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."
Cheese isn't necessarily a great substitue for milk, though.
Cheese Nutrition Facts
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.
In addition, 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.
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.
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, or is fat-free, etc.
For example, a slice of American cheese can have:
- 70 calories
- 45 calories (made with 2% reduced-fat milk)
- 25 calories (made with skim milk)
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.
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. Your Child and Cheese. Accessed March 2012.