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Baby Cereal Basics: How To Start Feeding Your Baby Cereal

I was scared to start feeding my baby solids at first so if this is you, don’t worry, I have been there! If you’re new to feeding your baby cereal, here’s how to start and our favorite organic baby cereals to start with!

Please note this post is not medical advice! It is based on my experience and research. Please discuss feeding concerns with your pediatrician. 🫶

Why do parents start with cereal as a first food?

Many parents start with cereal as a first food. Chances are your own parents started you on cereal when you were a baby yourself.

Your pediatrician may have even suggested that you mix some oatmeal with breast milk or formula and offer it to your baby with a spoon at six months, sometimes even as early as four.

But exactly why do so many parents turn to cereal as a first food? Is it really the best option for your baby? And are there any alternatives?

Well, there are several reasons why parents choose cereal as a first food for their babies. Here are some of the main ones: 

  • Cereal is generally easy to digest and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. This makes it a great choice for babies who are ready to begin swallowing foods thicker than breast milk or formula. Plus, it can be mixed to a thicker or thinner consistency, typically using breast milk or formula, depending on your baby’s development and ability to swallow.
  • Many cereal brands come fortified with iron and other nutrients that babies need. Iron is an essential mineral for your baby’s brain and body development. Babies are born with iron stores that last for about six months. After that, they need iron from food sources to prevent iron deficiency and anemia. Iron-fortified cereals are a good way to provide your baby with this important nutrient.
  • Cereal has a bland taste and a smooth texture that can help babies get used to solid foods. That said, not all baby cereals are created equal. Some may contain added sugars or artificial flavors that you may want to avoid. This is why you need to look for cereals that are made with whole grains, organic ingredients, and no added sweeteners.

Cereal is not the only option for your baby’s first food. In fact, some experts suggest diversifying your baby’s diet by offering a variety of other foods including grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, and legumes.

Diversification in this way exposes your baby to different flavors, textures, colors, and nutrients.

When you start offering your baby whole foods rather than spoon-feeding them purees, this is called baby-led weaning.

Baby-led refers to letting your child lead the way when it comes to exploring tastes and textures. Weaning refers to the slow switch in their diet from mostly-liquid to mostly-solid. This process takes about 6-8 months.

When do babies start eating cereal?

Well, the general recommendation is to start offering solid foods, including cereal, at around 6 months of age.

By then, most babies have the skills required to eat and swallow solid foods. You will notice signs that your baby is ready to eat solids, including: 

  • Sitting up with support and holding their head steady
  • Showing interest in your food and reaching for it
  • Opening their mouth when they see food coming
  • Moving food from the front to the back of their mouth and swallowing it

Of course, every baby is different, and some may be ready a little earlier or later than others.

That’s why it’s important to follow your baby’s cues and your pediatrician’s advice. It’s a good idea to not rush or pressure your baby to eat solids before they’re ready.

In recent years, the recommended age for starting solids has changed but the CDC recommends around 6 months.

My Personal Experience

In my personal experience, our pediatrician pushed solids around 4.5 months. My son was definitely not showing the signs of readiness until closer to 7 months. My second son, on the other hand, was more than ready at 5.5 months. Follow your baby’s cues! *Not medical advice, just my experience.*

kids eating breakfast

How should you serve organic baby cereal?

Now that we know when to start offering cereal to your baby, you might be wondering how to serve it.

Here are some tips to help you do it easily and safely from the first spoonful:

  • Use a small bowl and a soft-tipped spoon. You don’t need any fancy dishes or utensils for feeding your baby cereal. Just use a small bowl that’s easy to hold and a spoon that’s gentle on your baby’s gums. We liked these spoons and these spoons, personally.
  • Mix the cereal with breast milk, formula, or water. The first time you feed your little one, mix a small amount of cereal (about 1 tablespoon) with about 4 tablespoons of water, milk, or infant formula to make a thin consistency. As your baby gets used to eating cereal, you can gradually reduce the amount of liquid and make the cereal thicker.
  • Heat liquid of choice. To warm the cereal you can heat your liquid of choice (breastmilk, formula or water) and mix it with the cereal. Be sure to test it yourself before feeding your baby.
  • Don’t serve it from a bottle. Feeding cereal from a bottle can cause choking, overfeeding, and obesity. It can also interfere with your baby’s development of feeding skills and appetite regulation. The only exception is if your pediatrician recommends it for a medical reason. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against this practice.
  • Offer it with a spoon after your baby’s regular feeding session. This way, your little one will not be too hungry or too full to try something new. Start with a small amount (1 to 2 teaspoons) once or twice a day and increase it gradually. Hold the spoon near your baby’s mouth and let them open up and lean forward to take it. Don’t force the spoon into their mouth. 
  • Adjust the temperature and flavor as needed. You don’t have to heat up the cereal before serving it to your baby, but you might want to warm it up slightly if it’s too cold. You can also add some flavor to the cereal by mixing in some pureed fruit or vegetable, but avoid adding any sugar or salt.

Also I didn’t realize this as a first-time-mom, but most baby cereals aren’t good for that long once opened! Just be mindful of the expiration and “best by” dates on the packaging.

What To Know About Rice Cereal

Rice cereal is one of the most common first foods for babies. It’s easy to digest, low in allergens, and fortified with iron.

However, it can also contain arsenic, which is a toxic metal that can harm your baby’s health. 

Arsenic is a natural element that is found in soil, water, and rocks. It can also be released into the environment by human activities, such as mining, farming, and burning fossil fuels.

Arsenic can contaminate crops that are grown in polluted areas, especially rice.

Rice absorbs more arsenic than other grains because it grows in flooded fields which makes it easy for the arsenic to move from the soil into the plant. 

Arsenic can cause various health problems, such as cancer and heart disease. In babies and children, exposure to arsenic can affect their growth, development, and learning abilities.

The good news is that there are ways to reduce your baby’s exposure to arsenic from rice cereal.

Here is how to decrease your baby’s exposure to arsenic in cereal: 

  • Check the labels or websites of the brands you buy and look for information on their arsenic levels or testing methods, then only go for brands that are low in arsenic. 
  • Vary the grains you feed your baby. Don’t rely on rice cereal as the only source of iron or grains for your baby. Offer other iron-fortified cereals made from oats, barley, or quinoa. You can also introduce other foods that are rich in iron, such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, and lentils.
  • Cook rice with plenty of water. If you cook rice for your baby or family, use a ratio of six cups of water to one cup of rice and drain the excess water after cooking. This can reduce the arsenic content by up to 60%.
  • Limit the number of rice products you give your baby. Apart from rice cereal, be aware of other foods that may contain rice such as rice milk, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice noodles, and rice syrup. 

Why does organic baby cereal matter?

Organic baby cereal is cereal that is made from grains that are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or irradiation. 

Organic farmers use natural methods to control pests and weeds, such as crop rotation, composting, and biological control. This also allows them to preserve soil quality, water resources, biodiversity, and animal welfare.

Organic baby cereal has several benefits for your baby’s health and development, including: 

  • It reduces your baby’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Organic baby cereal is free of pesticides and other chemicals and has lower levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium.
  • It provides more nutrients and antioxidants. Organic grains have higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than conventional grains. These nutrients are essential for your baby’s growth and development. 
  • It supports your baby’s gut health. Organic grains are rich in dietary fiber, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your baby’s gut. These bacteria help digest food, produce vitamins, regulate immunity, and prevent infections.
  • It offers more variety and flavor. Organic baby cereal comes with different types of grains, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat. These grains have different textures, colors, and tastes that can stimulate your baby’s senses and palate. They can also be mixed with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, and herbs to create delicious and nutritious combinations.

Therefore, while organic baby cereal may cost more than conventional baby cereal, it is absolutely worth the investment for your baby’s health and well-being. 

About the Author

Nicole Booz is the founder of GenTwenty and GenThirty. She is an entrepreneur, author of The Kidult Handbook, and most importantly, Mama to two beautiful little boys. She loves reading, organizing her home, and living a simple, less toxic lifestyle. You've seen her in The New York Times, TIME, Insider, Inside Edition, New York Post, NextAdvisor, Forbes, Yahoo, HuffPost, and U.S. News & World Report.