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Good Nutrition for the Highchair Set

The challenges of maneuvering spoonfulls of food into a squirming and reluctant infant can be compounded by uncertainties about when to introduce certain foods and whether homemade varieties offer any benefit over those that are commercially prepared.

About 25 years ago, it was commonly recommended that babies be given "solid" food beginning at 6 weeks of age or sometimes younger. But a generation of experience has led pediatric experts to conclude that 6 weeks is too early for even cereal mixed with milk, traditionally the first solid food. Today the common recommendation is that babies should receive only breast milk or infant formula until they are at least 4 to 6 months old.

Contrary to previous assumptions, solid food does not make a baby more likely to sleep through the night than a diet of only formula or breast milk. In fact, because a baby's stomach is too imature to handle solid foods, anything but formula or breast milk may cause cramping and discomfort that can keep your baby up at night. Your baby's nervous system also needs to mature to the point that your baby no longer displays the extrusion reflex (immediately pushes solids out of the mouth) so your baby can coordinate his or her tongue to move food to the back of the throat and swallow it.

When your baby is ready to begin eating solid foods, pay attention to labels to ensure your baby is getting the right food at the right stage. Baby food manufacturers have changed their products over the years to make them more nutritious. For example, precooked cereals marketed for infants are fortified with iron and B vitamins. Your baby's iron levels may begin dipping after six months of age because the iron stores he or she was born with are nearly depleted. Most precooked baby cereals contain 45 percent of the U.S. Daily Recommended Allowance (U.S. RDA) of iron per serving.

When you first feed your baby cereal, try single-grain varieties (such as rice, oatmeal, or barley) to make identifying a potential food allergy easier. Cereal made from wheat is a more frequent cause of allergy than the other grains and is slightly rougher on the stomach. You can try mixed cereals and wheat cereals after your baby has been eating rice or oatmeal for a couple of months.

Once your baby has mastered cereal slurping, you can begin offering him or her a variety of other foods. Begin with single-ingredient, strained foods. These are bland in flavor and semi-liquid to make swallowing easier.

Once opened, jarred baby food lasts about three days in the refrigerator. If you are using dehydrated flakes that you mix with water, these do not have to be refrigerated and will remain good for about two weeks after opening.

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