As I've said before, I really do believe that Ben would've been a good eater unless we seriously screwed up, and I can't take responsibility for doing anything particularly right -- just nothing particularly wrong. But since he is such an enthusiastic eater, and this is an area of success, it seems like I might be holding useful information that it's silly not to share. So.
The pediatrician gave me the green-light to start solids after his four-month check-up, which seemed nutso early to me, and against conventional wisdom. I took it as a green-light to start reading about how people approach introducing solids. My friend J. recommended Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, and her method and message resonated with me. Basically, she says the most important thing is to pay attention to your child and let him lead -- don't force anything, and don't hurry him, and try to make eating a pleasurable experience for everybody.
I knew I wanted to avoid jar baby food. Not that it's some kind of horrible poison, but I'm home and have the time, and it seemed sensible to give him as many whole foods as I was able. But apart from a general consensus about introducing foods well-strained and one at a time, I found very little agreement among experts about which particular foods to start when. Even the conventional wisdom about delaying the introduction of potential allergens turned out not to be supported by the research, according to two review papers another friend sent me (ESPGHAN Committee in Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: "Complementary Feeding," and Greer et al. in Pediatrics: "Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children") -- which doesn't, it should be noted, mean that the research disproved the theory, but that it didn't support the theory.
Many of the parents I know resisted the notion of beginning with rice cereal, possibly because it seems so awfully unappetizing, and apart from the iron, isn't terrifically nutritious, either. The iron is important, though. Babies start to get iron-deficiency anemia around six months, and they need to get iron from solids (or from iron-fortified formula), and fortified baby cereal is a good source. Plus, it's not like babies have refined palates. Starting with something wicked bland made sense to me, so that's what we did.
At around five months, I decided to give it a go. I mixed baby rice cereal with some formula we still had around, and presented the kid with a nice, thin gruel. I expected resistance, and I was ready to back the hell off immediately and try again in another few weeks. Instead his eyes lit up, and he polished off the tiny portion I'd made and shrieked for more.