Cheese Nutrition Facts

Child Nutrition Basics - The Role of Cheese in a Healthy Diet

Asian boy eating bread with cheese
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If you're like many or most parents you've probably asked, "is cheese a good source of nutrition for children?" Let's review what we know.

Kids and Cheese

Kids like cheese.

From macaroni and cheese and cheeseburgers, to just eating string cheese as a snack, most kids eat a lot of cheese.

In fact, when you ask the average parent if their child drinks much milk, they often say "no, but he eats a lot of cheese."

The problem is: cheese isn't necessarily a great substitute for the nutrition milk provides kids.

Cheese Nutrition Facts

Yes, it's true that, like other foods in the dairy food group, cheese can be a good source of several nutrients including:

    But, also like milk, cheese can have fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. That's why it is important to look for cheese made with low-fat or reduced-fat milk.

    What Should You Look for in Cheese for Kids?

    When choosing cheese for your kids, check the nutrition facts label and look for cheese that is:

    • An excellent source of calcium - at least 20 to 25%
    • A good source of vitamin D - at least 10%
    • Low in sodium
    • Low in saturated fat

    Compare labels between brands and types of cheese to find the ones that offer the most nutritional benefits for your kids.

    Health Benefits of Cheese

    Surprisingly, in addition to providing your kids with calcium and vitamin D, there may be another reason to get your kids to eat cheese.

    The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reports that "cheese is one of the healthiest snacks for your child's teeth." Many types of cheese, including Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey jack, and Swiss, can stimulate the salivary glands and help protect teeth from acids and other debris that might cause cavities.

    Health Risks With Cheese

    Since a diet low in milk is associated with an increased risk of fractures in children, you would think that cheese would lower the risk as well.  In fact a 2015 study found that one of the risk factors for fractures in children was a high cheese intake in their diets.

    Cheese vs. Milk

    Since cheese is actually made with milk, you would think that cheese would be a very good substitute for kids who don't drink milk.

      That's not necessarily true.

    Milk has 100 IU of vitamin D in each 8-ounce glass, while the average slice of cheese only has about 40 IU. So instead of drinking four glasses of milk for your child to get his daily recommended 400 IU of vitamin D each day, he would have to eat about 10 slices of cheese.

    And when you compare the calories in milk vs. the calories in cheese, that can mean some extra calories for your child.

    A bigger problem is that many kids simply don't eat that much cheese each day, so if you think your child is getting enough calcium and vitamin D just from eating a few slices of cheese each day, he probably isn't.

    Calories in Cheese

    Like milk, the calories in cheese varies based on whether it is made with whole milk, low-fat milk, or is fat-free.

    For example, a slice of American cheese can have:

    • 70 calories
    • 45 calories (made with 2% reduced-fat milk)
    • 25 calories (made with skim mild)

    While that may not seem like a lot of calories, it can quickly add up if your child likes to put cheese on all of his food. Another way to think about the calories in cheese is that every slice of cheese is going to add an extra 70 calories to whatever your kids are eating.

    • A hamburger (280 calories) becomes a cheese burger (360 calories).
    • A side of broccoli (26 calories) becomes broccoli with cheese (75 calories).
    • A baked potato (145 calories) becomes a baked potato with cheese (265 calories).

    To reduce the calories in cheese your child gets, check the nutrition label and choose cheese that is made with nonfat or low fat milk. Also, keep in mind that if your child is already getting enough calcium and vitamin D from drinking milk, then he doesn't necessarily need to eat a lot of extra cheese.

    Summing it Up - The Role of Cheese in a Child's Diet

    Knowing that milk is a healthy part of a child's diet, let's sum up the facts and compare cheese to milk.

    • Cheese provides more calories than milk - This can be good or bad depending upon your child.  If your child needs a few pounds, cheese may provide this better than milk.  If, however, your child is on the heavy side, passing up the cheese for milk instead may help her stay away from the increasing rate of childhood obesity.
    • Cheese provides less vitamin D than milk. - Since vitamin D deficiency appears to be a significant problem in the United States, the vote here goes to milk.  You can also talk to your pediatrician about other ways to make sure your child is getting an adequate amount of vitamin D.
    • While cheese does provide calcium, recent studies showing an increased risk of fractures in kids with a high intake of cheese (as well as in those with a low intake of milk) throw another vote in favor of milk.
    • Cheese is associated with a decreased risk of cavities, and cavities are something no child likes to face.


    American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Optimizing Bone Health and Calcium Intakes of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. PEDIATRICS Vol. 117 No. 2 February 2006, pp. 578-585.

    American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2008 122: 1142-1152.

    American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Fast Facts.

    Handel, M., Heitmann, B., and B. Abrahamsen. Nutrient and food intakes in early life and risk of childhood fractures: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015. 102(5_:1182-95.

    Kling, S., Roe, L., Keller, K., and B. Rolls. Double trouble: Portion size and energy density combine to increase preschool children's lunch intake. Physiology and Behavior. 2016 Feb 12. (Epub ahead of print).

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