"Squash, especially a winter variety such as butternut squash, are good early foods for babies and toddlers," says Peggy O'Shea, a Boston-based nutritionist and president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. "They offer a soft consistency when cooked and generally have a mild flavor."
Nutritionally, each squash has a unique nutrition profile dependent on the specific variety. "In general, winter squash varieties tend to be a good source of niacin, iron, beta-carotene and vitamin A," O'Shea says.
How to Cook Squash
O'Shea says when cooking any squash, be certain to remove all seeds, which are more likely eaten by adults in summer squash varieties versus winter varieties. The seeds pose a serious choking hazard for children under the age of 4, she says.
Squash can be baked, steamed, boiled, or poached. "Different varieties of squash offer slightly different textures, but essentially all of them can be cooked to a soft consistency and then cut up for a soft finger food for babies with teeth or pureed for early eaters," O'Shea says. "Squash is also easily combined with other early baby foods such as apple puree, pear puree, etc."
Are some varieties of squash better for babies and toddlers? "Essentially, any of the winter squash varieties would be a good option for babies and/or toddlers," O'Shea says. "There are fun options such as spaghetti squash, which might provide a fun experience for toddlers. In addition, squash can be flavored with many different spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, or combined with other foods such as pears or apples. Also, squash can be a very healthy ingredient in foods such as breads, soups, sauces, and even pancakes."
Another bonus? Squash is not considered to be a high-allergen food, O'Shea says.
"Squash can be a really fun food for kids to experience," O'Shea says. "The more kids are involved in choosing and preparing their foods, the more likely they are to eat them. It can be a fun family activity to grow the squash, or pick it out at the farm stand or grocery store, and then prepare it with older kids. They come in such interesting shapes, sizes, and colors."
Recipes for Beginners
Here are some scrumptious squash recipes to try on your baby or toddler.