When can babies eat colby cheese?
Due to its moderate levels of sodium, it’s best to wait until at least 9 months to introduce colby cheese and even then, to serve in moderation. The best cheeses for babies younger than 12 months old are those that are naturally low in sodium, including emmentaler, fresh goat cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, low-sodium paneer, fresh ricotta cheese, quark, and swiss cheese.
Where does colby cheese come from?
Mild and sweet with a buttery flavor and striking orange color, colby cheese gets its name from the town in Wisconsin where it was first made. Joseph Steinwand, a teenager in the 1880s, experimented in his father’s cheese factory, ultimately creating a cheese similar in some ways to cheddar, but mellower in flavor and softer and springier in texture. That mild sweetness is achieved by washing the curds with fresh, cold water before draining and pressing, often into a cylindrical form called a longhorn. And why is colby cheese often a striking shade of orange? It’s dyed with annatto, a natural pigment extracted from the seeds of the achiote tree and regularly added to foods.
Is colby cheese healthy for babies?
Yes, if pasteurized and in moderation. Colby cheese contains lots of healthy fats that support cell integrity and essential amino acids that our bodies need to build new proteins. It’s also a great source of calcium to build strong bones and a good source of vitamin B12 for nerve and cell development and zinc for growth and immune function. It also has a dash of vitamin A for brain, eye, immune and skin health. That said, like many cheeses, colby cheese often has sodium levels higher than what is healthy for babies.1 When possible, focus on low-sodium cheeses and serve cheeses like colby in moderation.
When shopping for cheese for babies, look for the following:
- Low sodium (less than 100 milligrams per serving)
- Made from whole milk (ideally)
For more information on how much cheese babies can eat and other frequently asked questions, see our cheese page.
When can babies and toddlers have colby cheese sticks?
When a child has demonstrated the consistent ability to bite and tear with their teeth and then engage in chewing (no swallowing bites whole), they are likely safe to eat colby cheese sticks that have been cut in half lengthwise, while seated with supervision. For many toddlers, this happens after the first birthday, but every child is different. Colby cheese sticks and other squared-off cheese sticks, when cut in half lengthwise, are a manageable shape for many children by around 18 months of age. That said, any type of cheese stick is still considered a higher choking risk. Never let a toddler eat cheese sticks while walking around, as this heightens the risk of choking.
Is colby cheese a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children.2 To reduce the risk, slice thinly and avoid serving cheese in cubes. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
Is colby cheese a common allergen?
Yes. Colby cheese is commonly made from cow’s milk, which is a common food allergen in young children, accounting for about one-fifth of all childhood food allergies in the United States.3 If baby is allergic to dairy, know that it is an allergy that often disappears with time. Research shows that most children with cow’s milk allergy will outgrow it by age 6 and many babies with milder symptoms of milk protein allergy (which can show up as painless blood in stool) are able to successfully reintroduce cow’s milk as early as their first birthday, with the guidance of their doctors.4
Colby cheese commonly contains annatto, a seed also known as achiote, that is used to add flavor and bright orange color to foods. While annatto is not a common allergen, reports of allergic reactions have been documented and have been reported to be severe.5 6
Milk and other dairy products are a common cause of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, also known as FPIES. FPIES is a delayed allergy to food protein which causes the sudden onset of repetitive vomiting and diarrhea to begin a few hours after ingestion of the food trigger. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration. Thankfully, like other forms of milk allergy, FPIES that presents early in life is generally outgrown by the time the child has reached 3-5 years of age.7
For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (keep in mind this is uncommon for infants), good news: colby cheese may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance as it has lower lactose content than milk and some other dairy products.8 When a child is lactose-intolerant, it’s important to find calcium-rich foods to consume regularly to ensure a balanced diet and support bone health, such as naturally low-lactose cheeses and dairy products labeled “lactose-free.”
If you suspect baby may be allergic to dairy products, consult an allergist before introducing milk and cheeses like colby. Based on baby’s risk factors and history, an allergist may recommend allergy testing, or may instead advise dairy product introduction under medical supervision in the office. If the risk is low, you may be advised to go ahead and introduce milk and milk products in the home setting. As with all common allergens, start by serving a small quantity of cheese on its own for the first few servings, and if there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.
How do you prepare colby cheese for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. In determining the recommendations for size and shape of foods, we use the best available scientific information regarding gross, fine, and oral motor development to minimize choking risk. The preparation suggestions we offer are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for child-specific, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional or provider. It is impossible to fully eliminate all risk of a baby or child choking on any liquid, puree, or food. We advise you to follow all safety protocols we suggest to create a safe eating environment and to make educated choices for your child regarding their specific needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 9 months old: Hold off on serving colby regularly and opt for cheeses lower in sodium such as fresh goat cheese, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, low-sodium paneer, labneh, or swiss cheese. If you happen to have a meal with colby cheese already prepared for yourself and you’d like to share a little with baby, go ahead. A small taste of a meal shared together is a healthy addition to baby’s eating journey.
9 to 12 months old: Opt for lower-sodium cheeses and only serve colby cheese on occasion in small amounts. When serving colby cheese, cut into 1 or 2 thin slices (not cubes) or serve in shredded/grated form to reduce the risk of choking. As always, make sure the child is in a safe eating environment and never serve cheese on-the-go in a stroller, in a car seat, or when a child is running around.
12 to 24 months old and up: Continue to cut colby cheese into thin slices or offer small crumbles, shredded, or grated forms, serving on occasion. Toddlers at this age may also enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich with colby cheese, a shape that’s easy to hold and ideal for practicing dipping in a soup or other sauce.
Learn more about how much sodium babies should have on our Sodium FAQ page.
What are recipe ideas for cooking with colby cheese?
Colby is a popular American cheese used in countless comfort foods and traditional dishes. It’s an ideal cheese for melting in grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, or on nachos, but its mellow taste also makes it a great snacking cheese to serve on its own. Try incorporating shredded colby cheese into baked scrambled egg cups, quesadillas, or sprinkled on top of bean and meat chilis. Or keep it simple and serve a ruler-thin slice or two alongside sweet, tart fruits like apples and pears, which complement the creamy mild taste of the cheese.
Recipe: Baked Potato with Colby Cheese
Yield: 6 potato halves
Cook Time: 1 ½ hours
Recommended Age: 12 months+
- 3 medium russet potatoes
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) avocado oil, sunflower oil, or neutral cooking oil
- 1/3 cup (80 grams) fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) whole milk
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (6 grams) finely chopped chives or scallions
- 2 ounces (56 grams) shredded colby cheese (about ½ cup)
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) white pepper (optional)
- ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground paprika (optional)
This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (colby cheese, ricotta cheese, milk, butter). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius).
- Wash and dry the potatoes. Use a fork to pierce them a few times, then rub them with oil. Evenly space the potatoes on a sheet tray.
- Roast until the skins are crispy and the potato is easily pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove the tray from the oven.
- Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop the cooked potato into a mixing bowl, taking care to leave a thin layer of it in the skin to help keep the skin intact. Place the skins on the tray.
- Add the ricotta cheese, milk, butter, and chives to the bowl with the potato flesh, then mash and mix the ingredients to form a paste.
- Scoop some of the mixture into 1 of the potato skins – this will be the unseasoned potato half for the child, so make note of which one it is on the tray. Sprinkle a pinch of colby cheese on top.
- Season the remaining potato-cheese mixture in the bowl with the salt and pepper, then scoop it into the remaining potato skins and top with the remaining colby cheese. If you like, sprinkle a bit of paprika on top of the potato halves for the adults to help provide a visual cue for the child’s potato half with no added salt.
- Return the tray to the oven and roast for approximately 15 minutes, until the tops of the potato are starting to turn golden.
- Remove the tray from the oven. Cut the child’s potato into halves or quarters to create shapes that are easier to pick up. Keep potato halves for adults warm while the child’s cools to room temperature.
- The potato skin itself offers a challenging texture for toddlers to take bites from and chew. Depending on the child’s eating skills, you can offer a utensil and show the toddler how to use it to scoop the filling mixture from their potato “boat” or you can cut the potato half into bite-sized pieces to serve as finger food.
To Store: Baked Potato with Colby Cheese keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 4 days.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS. Nutritionist.
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist.
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC. Pediatric Feeding Therapist.
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist.
Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
[March 9, 2022]
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. DOI: 10.17226/25353. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
- HealthyChildren.org. (2019). Health Issues: Choking Prevention. Retrieved May 31, 2020.
- Warren, C.M., Jhaveri, S., Warrier, M.R., Smith, B., Gupta, R.S. (2013). The epidemiology of milk allergy in US children. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunology, 110(5):370-374. DOI:10.1016/j.anai.2013.02.016. Retrieved September 22, 2020.
- GI Kids. Cow’s milk protein allergy. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
- Feketea, G., & Tsabouri, S. (2017). Common food colorants and allergic reactions in children: Myth or reality?. Food chemistry, 230, 578–588. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.03.043. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
- Lucas, C. D., Hallagan, J. B., & Taylor, S. L. (2001). The role of natural color additives in food allergy. Advances in food and nutrition research, 43, 195–216. DOI: 10.1016/s1043-4526(01)43005-1. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
- Nowak-Węgrzyn A. Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome and allergic proctocolitis. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2015 May-Jun;36(3):172-84. doi: 10.2500/aap.2015.36.3811. PMID: 25976434; PMCID: PMC4405595. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
- InformedHealth.org. (2010). Living with lactose intolerance. Retrieved November 17, 2021.