Swiss cheese may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
In the United States, “swiss cheese” often refers to any cheese with holes, though in Switzerland, this cheese is named after the alpine region from which it came, Emmental. Swiss cheese and emmentaler cheese are both firm and tend to contain less sodium than other cheeses, a characteristic that grew out of necessity as emmentaler was traditionally made in the Alps, where salt was in limited supply. These characteristics create the right conditions for helpful bacteria to thrive and produce carbon dioxide, which creates distinctive holes in the final product. Swiss immigrants brought their techniques to North America, and as the alpine cheese grew in popularity, it took the name of their nationality rather than the region in which it originated.
Alex, 6 months, eats a strip of low-sodium swiss cheese.
Ripley, 9 months, tastes Swiss cheese for the first time
Cooper, 13 months, eats ruler-thin slices of Swiss cheese
Yes. Swiss cheese is typically pasteurized and lower in sodium than many other cheeses. Swiss cheese is also rich in fats and protein, which support baby’s cell structure, energy levels, and brain development. Finally, swiss cheese is a great source of calcium, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. Together, these nutrients help support bone development, the immune and nervous systems, plus promote healthy eyes, skin, and hair.
★Tip: For vegetarian families, certain versions of swiss cheese contain animal-derived rennet, so read labels and look for cheeses made with plant-based rennet.
Yes. Cubes of cheese and globs of melted cheese are a choking hazard for babies and children. To reduce the risk, slice swiss cheese 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.
Yes. Cheese is often 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. Keep in mind that dairy products from other ruminants such as sheep, goat, and buffalo may provoke similar allergic reactions to cow’s milk dairy products. If baby is allergic to dairy, know that it is an allergy that 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 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. 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.
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. Note that if 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. 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, an 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 servings.
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.
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.
Cut swiss cheese into long, thin slices to reduce the choking risk and make it easier for baby to self-feed. If you want to use swiss cheese in melted form, opt for shredded swiss cheese and sprinkle sparingly, as large globs of melted cheese can be difficult for young babies to chew and manage in the mouth. Avoid offering any kind of cheese in cubes and large chunks.
At this age, babies develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. When you see signs of this development, you can move down in size, either to grated swiss cheese or bite-sized pieces cut from a thin slice (continue to avoid cube shapes). Offer the cheese on its own, so baby can experience the flavor, or as part of a meal.
At this age you can move back up in size to long, thin slices so that the toddler can practice tearing and taking bites. Alternatively, you can continue to offer bite-sized pieces cut from a thin slice or shredded cheese. After 12 months of age, you can also melt the cheese over bread, tortillas, pasta, beans, or vegetables. Just make sure the cheese isn’t too hot, but also hasn’t cooled so much that it re-hardens or get clumpy.
Serve swiss cheese in thin slices or bite-sized pieces, as well as melted over bread, tortillas, pasta, beans, or vegetables. At this age, many toddlers may be ready to eat cubes of swiss cheese. Before serving cubes of swiss cheese, look for signs of mature eating skills, such as taking small bites with their teeth, moving food to the side of the mouth when chewing, chewing thoroughly before swallowing, and not stuffing food in their mouths.
Even when the child is exhibiting these skills, we recommend coaching the child. Only serve cheese cubes when a child is seated in an upright seat, actively engaged in mealtime, and not distracted. Demonstrate chewing a piece of cheese yourself by placing it in between your front teeth, biting down, moving the food to the side, and then chewing with your mouth open. Once you have chewed the cheese well, open your mouth to show the child how it’s broken down. Say “I moved it to my big strong teeth to chew it. It needs a lot of chewing.” Then, offer one cube of cheese for the child to eat. If they do not attempt to chew, hold off on attempting again for a few weeks. Remember, these skills take time, and it’s best to meet the individual child where they are at.
Want ideas for packed lunches? See 75 Lunches for Babies & Toddlers
4 c (960 ml)
3 tbsp (42 g) unsalted butter
2 tbsp (30 ml) all-purpose flour
1 ½ c (360 ml) whole milk
6 oz (168 g) swiss cheese
¾ c (180 ml) mascarpone cheese
1 tsp (2 g) garlic powder (optional)
½ tsp (1 g) mustard powder (optional)
½ tsp (1 g) black pepper (optional)
8 oz (224 g) penne pasta
This recipe contains common allergens: dairy (butter, cheese, milk), egg (pasta), and wheat (flour, pasta). Only serve to a child after these allergens have been safely introduced. Always check for potential allergens in ingredients listed on the labels of store-bought processed foods, such as pasta.
Prepare the Sauce
Warm the butter in a large pot set on medium heat.
Whisk in the flour until smooth, then whisk in the milk.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
While the sauce is thickening, grate the swiss cheese–a great low-sodium choice for babies. When sharing with toddlers and older children, feel free to experiment with different semi-firm cheeses like cheddar, colby, fontina, gouda, gruyere, havarti, or monterey jack. You can swap in any of these cheeses or use a mixture of several kinds.
Mix the grated cheese and mascarpone cheese into the sauce.
Season with spices to taste. You can omit the spices or use your favorite seasonings.
Stir cooked penne into the sauce. Set aside some for your child, then season the rest with salt to taste for yourself.
Serve the Mac & Cheese
Offer mac & cheese and let your child self-feed.
If help is needed, pre-load a utensil with a piece of pasta, then hold it in the air in front of your child and let them grab it from you.
Eat some mac & cheese alongside the child to model how it’s done.
To Store: Mac & Cheese keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Pediatric registered dietitian & nutritionist
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