Cheese! It’s one of those ubiquitous foods that most of us eat. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a lot of our favorite foods! But did you know that most cheeses aren’t actually great for babies? Cheese for babies can be a bit hard because it is often high in sodium. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t ever serve it as part of a balanced diet! Keep reading for some baby-friendly cheese options.
Why Shouldn’t Babies Have Cheese
While cheese is not an across the board “no” for babies, you do want to limit how much is in your baby's diet of the particularly salty types.
These include everything from your standard cheddar, to string cheese (mozzarella cheese for those of you not in the U.S.!) and most other hard cheeses.
Most cheese that is specifically marketed towards young children has a high salt content! Cottage cheese is a popular one, and it can frequently have over 350mg of sodium per 1/2 cup.
String cheese, which is actually a choking hazard for kids even though its marketed towards them, usually has around 200mg of sodium per stick.
Cheddar cheese has 200mg per ounce (which is roughly the same amount of cheese as an individually wrapped string cheese, to give you a mental picture of the small amounts we're talking about here.)
Why Does Cheese Have So Much Salt In It?
Salt functions as a natural preservative. It is used in cheese to help with controlling moisture and bacteria, on top of being used to improve taste for many varieties.
Not all salt in cheese is there for a functional purpose though, as you can see if you head to any grocery store. You’ll notice that two different kinds of the same variety of cheese can have vastly different amounts of sodium.
Each cheesemaker is going to have their own preference and recipes for their cheeses, so it’s important to always check labels. Even if it is a kind of cheese that is usually low in sodium.
How Much Salt Should Babies Have?
It’s shocking how little salt babies should actually have on a daily basis. (Check out this post to learn why.)
To keep it short, when your baby is between 6 months of age and 1 year, and just starting solid foods, we want to aim to keep sodium amounts from food to under 400mg.
To put that into perspective, many slices of bread, as well as cheese, have 200mg just by themselves.
Once your child is 1, we want to continue monitoring salt, but the daily recommended amount increases to 800mg.
What Is the Best Cheese for Babies?
I scrounged several grocery stores looking for low sodium cheese for babies. It is a lot harder than it looks to find options at your average grocery store, unfortunately.
But I did find several good varieties that more often than not have very low sodium.
Keep in mind, you’ll need to check labels at your own store, as each brand can have vastly different sodium amounts in their cheeses.
Under 2, be sure to opt for full-fat cheese, as well, as fat is good for brain development.
After 2 continuing to opt for whole fat varieties of cheese is great, but it's fine to buy whatever type you would for the rest of your family.
I also recommend avoiding unpasteurized cheeses for kids under 2 as they carry a higher risk of food borne illnesses and food poisoning, specifically listeria monocytogenes.
You might hear that soft cheeses are unpasteurized and are unsafe cheeses that should be avoided. This is not always the case!
The best way to tell is to make sure any cheese you get says it is pasteurized or has pasteurized milk as an ingredient. Most cheeses are clearly labeled with whether they are pasteurized or not, at least here in the United States.
So without further ado, here is a list of cheeses to search out when feeding your baby or toddler.
I can’t stress enough the importance of checking each label, though, as every single brand is going to have a different amount of sodium, even if it's the same type of cheese!
Cheese for Babies
Starting with the best cheeses you’re most likely to find in any store.
Easily spreadable on toast, this is an easy early option as a baby cheese and a good choice that often has less than 50mg of sodium per serving (and the serving size is actually double most other cheeses!)
This is the kind that is found in brine, not the shredded or regular string cheese kind. Fresh mozzarella often has a more mild flavor, and is great for finger foods and as a finger size strip for baby, or even melted on top of pizzas.
A great option if you are looking for sliceable, or pre-sliced, milder cheese. Your average slice of cheddar cheese usually has close to 200mg of sodium in it, many slices of Swiss are closer to just 35 mg!
Another spreadable option, it can also be great in pastas. It usually averages around 80mg of sodium per ounce in all the brands I looked at for this style of the cheese. That is slightly more than some of the previous ones I’ve mentioned, but still low enough in sodium to be a good option!
Other Spreadable Cheeses
There are many of these types of cheese! Think Mascarpone, Quark, Creme Fraiche, or Farmer's Cheese. Most of these spreadable cheeses have no salt added at all, so are a great option. Depending on your region of the country (and world), you are likely to see different ones. I've listed a few here, but be sure to check out any you can find that are spreadable or come in tubs. They all tend to have a pretty mild taste and be very versatile for your baby. Cream cheese is usually not included in this, as it tends to have more sodium in it and not much protein or calcium. But it never hurts to look!
Every store and city is going to have different cheeses stocked, so keep in mind that this is just a place to start when looking for cheeses!
Take it a step further! Let's change how we think about feeding our kids. Feeding is not just about nutrients and food! Prioritizing a few other things can make all the difference in the world. Here's how to implement the WEE method of feeding for this article:
Focus on Words
Practice using descriptive words instead of asking if it's yummy or if your baby likes it. Try words like salty, creamy, stringy, and any other words that come to mind!
Prioritize the Experience
Yes, we want to be mindful of salt. But at the end of the day, HOW you feed it is more important. Prioritize sitting with your baby and eating with them. Talk with them and set up the table as an enjoyable place to be.
Have Realistic Expectations
Cheese can be delicious! Many kids want to eat lots and lots of it. It doesn't mean they will never eat anything else, or that they shouldn't ever eat it. Be okay with them eating whatever amount they want of what you serve!
Other Cheeses Are Still Fine Too!
This is not to say don’t give your kids all kinds of cheeses! Cheese is a delicious way to get in some protein-rich foods.
My daughter loves cheddar (especially sharp cheddar!) and feta cheeses, and those are definitely on the higher end of sodium amounts. We still serve them, we just don’t serve them as often as we might if their sodium amount was lower.
So do your best to mind the sodium amounts, but it’s okay if they have the occasional food that is saltier than recommended. We just don’t want it to be a daily occurrence!
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