Parmesan

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 12 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Dairy
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a wedge of parmesan ready to be prepared for toddlers

When can babies eat parmesan cheese?

Parmesan cheese is best served in small amounts after baby’s first birthday due to its higher sodium levels. However, a sprinkle here and there for younger babies is fine. If you’d like a low-sodium healthy substitute, try adding a pinch of nutritional yeast for a plant-based, cheesy flavor.

In general, the best cheeses for babies younger than 12 months old are pasteurized and low in sodium, including emmentaler cheese, fresh goat cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, paneer, fresh ricotta cheese, and swiss cheese.

Where does parmesan come from?

Parmesan is part of the grana family of cheeses, which are hard, grating cheeses with origins in Italy. While parmesan is made worldwide, it is not the same as Parmigiano Reggiano, which is fiercely protected by an Italian regulation called Protected Designation of Origin. The law requires any cheese stamped with the Parmigiano Reggiano label to have been made from the milk of cows grazing in the fields of the Bologna, Mantua, Modena, or Parma regions, where the cheese is traditionally shaped into large wheels that are brined and aged. During the aging process, both parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano develop a thick rind, which can be used to imbue stocks, soups, and stews with umami flavor.

https://vimeo.com/479747015
Julian, 13 months, eats thin slices of parmesan.
Max, 14 months, tries parmesan.
Asher, 16 months, eats shredded parmesan cheese.

Is parmesan healthy for babies?

No. Parmesan (including the powdered kind often sold in plastic shakers) is high in sodium, which should be limited in infant diets. That said, a small sprinkle of pasteurized parmesan cheese is fine. Parmesan cheese is often made from unpasteurized (raw) milk. In general, unpasteurized cheeses carry a higher risk of foodborne illness, but those aged for more than 60 days – like parmesan – pose a lower risk.1 Read our cheese page for more information and consider the risk in the context of your individual child.

Nutritionally, parmesan cheese contains healthy fats and protein and is also rich in calcium, vitamin B12, plus selenium and zinc.

Is parmesan a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes, it can be if served in chunks or melted globs. Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children.2 To minimize the risk, grate parmesan or slice parmesan blocks thinly and avoid serving in cubes or large crumbles. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within 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 parmesan a common allergen?

Yes. Parmesan cheese is made from cow’s milk, and cow’s milk is a common food allergen in young children, accounting for about one-fifth of all childhood food allergies in the United States.3 Keep in mind that cheeses made from other ruminants such as sheep, goat, and buffalo may provoke similar allergic reactions to cow’s milk dairy products.4 That said, there’s good news: milk allergy often disappears with time. Research shows that the majority of 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 6 Note: Aged cheeses generally contain histamines, which may cause rashes in children who are sensitive to them.7 8

Milk is a known trigger 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. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration. Thankfully, like other forms of milk allergy, FPIES which presents early in life is generally outgrown by the time the child has reached 3-5 years of age.9 While the exact rates of FPIES are unknown, it is believed to be an uncommon condition (although better recognition of the disease has led to increased reporting in recent years).10

Although it is not an allergy, lactose intolerance can result in gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea, after ingestion of dairy items containing lactose. For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (keep in mind this is uncommon for infants and toddlers), some good news: compared with milk and certain other dairy products, many cheeses may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance, particularly aged cheeses, which have lower lactose content.11 Note that if your child is lactose-intolerant, it’s important to find calcium-rich foods to consume regularly to ensure a balanced diet and support bone health. Search for naturally low-lactose cheeses and dairy products labeled “lactose-free.”

If you suspect baby may be allergic to milk, consult an allergist before introducing dairy products like cheese. Based on baby’s risk factors and history, your allergist may recommend allergy testing, or may instead advise dairy introduction under medical supervision in the office. If the risk is low, you may be advised to go ahead and introduce dairy 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 meals.

How do you prepare parmesan for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Hold off on serving parmesan cheese due to sodium content and opt for other toppings like nutritional yeast. If you happen to have a dish with parmesan already prepared for yourself and you’d like to share, feel free to do so—a small sprinkle of parmesan here and there is fine.

12 to 24 months old: Serve small amounts of grated or finely shredded parmesan, in moderation. When offering it on its own from a block, cut parmesan into small, bite-sized pieces cut from a thin slice of cheese. Avoid serving parmesan in cubes or large crumbles, as these present a high choking risk.

a hand holding five bite sized pieces of parmesan cut from a thin slice
Bite-sized pieces of parmesan cut from a thin slice for toddlers 12 months+
a hand holding a small clump of grated parmesan cheese for toddlers 12 mos+
Grated parmesan for toddlers 12 months+

Not sure how much sodium baby can have? See our Sodium page.

Recipe: Steamed Asparagus with Parmesan Sprinkle

Yield: 1 c (240 ml)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Age: 12 months+

Recipe By Solid Starts

Ingredients

This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (parmesan cheese). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. Wash the asparagus spears. Remove the woody ends.
  2. Cut the asparagus into age-appropriate sizes or keep them whole if you prefer.
  3. Add water to a skillet to just cover the bottom of the pan. Set the skillet on medium heat.
  4. Add the asparagus and cover the skillet. Steam the asparagus until soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the asparagus from the skillet. Coat the asparagus in oil. Cool to room temperature.
  6. Before serving, sprinkle parmesan on top of the asparagus.

Serve the Asparagus

  1. Offer the asparagus to your toddler and let the child self-feed.
  2. If you like, serve the asparagus with a small bowl of grated parmesan on the side so your child can taste the cheese on its own.
  3. To encourage the use of utensils, preload a piece of asparagus on an age-appropriate fork, then place the utensil next to the food for the child to pick up.

To Store: Steamed Asparagus with Parmesan Sprinkle keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Flavor Pairings

Parmesan cheese pairs well with the flavors of asparagus, butter, chicken, eggplant, garlic, and tilapia.

Reviewed by

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist

C. Aycinena Marcos, MS, RD. Registered Dietitian and Public Health/Clinical 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

  1. United States Food & Drug Administration. Dangers of raw milk. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  2. HealthyChildren.org. (2019). Health Issues: Choking Prevention. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  3. Warren CM, Jhaveri S, Warrier MR, Smith B, Gupta RS. The epidemiology of milk allergy in US children. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2013;110(5):370-374. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2013.02.016. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  4. El-Agamy, E. (2007). The challenge of cow milk protein allergy. Small Ruminant Research, 68, 64-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.smallrumres.2006.09.016. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  5. North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation. Cow’s milk protein allergy. GI Kids. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  6. Wood RA, Sicherer SH, Vickery BP, et al. The natural history of milk allergy in an observational cohort. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013;131(3):805-812. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2012.10.060. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  7. Comas-Basté, O., Sánchez-Pérez, S., Veciana-Nogués, M. T., Latorre-Moratalla, M., & Vidal-Carou, M. (2020). Histamine Intolerance: The Current State of the Art. Biomolecules, 10(8), 1181. DOI: 10.3390/biom10081181. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  8. Nazar, W., Plata-Nazar, K., Sznurkowska, K., & Szlagatys-Sidorkiewicz, A. (2021). Histamine Intolerance in Children: A Narrative Review. Nutrients13(5), 1486. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051486. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  9. 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. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  10. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome. Retrieved July 24, 2022
  11. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Living with lactose intolerance. 2010 Sep 15 [Updated 2018 Nov 29].