Queso Fresco

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 wheel of queso fresco ready to be prepared for toddlers

When can babies eat queso fresco?

Queso fresco is best introduced after a child’s first birthday, due to moderate sodium levels and the risk of foodborne illness. When you are ready to introduce the cheese to your toddler, consider purchasing pasteurized cheese to minimize the risk. For more on when it is safe to offer unpasteurized, see our cheese page.

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.

Warning

Queso fresco is traditionally made from unpasteurized (raw) milk. Unpasteurized milk can harbor harmful bacteria that increase the risk of foodborne illness. Infants, young children, and immunocompromised children are at a higher risk of more serious illness from these bacteria. Choosing pasteurized queso fresco instead of unpasteurized versions can help minimize the risk of foodborne illness, although pasteurized versions of this cheese have also been associated with outbreaks of illness, likely due to post-pasteurization contamination.1 2 3 Consider checking for recalls of queso fresco where you live before serving and assess the risk in the context of your individual child’s health.

Where does queso fresco come from?

Queso fresco is a fresh, unripened cheese with a mild, versatile flavor with roots in Central and South America, although the techniques used to make queso fresco likely came with European colonizers to the Americas. In recent years, global interest in queso fresco has grown alongside the rising popularity of Mexican cooking, where the cheese flavors chilaquiles, pozole, tacos, and many more dishes. Most queso fresco is pasteurized, but versions made with raw milk exist—an ingredient prohibited in mainstream cheese production in North America.

Juliet Rose, 13 months, eats queso fresco and black beans with a fork.
Asher, 16 months, eats crumbled queso fresco.
Sebastián, 21 months, eats crumbled queso fresco with his dinner.

Is queso fresco healthy for babies?

No. Queso fresco has a fair amount of sodium, which is not healthy when consumed in excess.4 5 It also carries a risk of foodborne illness, even when pasteurized, so avoid unpasteurized queso fresco and consider checking for any recent recalls of pasteurized queso fresco before serving to your child. Unpasteurized high-moisture cheeses carry a significantly higher risk of foodborne illness.6 Due to queso fresco’s high moisture content and low acidity, pasteurized versions of this cheese have also been associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness, likely due to post-pasteurization contamination.7 8 9

Nutritionally, queso fresco contains protein to create new cells for growth and plenty of healthy saturated fats to support cell structure. This cheese is also a great source of calcium and vitamin B12 and a good source of zinc and selenium. Together, these nutrients help in the development of healthy bones, nervous system, and immune system.

Can queso fresco help babies poop?

No. In general, cheese is relatively high in fat and low in fiber, qualities that slow the processes of digestion and pooping. Significant consumption of cheese and milk can be a contributing factor in constipation. Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.

Is queso fresco a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes, it can be, although the crumbly texture of queso fresco makes it less of a risk than some other cheeses.10 To minimize the risk, serve queso fresco in small crumbles or thin pieces (which will likely crumble when touched). 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 sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is queso fresco a common allergen?

Yes. Queso fresco 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.11 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.12 13

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.14 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).15

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 introduce queso fresco to babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Avoid, due to sodium levels and the risk of foodborne illness.

12 to 24 months old: Offer small crumbles or thin slices of pasteurized queso fresco in moderation, either on their own or sprinkled into a meal. Some varieties of queso fresco are firmer than others, but regardless of the type, refrain from serving in large crumbles or cubes to reduce the risk of choking. Continue to avoid serving unpasteurized queso fresco. For more on when it is safe to offer unpasteurized cheeses, see our cheese page.

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Recipe: Pinto Beans with Queso Fresco and Lime

Yield: ½ c (120 ml)
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Age: 12 months+

Recipe By Solid Starts

Ingredients

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

Directions

  1. Open the can of beans. Rinse to remove excess sodium. Set aside ½ c (139 g) of the beans for the child’s meal and store the rest.
  2. Zest and juice the lime. Measure 1 tsp (5 ml) of juice into a bowl and add the zest. Store the rest of the lime juice for another use.
  3. Mash the beans, olive oil, lime juice, and spice in the child’s bowl.
  4. Crumble the cheese over the mashed beans.
  5. If you like, thinly spread some of the mashed beans on a corn tortilla to serve alongside the bowl of mashed beans. Cut the tortilla into age-appropriate sizes.

Serve the Beans

  1. Offer the bowl of mashed beans and the corn tortilla to the child and let them self-feed with their hands.
  2. If you’d like to encourage the child to use a utensil, pre-load a spoon and place it next to the food for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass the pre-loaded spoon in the air for the child to grab.

To Store: Pinto Beans & Queso Fresco keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Flavor Pairings

Queso fresco pairs well with black beans, cilantro, corn, squash blossoms, tomato, and tortilla.

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. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist

K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC. Pediatric Feeding Therapist

Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist

Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP, Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Holle MJ, Ibarra-Sánchez LA, Liu X, Stasiewicz MJ, Miller MJ. (2018). Microbial analysis of commercially available US Queso Fresco. J Dairy Sci. 101(9):7736-7745. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-14037. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Listeria prevention. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While pregnant, be careful with queso fresco. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  4. Baker, S.S., Baker, R.D. (2015). Early Exposure to Dietary Sugar and Salt. Pediatrics, 135(3), 550-551. DOI:10.1542/peds.2014-4028. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  5. 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 3, 2022
  6. U. S. Food & Drug Administration. Dangers of raw milk. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  7. Holle MJ, Ibarra-Sánchez LA, Liu X, Stasiewicz MJ, Miller MJ. (2018). Microbial analysis of commercially available US Queso Fresco. J Dairy Sci. 101(9):7736-7745. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-14037. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Listeria prevention. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While pregnant, be careful with queso fresco. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  10. HealthyChildren.org. (2019). Health Issues: Choking Prevention. Retrieved August 3, 2022
  11. 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 August 3, 2022
  12. Mukkada, V. (2019). Cow’s milk protein allergy. GI Kids. Retrieved January 24, 2022
  13. 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
  14. Nowak-Węgrzyn A. (2015). Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome and allergic proctocolitis. Allergy Asthma Proc. 36(3):172-84. doi: 10.2500/aap.2015.36.3811. Retrieved January 24, 2022
  15. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome. Retrieved July 24, 2022