Despite what your well-meaning mother-in-law might tell you, a lot of time-honored advice about starting solids has officially been scrapped. Recommendations like "always start with rice cereal" and "save meat for last" have been deemed unnecessary, and in some cases (like "avoid peanut") downright unwise. Now another time-worn piece of wisdom is being questioned too: It's often recommended to wait 3-5 days between introducing new foods, but that may not be so smart after all–especially if you want to tame picky eating later.
Waiting 3-5 days between new foods is still advised by organizations like the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAI). "This slow process gives parents or caregivers a chance to identify and eliminate any food that causes an allergic reaction," according to the AAAI's website.
But if you want your baby to learn to like many new foods and flavors, that may not be the best move. Since children often slip into picky eating during the toddler years, it's best to introduce as many foods and flavors as you can–so they head into that picky period with a bigger repertoire of exposures.
"Much like starting infant cereal as a first food, the recommendation to start new foods every three to five days is based on tradition verses medical evidence," say dietitian authors Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson, of Born To Eat: Whole, Healthy Foods from Baby's First Bite. "Unless a child is at high-risk for developing a food allergy, we recommend eating what the family eats from day 1, but more isolated foods. For instance, a first meal could be avocado, sweet potato, and steak. Three foods in a day is absolutely fine and still easy to isolate and figure out if there's a concern." (Being high risk for a food allergy can include a family history of food allergies or severe eczema, an egg allergy, or both.)
If you lean towards a more cautious approach, consider offering just one new food at a time, but only waiting a day to introduce the next, says Jenna Helwig, Parents food editor and author of Baby-Led Feeding. "Most allergic reactions are apparent pretty quickly, so a full day should be enough time to isolate any issues."
Likewise, it's no longer believed that veggies should be offered before fruit (babies won't magically prefer veggies more if you save sweeter fruit for later). It's also been found that delaying or avoiding babies' exposure to the top allergens, such as peanut and fish, doesn't help prevent allergies.
Something else to do when starting solids: don't give up on foods and flavors that don't go over well the first (or second or third) time. "Parents ought to anticipate that bitter and sour foods, particularly vegetables, will require many more exposures to ensure acceptance," says Robert Murray, MD, a professor of Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University. "Offering these foods when the baby is most hungry and pairing them with foods that the baby already enjoys will help."
Murray also suggests not relying on the spoon for feeding that first year. "One of the great ways to increase acceptance of foods is to let the baby explore them," he says. "Give them a grab-able size piece of soft avocado, sweet potato, orange or banana, and let them play with it. It's messy, but fun for the baby and great fun to watch."
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgments-zone" about feeding a family. She's the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.