Wondering when to add solid foods to your baby’s menu? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and other leading health authorities, most babies are ready to master the skills required to eat solid foods by the time they reach 6 months of age. This is also the age at which the iron stores a baby acquired at birth start to become depleted, making it the perfect time to start introducing your little one to iron-rich sources of foods.

Your baby will also start to show you that he’s ready to add new foods to his diet. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that your baby is ready for solids if:

  • he nurses or drinks his formula eagerly and seems to be looking for more to eat when the breast or bottle is empty.
  • he seems to want to eat more frequently than usual.
  • he can sit up with support and has control of his head and neck muscles.
  • he opens his mouth when he sees an object, such as a spoon, headed his way.
  • he can keep his tongue flat and low so that you can insert the spoon into his mouth.
  • he knows how to close his lips over the spoon and how to use his lips to scrape food from the spoon.
  • he is capable of keeping the food in his mouth rather than allowing it to dribble out the front of his mouth.
  • he is able to signal to you that he’s had enough to eat by turning his head away.

Start out by offering your baby a small amount of thinly diluted single-grain iron-fortified infant cereal on a spoon. You can choose a different food, if you’d like, but iron-fortified single-grain cereals are frequently recommended because they pose a low risk of allergies and are an excellent source of iron.

Allow your baby to call the shots when it comes to the pacing of the feeding. Wait for your baby to open his mouth— the signal that he’s ready for another mouthful of food. 

Plan to introduce the least allergenic foods into your baby’s diet first— foods like rice cereals, other single-grain infant cereals, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, peaches, pears, beef, veal, lamb and poultry. It’s best to introduce one food at a time, allowing three-day intervals between any new foods so that you can quickly determine if a particular food is responsible for any food reaction that your baby experiences.

Don’t be surprised if your baby doesn’t take to each new food with equal enthusiasm. Babies, like the rest of us, have strong food preferences. While you’ll want to encourage your baby to try new foods, don’t force him to eat any that he doesn’t like. If he’s less than thrilled with a particular new food, simply reintroduce it in a few weeks’ time. His taste buds may have evolved enough by then to allow him to enjoy the new food.

Regarding introducing more complex baby food textures, most babies and parents manage to navigate the path from purées to table foods without too much difficulty, despite all the anxiety that tends to accompany the transition to solid foods. Gauge which textures of baby food your baby is capable of handling by judging:

  • your baby’s ability to move food from the front of his mouth further back, where it can be chewed.
  • your baby’s chewing abilities. Baby saliva is extremely acidic. It’s designed to break down food, meaning your baby doesn’t need teeth to excel at chewing.
  • your baby’s ability to swallow foods of increasingly complex textures.

Here are some additional tips that help you know what to look for as your baby moves from one food texture stage to another.

  • When you first start your baby on baby food, start him on very watery baby food or thin purées. Initially, he’ll try to suck the food off the spoon. This is because he’s trying to transfer his breast- or bottle-feeding skills over to the land of solid foods.
  • As your baby moves on to thicker purées, he will use a combination of sucking and chewing motions in order to remove the food from his spoon. He will also practice chewing skills by chewing on toast crusts and other soft foods. By this point, he will be starting to figure out how to use an up and down chewing motion.
  • By the time your baby moves on to ground, grated and mashed foods, he will be able to move food from side to side using his tongue. He will find it difficult to handle mixed textures, like lumpy foods mixed with smooth foods.
  • As your baby starts eating chopped foods and finger foods, his chewing abilities will be improving daily and he may insist on feeding himself. You may want to supplement your baby’s efforts if he’ll let you feed him while he’s feeding himself.
  • Your baby or young toddler’s chewing abilities will be well developed by the time he starts eating table foods. Other than watching out for the foods that are known hazards to young children (speak to your baby’s pediatrician about this), you can offer your child most of the foods that you dine on, while adjusting for the fact that your baby or toddler’s taste buds are much more sensitive than your own.

Here’s how to adjust the texture of your baby’s and young toddler’s foods as his eating skills continue to evolve.

  • Make thin purées. Dilute infant cereals or baby foods, jarred or homemade, to create baby food with a watery texture.
  • Increase the thickness of purées. Thicken the purées by adding less water to infant cereals or homemade baby food. If you serve your baby commercial baby foods, continue to buy pure foods, such as blends without any fillers. You can thicken the blends yourself by adding infant cereal or other cereals and grains that your baby has demonstrated he can tolerate.
  • Ground, grate and mash foods. Use a food mill, small food chopper, hand masher and/or hand grater to grate, chop or mash some of your youngster’s foods. Good examples of such foods include mashed potatoes or other vegetables and fruits, grated cheese and small-curd cottage cheese.
  • Integrate chopped foods, aka finger foods. Chop your baby’s food into small, fine pieces that are easy to chew. Depending on his age and the extent of his finger dexterity, he will either scoop up these pieces using all the fingers of one hand (creating a balled fist that he will then direct toward his mouth) or he will use a pincher grip, employing the thumb and index finger, a more complex move.
  • Incorporate table foods into baby’s diet. Begin to introduce other tastes and textures, including crunchy and chewy foods.