Baby-led Weaning and Cheese

a thin piece of cheese held between the fingers of a woman's hand

How to cut cheese safely for babies to self-feed

With all of the anxiety swirling around, I figured we could all use a little more of the talented Miss Ripley in our lives. 

When Ripley’s mom and I first spoke, she expressed that she was nervous when it came to food consistencies like cheese. And rightly so: cheese is a common choking hazard for children and adults alike. 

So let’s talk cheese for a sec. When it comes to cheese and babies, there are two important things to keep in mind: 1) sodium and 2) how you…ahem…cut the cheese. 

If your baby is younger than 12 mos, it’s best to only serve cheese naturally low in sodium, such as fresh mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese, mascarpone, or Swiss. Once your baby turns one, you can explore a wider variety of pasteurized cheese, though it would be wise to still keep tabs on overall sodium intake.

The second thing when it comes to cheese goes back to Ripley’s mom’s concern: how to cut it safely for a baby to self-feed. Little cubes of cheese are not safe for babies, nor are matchstick (french fry size) pieces in my opinion. 

Instead, cut the slices into wide, “ruler thin” slices. (About the size and thinness of a ruler.) This wide, rectangular shape enables young babies to easily grab it from you in the air but the thin shape reduces the choking risk. It’s a fabulous cut for high-risk foods and works well for hard fruits like cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

Ripley, 9 months, eats Swiss cheese for the first time.

Feeding our babies has devolved into a pretty charged and anxiety-ridden part of mothering. Choking is the number one cause of death in children. And food allergies have increased dramatically. But remember this: it is that same fear that got us into the land of prolonged spoon-feeding of purées to begin with. The marketing campaigns of major baby food companies in the 1940’s, 50’s and beyond counted on this fear. That breast milk wasn’t enough. (Formula was better). That home cooking wasn’t safe (jarred baby food was safer). And that YOU would be a better mom if you got out of the kitchen and relied on convenience foods to feed your family.

Every time a first-time mom like Ripley’s comes to me, I am so happy. Not because I am excited to film a new baby (though I always am), but because new moms aren’t the ones most likely to take on baby-led weaning. It’s the 2nd and 3rd time moms. So, HUGE props to moms like Ripley’s and to all of you first-time mamas following here. Your involvement will start to reverse the fear-based culture of feeding babies. And perhaps—just perhaps—build a trust in our society that mama knows best.

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