When can babies eat walnuts?
Walnuts, if they are finely ground or served as walnut butter mixed into other foods, may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Whole walnuts, chopped walnuts, and walnut butter are choking hazards for babies and children, so read our preparation by age section closely before serving.
Where do walnuts come from?
Walnuts are the seeds of leafy deciduous trees in our planet’s temperate regions, from China to Iran to the United States. While there are many varieties of edible walnuts, there are two main types that are frequently consumed: the black walnut of North America and the common walnut of Southwest Asia, which has become one of the most popular nuts in the world. But they haven’t always been so widely available. Centuries ago, walnuts were a royal delicacy in Persia, the nut’s native home. Traders introduced the walnut to East Asia and Europe, and from there, the nut made its way to North America, where it is grown commercially alongside the native black walnut today. Common walnuts are also known as akhrot, hétáo, and nuez de nogal, among other names.
Are walnuts healthy for babies?
Yes, if unsalted. Walnuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, which are terrific for neurological development and heart health. In fact, they are one of the richest whole-food sources of alpha-linoleic acid (a very healthy plant fat) that exists.1 Walnuts also contain fiber to support digestion, and folate and zinc to power growth and immunity. Like all nuts, walnuts are also a great source of iron, making them a particularly healthful food for plant-based babies.
Walnuts are sometimes sold salted, and some brands of walnut butter may be high in both sodium and sugar. When introducing walnut to babies, opt for unsalted, unsweetened walnuts or walnut butter, if possible.
★Tip: Walnuts go rancid easily, so store raw walnuts or open jars of walnut butter in the refrigerator. Walnuts can keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, and in the freezer for up to 1 year.2
Can babies drink walnut milk?
No. Prior to 12 months, the only liquids an infant should receive are breast milk, formula, and if the baby is older than 6 months of age, water in small amounts (less than 2-4 ounces a day) in an open cup.3 4 If walnut milk is used as an ingredient in solid food (such as oatmeal), then it is acceptable to serve before 12 months of age.
If, after the first birthday, you’d like to introduce unsweetened walnut milk as a beverage, it’s fine to do so, but know that nut milk often lacks adequate calories, fat, and protein for a plant-based milk for toddlers (fortified soy or pea milk are more nutritious).5 See our Milk FAQs to learn more.
Are walnuts a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Whole nuts, nut pieces, and globs of nut butter are choking hazards for babies and young children.6 To reduce the risk, finely grind walnuts until no large pieces remain and sprinkle on other foods or offer smooth walnut butter thinned with other foods like applesauce, yogurt, breast milk, formula, or water. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
Are walnuts a common allergen?
Yes. Walnuts are considered to be tree nuts (although they are technically a seed), and all tree nuts are common food allergens. Due to similarities in the protein structure of walnuts and pecans, children who are allergic to walnuts are sometimes also allergic to pecans (and vice versa).8 9
Although an allergy to one tree nut increases risk of allergy to another, keep in mind that being allergic to one nut does not necessarily mean that all nuts need to be removed from the diet.10 Having as diverse a diet as possible, even within the confines of food allergies, is important to get the nutrients we need to be healthy.
There is no recommendation to complete allergy testing before introducing tree nuts into the diet, even if there is a family history of food allergy. However, if you suspect baby may be allergic to nuts, make an appointment with your primary care clinician or a pediatric allergist before introducing nuts at home.
When it’s time to introduce the nut, offer a scant quantity (such as a pinch of finely ground nut or 1/8 teaspoon of smooth walnut butter thinned with water) for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals. It is okay if baby does not consume each serving entirely. It is important to maintain common food allergens (such as tree nuts) in the diet regularly (about 1 gram twice weekly, if possible) once introduced. Don’t stop offering the nut unless the baby shows signs of a reaction.
Can walnuts help baby poop?
Walnuts and walnut butter can help prevent constipation by promoting bowel movement regularity. They are a good source of fiber and magnesium, which help move stool along in the intestine.
How do you prepare walnuts for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Purchase smooth, unsweetened walnut butter or finely grind walnuts in a food processor until completely fine and no large pieces remain. If you do not have a food processor, you can pound the nuts in a cloth with a hammer, a mortar and pestle, or the end of a wine bottle until finely ground. To serve the ground nut, sprinkle a little into warm cereal or onto slippery foods like mango pits or avocado slices. When serving walnut butter, spread a very thin layer onto other age-appropriate foods. You can thin it with breast milk, formula, water, or foods like applesauce or yogurt before using as a spread to further reduce the choking risk. Keep in mind that adding even a thin layer of nut butter to a food can make that food more challenging for baby to manage. Toast with nut butter can be particularly challenging for young babies to manage which can increase the risk of choking.
12 to 24 months old: Continue to finely grind walnuts and sprinkle on fruits and vegetables or incorporate walnut butter into other foods like yogurt, warm cereals, or mashed vegetables. When serving walnut butter on toast, make sure the butter is thinly spread and offer milk or water in an open cup to help wash down any sticky pieces of food.
24 months old and up: Continue to finely grind walnuts and use walnut butter as you wish. If your child has developed mature eating skills (taking small bites with their teeth, moving food to the side of the mouth when chewing, chewing thoroughly before swallowing, not stuffing food in their mouths, and finally, the ability to identify and spit out foods when it is not well chewed, they may be ready to learn how to eat whole walnuts. Just remember that nuts and nut pieces are considered choking hazards until age 4 and even beyond by all governing medical bodies.
Only serve nuts when your child is seated in an upright seat and is actively engaged in mealtime and not distracted. It is important to help your child stay engaged with the task, and part of that is modeling that safe chewing takes place when we are not talking, singing, etc. A highly animated child who is talking, yelling or singing while practicing eating nuts increases choking risk. Do not serve nuts in a stroller, car seat, or while toddler is on the move (walking around).
To model how to eat whole walnuts safely, start by telling your child: “This is a hard one. Watch me.” Then, show your child how to bite into a walnut. Hold the walnut between your thumb and index finger and place it in-between your front teeth and exaggerate taking a small bite of the nut. Then, show how you move the nut piece to your molars with your tongue. Chew with your mouth open so it’s visible. Once you have chewed the nut well, open your mouth to show your toddler how it has been broken down. Say, “I moved it to my big strong teeth to chew it. It needs a lot of chewing.” Demonstrate this a couple of times before offering your child a walnut to do the same.
To coach your child through eating a whole nut safely, say, “Your turn to try.” For the very first attempt, firmly hold on to the nut for your child to take a bite from it (without you letting go of the nut). DO NOT PUT THE NUT IN THEIR MOUTH. Don’t let go until they have used their teeth to actively take a bite. This ensures that they initiate chewing. Continue but only serve one or two nuts at a time to pace the practice. If your child insists on holding the walnut themselves, allow them to self-feed and take a bite if you feel comfortable. If you do not feel comfortable or if your child does not bite or attempt to break down the walnut with your support, we’d recommend waiting a few weeks more.
After practicing nuts with your child, make sure their mouth is clear before taking them out of the highchair. Never allow your toddler to walk around with nuts or nut pieces in their mouth.
Check out our video, Introducing Allergens, and take the guesswork out of introducing common allergens like tree nuts.
What are recipe ideas for cooking with walnuts?
Walnuts contain lots of healthful oil with a delicate nutty flavor. This means that walnuts blend beautifully into a creamy nut butter to spread on toast or eat with fresh fruit. You can also grind walnuts to make an earthy topping to sprinkle on vegetables or on pasta as an alternative to breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese. Try using the ground walnuts to enhance the flavor of keftedes arni, lamb kofta, or your favorite meatball. You can also use ground walnuts to coat proteins like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, or tofu strips, or thicken soups and stews like kharcho, a meat and rice stew with blue fenugreek, marigold petals, and herbs in Georgia.
Recipe: Homemade Walnut Butter
Yield: 3/4 cup (180 grams)
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Age: 6 months+
- 2 cups (200 grams) unsalted raw walnuts
- ½ teaspoon (1 ½ grams) ground cinnamon or spice of choice (optional)
This recipe contains a common allergen: tree nut (walnut). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.
- Use this recipe to create nut butter from any nut. Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius).
- Evenly spread the nuts on a sheet tray.
- Roast the nuts until they are fragrant and lightly toasted, between 10 and 15 minutes.
- While the nuts are roasting, sterilize a glass jar by thoroughly washing it with hot soapy water or by submerging it in boiling water for 10 minutes. Dry the sterilized jar with a clean towel.
- Once the roasted walnuts are cool to the touch, transfer them to a food processor and blend into a paste, about 1 minute.
- Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, then continue to blend until the mixture becomes creamy and smooth. This process can take between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the make and model of the machine. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice more while blending.
- Transfer the nut butter to the sterilized jar and screw on the lid. Air, light, and heat can cause nut butter to turn rancid, so be sure to make sure the lid is on tight. Store the nut butter in the fridge.
- Even homemade nut butter must be thinned before serving to babies and toddlers who are still learning how to chew and swallow foods. When you are ready to serve, whisk 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of nut butter with 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 grams) of applesauce, mashed fruit, or water until the mixture is smooth with no clumps. Add more liquid as needed to reach the desired consistency.
- Serve the thinned nut butter as a dip for fruit or veggie spears or mix it into soft, scoopable foods like mashed vegetables, noodles, oatmeal, or yogurt.
To Store: Homemade walnut butter keeps in a sterilized air-tight glass jar in the fridge for 5 days or in the freezer for 2 months. When freezing nut butter, be sure to label the jar and leave a little space at the top of the jar for the nut butter to expand as it freezes.
Walnuts are quite versatile and taste particularly good with fruits like apple, apricot, and peach, grains like oats and brown rice, greens such as arugula and spinach, sharp cheeses like cheddar, as well as spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper.
E. Cerda, MSN, CNS, LDN
A. Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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- Brough, H. A., Caubet, J.-C., Mazon, A., Haddad, D., Bergmann, M. M., Wassenberg, J., Panetta, V., Gourgey, R., Radulovic, S., Nieto, M., Santos, A. F., Nieto, A., Lack, G., & Eigenmann, P. A. (2020). Defining challenge-proven coexistent nut and sesame seed allergy: A prospective multicenter European study. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 145(4), 1231–1239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2019.09.036
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