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Peas Before Peaches?

Quick, when it comes to first solid foods, is it better to start your baby on veggies or fruit? If you said veggies, you're not alone. A recent survey reports that 72 percent of moms believe that by doing so, their child will learn to prefer the bitter taste of vegetables over the sweetness of fruit. Other parents (and pediatricians, too) allege that fruit is closer in taste to breast milk and formula, and therefore more easily accepted. So what's the answer? Well, the peas-or-peaches debate ends here: It simply doesn't matter which of the two your baby eats first.

According to the new Start Healthy Feeding Guidelines developed by the American Dietetic Association in conjunction with Gerber Products, there are no clear benefits to starting with one type of food over another. Aside from watching for allergies (which you can do by introducing foods one at a time and then waiting two to four days), the order in which you serve fruits and veggies isn't important. What is important:

• Getting enough iron. "Iron is crucial in motor and cognitive development," says Karyl Rickard, R.D., a researcher on the Start Healthy project and a professor of nutrition at Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, in Indianapolis, "but natural iron stores in the body begin to deplete by six months of age." Formula is fortified with the nutrient, but if you breastfeed, iron (whether from foods or from a prescription supplement) is essential in your baby's diet. That's why iron-fortified cereal is a great first food, Rickard says. Also an acceptable first food? Meat. "It's a cultural norm to introduce meat last, but serving it first is okay," she promises, "and it packs plenty of iron."

• Encouraging variety in the diet. Expose your child to a wide array of foods from all the food groups, barring any allergies. The Start Healthy study found that the more you encourage your infant to try different flavors and textures, the more likely he'll accept those flavors and textures later on in life. So if you don't want your child to make gagging sounds at the sight of broccoli when he's older (and oh, he will), start feeding him the pureed version now.

• Being persistent. Of course, though, it's not that easy. Babies, as we're sure you know by now, can be fussy. They may seal their mouths shut tighter than security at the Pentagon whenever you try to sneak a spoonful of green stuff into their lock-jawed kissers. In fact, more than 75 percent of moms, according to the Start Healthy results, give up on a particular food after six or fewer unsuccessful attempts to get their baby to eat it. "Parents shouldn't force their babies to eat anything," says Rickard, "but they do have to be patient and expose their kids to certain foods many times." Ten to 15 times, to be exact, according to the new guidelines. That's how long it can take for some infants to feel comfortable with a new taste or texture.

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