When Can My Toddler Have Cheese?

Child eating a cheese sandwich
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Cheese is not just thickened, condensed milk but rather it is a fermented milk product. Even those who are lactose intolerant can often eat some cheeses, because typically, the longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose it will have. Children as young as 6 to 8 months who are starting solids can begin eating cheese if it is made with pasteurized milk and is not a choking hazard.

All Cheese Is Not Equal

Try to buy cheese that contains as few ingredients as possible. Just milk, salt, and enzymes are best — but if there is a small amount of annatto for color, this is better than a lot of artificial ingredients. You also want to make sure the cheese you choose is made from pasteurized milk products to avoid possibly harmful bacteria that can cause illness (like listeria).

Harder cheeses (like Swiss or Parmesan) are less likely to carry a risk of listeria contamination.

In addition, your child needs all the fat dairy can offer right now, so go for full-fat cheeses. Luckily, these aren't too hard to find.

Make sure you grate or crumble the cheese into pieces that will not cause choking rather than cutting it into large square chunks. Melting cheese onto toast or a tortilla and then cutting it up is also a toddler favorite. Avoid cheese sticks, because babies can gum off chunks that become choking hazards.

Allergic Reactions

Always get the go-ahead from your pediatrician to start solids. If your child has been drinking a cow's milk based formula without any issues, then you know they don't have a reaction to milk and its components. If not, watch your child for signs of reaction after giving them dairy containing foods for the first time.

Parents of children who have been exclusively breastfed or have been using a formula made with something other than cow's milk should watch for the signs of an allergic reaction, too. Those signs can include: hives, difficulty breathing or asthma symptoms, swelling of the mouth or throat, vomiting or diarrhea and loss of consciousness. Know how to respond if your child exhibits any of these symptoms and be ready to call 9-1-1 immediately.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.