When my kids were still babies, I always looked forward to introducing new foods. It was exciting to watch them try new flavors, and work their finger and mouth muscles. Cheese is a fabulous first-finger food, whether you do baby-led weaning or not. Cheese was a favorite in my house; my babies loved the taste, and it is full of good-for-you nutrients. Below, you’ll find some of the best cheeses for baby, and a few snacks that contain real cheese, too.
A Word About Cheese and Food Safety
When considering what type of cheese to offer, there are a few things to keep in mind. The milk for most cheese produced in the United States undergoes a pasteurization process to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Common bacterial culprits include Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli (source). If ingested, especially by a young infant, serious infections may develop such as sepsis and meningitis. It is, therefore, important to check labels to ensure that the cheese you are giving your baby has been pasteurized. This typically is not an issue for hard cheeses such as Swiss, American, and cheddar. Many soft cheeses, especially those made in other countries, may not be (source). The higher water content of soft cheeses also increases the likelihood of bacterial growth if it is not packaged properly. Cheese stored in bins or open deli counters may be subject to bacterial contamination. To be safe, it is best to buy cheese that comes in sealed packaging with a label that clearly indicates that it is pasteurized.
Some infants have an allergy to cow’s milk. These infants are fed a hypoallergenic infant formula, or breastmilk if mom withholds cow’s milk products from her diet. Most infants outgrow this intolerance by their first birthday, and do well transitioning to whole milk. Until then, because avoidance of cow’s milk protein is recommended, cheese should not be introduced. In addition, infants with a cow’s milk protein allergy often have co-existing allergies to goat and sheep milk (source). Cheese made from these types of milk should, therefore, be avoided as well.
Best Cheeses for Babies
Swiss Cheese is a good choice for little one’s as it is lower in sodium than many cheeses, whereas Fresh Mozzarella Cheese is higher in sodium than swiss cheese but still safe enough for your baby. Recently, the FDA proposed new guidelines for reducing sodium in American diets for heart and kidney health (source). .
Ricotta cheese is a good choice because of its lower sodium content (with an average of 50mg or less per serving). In addition, it is usually made with whole milk, giving it a higher fat content which is good for infant brain development (source). It’s easy to find such varieties at your grocery store, but make sure they are pasteurized.
Ricotta cheese is a little more bland than some other cheeses, so you may want to add some flavor. It is great for spreading on small pieces of toast or teething biscuits, and can also be combined with mashed fruits, vegetables, or pasta.
The smooth texture of goat cheese also makes it great for spreading. It has a higher sodium content than some other cheeses at around 80mg of sodium per ounce. However, it’s still low enough to be a good choice for your baby.
Goat cheese spreads well. You can put it on toast or a soft tortilla to make a “pizza” for your baby. The smooth texture is also perfect for stirring into pasta or any type of veggie that your baby enjoys.
Other Spreadable Cheeses
Spreadable cheeses are easy to mix into many foods, and spread on almost anything your baby enjoys. Many are low in sodium because they do not have salt added, and provide the same nutrients as solid cheese. Some good examples include mascarpone, creme fraiche, farmer’s cheese, and quark. Note: international or “local” farm versions may not be pasteurized, so check the label.
However, purchase most popular cream cheese brands with caution. Not only is cream cheese higher in sodium, but it usually does not have the same calcium or protein benefits of other spreadable cheeses. As with any food product, it is best to read the label, and check the nutrient levels.
For parents who prefer a cheese that can be easily sliced or used as a “teether,” swiss is a good option. On average, cheddar cheese has around 200mg of sodium per slice, whereas swiss only has 35mg of sodium (source).
Swiss is a more flavorful cheese than some other options. However, it can also be an acquired taste. If you want a milder flavor, try melting it with some mozzarella on toast or a pizza. Baby swiss is another good option for a milder-tasting cheese that is still low in sodium.
Fresh mozzarella is usually sold in balls or logs. It has a mild flavor, and can be melted on top of anything, including pizz). Its texture is also perfect for cutting into baby finger-sized strips, encouraging your little one to practice finger feeding.
Fresh mozzarella is the type sold in brine. Sealed package versions are less likely to harbor bacteria, and usually include a label regarding pasteurization String cheese or shredded mozzarella can be significantly higher in sodium. This also means that fresh mozzarella has a much milder flavor than other versions of mozzarella. If your baby dislikes eating it plain, you can try sprinkling some seasoning on it.
There are plenty of other cheeses that are rich in the same nutrients as those mentioned here. Some may have higher sodium levels which means you should offer them in moderation. On average, experts recommend that babies under a year have less than 1 gram of salt each day, which is 0.4 grams (or 400mg) of sodium.
Best Baby Cheese Snacks
Along with the above mentioned cheeses, your baby may enjoy several snacks that are made with real cheese. These may help your baby adjust to the flavor of cheese. However, be wary of the sodium content. Check the ingredients list for this and the amount nutrients which could be lost during processing. It is important to remember that snacks should supplement a balanced diet. Your little one should receive most of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula and minimally processed foods during the first year of life.
Gerber Lil’ Crunchies Mild Cheddar
The Gerber Lil’ Crunchies Mild Cheddar is a great finger food to introduce the taste of cheese. This snack is made with corn and cheddar cheese, without genetically modified ingredients.
The crisps are perfectly sized for little fingers, and include calcium, iron, and vitamin E. Even though the outside is crunchy, the Gerber Lil’ Crunchies still easily dissolve in your little one’s mouth.
These snacks are free of artificial flavors and colors. They are crispy, so best for infants who are able to chew food.
Find the best baby yogurts to help your little one get even more calcium and protein.
- Provides calcium, iron, and vitamin E
- Made with cheddar cheese
- Crisps are easy and convenient to eat
- No GMOs, artificial dyes, or artificial flavors
- Can be a choking hazard if your little one hasn’t mastered chewing yet (requires parental supervision)
- No Vitamin D
Cheese for Babies Compared
The table below compares only the recommended products on this page. A low or high Price means it is low or high compared to the other products listed. The Popularity Score reflects how often readers click on and buy the product. The Quality Score is our assessment of the overall performance and satisfaction with the product compared to others in the table.
|Other Spreadable Cheeses||$$$||9.9||9.2|
|Gerber Lil' Crunchies Mild Cheddar||$$||9.6|
FAQs – Baby Cheese
When can I introduce cheese to my baby?
As a general guideline, babies can begin eating cheese between 8 and 10 months of age (source).
Even though you should hold off on giving whole milk until your baby is over 12 months, cheese goes through an aging process. Some milk proteins break down during the processing, and become easier to digest. This means that most babies can tolerate cheese prior to 12 months.
If your baby has been diagnosed with a milk protein allergy, you may want to defer cheese until after your little one is a year old. Consult with a pediatrician for advice on when to offer it.
What are the health benefits of cheese for babies?
Cheese is full of beneficial nutrients, including fats, protein, calcium, and Vitamin D. These are all important for healthy teeth, bones, and muscles as well as brain development.
A benefit for vegetarian families is that cheese is a source of vitamin B12, generally acquired from animal food sources. Additionally, cheese is high in calories which is good for high-energy, growing babies.
How should I introduce cheese to a baby?
Prior to 12 months old, your infant may not have mastered the chewing motion needed to break down hard chunks of cheese. Therefore, softer cheeses are the best option. For example, cottage cheese is good choice for babies because of the soft texture.
If your baby does not like the texture of cottage cheese, you can puree it a little to reduce the chunkiness. Another option is to mix it with foods such as mashed banana, avocado, beans, or finely diced fruit. You could also add a pinch of onion powder, garlic powder, or pepper, especially if trying to expand your little one’s palate.
When you are ready to offer your baby cheese, start with mild, shredded types. American and Colby are good first choices before stronger flavors like Romano or Parmesan. Instead of giving the cheese alone, try melting it on small pieces of toast or bread, over veggies, in a cut-up quesadilla, on pasta, or cooked with scrambled eggs.
What should I look for when buying cheese for my baby?
When buying cheese for your baby, full-fat varieties are best. Also choose those that are lower in sodium, Unfortunately, these may be difficult to find. Our advice is to compare labels to determine which varieties have lower levels of sodium. This is because sodium levels can vary by brand, not just by cheese type.
As you shop, select cheeses that are pasteurized. Unpasteurized cheese is made from raw milk, and does not go through a sterilization process. As previously mentioned, such cheese may contain harmful bacteria. Some of the most common unpasteurized cheeses you’ll want to avoid are blue cheese, Brie, Camembert, feta, and Roquefort. In addition, cheese causes intestinal inflammation in infants who are allergic.