Advancing Baby Foods: Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats
By Karen Sokal-Gutierrez
Once your baby is 4 to 6 months old and eats cereal well from a spoon, she's suddenly ready to experience a wide variety of foods. Some babies plunge eagerly into their new eating adventures, while others progress slowly and tentatively. But by the end of her first year, your baby will be eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and meats, and enjoying the different colors, tastes and textures of food.

4 to 6 Months: Pureed Foods
Your baby's first solid foods should all be pureed to prevent choking. Many nutrition experts recommend starting with orange vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes, squash and carrots) then the other vegetables (e.g., peas, beans, beets); pureed fruits (e.g., bananas, apples, pears, peaches, plums); and finally yogurt, pureed chicken and meat.

You can make your own baby food by cooking it until it's soft then mashing it with a fork or grinding it in a food mill or electric blender. This can save money and ensure that the food is fresh with no added salt, sugar or preservatives. One caution: Don't make your baby homemade beets, turnips, carrots, collard greens or spinach because they can contain high levels of nitrates, which can cause anemia (low blood count) in babies. If you give your baby commercially prepared baby food from a jar, the starter foods are called Stage 1 foods. This baby food is convenient and has been tested for safety. You may also choose to give your baby organic foods to minimize your baby's exposure to pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, dyes, waxes and other chemicals.

It typically takes babies a couple months to advance through the pureed baby foods. Start by giving your baby one new food at a time for two to three days to watch for possible signs of allergic reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea or a rash. The first few times your baby tries a new food, she might wrinkle up her face, spit out the food or even gag. But don't be alarmed - it's her natural reaction to a new taste and texture. Try again at the next meal, and over time your baby is likely to accept the new food.

6 to 12 Months: Lumpy Foods, Finger Foods, Spoon and Cup
When you observe your baby beginning to move food to the sides of her mouth and munch up and down, she's ready for the next stage: more coarse or lumpy food.

Start with lumpy pureed food such as well-cooked mashed vegetables, mashed potatoes and mashed rice. If your baby swallows it well, advance to soft food such as well-cooked noodles, cooked vegetables, soft fruit and well-cooked meat cut into very small pieces (less than 1/4-inch cubes). Commercial baby food manufacturers call the coarser and mixed foods Stage 2 and 3, or junior foods.

When you observe your baby reaching out to pick up her food with her fingers or palm and put the food in her mouth, she's ready for finger foods. In addition to the small pieces of cooked noodles, vegetables, meat and soft fruit, offer her dry cereal, crackers, toast, small pieces of cheese, tofu and cooked scrambled egg yolks. (Cooked egg whites can cause allergies, so wait until your child's a year old to try those.) This is also the time to start feeding your baby table foods as long as they're soft and cut into small pieces.

Typically, between 8 and 9 months, babies begin to grab well, so this is a good time to give your baby a spoon and cup. Show him how to dip the spoon in his food and bring it to his mouth, and how to bring the cup to his mouth and tip it so he can drink. He'll start by pounding and swinging the spoon and cup, and getting food and drink over his face, hair and clothes, as well as on the floor. Start by giving him a spoon to hold while you feed him with another spoon. After several months of practice (and mess), he can learn to feed himself with the spoon and cup by his first birthday.

Work toward a balanced diet
As your baby begins to eat a wider variety of foods, try to offer a healthy variety at each meal. A good rule of thumb is to offer foods of different colors, which helps ensure that the food has a variety of nutrients and is interesting and fun to eat. The food pyramid outlines the basic food groups to include at each meal:
  • Breads and cereals (including pasta, rice, grains, potatoes): For energy, fiber, iron and vitamins B and E.
  • Fruits and vegetables: For fiber, vitamins A and C and folic acid.
  • Meat, poultry, fish (including cooked dried beans, tofu, eggs): For protein, iron and B vitamins.
  • Milk and other dairy products (including cheese, yogurt): For protein, calcium and vitamins A and D.
What's the right amount of food?
Infants typically eat about 4 ounces (the amount in a small jar of baby food) at each of their three meals. But some babies have bigger appetites and some have smaller ones. Start with small portions (1 tablespoon of each food) and offer more if he shows you he's still hungry. You don't need to force your baby to eat. If you offer him a healthy variety of food, he has a natural ability to eat as much as he needs. Look for signs that he's full: He closes his mouth, shakes his head, turns his head away, pushes the food away with his hands and fusses. That's when to stop feeding him.

What's the right amount of milk?
From 6 to 12 months, your baby should be eating more and more solid food and drinking less milk. If you breastfeed your baby, three to five feedings per day are typical. If you bottle-feed your baby, aim for no more than 24 to 32 ounces of milk per day. Once your baby's a year old, he should drink only 16 to 24 ounces of milk per day. When babies drink too much milk, they get filled up on it and don't have an appetite for solid foods. This, in turn, can lead to anemia and growth problems. A good way to help your baby find the right balance of solid food and milk is to feed him the solid foods first, when he's most hungry, and then give him his milk afterward. Starting the cup before the first birthday also helps. Remember, though, not to substitute juice for milk. You can give your baby apple, white grape or pear juice in a cup, but don't give her any more than 4 ounces a day because it can also lead to diarrhea, tooth decay and growth problems.

Other Food Safety Tips
Infants are vulnerable to illness and injuries, so be sure to take the following precautions when feeding your baby:
  • Prevent choking: Make sure your baby's food is soft and cut into small pieces. Avoid foods that she could choke on such as large chunks of meat, whole grapes and hot dog rounds (cut them into strips instead), raw carrots, popcorn, nuts and hard candy. Buckle your baby's high chair strap so she remains seated while eating and supervise her at all times. Learn first aid for choking, just in case.
  • Prevent burns: It's best not to warm your baby's bottle or food in the microwave since it can develop hot spots and burn your baby's mouth.
  • Prevent food poisoning: Don't give your baby honey before she's 12 months old. It can cause botulism, a serious illness. Wash your hands well after changing your baby's diaper, after handling animals or raw meat and before preparing food or bottles. If your baby leaves milk in the bottle or food in the bowl after a feeding, discard it since it has germs in it and is no longer fresh.