Sometime between 4 and 6 months of age, your baby's all-liquid diet becomes more outdated than a maternity tent dress. It's time for solid food – so how about a little curried chicken? Or a nice bowl of borscht? Believe it or not, babies can handle all sorts of interesting food (pureed, of course) well before age 1. New research and a fresh look at baby feeding are turning cultural norms and even expert guidelines on their heads, and many believe that the result will be better health for kids. While the bland fare that has traditionally dominated the diet of American babies – rice cereal, plain pasta, and the like – isn't bad for them, it may be depriving babies of important nutrients and creating generations of picky eaters. With their cautious palates, it's not surprising that preschoolers reject healthy "real food" in favor of uniform, sodium-loaded "kid food" – macaroni and cheese, breaded chicken fingers, and those ever-present fish crackers.
So how do you get your baby to branch out early? It's surprisingly easy. Here's the exciting new thinking on how and what to feed your baby.
Rethink what you've heard about food allergies
Experts used to recommend holding off on commonly allergenic foods until at least age 1, and parents everywhere made a long list of items off-limits, including eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. But in 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report showing that the research doesn't back this up.
"There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of these foods beyond 4 to 6 months prevents food allergies," says pediatrician Frank Greer, former chairman of the AAP's Committee on Nutrition. In certain cases, however, you should wait. Greer says that if your baby shows signs of an allergy (such as eczema) to food or anything else, hold off and consult with your baby's doctor about when to introduce common allergens. The guidelines are less definitive for babies with a strong family history of food allergies or asthma. Some experts believe it's safe, but it's a good idea to check with the doctor first.
Of course, it still comes down to parental choice. If the thought of serving eggs to your young baby makes you nervous, you're not alone. Even some health professionals disagree with the new thinking.
"As a parent myself, I'd choose to hold off on allergenic foods for at least the first year," says physician and dietitian Christine Gerbstadt. There are plenty of interesting non-allergenic foods out there, so no matter what you decide, you can still introduce your baby to a wealth of fabulous flavors.