Four signs your baby may be ready for solids—plus, nine ways to start smart.

For the first six months, your baby’s nutritional needs are fulfilled through breast milk or formula alone. But after that, liquids may no longer provide adequate nutrition. That’s when it’s time to start introducing solids.

This transition is momentous, and it’s important to get your baby going on solids at the right time and in the right manner. If you’re strategic in your method, you can even begin to lay the groundwork for healthful eating habits that will last a lifetime.

Keep in mind that there’s no need to rush: Approaching solids in a measured way allows your baby—and his developing system—time to adapt. At about 6 months old, or when your baby shows signs of readiness, you can gradually work in complementary foods while continuing to breast- or bottle-feed.

Look for signs of readiness.

Between 4 and 6 months, most babies show increased interest in the food that others are eating—they might, for instance, try to reach for it or put it in their mouths. Other developmental signs include being able to sit upright (with support), having good head and neck control, and opening the mouth and leaning forward when food is offered.

Start small, very small.

Give your child a tester of solid food from a spoon or your finger at the end of a milk feeding to familiarize him with the new taste.

Take it one at a time.

To begin, give your baby just one, single-ingredient solid food. For example, offer oatmeal by itself before you have him try oatmeal mixed with applesauce.

Wait a few days between new foods.

That way you can make sure there are no reactions (allergic or otherwise) to the food, such as diarrhea, rash, vomiting, coughing, or facial swelling.

Don’t worry too much about the order of first foods.

Cereal is a good starter, because you can mix it with the already-familiar flavors of breast milk or formula; plus, it’s a good source of iron. Doctors used to advise against introducing highly allergenic foods—such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and fish—until after the first birthday. But there’s no evidence that early introduction of such foods raises the risk of an allergy. The current recommendation is to offer these foods along with others after 6 months, unless a parent or sibling has an allergic condition or a history of eczema, allergy, or asthma.

Introduce new textures and consistencies gradually.

First foods should be strained or pureed, so they’re easy to swallow. Cereal, often the first solid food offered, should be mixed with breast milk or formula to a very thin consistency. Never add cereal to a bottle, as it could cause your baby to choke and interfere with him learning proper feeding skills. Once he is able to eat thin purees well, try a thicker puree. After your baby is older than 6 months or is used to strained foods, he’s ready for mashed foods. Hold off on ground or finely chopped foods until around 8 months, when he’ll be up for finger foods, too.

Go additive-free.

First foods don’t need any sugar or salt added to them. Your baby will thrill to the basic taste of the natural flavors.

Keep up the cereal.

By 4 to 6 months, babies begin to require more iron. A serving of iron-fortified formula or, at 6 months, cereal made with breast milk should suffice. Once your baby is eating solids, add a serving of vitamin C (such as fruit) with cereal to increase iron absorption.

Opt for nutritional powerhouses.

Once your baby has transitioned well to solids, try fresh, whole foods that pack a lot of nutrients per calorie and have undergone little or no processing (other than pureeing or mashing by you). Top picks include avocado, eggs, lentils, beans, yogurt, tofu, and hummus. Fruits and vegetables without skins and seeds should be included at every meal.

Go slow on juice.

Juice isn’t needed before your baby is 6 months old. Even then, a baby or toddler should be given no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day, served in a cup, not a bottle. Make sure the juice is pasteurized and 100 percent juice (not a fruit drink, which can be primarily sugar and water).