Your five-month-old just started sitting up on her playmat and is showing tons of interest in your fettuccini alfredo. Congrats! She’s ready to try solid foods. Unless you’re trying baby led weaning, your best bet is to start with pureed foods and slowly thickening the consistency as your baby gets comfortable with chewing (err, gumming) and swallowing. Follow the three baby food stages, which you can use as a general rule of thumb to introduce your kiddo to the exciting world of solids.

You can begin stage one (which consists of thin, single-ingredient purees) as soon as your kid’s pediatrician gives the OK. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the doctor will make sure your child is sitting with little or no support, has good control of her head and will open her mouth and lean forward when food is offered. This will typically happen anywhere from 4 to 6 months. She’s ready for stage two (thicker mashed food made of multiple ingredients) after she has had a month or two of practice eating stage one foods and seems comfortable eating and swallowing, or her doctor feels she is ready. This typically happens around 6 to 8 months. Stage three (chewable chunks) can begin around 9 to 12 months, and includes thick blended foods and small, cut-up pieces of easy-to-chew table food.

Babies can try lots of different foods, and eating a varied diet is encouraged—but some things are off the table until they’re older. Steer clear of honey (which can cause infant botulism until babies turn one), anything containing added sugar or salt, cow’s milk, refined grains like white bread or rice, unpasteurized foods, fish that’s high in mercury (like swordfish), smoked and cured meats (like bacon) and choking hazards (including grapes, raw apples, bell peppers, raisins and whole peas). Check with your doctor for a comprehensive list of choking hazards and other foods to avoid.

Ready to start? Here’s everything you need to know about the three stages of baby food.

RELATED: How to Make Baby Food (Hint: It’s Not as Hard as You Think)

baby food stages single ingredient purees
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Stage 1: Single-Ingredient Purées (4 to 6 Months)

Make sure that stage one foods are cooked until soft (if necessary—obviously you wouldn’t need to cook a ripe banana or avocado, since they’re already soft foods) and then puréed with added water until the consistency is very thin and smooth. You can freeze extra purées in ice cube trays, then pop one cube out at a time and defrost it on the stove or in the microwave for a quick, easy meal.

Feed your baby at a high chair where she can sit up straight without slumping over, ideally with her feet supported. Don’t stress if your child seems nervous about new textures at first. “Your child might cough, gag, or spit up,” the American Academy of Pediatrics adds. If this happens, remain calm and keep an eye out for signs of choking—otherwise, coughing and gagging are totally normal reactions to new tastes and textures. (It’s a great idea to take an infant CPR course in advance and brush up on what you learned before your baby begins eating solids.)

Foods to Try:

  • avocado
  • banana
  • steamed carrots
  • cooked peaches
  • applesauce
  • baked butternut squash
  • poached chicken or turkey
  • smooth cooked cereal, like baby oatmeal

Recipes to Make: Banana purée; first carrots purée; baked sweet potato purée.

Store-Bought Options: Plum Organics Peach Purée ($19 at Amazon); Happy Baby Clearly Crafted Whole Grain Oats and Quinoa ($19 at Amazon); Gerber Purées My First Foods Starter Kit ($8 at Amazon)

baby food stages thicked mashed foods
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Stage 2: Thicker Mashed Food (6 to 9 Months)

If your doctor hasn’t already suggested introducing common allergen foods to your baby, now is the time. This includes eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, peanuts and soybeans, explains the Children’s Hospital Association. Your doctor will have instructions about the best way to introduce each of these foods to your baby (especially if there is a history of allergies in your family). Observe your child closely for an allergic reaction after she tries one of the common allergens. A reaction might happen within a minute or two after eating the food, or it might happen up to 24 hours later. How do you identify an allergic reaction? Keep this list from Food Allergy Research and Education handy at all times.

By now, your child will also be practicing feeding herself (either by grabbing the spoon or sticking her food-covered hands in her mouth), and learning how to drink from a cup. You might start to notice her food likes and dislikes—but if she’s still not super comfortable with this whole eating thing, don’t sweat it. It can take multiple experiences with the same food before your baby will discover she enjoys it. In a 2007 study published in Pediatrics, it took some babies eight tries before they began to like green beans—so be patient, Mom and Dad.

Foods to Try:

  • blueberries
  • mango
  • beets
  • parsnips
  • egg yolks
  • cottage cheese
  • peanut butter
  • almond butter
  • chickpeas
  • broccoli
  • squash

Recipes to Make: Avocado and banana baby food; apple, raspberry and vanilla baby food puree; my first chicken curry.

Store-Bought Options: Plum Organics Pear, Blueberry, Avocado and Granola ($14 at Amazon); Happy Baby Organic Apples, Blueberries and Oats ($13 at Amazon); Gerber Turkey and Rice ($10 at Amazon)

baby food stages chewable chunks
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Stage 3: Chewable Chunks (10 to 12 Months)

You and your baby now have this whole food thing pretty much figured out—well, sort of. You’re starting to get an idea of what she likes and doesn’t like (even if it seems to change every week) and she’s getting the hang of eating from a spoon and grabbing small pieces of food from her tray to pick up and put in her mouth. Now, almost any food is fair game (except the foods listed above, like honey), as long as it’s prepared in a way that your baby can easily chew and swallow.

Now is also the time to start trying more food combinations. While your baby still shouldn’t have salt, this doesn’t mean everything you feed her needs to be bland. Try adding herbs and spices to her meals, like freshly ground black pepper, turmeric, tarragon, mint, basil and oregano. She can even try spicier foods made with cumin or smoked paprika.

Foods to Try:

  • small tofu cubes
  • pasta
  • soft cheese
  • shredded meat
  • any soft fruit or veggie, cut up or mashed

Recipes to Make: Oatmeal with beets and carrots; quinoa ratatouille; cherry, mint and Greek yogurt.

Store-Bought Options: Earth’s Best Cheesy Pasta with Veggies ($10 at Amazon); Gerber Purees Crawler Lil’ Mixers Rice and Quinoa with Sweet Potato and Turkey ($12 at Amazon); Earth’s Best Organic Chicken Pot Pie Dinner ($7 at Amazon)

baby food stages
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OK, What Else Do I Need?

High chairs, bibs, spoons…why didn’t we register for any of this stuff? Luckily, you can continue to use many of these tools until toddlerhood and beyond, as long as they’re made to last. Below, a few of our favorite baby feeding essentials.

1. Stokke Tripp Trapp High Chair

Yes, this chair is expensive, but hear us out. Made with easy-to-clean European beech wood and finished with water-based, nontoxic paint, this high chair will last you until your kid is all grown up—no booster seat necessary. (In fact, this chair can handle up to 242 pounds, so can be used by adults too.) “It was an investment up front, but I love it,” one PureWow mom reveals. “While all my friends are in the throes of buying separate ‘toddler’ high chairs or booster seats they strap to chairs at their kitchen table, we’re just modifying the Tripp Trapp, removing the tray and sliding our son right up to the table. It’s also been very comfortable and easy to clean. We didn’t even buy the cushioned seat liner, but our son has happily sat in it from the get-go.”

$269 at Amazon

2. Olababy Baby Training Spoon

This baby-friendly spoon is made from BPA-free food-grade silicone, giving it the flexibility to bend and conform to whatever your kid is trying to scoop up, even if her angles for doing so aren’t quite there yet. Some parents say the coolest feature is the suction-cup base, allowing you to easily stand it upright when it’s not in use. Its leafy, stem-like design makes it look like something from A Bug’s Life, and it’s totally dishwasher safe. (As any parent can attest, anything that cuts down on cleanup time is a winner in our book.)

Buy It ($15)

3. Ohbabyka Baby Waterproof Long-Sleeved Bib

Whether you start with mashed avocado or puréed peas, one thing’s for certain: your baby is going to make a gigantic mess. If you don’t want to start bathing your baby three-plus times a day, you’re going to want to have at least a few of these nylon smocks handy. Just pop one on over her regular clothes, let her eat to her heart’s content, then hand wash it or toss it in the washing machine. Best of all, this three-pack fits babies six to 24 months, making them the only thing she won’t grow out of in three seconds.

$28 at Amazon

4. Ezpz Mini Mat

Remember what we were saying about messes? If you’d prefer not to have bowls of cereal flung at your face, this mat is a gamechanger. It’s made of food-grade silicone that sticks to any tray or table, so it won’t budge no matter how, um, enthusiastic an eater your kid is. The three compartments also make every meal look approachable and visually appealing.

$20 at Amazon $20 at ezpz

5. Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup

There’s a reason this cup is one of the top 10 best-selling baby products on Amazon. This un-spillable cup is an absolute must for every parent. While it looks and feels like a regular cup (which is now recommended by dentists over the hard sippy cup spouts of our youth), it will automatically seal when your kid stops drinking. Translation: No spills. Ever. It’s also a great way to teach bottle drinkers to transition to cup use.

$13 at Amazon

RELATED: The Best Organic Baby Food on Amazon, According to Real Moms

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