At first, the goal was to offer foods that were easy to hold but difficult to bite chunks off of, since he didn't yet know how to chew and swallow. We tried a few things, but the best were fruit and vegetables with some juice that could be sucked out of them: raw cucumber, celery, watermelon, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime and steamed asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower to name a few. We also gave our son bones with most of the meat and cartilage removed to suck on.
He then discovered how to bite big chunks off from these foods, which was terrifying because we were offering hard foods and stringy foods that were most definitely choking hazards for starting out! So I then offered roasted vegetables in stick form, that were soft enough to mash between two fingers. These were easy to hold and a great way to learn how to chew. At first he would take bites and spit back out pretty much anything that went into his mouth, but I was less worried watching him because the food was so soft.
One day, at 6 months and one week old and after 2 to 3 weeks of playing and gradually improving his grasp, it just clicked. He ate ten sweet potato "fries" in a row and I went off to roast every fruit and vegetable in sight! We also steamed cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus, and he was able to eat the tops but the bases are very stringy and difficult to mash without teeth and molars (I subsequently learned in my infant CPR class that these are actually choking hazards because of the stringiness, so to offer them with caution). I also offered other soft foods: blueberry halves, and one and a half inch long pieces of shredded chicken but he had trouble picking them up and also moving them around his mouth to swallow. We tried scrambled eggs on his tray and he had no problem eating them, though he ended up with hives and is actually allergic to eggs.
That's when I started experimenting more. Once it was clear he could take bites, chew and swallow, I started looking into recipes for muffins, pancakes and meatballs. I came up with my own allergen-free recipe for sweet potato banana oatmeal muffins which he loves.
I then started offering more of the foods we were eating at the table: chili, pasta sauce, sweet potato curry, lentil dahl and as a result he learned how to scoop up food using his hands in a very very messy way that he clearly finds very satisfying.
I kept offering different shapes of foods to see what he was most able to grasp and move around his mouth successfully, including small pieces that he couldn't really pick up. At 6 months, 3 weeks, he mastered the pincer grip which I expected to happen much later, like 8 months. Blueberry halves? No problem!
The transition was gradual, but as he started to be able to eat anything around 6 months 3 weeks, I now offer most of our own healthy meals. As a result he started to demand eating more often then just when it was convenient. At 6 months 4 weeks, a week shy of 7 months, he decided food must be offered minimum three times a day and must be delicious and full of sauce. The more spices (cinnamon, ginger, curry, cumin, cilantro to name a few) and flavour the better! I don't exaggerate when I say that I currently need to feed him three times a day or he gets angry. He wants food all of the time! It's been a slow progression with days where he clearly made huge leaps in his abilities, but where we're at now is nowhere short of amazing.
I'm certain there will be a time where the newness of it wears off and I'll have to coerce him to eat more, but in the meantime, I'm offering him food every opportunity I get!
What about allergies?The current recommendations are to introduce all foods at 6 months except honey, for which you need to wait until one year to prevent infant botulism. If you're concerned about allergies, you can introduce foods, especially the ones known to be high allergens, one at a time. See Eat Right Ontario for their recommendations.
I didn't follow a three or four day rule, but I have been careful when introducing eggs, dairy and nuts. Eggs I introduced on a weekend when my significant other was home, which turned out to be a good thing because my son is allergic (turns out his grandfather was allergic as a child as well). Dairy I have waited because he has issues when I eat yogurt and drink milk, but not with cheese, so I've given him tiny bits of cheese but will introduce the rest progressively, with cooked dairy first. Nuts, I'm being careful with because my cousin is anaphylactic to peanuts. I plan to introduce them the next weekend we're all home.