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.
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. 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.
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
No. Queso fresco has a fair amount of sodium, which is not healthy when consumed in excess. 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. 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.
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.
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.
Yes, it can be, although the crumbly texture of queso fresco makes it less of a risk than some other cheeses. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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).
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.
Recommended Guide: Introducing Allergens
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Avoid, due to sodium levels and the risk of foodborne illness.
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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½ c (120 ml)
Rinse the beans to remove excess sodium.
Mash the beans, lime juice, olive oil, and cumin to taste.
Spread a thin layer of mashed beans on a corn tortilla, then cut the tortilla into age-appropriate sizes.
Break the cheese into tiny crumbles to sprinkle on top of the tortilla and the rest of the mashed beans.
Serve the Beans
Offer mashed beans and corn tortilla to your toddler, and let the child self-feed.
If help is needed, hold a pre-loaded spoon of mashed bean or corn tortilla in the air in front of your toddler, then let the child grab it from you.
To Store: Leftover pinto beans keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days.
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
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