Complementary foods: Baby cereal

Complementary foods: Baby cereal
Around 6 months, your baby needs more energy! It’s time to introduce fortified cereals.

When to start feeding your baby iron-fortified cereal

Around 6 months, when your baby is ready to eat complementary foods, you can feed them special baby cereals (i.e., flakes) that are enriched with iron. Iron is one of the primary nutrients your baby will lack if they only drink breast milk or formula.

Cereal is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and other minerals. It’s also a good source of extra calories.

Choosing a baby cereal

You should start your baby on “introductory” cereal, or “cereal for beginners.” In the beginning, choose cereals that only contain one type of grain (e.g., barley, oats, wheat, or rice) before you start introducing mixed grains.

Choose cereals that you can add breast milk or formula to. They are better for your baby than cereals with added cow’s milk powder. Whenever you can, choose whole-grain cereals, which contain more fibre.

Even though it contains the word “fructose,” oligofructose is not a sugar. It’s a type of dietary fibre that feeds the good bacteria in your baby’s gut.

Starting at 8 months, you can give your baby “transitional” or “stage 2” cereals, which are available in a wider variety of flavours (e.g., with fruit or yogurt). That said, you can still continue to give them “beginner cereals” if you like, since they will still meet your baby’s needs. For flavour, you can add your own puréed fruit or fruit pieces to plain cereal.

Unlike “beginner cereals,” “stage 2” cereals tend to contain unnecessary ingredients, and even sugar. For this reason, it’s a good idea to read the ingredient list and choose a cereal that doesn’t contain any added sugar. Sugar is often camouflaged under different names, such as dextrose, maltose, sucrose, inverted sugar, glucose polymers, fructose, syrup, and honey.

Can you make your own baby cereal?

Instead of buying baby cereal, some parents may be tempted to make their own using oats, barley, quinoa, and other ingredients. Unlike store-bought baby cereals, homemade cereals aren’t fortified with iron, which means they aren’t suitable for a baby who is just starting to eat solid foods. In fact, the lack of iron could be harmful to their health.

Arsenic in rice

Arsenic is a chemical that’s naturally found in soil and water. It also finds its way into many agricultural products, including rice. Since rice absorbs more arsenic than other grains, baby cereal made with rice tends to contain more arsenic than other types of cereal.
High levels of arsenic in rice-based baby cereals are of concern to researchers. They recommend paying special attention to this issue.
Some experts advise against feeding rice-based cereal to babies, while others simply suggest giving them these foods in moderation. You can help protect your baby by feeding them a wide variety of cereals and making sure not to give them rice-based cereal more than 3 to 4 times per week (up to a total of 1¼ cup of dry cereal).
When they are consumed in large quantities, inorganic arsenic compounds—such as those found in rice—are thought to increase the risk of cancer, skin disorders, and blood diseases.

Food allergies

Several studies have shown that introducing allergens at a later age does not prevent a child from developing food allergies. In fact, the opposite may be true, because this practice is linked to a greater risk of allergies.

Therefore, experts no longer recommend waiting to introduce these foods, even for children who are at risk of developing allergies (i.e., those with a parent or sibling with a food allergy, or babies who already have eczema or asthma). Giving these children allergenic foods early, between the ages of 4 and 6 months, might actually protect them better.

To learn more about the main allergens and the symptoms of a food allergy, consult our fact sheet on food allergies (in French) in children.

How to prepare baby cereal

Bottle-feeding cereal to your child is not recommended.

If you want to spoon-feed your baby, you’ll need to mix the cereal with liquid. Breast milk is best, but you can also use commercial infant formula. Don’t add sugar to your baby’s cereal. They’ll like it just the way it is.

As for the cereal’s texture, it needs to be liquid enough to pour into your baby’s mouth, but thick enough that they won’t suck on it. Gradually thicken the texture of the cereal to keep up with your child’s progress.

How much cereal to give your baby

Start with 3 to 5 ml (½ to 1 tsp) after nursing, once or twice a day. Quickly transition to twice a day to ensure your little one gets enough iron. Gradually increase the amount of cereal until their iron requirements are met. Most importantly, you need to respect your child’s hunger levels.

Other grain products

As early as 6 or 7 months, even if you don’t follow the principles of self-feeding, encourage your child to grab food with their hands. Give them pieces of unsweetened O-shaped cereal, toast, crackers, bread sticks, pita bread, pancakes, pasta, etc. All of these foods will help your baby develop their dexterity and hand-to-mouth coordination.

Give your baby toasted bread. Untoasted bread crumbs are a choking hazard because they can form a compact ball in your child’s mouth.

After 9 months of age, keep giving your baby fortified cereal for breakfast. You can also give them grain products at lunch and dinner time. Choose whole grains at least 50 percent of the time. For example, you could give your baby one-quarter or half of a slice of bread, or a serving of rice, quinoa, or pasta about the size of their fist. Give them more if they’re still hungry afterwards.

Even if your baby eats a varied diet, continue to give them fortified baby cereals until age 2, since they are a good source of iron. You can even add them to soups, breakfast cereal, applesauce, and yogurt, or use them when making muffins (link in French), pancakes, biscuits, and cookies.

When baby won’t eat their cereal

If your baby refuses to eat when you try to spoon-feed them cereal, here are some tips you can try:

  • Let them feed themself with a little spoon designed for small hands, which are perfect for soft foods
  • Put the baby cereal on a biscuit or cracker (preferably something as unprocessed as possible)
  • Add baby cereal to applesauce, pancakes, muffins, biscuits, etc.

Things to keep in mind

  • Along with protein-rich foods, iron-fortified baby cereals are the first complementary foods you should give your baby.
  • Plain, whole-grain cereals with no added sugars are the best choices.
  • Iron-fortified baby cereals have a place in your baby’s diet until at least age 2.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Stéphanie Côté, M.Sc., nutritionist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2022


Photo: GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Agence France-Presse. “L’arsenic dans le riz associé à des dommages génétiques.” La Presse, July 22, 2013.
  • Allergy Quebec. “Prévention des allergies alimentaires chez le nourrisson.”
  • Consumer Reports. “How much arsenic is in your rice?” 2014.
  • Côté, Stéphanie. Bébés : 21 jours de menus. Montreal, Éditions Modus Vivendi, 2019, 216 pp.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Leroux, Rémi. “Arsenic : le riz vous empoisonne-t-il?” Protégez-Vous, August 2013.
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Summary for Patients, Families, and Caregivers. May 2011.
  • Health Canada. “Canada’s food guide.” 2022.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Feeding your baby in the first year.” 2020.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Healthy eating for children.” 2020.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Practice point. “Nutrition for healthy term infants, six to 24 months: An overview.” 2020.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Position statement. “Dietary exposures and allergy prevention in high-risk infants.” 2021.