The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the gradual introduction of solid food starting at the age of 6 months, but bigger, more mature babies may be ready earlier. Check with your pediatrician if you're unsure.
Doctors usually suggest starting babies on dry rice cereal; mixed with breast milk, formula, or boiled water, it has a mild flavor that makes it a good transition food. Only buy sugar-free, organic baby cereals that are fortified with minerals and iron; these cereals, which you can find in health-food and large grocery stores, are more nutritious and better tasting than non-organic white-rice varieties. A baby's natural sweet tooth makes apple and pear purees popular first foods, too: Start with single flavors, and add only one new ingredient every four days; this makes it easy to check for allergies. Many fruits and vegetables, such as bananas and avocados, require no cooking -- just mash them with a fork. Meat can be introduced at 8 or 10 months.
Keep an open mind. Just because you don't like certain foods doesn't mean your baby won't. Playgrounds are full of stories of children who love beets, broccoli, and lima beans. Reintroduce foods that fail the first time around -- the papaya refused at 9 months may become a favorite two months later.
Once your baby has eaten her way from loose, liquid purees to chunky, thick ones, you may introduce pieces of food. Be careful to avoid anything too small, such as nuts, grapes, raisins, or other dried fruit. They are difficult for a baby to chew and could cause choking. In addition to fruits, vegetables, and meat, try pieces of toast and bagels.