5 Steps to Starting Solids

Okay, some are more like purees in a jar. But they're baby's first taste of a non-liquid diet, so you need to know what to begin with and when.

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Alexandra Grablewski

Baby's First Bite

After her son had made all sorts of -- "What's that? I'm totally fascinated by it" -- looks, Katie McDonald Neitz decided the time was right to feed him "real" food for the first time. "You could tell he was interested in eating because he would stare at us as we ate," says the Center Valley, Pennsylvania, mom. Samuel was 5 months when he had his first spoonful of rice cereal; this falls smack-dab in the middle of the recommended age range for introducing solids. But not all kids start eating at the same time, and not all show identical signs of readiness. How do you know what's right for your baby? Here are answers to your solid food questions.

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Alexandra Grablewski

Look for Signs

Some babies are ready at 4 months, others at 6 months. It's okay to start anywhere within this range, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Does baby sit up on her own? That's a sign of head control and muscle development. Does she reach for food on your plate or watch you eat? An interest in food is important. You can also try this test, suggested by Deb Lonzer, MD, pediatric expert at the Cleveland Clinic: fill a baby spoon with single-grain baby cereal that's mixed with breast milk or formula. If baby swallows it, she can begin her solid-food journey; if she spits the food out, try again in a few weeks.

Is your baby small for her age? That doesn't necessarily mean she should start solids early -- young babies actually get fewer calories from solids.

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Start With Cereal

Single-grain ones are a good first choice; the smooth consistency lets them go down easy. And because you mix them with breast milk or formula, the taste is familiar. Cereals are fortified with iron, an important nutrient many breastfed babies lack. "Introducing solids is more about getting used to eating rather than nutrition," says Sarah Krieger, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Breast milk or formula is still the primary source of nutrients. Iron is the exception -- a breastfed baby's stores start to diminish around 6 months." Besides cereal, other good high-iron sources are pureed meat and pureed beans (with no salt or spice). You can introduce these later on or as first foods if baby doesn't like cereal.

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How to Start Solids

If your baby is ready to start solids, follow these simple steps to introducing real baby food.

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Follow Baby's Signals

When he starts turning his head away, put down the spoon. "A baby's sense of fullness is really strong, and you have to honor it," Sarah Krieger, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association says. Look for cues he's done. "If my son doesn't want any more, he lets me know but sometimes in subtle ways -- like grunting after he takes a bite," says Emily Bodfish, of Fort Collins, Colorado, of her 8-month-old. Reflux can also be a sign of overfeeding; signs include burping or spitting up.

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Practice Patience

Baby may like broccoli on the first try, or it may take a second -- or sixth -- attempt for her to accept a food. This fact may be discouraging, but keep on trying.

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Alexandra Grablewski

Introduce Lots of Variety

By 15 months, kids eat more french fries than veggies. While your child can certainly enjoy these -- along with chicken nuggets and tater tots -- his taste buds will adapt to what you feed him. If that ends up being lots of whole grains and veggies, he'll begin asking for those.

The more variety you offer, the more foods baby will grow up to like. "I see parents giving a couple of foods that become favorites and then stopping," says Sarah Krieger, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, who suggests offering ethnic dishes early on, even spicy Indian. Just be mindful of salt; baby's kidneys can't handle too much.

Originally published in American Baby magazine October 2009

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