Introducing your baby to cereal can be daunting and confusing (not to mention messy). We asked nutritionist Hillary Baron Irwin of Simply Beautiful Mom to give us a crash course on baby-friendly grains.

StrollerTraffic: What’s the ideal time to introduce cereal?
Hillary Baron Irwin: Always check with your pediatrician, but typically babies are developmentally ready to start between the ages of 4 and 6 months.

StrollerTraffic: The sooner the better?
HBI: Actually, it’s important not to rush it. I suggest waiting until your baby is close to 6 months old before introducing solids. This gives your baby’s digestive track more time to mature, may help reduce the risk of allergies, and may decrease the risk of obesity later in life.
ST: Is cereal definitely the first food moms should introduce?
HBI: No, it’s not the only option for a first food. Other choices include pureed sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, squash, lentils, or green vegetables. Iron-fortified infant rice cereal has always been a common first food because it is gluten-free, easy to digest, and less likely to cause allergies. But this doesn’t mean that rice cereal is the best first food option.

ST: So how do we choose that first solid?
HBI: Whether you choose cereal or something else, your baby’s first taste of solid food should be a single-ingredient, hypoallergenic, age-appropriate food that’s also high in nutrients. Just make sure that whatever you choose, you puree it to a very smooth texture. 

ST: Got it. Let’s say we decide to start with cereal. What are some of the grains we can try and what are the differences among them?
HBI: Quinoa has complete protein and is packed with fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, and folate. Oats are an excellent source of fiber, calcium, and protein and provide both iron and zinc. Barley is a good source of vitamin A, folate, and protein. Millet is rich in B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, and is a good source of protein. Kamut is a form of wheat, but higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and lower in gluten. And buckwheat is gluten-free and a good source of protein and fiber, and provides high levels of iron niacin and folate.

ST: But what about rice as a starting point?
HBI: While it’s easy to digest, white rice is low in nutritional value, does not have a lot of flavor, and does not mix well into a smooth consistency. It ends up a bit clumpy. On top of all of that, there has been recent concern about the levels of arsenic in rice.

ST: Yeah, we’ve heard that. Can you tell us more about the arsenic?
HBI: Rice apparently absorbs more arsenic that other grains. Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of arsenic in infant rice cereal. According to the report, if a baby consumes rice cereal two to three times a day cancer risks double. No one grain is the best; the key is to offer a variety of nutrient-dense foods. This will expose your baby to different flavors as well as provide a wide variety of different nutrients.

ST: Any recommended cereal brands?
HBI: You can actually make your own baby cereal by grinding grain in a food processor into a fine powder before cooking it. If that’s not for you, I recommend choosing an organic brand.
ST: Thanks, Hillary!