For very young babies, breast milk is best, but once your baby reaches the 4- to 6-month mark, it's time to introduce table foods. You'll still need to breast- or formula-feed through his first year, but now's the time to teach the healthy eating habits that will help him grow -- and thrive!
Some pediatricians advise waiting until 6 months to start solids, others say anytime between 4 and 6 months is fine. What really matters is when your baby is ready. The bulk of her nutrition comes from breast milk or formula -- about 32 ounces a day -- but you may see signs that she's ready for the next step: holding up her head well, sitting with little support, showing an interest in food. She should also be past the "tongue thrust" stage of reflexively pushing solid food out of her mouth.
Make these first feeding attempts during her "happy time," such as right before the second feeding of the day. The best first meal is a tablespoon or two of iron-fortified rice cereal (It's easily digested.) mixed into breast milk or formula to a thin consistency. A ratio of 1 tablespoon of cereal to 4 to 5 tablespoons of breast milk should work. Don't worry if most of it dribbles down her chin at first; she's getting used to the new texture and the sensation of swallowing.
If she reacts well, after three to four days move on to other iron-fortified, single-grain cereals like oatmeal and barley. Around 6 months, try a tablespoon or two of pureed fruits, veggies or meats up to twice a day. It doesn't matter which you try first, it's more important that you introduce new foods one at a time, several days apart, so you can watch for allergic reactions like a rash, vomiting or diarrhea. (If you notice any of these, call your doctor.) Don't force food -- if she isn't interested, just try again tomorrow.
Next On the Menu
At 7 to 9 months, baby may start drinking a bit less breast milk or formula, 24 to 32 ounces a day. He'll also start honing his pincer (thumb-and-index finger) grasp, so give him some practice with soft food. You might try green beans or graham crackers served in tiny pieces no bigger than a pinkie nail. Keep in mind, though, that most pediatricians suggest you serve veggies before fruits.
Offer solids twice a day; if he wants more -- and is eating 2 to 4 tablespoons at each meal -- work up to a third meal. Let him decide how much food he needs. Children instinctively self-regulate their eating, so some days he may polish off entire jars, while on others he'll down only half.
Focus on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies such as ripe banana or avocado. You can also start combining foods once they become familiar (like bananas mixed with oatmeal) or try "second stage" jars if he's already had all the ingredients. Cheerios are fine to try at around 8 or 9 months.
Thicker textures -- whole-milk yogurt, pureed meats, tofu -- are next. As he gets the hang of it you can increase the variety, but stick with tiny pieces. Memorize the most common choking hazards and share them with family and babysitters.
Ready for More
Around 10 months, baby will be down to 16 to 24 ounces of breast milk or formula daily. Serve three meals of "everyday" food, weaning away from the jarred stuff and incorporating a variety of soft foods: cooked pasta, vegetables and egg yolks; shredded meat or poultry (skinless); ripe fruit; cooked fish (no more than 12 ounces a week to limit mercury exposure); and pasteurized cheese.
Full-fat cow's milk is off-limits in the first year because her digestive system isn't ready to handle it. Milk doesn't go through the same culturing process that helps make cheese and yogurt easier to digest. Honey may contain bacteria that cause botulism, a potentially life-threatening type of food poisoning, and hence is another taboo. Other foods to postpone until age 1 are highly acidic foods like citrus or, if allergies run in your family, foods that can trigger an allergic reaction, such as nut butters, egg whites and shellfish.
Your tot is likely crawling, reaching and pulling up now, so resist feeding her on the go -- toddling and eating at the same time creates a potential choking hazard. Limit unsupervised car snacking too. The safest way for baby to eat is strapped into her high chair.
He's a Chowhound!
At 1 year, cow's milk can replace formula and may supplement nursing; baby should be drinking 16 to 24 ounces a day. His growth tends to slow a bit at this point, so his appetite may decrease too.
He should now be eating a variety of healthy foods three times a day: 4 to 8 tablespoons of fruits and veggies, four servings of cereals and breads (a serving is a quarter of a slice), and 1 to 2 ounces of protein from meat or fish, poultry, beans or eggs. Make mealtime a family affair. He'll enjoy the socializing and will start to look forward to it.
Don't be alarmed if he goes on a food jag: for example, eating only pasta and peas for days. What he eats on a daily basis isn't as important as getting balanced nutrition over the course of a week, so keep offering a selection of foods from the list above every day. Talk to your doctor about supplements if you're concerned about his eating.
Now that your babe is entering full-blown toddlerhood, it's important to reinforce those healthy eating habits you've worked so hard to establish. Focus on tasty, nutrient-rich choices -- limiting the sugary, fatty or salty stuff to an occasional treat -- and he'll develop a food attitude that can help him be a healthy eater for the rest of his life.