If you've noticed your 5-6 month old baby watching you eat, asking for food through gesturing and grabbing and sitting up (or almost,) you are probably asking this question!
You're confused by popular feeding theories.
Traditional iron-fortified rice cereal that many grandparents and pediatricians suggest is one. Another is homemade, jarred and squeeze pouches of pureed "Baby Food" and a third popular way is called baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an odd phase in the US.
"Baby-Led" is clear enough but 'weaning' sounds confusing when used in this context because we generally use the term to mean ending breast or bottle feeding. In Baby-Led Weaning, weaning is used in the original meaning of adding food to a baby's diet. What is means is that babies start by picking up food and feeding themselves. They learn how to eat by trial and error.
What NOT to eat is important.
You can feed any food except honey and foods you, the parents, or other family members are allergic to. Raw honey may have botulism spores which is harmless to children and adults but babies have a weaker immune system and are vulnerable to botulism poisoning.
While you are breastfeeding, there is no need for dairy foods in the forms of yogurt, cheese or liquid milk. Cow's milk nutrients are mostly the same only in different proportions. Your milk is the perfect balance of protein, fat and sugar for a human baby or toddler.
Real Babies need Real Food.
In whatever form you decide to start use nutrient dense "real food" - meat, vegetables, fruit & whole grains. A good rule of thumb to follow is to use foods in as close to their natural state as possible. Boxed or canned food is less nutritious and more expensive.
Apple sauce, avocado, banana, hamburger, diced chicken, mashed or shredded carrots, chopped mango, french cut green beans, sweet potato and diced pears are all common first foods that can be offered.
Some people use whole grain oatmeal as a base food and add fruits and vegetables to that. Some people start with all veggies followed by fruits in the hopes that their baby won't develop a preference for sweet foods. While there seems to be some merit to this theory, a broad diet using all the flavors is much more interesting than an all "sweet" diet.
Your baby's diet needs yoga!
Consider that ayurvedic cooking classifies salty, bitter, sour, astringent, sweet and pungent as "the six tastes." Work to use a little bit of each taste in every meal and your baby's senses will be satisfied. Everyone has preferences, including your baby, and introducing a variety of tastes helps to balance strong preference. Ayurveda also recommends a mix of wet and dry, cold and warm, light and heavy foods.
Introduce a variety of textures and tastes. Many babies can start with semi soft, chunky, wet and dry foods. Watch when your baby eats. Puree was developed in a time when formula-fed babies started foods earlier and needed drinkable food. By the middle of the first year, most babies have some teeth and are very interested in chewing and biting. Biting and gumming food strengthens their jaw and flattens their palate, which helps to make enough room for teeth. Different textures keep meals interesting.
When to mix it up?
Feed one food for 3 to 4 days, then add a new food. If there are any allergies you know which food is causing it. Food reactions can take many forms. It might be sleeplessness or irritability. Rashes are common and may look like flushed red cheeks, a bulls-eye around the anus, chapping around the mouth, or a pimply sandpaper rash that covers large areas of skin. Diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation are also common signs of a sesitivity or allergy.
The first month or two, the focus is on offering foods and helping your baby to experiment with new sensations and tastes. While some babies dive right in, others take their time. Continue breastfeeding about the same amount you always have and offer food as an add-on.