Rice is a common first food offered to babies all around the world. It’s a starchy high-calorie grain that has a subtle flavor, which can be easily prepared and served with a variety of different dishes.
Even though it’s traditionally been offered to babies without much thought, there are actually a few considerations to make around the safety and nutritional value of rice. Because while rice can be an excellent source of carbohydrates and nutrients, it’s important to limit its frequency in your baby’s diet as rice contains a toxic chemical called arsenic.
But fear not! In this blog, we’ll explore the best varieties of rice to choose from, how to safely prepare rice for baby led weaning, how to reduce arsenic levels in rice, and a delicious way to serve rice to your little one, so you can nourish them with confidence. So, let’s get started!
PS – If you’re at the point where you’re tired of relying on baby cereal and want to transition your baby off purees (but maybe feel stuck or scared to do it), join our FREE workshop called “Baby led weaning…but make it purees!”. This workshop shows you how to gradually transition into more advanced textures and finger foods in a step-by-step way, learn what foods your baby can safely handle and when, and will make sure you get over your fear of gagging/choking/big bites!
Can my baby eat rice?
Rice and rice products can be introduced to babies when starting solids at around 6 months of age, assuming they show all the signs of readiness to start solid foods.
Is rice healthy for babies?
There are varieties of rice that are safe and make a healthy addition to your baby’s diet in moderation.
Nutritionally, rice can be an excellent source of carbohydrates – a source of energy for the body. Depending on the variety of rice and where it was grown, rice can offer your baby essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins B1 and B6, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese (2).
However, all varieties of rice (even organic rice) contain varying amounts of arsenic, a known toxin, and carcinogen (1). Infants and young children are highly susceptible to adverse health outcomes associated with arsenic, including problems with learning, behavior, and attention (4). When rice and rice products are consumed regularly, arsenic can build up in the body, which is especially concerning for babies and toddlers who have such small bodies.
Arsenic in rice
There are two different forms of arsenic, organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in soil, rock, and water. Most seafood contains organic arsenic, which is considered to be less toxic (3). Inorganic arsenic is found in soil, groundwater, and industrial chemicals (3). The large amounts of inorganic arsenic found in our food supply mostly come from contaminated groundwater and soil from livestock manure, fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial waste (3).
Inorganic arsenic is a toxic chemical and confirmed carcinogen and is naturally present in the groundwater in many countries around the world (2). Rice crops tend to absorb arsenic from groundwater much more easily than other crops. Since rice is grown in heavily flooded areas, it’s more exposed to toxins than crops that are grown in fields, like wheat or barley. This means arsenic toxicity is a concern for those who consume rice on a daily basis (2).
Although rice absorbs arsenic much more easily than other crops, foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and fruit juice also contain inorganic arsenic (4). Now, this doesn’t mean you should stop giving your baby carrots and sweet potatoes as they contain important nutrients – just be sure to serve them along with other fruits and vegetables too (4). Fruit juice, on the other hand, can have concerning levels of heavy metals and should be avoided completely for children under 1 year of age (4).
Is rice cereal a good first food for my baby?
Commercially fortified infant cereal, particularly rice cereal, is a common first food offered to babies. It’s a simple food that’s non-allergenic, with a bland flavor, and an easy texture to meet baby’s high iron needs in the early days of starting solids. Iron-fortified rice cereal may have even been recommended by your doctor or pediatrician.
However, rice-based cereal isn’t necessarily the best choice for babies, as it’s a high source of inorganic arsenic. It can actually have up to five times the amount of inorganic arsenic than the alternatives, like oats-based cereals (1). To limit the amount of arsenic exposure, rice cereal, and rice-based products shouldn’t make up the majority of your baby’s diet and shouldn’t be offered daily.
If you do choose to introduce iron-fortified cereal to your baby as a first food when starting solids, we recommend opting for infant cereal that provides more nutrients without the risk of exposing your baby to high levels of arsenic. Instead of rice-based baby cereals, offer baby a wide variety of other grains and opt for baby cereal made from oats, barley, quinoa, or wheat. Remembering as well that if you choose wheat-based cereal as a first food, wheat is a top allergen, so be sure to follow the protocol outlined here.
Is it safe to give baby rice rusks, puffs, and crackers?
Inorganic arsenic can be found in many rice-based products, including:
- Rice crackers
- Rice rusk (teething biscuits)
- Infant rice puff snacks
- Rice milk beverages
- Rice bran
- Cereal bars
- Rice pasta
- and more!
We recommend limiting the amount of baby food snacks like puffs and rice rusks, and if you do serve baby-prepared snacks, choose rice-free options if possible. Always be sure to read food labels and ingredient lists carefully, as rice can appear in different forms including rice flour and rice syrups.
The good news is there are tons of different crackers, snacks, milk, and pasta options to choose from that aren’t rice-based that you can offer your baby instead! In fact, we have an entire guide to help you choose the best crackers for your baby and toddler, download our free cracker guide, here!
What type of rice is best for my baby?
The inorganic arsenic content of rice varies depending on the type of rice and where it was grown (5). White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S., on average, have about half of the amount of arsenic compared to other types of rice (5). More specifically, white basmati rice from California is the lowest in arsenic, making it a top choice for the best rice to serve to your baby (5).
All types of rice (except sushi and quick cooking) that indicate it came from Arkansas, Louisiana, or Texas or just from the U.S. tend to have the highest levels of inorganic arsenic (5).
Note: Rice that’s grown organically takes up arsenic the same way conventional rice does, so don’t rely on the higher-priced organic rice to have any less arsenic.
Isn’t brown rice more nutritious than white rice?
Although brown rice is more nutrient-dense than white rice, it contains the highest amount of arsenic of any rice.
Brown rice has 80% more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type (5). This is because the arsenic builds up in the outer layer (bran) that is removed during processing for white rice (5). But here’s why it’s tricky, brown rice provides essential nutrients including fiber, magnesium, B1, B3, and other vitamins that babies and toddlers need.
This doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid brown rice, it can still be a part of a nutritious diet for your baby or toddler, but don’t use it above and beyond other rice types thinking it’s a healthier option for them. Brown basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan is the better choice, as it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rice (5).
How to cook rice to reduce arsenic levels for babies
Soaking rice and rinsing it thoroughly a few times before cooking can reduce the amount of arsenic.
We also recommend cooking rice for babies according to the traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. To do this, rinse the rice before cooking and use a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, draining the excess water after the rice is cooked (5).
The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients (5). But even though you may sacrifice some of the rice’s nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30% of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content (5).
Another option, and one that proves to be even more effective, is to add rice to already boiling water (4 cups of water to 1 cup of rice), continue boiling for 5 minutes, and then dump all of the water out (6). Add fresh water (2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice), turn the heat down to medium-low, cover with a lid, and continue cooking until all of the water is absorbed by the rice (6).
You can watch this method in action in the video below, and we personally love this option because it removes over 50% of arsenic from brown rice, and 74% of arsenic from white rice (6). Research also suggests that this method decreases the amount of nutrient loss that occurs, which as mentioned above, is generally why people don’t cook rice in excess water, so this method helps ease that concern as well (6).
Is rice a choking hazard for babies?
Rice isn’t considered to be a high-risk choking hazard.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims rice is a choking hazard for babies younger than 12 months of age. However, grains of rice are significantly smaller than a baby’s airway, but it can be tricky because we don’t eat rice one grain at a time. Gagging is common when babies eat rice since the small grains can scatter in baby’s mouth, making it difficult for them to manage. Binding the grains (with hummus or yogurt) can make it easier for baby to manage and swallow.
If you’re concerned about the severity of your baby’s gagging, read more about excessive gagging here to find out when further evaluation is necessary.
How do I safely serve rice as a baby-led weaning food?
Rice is highly versatile and can be added to so many different dishes that encompass a variety of flavors! It can be served safely to babies right when they start solids, whether that be in the form of a puree or as a finger food. You can serve rice to baby throughout different texture phases of our Texture Timeline™ – phases 0 (smooth puree), 2 (soft, very lumpy solids), and 3 (lifelong stage)!
Our Texture Timeline™ video library inside the Baby Led Feeding online course allows you to search for any food and see exactly how to serve it based on different phases (difficulty levels) of the Texture Timeline™. You get to see how babies should be served the food based on your baby’s stage of development, and get tons of nutrition information on each food, plus allergy info, fun facts, recipes, and more! Get access to the video library here.
Loose grains of rice can be eaten using their pincer grasp, or if it’s sticky rice, you can serve baby the loose grains on a preloaded spoon for baby to self-feed (phase 3 on the Texture Timeline™). Because grains of rice are loose on the tongue and can be dry, this may cause some gagging. Don’t worry – it’s just a new texture that will take practice as they need to learn how to gather all the pieces of rice together for chewing and swallowing.
Rice can also be offered in a ball or log shape for baby to easily pick up and eat using their palmar grasp. Calrose/sushi rice is best for this method, as it will be sticky and can be formed into an easy-to-mold shape after cooking and letting it cool down.
Top tip: add nutritional yeast to the rice ball/log to bump up the nutritional value!
Once baby has practiced with white rice and becomes more experienced, you can experiment with serving well-cooked wild rice. This texture is more advanced than white rice as it’s more chewy and dense. It will provide another interesting texture experience for baby!
Do you want to move your baby on to more advanced textures but are feeling scared to do it? Learn how to gradually transition into more advanced textures and finger foods and get over your fear of gagging/choking/big bites, in our FREE workshop called “Baby led weaning…but make it purees!”.
Serving rice on a spoon
Rice cereal is one way to serve rice as a puree if you want to ease into a smooth textured version of this food (phase 0 or phase 1 on the Texture Timeline™). But it isn’t the only way!
You can mix cooked white rice into a binding puree, like hummus or yogurt. This makes it more lumpy and grainy (moving it into a phase 2 category on the Texture Timeline™), while the puree it’s mixed into still provides moisture and ease for chewing. You can serve this on a preloaded spoon for baby to practice using utensils and move towards self-feeding. If baby isn’t interested in using a preloaded spoon, you can let them dig in with their hands!
PS – you can find more family and baby-friendly rice recipes in our 60 Day Baby Led Feeding Meal Plan!
Cooked rice around the world
Rice is a staple food in many different countries all around the world and has been for many decades. So, why aren’t these populations experiencing negative health effects from all of the inorganic arsenic in rice?
The level of inorganic arsenic varies dramatically depending on where the rice is grown and how it’s processed. So, while babies around the world are eating rice as soon as they start solids, there may only be a very small amount of arsenic present in these varieties of rice. In addition, the negative effects from arsenic may only appear in adulthood, as it takes much longer for arsenic to build up in the body if there are only trace amounts in each serving. Therefore, to develop concrete recommendations and set limits for safe rice consumption, further research is required.
- 1 large pot
- 1 non-stick pan
- 1 immersion blender
- 5¼ cups brown or green lentils
- 15 cups water (to boil lentils)
- ⅓ cup short-grain rice (uncooked)
- 2 onions (large)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp ground all spice
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- Pinch of salt
- Cook the lentils covered on medium-high heat in a large pot of water (about 15 cups) for about 45 minutes or until tender. Stir the lentils every 15 minutes.
- While the lentils are cooking, prepare the caramelized onions. Peel and chop the onions. In a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, add the olive oil and vegetable oil. Add the onions. Once the onions start to brown, turn the heat to medium heat. Slowly cook the onions until they caramelize. Add the rinsed and drained rice. Continue to cook for one to two minutes. Set aside.
- Once the lentils are soft, blend with a hand immersion blender. Turn the heat on low. Add the rice and caramelized onion mixture, stirring every 3 to 5 minutes until the rice is finished (about 30 minutes). Keep the mujadara covered while cooking. The mujadara is finished when the rice is tender and the consistency is like refried beans.
- Season with allspice, ground cumin, black pepper, and salt.
- Serve warm with crispy onions on top for yourself, but avoid serving crispy onions to baby.
- Depending on the lentils and cooking setup, this recipe may need more water. Adjust as needed.
- Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
- You can freeze mujadara for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight and microwave until heated through.
- You can substitute rice for bulgur.
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- Arsenic in your food. 2012. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm#chart
- The Nutrition Source. Rice. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/rice/
- World Health Organization. Arsenic. December 2022. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/arsenic
- Kids Health. What can parents do about heavy metals in baby food? January 2023. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/heavy-metals.html
- How much arsenic is in your rice? 2014. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm