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Cheese Please

A healthy choice for kids


Natural, non-processed cheese is a great for promoting healthy growth and development in our children. So try these healthy kid-friendly cheese recipes.

More than a delicious finishing touch on pasta or a pleasing filling for a sandwich, natural, nonprocessed cheese is also great for promoting healthy growth and development in our children.

Dairy cheeses made from cow, sheep, or goat milk are an excellent source of several essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, vitamin A, niacin, and vitamin B12. Children with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance don’t have to miss out either, as there are many dairy-free, vegan, and raw cheeses made from soy products, rice products, nuts, or seeds for them to enjoy.

In addition to being tasty and nutritious, cheese is one of the most versatile foods in our refrigerators. By experimenting with the many varieties, from creamy to firm and mild to full-flavoured, we can easily vary the texture and taste of our favourite everyday meals to appeal to even the most finicky eater.

Good eating habits developed at a young age have been shown to contribute to a healthy adult lifestyle. So how do we get our children to choose cheese? Keep a variety of cheeses on hand and get the kids involved in the meal planning and preparation. Encourage your mini chefs to experiment and create their own recipes using cheese.

Crumbled, grated, melted, or sliced, cheese is a satisfying kid-favourite food. Try these healthy, kid-friendly recipes and your family is sure to smile when you say “cheese!”


Natural versus processed

Natural cheese is produced by combining cow, sheep, or goat milk with an acid or enzyme and salt. These three ingredients are then curdled, drained, pressed, and, depending on the type of cheese, ripened.

Processed cheese is a food product made from modified natural cheese. Cheese is processed with water, extra salt, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and other additives that turn the product into a homogenous mass. Processed cheese usually has much higher sodium content than natural cheese and is also often high in fat, with some individual slices containing as much as 7 percent of your daily recommended fat intake.

The power of dairy

Studies have shown that the regular consumption of milk products contributes to bone and tooth development and red blood cell formation. It also helps maintain a healthy weight and may contribute to the prevention of hypertension.

In fact, the calcium found in cheese helps the body utilize fat as an energy source more efficiently, reduces fat storage in cells, and helps with bone regeneration throughout one’s life.

Allergy versus intolerance

A dairy allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies milk protein as something the body should fight. Most common among infants, dairy allergies can occur at any age. Most kids who are allergic to cows’ milk also react to goats’ milk and sheep’s milk, and some are also allergic to the protein in soy milk.

Lactose intolerance is not the same as a dairy allergy. Rare in infants and more commonly seen among older children and adults, lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a type of sugar common in all dairy products.

Healthy start

According to Canada’s Food Guide, it is recommended that children ages two to eight consume two servings of dairy products daily. Children ages nine to 13 and teenagers ages 14 to 18should consume three to four servings of dairy products daily. Fulfilling these recommendations is easy, since one serving of dairy cheese is only 1 1/2 oz (50 g), or about the size of half a deck of cards.

The fat and sodium content of cheeses vary, so read labels to find cheeses that best suit your family’s tastes and nutritional needs.

The Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Health Canada recommend introducing dairy products to children after nine to 12 months of age.

Nondairy cheese

For those who are lactose intolerant or following a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are several dairy-free cheese options available. Soy-based cheeses are popular, although some contain calcium caseinate or casein, a milk protein that gives texture to the cheese and allows it to melt like natural cheese. Make sure to read the ingredient list if you are looking to avoid animal products.

Raw nut cheeses and raw seed cheeses are also popular. Commonly made of cashews, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds, these specialty cheeses can range from creamy and spreadable to aged and firm. Many nut and seed cheeses are also allowed to ferment slightly. This not only gives the cheeses a tangier flavour but is said to create healthy aerobic bacteria and B vitamins.

Nutritionally, nondairy cheeses vary greatly, so it is important to read the labels. These cheeses, with the exception of nut cheeses, also contain little calcium, so it is important to eat foods rich in calcium, such as collard greens, spinach, kale, sesame seeds, and broccoli.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD