Is juice OK?

Juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet, and it's not as valuable as the original fruit itself. Too much juice might contribute to weight problems and diarrhea, as well as thwart your baby's appetite for more-nutritious solid foods. In addition, sipping juice throughout the day or while falling asleep can lead to tooth decay.

If you choose to offer juice, wait until your baby is at least 6 months or older. Also, make sure the juice is pasteurized, mild, 100 percent fruit juice. Limit the amount your baby drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) a day — about one food serving of fruit — and serve it in a cup.

Know what's off-limits

Don't offer cow's milk or honey before age 1. Cow's milk doesn't meet an infant's nutritional needs — it isn't a good source of iron — and can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Honey might contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.

To prevent choking, stick to foods that are soft, broken down into small pieces and easy to swallow. As your baby progresses in eating solid foods, don't offer hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables or fruit chunks, unless they're cut up into small pieces. Also, don't give babies hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can't be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter and marshmallows.

If you offer solids to your baby before age 4 months, avoid offering home-prepared spinach, beets, green beans, squash and carrots, which might contain high levels of potentially harmful compounds (nitrites) from soil. If your drinking water comes from a private well, consider having it checked for nitrates.

Keep in mind that citrus can also cause some infants to develop a rash.

Make meals manageable

When your baby begins eating solid food, mealtime is sure to become an adventure. Here's help making it more enjoyable — for both you and your baby.

  • Stay seated. At first, you might feed your baby in an infant seat or propped on your lap. As soon as your baby can sit easily without support, use a highchair with a broad, stable base. Buckle the safety straps, and keep other children from climbing or hanging on to the highchair.
  • Encourage exploration. Your baby is likely to play with his or her food between bites. Although it's messy, hands-on fun helps fuel your baby's development. Place a dropcloth or mat on the floor so you won't worry about falling food.
  • Introduce utensils. Offer your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him or her with another spoon. As your baby's dexterity improves, encourage your baby to dip the spoon in food and bring it to his or her mouth.
  • Offer a cup. Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup at mealtime can help pave the way for weaning from a bottle. Around age 9 months, your baby might be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
  • Dish individual servings. Your baby might eat just a few spoonfuls of food at a time. If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, saliva on the spoon can quickly spoil any leftovers. Instead, place servings in a dish. Opened jars of baby food can be safely refrigerated for up to three days.
  • Avoid power struggles. If your baby turns away from a new food, don't push. Simply try again another time. And again. And again. Repeated exposure can help ensure variety in your baby's diet.
  • Know when to call it quits. When your baby has had enough to eat, he or she might turn away from the spoon, lean backward, or refuse to open his or her mouth. Don't force extra bites. As long as your baby's growth is on target, you can be confident that he or she is getting enough to eat.

Enjoy your baby's sloppy tray, gooey hands and sticky face. You're building the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

April 14, 2015 See more In-depth