Is Cereal a Good First Solid Food for Your Baby?

Mother feeding baby

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Baby cereal is a common first food choice for many parents, particularly in the United States. Most often, this is rice cereal, though you might be wondering if this is the best and only option you have for your baby. While it is recommended that babies begin eating solid food around six months, and infant cereal is often the go-to option in this country, it may be best to diversify your baby's diet for several reasons.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing a variety of colors, flavors, and textures once you start offering solid foods. This can help your baby get a variety of vital nutrients , engage with the eating experience, and even help increase the likelihood of being a more adventurous eater in the future.

Baby Cereal as a First Food

It might be helpful to take a glimpse of first foods throughout history. For centuries, the norm was to breastfeed for a year or longer and introduce first foods that reflected the foods of the area later in the first year of life. Those foods tended to be fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meats.

However, the past two generations of parents included bottle-feeding formula and introducing baby cereal to newborns. We now know that introducing cereals before four months of age can put babies at risk for health problems.

So the effect of the past two generations has influenced feeding practices that go on today. There certainly are reasons why baby cereal is a logical choice for first food. It's generally easy to digest and iron-fortified which most babies need. It is also considered to be a low-allergen food (particularly rice cereal). However, these needs can also be met via naturally iron-rich foods.

Baby Cereal

There are many options when it comes to the first solid foods that your baby can eat. Baby cereals that are fortified with iron are one option. You can choose a single-grain infant cereal, such as rice, oat, or barley, or a multi-grain option that combines two or more.

One concern that has been raised about infant cereal is that arsenic was detected in some infant rice cereals. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first released a warning about the level of inorganic arsenic present in rice products, including popular infant cereals. This led to understandable concern among parents, but a 2016 follow-up from the FDA proposed a new limit to the arsenic in these foods, which is consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice.

If you choose cereal as your baby's first food, it's a good idea to include grains other than rice so that your baby isn't only ingesting rice cereal at every meal. The recommendation from the AAP is for parents to use rice cereal as only one source of solid food and one piece of a healthy diet. Providing other grain cereals in addition to rice is a good first step, but you can go even further.

Solid Food Alternatives

The goal with solid foods is not only to provide key nutrients, but to offer a variety of flavors and an introduction to social eating experiences. Not only is this important for overall health, but it can also help diversify your baby's palate for a lifetime of enjoying nutritious foods.

Fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, meats, eggs, nut and seed butters, and other foods the whole family eats can be integrated safely as first foods. Some parents choose to use purees, including jarred baby food, to introduce these foods.

Others opt to include safe, appropriate versions of foods babies can feed themselves, via a technique called baby-led weaning. The good news is that it only takes a small amount of each food at any meal to introduce these healthy eating habits.

Touching and tasting food is an important part of developing a relationship with food.

These foods don't have to be complex. Some foods, such as bananas and steamed sweet potatoes, can even be mashed with a fork, so you don't have to pull out the food processor for every meal. Or, if you're using baby-led weaning, offer your baby soft banana or steamed sweet potato in small pieces they can hold and feed themselves. Also, you can prepare small amounts of a variety of baby-friendly foods ahead of time so they're ready for any meal.

As you're starting solid foods, keep in mind that variety not only increases the range of nutrients a baby gets, but also the variety of flavors. Adding these fruits, veggies, and meats can expand the nutrients that babies get beginning at six months of age:

  • Dairy products; wait for whole cow's milk until after a year
  • Fresh fruit
  • Meats; well-cooked and finely chopped so baby doesn't choke
  • Ripe banana or avocado
  • Steamed yam or sweet potato
  • Whole-grain breads and cereals as opposed to baby cereal
  • Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables only have to be pureed until your baby is ready to eat soft foods by hand. Babies can eat dairy products (not including whole milk) when the texture is developmentally appropriate: first yogurt, then small pieces of cheese, and so on. If you use the baby-led weaning technique, skip purees and give baby soft foods to eat by hand from the start.

It's important to talk to your pediatrician before starting solids, especially if your family has a history of food allergies. This conversation can offer direct guidance on what types and varieties of food your baby can be introduced to and when to do that.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing a first food for your baby doesn't mean that you're left feeding that single food for the first few weeks or months. While cereals might be the right choice for your family, try to include a variety of developmentally appropriate foods whenever possible, and let baby join the family at mealtime to encourage healthful eating habits that can last a lifetime. Be sure to consult your pediatrician before you begin, and you and your baby will be ready to embrace a whole new world.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food & Feeding. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  2. Food & Feeding. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  3. When can my baby start eating solid foods?. KidsHealth from Nemours. 2018.

  4. Baby food for thought: how safe is rice cereal?. University of Rochester Medical Center. 2016.

  5. For Consumers: Seven Things Pregnant Women and Parents Need to Know About Arsenic in Rice and Rice Cereal. US Food and Drug Administration. 2016.

  6. AAP welcomes FDA announcement on limiting arsenic in infant rice cereal. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2016.

  7. Feeding your 8- to 12-month old. KidsHealth by Nemours. 2018.

  8. Starting solid foods. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2018.

  9. When, what, and how to introduce solid foods. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018.

By Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.