Parmesan Cheese for Babies: Is It Safe?

Parmesan cheese is a popular Italian-style hard cheese made from cow’s milk and typically used as a topping or seasoning. It’s rich in nutrients and packs a flavorful punch.

It may be tempting to give babies parmesan cheese, especially if the rest of the family is enjoying it, but is it OKAY to give it to babies — a sprinkle here and there?

Is Parmesan Cheese Safe for Babies?

In general, babies are okay to eat parmesan, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Parmesan cheese is quite high in sodium (salty!) and fat, so you should only give your baby a small amount — ideally, a teaspoon or less. Sprinkle it onto cooked pureed vegetables or mashed food rather than eating it as is. Important note:

  • Two teaspoons (10g total) of grated parmesan via USDA nutrition = 180 mg of sodium
  • Recommended sodium daily intake for babies 7 to 12 months = up to 370 mg of sodium

Salt content differs greatly in different brands, so it’s best to check the label before you buy. See the table below:

Sodium Content (2 tablespoons or 10g)
Kraft Grated Parmesan160 mg
Organic Valley Grated Organic Parmesan Cheese125 mg
365 Whole Food Market Parmesan Grated110 mg
BelGioioso Shredded Parmesan Cheese 90 mg
Kirkland Signature 24 month Shredded Parmigiano Reggiano60 mg

It’s best to give parmesan cheese after the first birthday, as their kidneys and immature digestive system are not yet able to handle the high levels of sodium. Also, parmesan cheese can be a choking hazard for babies so it should always be served in very small pieces and under adult supervision.

However, there is no definite recommended age. Most pediatricians agreed that it is generally safe to introduce hard cheeses like parmesan to babies who are at least 6 to 8 months old. For the majority of families in Italy, a diet that involves parmesan cheese can start at around 5 months of age (1).

It’s also important to check the label of the parmesan cheese you’re buying for babies. Some brands can contain preservatives and additives that may not be suitable for young children. Learn how to choose the all-natural quality parmesan cheese (and grate it yourself) in our previously discussed article here.

The Benefits and Solutions

Parmesan is a healthy cheese for adults, it also contains many benefits for your budding gourmand. It is a good source of protein, calcium and other essential minerals like zinc and phosphorus that help in building strong bones and teeth for early-stage development.

However, if you want to give your baby a dairy product but not parmesan (or babies didn’t like it) — choose a milder cheese like cottage or cream cheese. These cheeses have softer textures and contain less salt than parmesan. You can also try giving your baby yogurt for babies like this one. Interestingly, a study carried out in Japan (2) found that one-year-old babies who consumed yogurt (but not cheese) had a lower risk of gastroenteritis.

What about Aged Parmesan like Parmigiano Reggiano — Better?

The best-known aged parmesan is Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy. If you’re new to this, read our previous discussion on Parmesan vs Parmigiano Reggiano here. It is an Italian parmesan made only using unpasteurized raw cow’s milk, while domestic parmesan in the US supermarket is made with pasteurized milk.

As we have mentioned in the safety of unpasteurized milk cheese for pregnant women post, the experts from Standford Medicine recommended that babies and young children should not be served with raw unpasteurized milk cheese, e.g. Parmigiano Reggiano, due to the high risk of food-borne illness.

The long curing duration (12-36 months) was not able to fully inactivate the harmful bacteria — as reported in an FDA summary — with a minor risk (less than 1% risk) present overall.

In a nutshell, it is fine to use aged parmesan (but with pasteurized milk) for babies. Stick to the low-sodium brands, all-natural, and pasteurized versions of parmesan cheese. Double-check the ingredient label to make sure the milk used is pasteurized.

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