By Sharon Perkins, Stefan Korn, Scott Lancaster, Eric Mooij

Until now, breast milk or formula has been all the food your baby needs. But to keep up with her growth, she needs to move on to solid food. Most health professionals and breastfeeding organizations recommend waiting until baby’s around six months old before trying solids, which aren’t really that solid, more like puree and mush. But you may find your little one is ready to start a few weeks earlier than the six-month mark.

Signs that your baby is ready for solids

Your baby gives you some signs he’s ready for solids by

  • Looking a bit famished after a milk feeding — he’s waiting around for more.
  • Paying attention to what you eat, perhaps following your fork going into your mouth and making little chewing faces.
  • Pointing at food on the table or trying to grab food that’s within reach.
  • Being able to hold his head up for long periods at a time and take food onto his tongue. If he’s not ready for solids, he’ll push the food out again, called the extrusion reflex.

First foods and how to feed them to your baby

As your baby’s digestive system is still pretty undeveloped and he doesn’t have any teeth with which to break down food, first solid foods have to be pureed or mashed thoroughly so they’re almost runny. Some good first foods to try include

  • Cooked and pureed apple, pear, apricot, peach, carrot, pumpkin, potato, peas, sweet potato, or green beans.
  • Iron-enriched baby cereal or baby rice. You can use breast milk or formula to mix these.
  • Uncooked and mashed banana and avocado.

Here’s how to feed solids to your baby for the first time:

  • Give your baby a milk feeding first. Solid food comes after milk feedings until about eight months of age.
  • Try one food, such as carrot, for three to five days in a row to make sure your baby has no reaction to that food.
  • Try your first food when baby seems relaxed and happy, not when she’s super hungry, tired, or grumpy. Lunchtimes or early afternoons are often good times.
  • If she’s not into her carrots at first, that’s okay. Try again tomorrow and if she’s still not into it, give her a few days before trying again. It can take ten attempts before your princess discovers her passion for a particular food.
  • Let baby decide how much she needs to eat. Force-feeding her is not likely to make eating vegetables something she looks forward to. Let her appetite guide you. It may be only a few teaspoons at first.

A few things to remember about feeding solids to your baby are

  • A baby’s sense of taste is very sensitive, and he won’t need salt, sugar, or spices to flavor a food.
  • Some people insist on heating their baby’s food, but this is more a matter of adult taste than baby’s. If you do heat your child’s food, test it yourself before spooning it to him to make sure the food’s not scalding hot.
  • You’ll need a highchair, a lot of bibs, and some sort of protective plastic matting for your floor — unless you like orange patterns on your kitchen floor.
  • You can buy plastic feeding spoons, which are gentler on baby’s gums and smaller than teaspoons. They look huge compared to your little one’s tiny mouth.
  • As your baby gets older, food can become more textured and less runny.

Adding new foods and routines

Once your baby has the hang of solid food, try mixing different foods for a range of flavors. Introduce meat into her diet, because at six months old she needs more iron to support the growth of her rapidly developing brain.

Cooked liver can be given to boost her iron supply, but only once a week as it contains a lot of vitamin A, which your baby can get too much of.

Try adding these foods to the menu:

  • Cooked meat like beef, chicken, liver, and lamb; meat must be pureed, minced, or served as a broth so it’s soft and fine enough for an infant to eat
  • Egg yolks (from hard-boiled eggs)
  • Uncooked melon, plum, and nectarine
  • Finger foods such as toast, cereals, and crackers

Try each food for three to five days to make sure your champ isn’t allergic to it. If he is, he’ll have a bloated tummy, a rash, or a hard time breathing. Call 911 right away if he’s having a severe reaction.

Honey is potentially lethal for babies up to 12 months of age. Honey can contain bacteria that release botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin that can lead to severe food poisoning. Honey is safe to eat by toddlers from about 1 year of age because their digestive system is fully developed and can neutralize the toxins.

After eight months you can introduce these foods into baby’s diet:

  • Cooked creamed corn, cabbage, and spinach
  • Fish, unless your family has a history of fish allergy, in which case wait until your baby is a year old
  • Pasta and rice
  • Smooth peanut butter, unless there’s a family history of nut allergy, in which case wait until baby is 3 years old
  • Soy foods like tofu and tempeh
  • Uncooked kiwifruit, orange, berries, pineapple, and tomatoes
  • Yogurt, cheese, custard, and ice cream, unless there’s a strong family allergy to dairy, in which case wait until your baby is a year old

At eight months, your baby can also start exploring finger foods such as slices of soft fruit, cooked vegetable pieces, grated cheese, and cooked pasta pieces. Avoid anything small and hard that may choke your baby, like hard nuts, popcorn, and hard candy.

If you’re not sure about when a particular food is okay to feed to your baby, check with your healthcare provider.

After eight months, solid food takes on more importance in baby’s diet and can be given before a milk feeding. Move baby onto three meals a day, with breast milk or formula snacks mid-morning and in the afternoon, if your doctor agrees.

Encourage family meals from the start. Pull the highchair up to the dining table so the three of you can enjoy your meals together. Your baby learns the mechanics of eating from you by copying, and you teach her that eating is about sharing a meal and eating healthy food together.

Don’t pass your food preferences to your baby. For example, if you don’t like broccoli, you needn’t put it in front of your baby in a way that makes it obvious you don’t like it. Why should he like broccoli if you present it poorly? Make encouraging noises, like “Yummy yummy broccoli,” when you serve food.