Starting solids with your baby? It’s such a fun (and messy) milestone!
While there seems to be a lot of focus on fresh fruit and vegetable purées, you might wonder when it’s OK to introduce other foods, like cheeses. Not only that, but you’re also probably curious as to which cheeses are safe and healthy to give to your little one.
Here’s what you need to know about offering your baby cheese in all its melty, gooey glory, including which cheeses are best and some notes on identifying potential lactose intolerance or milk allergy.
Check with your doctor before offering cheese to your baby. Some sources say it’s safe to offer cheese as early as 6 months while others say it’s better to wait until sometime between 8 and 10 months.
Your doctor may have specific guidelines for you to follow with your baby given their unique development. Regardless, it’s important to wait 3 to 5 days between offering any new foods to your little one. This way, you can watch for signs of intolerance or allergic reaction, like diarrhea, vomiting, or a rash.
The key here is to offer your baby full fat cheeses that are also pasteurized for safety. Start with more mild varieties before moving onto stronger cheeses. You also want to seek out whole cheeses versus “cheese food products,” like Velveeta and others that contain added ingredients.
- cheddar (mild)
- Monterey jack
- cottage cheese
- cream cheese
Again, full fat cheeses and other dairy products are best. Babies under age 2 need the fat to help their bodies and brains grow.
Avoid soft aged or mold-ripened cheeses, like brie, Camembert, and bacteria-ripened goat cheese varieties. The same goes with blue-veined cheeses, like Roquefort. These types may contain Listeria, a harmful bacteria that can make your baby sick with food poisoning.
Always check the cheese’s label to ensure it’s made with pasteurized milk. If you’re buying cheese at a farm stand or smaller shop, simply ask if the product is pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that heats food to a certain temperature to kill off bacteria.
Fortunately, most cheeses — including many soft cheeses — that are sold in grocery stores across the United States are made with pasteurized milk. Those are fine to offer. Otherwise, avoid giving unpasteurized products to babies (and children and teens as well).
While it may be tempting to offer your baby an individually wrapped string cheese, a chunk of cheese this big and round is actually a choking hazard. Cheese cubes present a similar challenge and should also go on the things-to-avoid list.
Certain melted cheeses — like melted mozzarella — are stringy and can become a choking hazard if not cut into small pieces.
Safe ways to offer cheese to your baby include:
- shredding (or buying pre-shredded) for finger food practice
- cutting thin strips for easy chewing
- melting atop vegetables or other foods
- melting into scrambled egg yolks, pancakes, or in a grilled cheese sandwich
- sprinkling or grating over pasta dishes
- spreading cream cheese thinly atop toast
Cottage cheese is another good option. It’s soft (but safe) and comes in both large and small curd varieties. If your baby is only eating smooth purées, you may want to pulse it a few times in your blender to break up the curds even more.
You can also mix cottage cheese in with puréed fruits and vegetables if your baby prefers it that way.
Related: Is it safe for babies to eat eggs?
Start by offering your baby just 1 to 2 ounces of cheese (and other protein-rich foods) a day if your baby is between 6 and 8 months old. Babies between 8 and 10 months old may get double this amount — 2 to 4 ounces each day.
Even this small amount provides notable benefits. Full fat cottage cheese, for example, is a good source of calcium, protein, and other important nutrients. Just a half cup gives your baby an impressive
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While starting solids is a fun time, baby should still be breast or bottle feeding for the bulk of their nutritional needs.
Whether you have a family history or not, you’ll want to be on the lookout for dairy intolerance (lactose or milk protein) or allergy when you first offer cheese to your baby. In fact, cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies in babies and young children.
Symptoms of intolerance include things like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Your child may also have stomach cramping, bloating, or gas. Of course, they can’t tell you these things — so you may just notice your child is particularly fussy and uncomfortable.
Allergic reaction signs can range from mild to severe. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency. Symptoms include hives, wheezing, or vomiting. You may also notice that your child is coughing or that their lips, tongue, and/or throat is swelling.
If you observe any of these symptoms, take your child to the emergency room as soon as possible. Anaphylaxis can be treated with a shot of the drug epinephrine.
Cheese is a nutritious food to offer your baby. Start small — but have fun finding new ways to incorporate it into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time.
Check labels and offer varieties that are pasteurized for safety. And remember to cut cheeses into small strips or melt it to address the potential choking hazard.
Last but not least, check in with your pediatrician if you’re unsure when you can give your baby cheese or if you have any concerns about dairy intolerance or allergy.