For many people in the west and in other countries, coconut is considered a tropical food. However in India, coconut is part of our staple diet, especially in Kerala. We use coconut in many sweet and savory dishes, and pretty much can’t imagine a walk on the beach without sipping on some lovely coconut water. But for Moms of weaning babies, the question is this – Can I give my baby coconut?
Is Coconut a ‘nut’?
So the first question most people have is regarding what the coconut is – is it a fruit or a nut? Without going to much into the botanical part of it, here is the short answer – the coconut is a fruit. However, the US Food and Drug Administration has listed it under ‘tree nuts’, which means that you need to consider allergies when it comes to feeding your baby coconut. Yet, allergies to coconut are extremely rare, even among people who have other nut allergies.
If your baby doesn’t have any history of food allergies or nut allergies, you can introduce coconut with the 3-day rule. On the other hand, if there has been evidence of food allergies in your family, it might be better to consult with a pediatrician first.
Nutritional Benefits of Coconut
- Coconuts are rich in B vitamins, zinc and phosphorus, protein and iron
- The fat present in coconut is the healthy variety and is rich in lauric acid, which is the main fatty acid in breast milk
- Coconuts can help to boost immunity and fight infection
- They are rich in antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals
Can I give my Baby Coconut?
Since coconut can be consumed in many different ways, it’s a little hard to specify a generic age to introduce coconut for babies. Each form of coconut has different health benefits and are digested differently, so let’s look at each one separately.
Coconut water is the liquid present inside a coconut; it’s what swishes around when you shake a coconut near your ear! Coconut water can be given to babies above six months and it has a wide range of health benefits.
The lauric acid in coconut water is similar to that found in breast milk, and is easily digestible for babies. The electrolytic balance of coconut water is similar to that of human blood making it an excellent choice for digestive troubles like constipation, indigestion or dysentry. It is also 100% sterile, and does not require any kind of boiling.
You can give your baby coconut water directly, or use it to cook baby’s rice so it absorbs the nutrients in the water. Once opened, it should be used within 24 hours.
Coconut milk is the milk extracted from fresh coconut which has been blended with water. Thick coconut milk is also called coconut cream. Coconut milk can also be given to babies over six months, although it is recommended to be used in cooking rather than directly feeding it to the child.
Coconut milk also has high contents of lauric acid, like in coconut water. While coconut milk and cream is widely available in supermarkets, it is recommended to give babies freshly made milk. For this, process freshly grated coconut with clean water till well blended. Then pour the mixture through a muslin cloth or mesh strainer, pressing on the pulp to get maximum milk.
You can cook baby’s vegetables, chicken or fish in coconut milk, or add it to purees for young babies. For older babies, you can make mildly spiced stews and curries to serve with rice. You can also add it to kheer or other desserts.
Grated coconut is what you get when you grate or scrape the flesh of a mature coconut. Freshly grated coconut feels soft and fluffy, and tastes a little sweet. Grated coconut is added to a wide variety of savory and sweet dishes.
While there is no problem in feeding young babies grated coconut, it might be hard for a baby who’s just started solids to get used to the texture. So, it’s better to introduce grated coconut once baby is past the puree stage, at around 8 months. Some children have trouble digesting grated coconut, so watch out for any signs. Toasted grated coconut is recommended after one year.
Grated coconut adds a good texture for older babies and toddlers and also naturally sweetens food without having to add other additives. Once you’re sure that your baby has no problem with grated coconut, you can add it to rice dishes or just mix a spoon into her regular cereal or porridge.
Tender Coconut Flesh
Tender coconut flesh is the jelly-like, creamy soft flesh from tender green coconuts. The flesh is very soft and can be fed to babies over six months provided there is no risk of allergy.
Tender coconut meat is rich in sodium, potassium and a range of B vitamins. It is also excellent in medium-chain fatty acids and provides good dietary fiber to tackle common digestive issues.
Tender coconut meat is not as easily available as mature coconuts, but they are ideal for babies. The soft creamy texture means that it can be blended with fruit and vegetables for purees. It can also be blended and used to thicken runny purees or porridges, while also adding a natural sweet flavor.
Coconut sugar is a coarse, brown sugar, made by heating the sap of tender coconut flowers. It is considered a healthier alternative to regular table sugar, having a lower glycemic index. Coconut sugar is also rich in micronutrients, anti oxidants and fiber.
However, as with all kinds of sugar, consuming too much coconut sugar has its risks. It is recommended to introduce this in your baby’s diet only after the first birthday, and that too as sparingly as you can, more as a substitute to refined sugar. Coconut sugar lends itself well to baked goods and porridge.
Coconut oil is the oil extracted from dried coconuts. The plain, cold pressed oil is called virgin coconut oil, while other varieties are often refined. For babies, extra virgin coconut oil is recommended, and it is fine to use after six months.
Some Moms apply coconut oil on their breasts as a moisturizer and their babies have no problem when breast feeding. Many babies also suck off coconut oil from their fingers and thumbs when used as a massage oil.
Coconut oil has healthy fats and also helps to ease digestion, while boosting immunity. However, it is important to use oil in moderation, especially when it comes to baby food. Not all baby food needs oil, but where required, you may use coconut oil.
10 Baby Recipes with Coconut
1. Banana Coconut Payasam – 1 year +
2. Banana Coconut Cinnamon Puree – 6 months +
3. Milkmaid Coconut Laddu – 1 year +
4. Baby Teething Rusks – 6 months +
5. Banana Coconut Porridge – 6 months +
6. Dates Kheer – 8 months +
7. Peach Rice Pudding – 8 months +
8. Thai Fish in Coconut Milk – 9 months +
9. Fruity Chicken Korma – 1 year +
10. Creamy Coconut Lentils – 6 months +
For every food that you introduce for your baby, whether it’s coconut milk or tender coconut meat, be sure to follow the 3 day rule. Once you know that your baby is fine with it, you can go ahead and include coconut in her meals without any stress!