Eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies: milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, and fish. Berries, citrus, seeds, and corn can also be problematic. While you might feel inclined to avoid these foods altogether, Rachelle Lessen, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, recommends introducing them under careful supervision as early as 6 months. Watch for adverse reactions and cross foods off the "danger" list as you tackle them. Keep detailed notes about what your baby is eating so you can discuss problems with a doctor.
Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are on the rise. An intolerance indicates that the digestive system is unable to process a substance, in this case gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Gluten also makes its way into countless processed foods. Watch for reactions to any of these foods just as you would when introducing the top allergenic foods. While an intolerance is different from an allergy (which involves an auto-immune response to a particular food), it can seriously impact your child's growth and should be discussed with your doctor.
Anything that has the potential to get lodged in your baby's throat should be added to the choking hazards list: whole nuts, hot dogs, chunks of fruit, raw vegetables, grapes, hard candy, gum, popcorn, gobs of nut butter (it's too sticky for little mouths to manipulate), hard or chewy meat, and too-big pieces of cheese are several. As your baby starts to grasp finger foods, he'll become more apt to explore, so make sure these temptations are out of sight.
Babies are especially susceptible to food-borne illnesses because of their fragile and just-developed immune systems. Raw or undercooked eggs can expose babies to salmonella. Unpasteurized milk and veined cheeses can harbor Listeria. Honey is not recommended for babies under 12 months because it can contain Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can be managed by most developed--but not immature--immune systems.
Babies don't need extra sugar mixed into homemade food or big doses of sugar often found in processed foods. Exposing them to sugar early on may promote a wicked sweet tooth that is a challenge to contend with later. Natural sugars in fruits and vegetables provide plenty of sweetness for babies' brand-new palates. Beware of processed foods, especially some jarred baby foods and baby biscuits, with added sugars. Never offer your baby sugar-sweetened beverages, and avoid fruit juice until age 1.
Don't add salt to jarred baby food or any you make at home, and check for high sodium levels in processed foods -- including smoked fish, meats, and cheeses -- that you may be feeding your baby. Too much salt can be difficult for tiny kidneys to process and can cause dehydration. If you feed your baby the same food the rest of the family is eating, hold off on seasoning it with salt until after you portion out her share.
Babies and adults, for that matter) should avoid food additives and preservatives, which is tough to do when relying on processed foods. Feed your baby homemade food or read packaged food labels carefully. Skip srtificial sweeteners, too, since their safety hasn't been tested on babies.
Growing babies need fat and calories. Low-fat dairy products don't offer enough and nonfat options often call on additives and preservatives, sugars, and salt for texture and flavor enhancements. While your baby won't start drinking cows' milk instead of breast milk or formula until his first birthday, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are excellent options for first foods. Choose the full-fat version even if your personal stash is skim.
We all know that fiber-rich whole grains are healthy since fiber helps keep the digestive system moving and internal balance in check. Too much fiber, though, can fill up a baby's little tummy too quickly, making her less thirsty for uber-nutritious breastmilk or formula and less hungry for other wholesome foods. A good rule of thumb: make just half of your baby's grains whole.
Looking for more information? Check out this step-by-step menu for starting solids.