When can babies eat Monterey Jack cheese?
Due to its moderate levels of sodium, it’s best to wait until at least 9 months to introduce Monterey Jack 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, soft goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, low-sodium paneer, ricotta cheese, quark, and Swiss cheese.
Where does Monterey Jack cheese come from?
Monterey Jack is a mild cheese made of cow’s milk that originated in North America in the 19th century. How it came to be is a bitter tale: at the time, the cheese was originally known as queso del país (farmer’s cheese) by Spanish monks and colonizers in the area now called California. A Scottish immigrant named David Jacks purchased a wide swath of forests, hills, and plains (some say through devious means) in the region that would become Monterey County.1 After driving out the local farmers and vintners and taking control of their operations, he proceeded to market queso del país as Jack’s cheese. Monterey Jack cheese is still made with cow’s milk from California, although it is one of the top cheeses produced in the state known as America’s dairyland: Wisconsin.
★ Tip: Treat other “Jack” cheeses like Monterey Jack when cooking. Monterey Jack is often blended with other cheeses, leading to hybrid products including Colby Jack (Colby and Monterey Jack), Cheddar Jack (cheddar and Monterey Jack), and Pepper Jack (Monterey Jack with sweet and hot peppers added).
Is Monterey Jack cheese healthy for babies?
Yes, if pasteurized and in moderation. Monterey Jack cheese contains lots of healthy fats that support cell integrity and essential amino acids that our bodies need to build new proteins. It’s 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, Monterey Jack cheese can contain sodium levels higher than what is healthy for babies.2 When possible, focus on low-sodium cheeses and serve cheeses like Monterey Jack 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)
Is Monterey Jack cheese a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children.3 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 Monterey Jack cheese a common allergen?
Yes. Monterey Jack 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.4 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.5
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. Symptoms generally improve with elimination of milk from the baby’s diet. 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.6
For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (keep in mind this is uncommon for infants), good news: Monterey Jack cheese may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance as it has lower lactose content than milk and some other dairy products.7 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 Monterey Jack. 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 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 Monterey Jack cheese for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. 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 Monterey Jack cheese regularly and opt for cheeses lower in sodium such as soft goat cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta cheese, paneer, or Swiss cheese. If you happen to have a meal with Monterey Jack cheese already prepared for yourself and you’d like to share a little with baby, by all means do so! 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 Monterey Jack cheese on occasion in small amounts. When serving Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1 or 2 thin slices (not cubes) or serve in grated/shredded 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+: Continue to cut Monterey Jack cheese into thin slices or offer grated/shredded forms, serving on occasion. Toddlers at this age may also enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich with Monterey Jack 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 can have on our Sodium FAQ page.
What are recipe ideas for cooking with Monterey Jack cheese?
Monterey Jack is a popular American cheese used in myriad dishes that bridge the diverse cultures that make up the United States: cheeseburgers, cornbread, grits, hot dish, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, quesadillas, spoon bread, and the list goes on. Part of its appeal is that it melts beautifully. Try incorporating shredded Monterey Jack 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: Twice-Baked Potato with Monterey Jack Cheese and Bacon
Yield: 8 potato halves
Cook Time: 1 ½ hours
Recommended Age: 12 months+
- 4 medium starchy potatoes
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) avocado oil or neutral cooking oil
- 3 strips bacon
- 4 tablespoons (60 grams) unsalted butter
- ½ cup (120 milliliters) whole milk
- 2 tablespoons (6 grams) minced chives (optional)
- 1 teaspoon (2 grams) each ground black pepper and garlic powder (optional)
- 3 ounces (56 grams) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- salt to taste for adults and older children
This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (butter, milk, and Monterey Jack cheese). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Line one sheet tray with parchment paper. Place a wire rack on the second sheet tray.
- Wash and dry the potatoes. Poke a few holes in the potatoes to let steam escape, then rub the potatoes with oil. Place the potatoes on the tray lined with parchment.
- Lay the bacon strips on the sheet tray with the wire rack. Put both trays in the oven. After 10 minutes, check the bacon and remove the tray from the oven once the meat crisps, which can take up to 20 minutes. You do not want to burn the bacon.
- Continue to bake the potatoes until a knife easily inserts into the center, about 1 hour. Remove the tray from the heat but keep the oven on.
- Once the bacon and potatoes are cool to the touch, crumble the bacon and cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop the cooked potato into a mixing bowl, leaving a thin layer of it in the skin. This helps make sure the skins do not fall apart.
- Add the butter and milk to the mixing bowl, along with the minced chives and spices if you like. Mash and mix the ingredients until mostly smooth. A little texture is okay.
- Evenly distribute the mashed potato mixture into the potato skins, then sprinkle crumbled bacon and Monterey Jack cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.
- Set aside 1 or 2 potato halves for the toddler. Exact serving size is variable. Let a child’s appetite determine how much is eaten. If you like, cut the potato halves for toddler into two or three pieces, which may be easier for the child to scoop up.
- Season potato halves for adults and older children with salt to taste. See our Sodium and Babies FAQ for information on when to start adding salt to baby’s foods. Keep the potato halves for adults and older children warm while the toddler’s potato halves cool 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: Twice Baked Potato with Monterey Jack Cheese and Bacon keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 4 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
- Jack, K. (2001). Land King: The Story of David Jack. Monterey County Historical Society. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
- 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
- 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.