies can exist, especially if this allergy runs in the family.
Protein is made up of amino acids, tiny building blocks needed for the body to grow and function properly. There are 20 amino acids that we need, but only 9 of them are “essential”, meaning that they cannot be formed in the body. These essential amino acids must be consumed in our diet. All animal proteins (like poultry, beef, pork and fish/shellfish) contain the 9 essential amino acids, which is why we call them complete proteins. It is not as common for plant foods to contain all essential amino acids, but quinoa is an exception! Since it contains all essential amino acids, quinoa is considered a complete protein. However, quinoa is mainly made up of carbohydrate which is why it is categorized as a grain/starchy food. In fact, quinoa provides similar amounts of protein when compared to rice. Half a cup of cooked quinoa provides 4g of protein (and 21g of carbohydrate), while the same amount of cooked brown rice provides 3g of protein (and 24g of carbohydrate). As you can see, quinoa provides close to the same amount of protein when compared to other common grains, but the protein it does have is complete with all essential amino acids!
More delicious baby-led weaning quinoa recipes:
- Fish Cakes With Quinoa | Gluten Free BLW Recipe (abbeyskitchen.com) – without the added salt
- Quinoa and Banana Flourless Pancakes – Baby Led Feeding
- EASY Easy Quinoa Baby Cereal (4 Ways) – MJ and Hungryman
- Quinoa beef meatballs – baby finger food | Buona Pappa
Quinoa is an amazing ancient grain to offer your little one as they start their eating journey. Not only can it be presented in many ways to promote self-feeding, it is a nutrition powerhouse packed with essential amino acids (building blocks), fibre, b vitamins and much more! Check out this comprehensive blog with more information on how to introduce your baby to new foods through baby-led weaning.
- Canadian Nutrient File (CNF) – Search by food (canada.ca)
- Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) (nih.gov)
- Saponin – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
- Infant Nutrition – Complementary Feeding – Key Practice Points (pennutrition.com)