Meat/meat alternatives (M/MA) are key sources of Fe, Zn and protein, but intake tends to be low in young children. Australian recommendations state that Fe-rich foods, including M/MA, should be the first complementary foods offered to infants. The present paper reports M/MA consumption of Australian infants and toddlers, compares intake with guidelines, and suggests strategies to enhance adherence to those guidelines. Mother–infant dyads recruited as part of the NOURISH and South Australian Infants Dietary Intake studies provided 3 d of intake data at three time points: Time 1 (T1) (n 482, mean age 5·5 (sd 1·1) months), Time 2 (T2) (n 600, mean age 14·0 (sd 1·2) months) and Time 3 (T3) (n 533, mean age 24 (sd 0·7) months). Of 170 infants consuming solids and aged greater than 6 months at T1, 50 (29 %) consumed beef, lamb, veal (BLV) or pork on at least one of 3 d. Commercial infant foods containing BLV or poultry were the most common form of M/MA consumed at T1, whilst by T2 BLV mixed dishes (including pasta bolognaise) became more popular and remained so at T3. The processed M/MA increased in popularity over time, led by pork (including ham). The present study shows that M/MA are not being eaten by Australian infants or toddlers regularly enough; or in adequate quantities to meet recommendations; and that the form in which these foods are eaten can lead to smaller M/MA serve sizes and greater Na intake. Parents should be encouraged to offer M/MA in a recognisable form, as one of the first complementary foods, in order to increase acceptance at a later age.