Once your baby is closer to 6 months old, a whole new world of tastes and textures is available. That is when most babies are ready to expand their palette into areas more sophisticated than breast milk or formula and they begin to explore the world of baby food.
Most pediatricians recommend starting your baby with an iron-fortified rice cereal. Rice cereal is easy to digest and mixes easily with breast milk or formula. Most rice cereals provide the recommended daily amount of iron for your baby. Some cereals have added fruit such as apples and bananas which sweeten the cereal. Most babies prefer the sweetened rice cereal, but flavored and mixed cereals are considered an intermediate cereal. Intermediate cereals should only be introduced once your baby has adjusted to beginner cereals.
Commercial manufacturers of jarred baby food separate their baby foods into three stages: beginner (stage 1), intermediate (stage 2), and toddler (stage 3). Stage 1 foods are made for babies just starting solid foods. Beginner (stage 1) baby foods are a single food, typically a fruit or vegetable, puréed for easy swallowing. Beginner vegetables typically include peas, carrots, green beans, potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes. Beginner fruits include apples, bananas, peaches, prunes, and pears. Beginner foods are simply fruits or vegetables without the addition of sauces or flavoring.
Intermediate (stage 2) foods are intended for babies who have adjusted to beginner baby food and are ready for some experimentation. They still have a smooth texture, but are not as finely pureed as beginner baby food. Introduced around 7 to 8 months, intermediate baby food is typically a combination of fruits and vegetables to improve the taste and complexity of baby food.
Carrots and peas, apple and blueberry, or chicken and rice are common intermediate baby foods. Combinations of meat and vegetables are typically called dinners. Intermediate baby food made with meat juice is typically labeled as broth; if it's made with meat and added starches, it is usually labeled as gravy.
Toddler (stage 3) baby foods are intended for children who are ready to eat solid portions of food, usually around 9 months and older. Toddler baby food is chunky and is available in larger portions for larger appetites. Many parents skip stage 3 baby food because the meals are similar to the family meal. Instead they feed their baby the usual family meal slightly mashed and cut up for easier chewing and swallowing.
At the toddler stage, you can start feeding your baby watered-down juice. Avoid citrus juice until you talk to your pediatrician. Always keep juice consumption to a minimum. Too much juice can upset your baby's stomach and cause diarrhea, and it may also decrease the amount of breast milk or formula your baby will drink.
Talk to your pediatrician or public health nurse about what to feed your baby and when to move to the next stage. There are many brands of baby food on the market, so compare the ingredients and nutritional values before choosing a brand. If you want baby food that is free of many common additives, look at organic baby food as an alternative to commercial brands.
Check the expiration dates on the label or lid to make sure the baby food is still "fresh" and always check the depressed area or button in the center of the lid to make sure the areas is depressed. Don't buy any jars with the button popped out as this indicates that the baby food has been opened and the seal is broken.