Sorting Out Solids

When feeding your baby, some rules were made to be broken.

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When our daughter started solids four years ago, my husband and I had the do's and don'ts memorized: wait until she's 6 months old, introduce cereal first and absolutely no eggs. Lucky for you, parents today can reject many of the strict rules we sweated just a few years back. Take a look:

Old Rule: Give nothing but breast milk for 6 months.

New Rule: Start other foods anywhere from 4 months to 6 months. Anytime after your baby has outgrown the reflex to thrust her tongue forward—usually around this age—is fine, says Jatinder Bhatia, M.D., chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) committee on nutrition. (Note: Continue to breastfeed after introducing solids.)

Old Rule: Start with cereal, then vegetables, then fruits.

New Rule: The type of first food doesn't matter. Rice cereal is easy for nearly all babies to digest, but most will do fine with whatever you give them as long as it's mashed or puréed. In fact, puréed meats are an ideal first food because they contain absorbable iron and zinc, which babies need, says Bhatia. As for vegetables before fruits, we're born with a preference for sweets and there isn't much we can do to change it. But babies can learn to like the taste of green vegetables if given repeated (at least eight) chances, research shows.

Old Rule: Delay introducing certain foods

New Rule: Bring on the eggs, shellfish and citrus! Pediatricians used to caution against offering babies foods that are common causes of allergies. But the AAP says there's no evidence that delaying foods decreases the odds of developing allergies. (Avoid peanut butter, as it's a choking hazard.)

Old Rule: The blander the better.

New Rule: Let them eat spices. If you enjoy garlic, curry, ginger or other seasonings, don't shy away from feeding them to your baby, says Bhatia. As long as you minimize sugar and salt you might even simply purée what you're having and, voilá, dinner for one more.

Variety Show

It remains true that if you wait a few days between introducing new foods, it's easier to determine the culprit if your baby has an allergic reaction, such as a rash or diarrhea. But research shows that offering a variety of foods increases acceptance of those as well as others like them, says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., psychobiologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The AAP still recommends the wait-and-see approach, but it's your call.

DIY Mini Meals

To make your own baby food, steam or roast organic fruit or vegetables. Let cool, then purée until smooth in a blender or food processor. Store in glass or BPA-free plastic containers for up to four days in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.

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