In this article you’ll find information about what to look out for when choosing dairy free cheese for babies and toddlers, along with plenty of ideas about how to serve it for dairy free weaning and beyond! I have also included a list of products available in UK supermarkets (many will be available in other countries also), along with key nutritional information.
Because many children with cow’s milk protein allergy also react to soya, I have not included soy based cheese in this round up.
Just a little disclaimer here. I’m not a dietitian, this is all information I have learned as an allergy parent trying to provide the best diet I can for my kids within our limitations (and I have done a fair bit of research). I’ve provided links to my sources within the text if you want to read more about the nutrition side of things.
Dairy free vs dairy cheese – how does the nutritional profile compare?
Getting started with dairy free weaning can be daunting, but finding a good dairy free cheese your baby or toddler likes will make life much easier! However, it’s worth being aware that the function of dairy-free cheese in a weaning diet is quite different to dairy cheese, as the nutritional profile is not the same.
NHS guidance states that dairy cheese “provides calcium, protein and vitamins”, and says that “full-fat cheeses and dairy products are recommended up to the age of 2, as young children need fat and energy to help them grow.” Read on to find out how dairy-free cheese compares in these areas.
Protein, fats and energy
Whilst dairy cheese is a good source of protein, the same can’t be said for dairy free cheese. It is usually based on things like oils and starches, and these are not sources of protein. Some products do include protein sources such as nuts or oats, but only contain very small amounts of these. So, dairy free cheese can’t be used as the protein component of a meal – this will need to be accounted for with other foods. Dairy free cheese does provide both fats and calories, but generally not as many as full fat cheese.
A good illustration of the differences in protein, fat & energy content is this comparison of Cathedral City Cheddar block against their plant based product. You can see from the table below that the fat and calorie content is somewhat lower, but there is an extreme difference in protein.
|Cathedral city mature cheddar (per 100g)||Cathedral City Plant based dairy free block (per 100g)|
|Energy||416 kcal||356 kcal|
|(of which saturates)||21.7g||25.5g|
Source: Sainsburys.co.uk, 17th Jan 2023
Calcium and vitamins
Dairy free cheese doesn’t naturally contain calcium. However, the vegan options available are increasingly calcium fortified and, where possible, it’s best to choose a calcium fortified cheese for babies and children.
Dairy is a good source of vitamin B12, so dairy free children may need to make up for this in other ways. Again, dairy free cheese doesn’t naturally contain it, but looking for one fortified with B12 can be a good alternative. There are also now a number of dairy free cheese products which are fortified with Vitamin D.
Unfortunately the salt content is quite high in dairy free cheese – but this is also the case for dairy cheese. Talking about dairy cheese, Charlotte Stirling-Reed from SR Nutrition says “Whilst cheese is a food that is naturally higher in salt, it is still fine to offer to babies as part of a balanced diet”. She points out that “The quantity that it’s offered in is important. So adding some grated cheese to an omelette, pasta, jacket potato or in a sandwich is fine. Particularly if it’s balanced out with other, lower salt options throughout the day and week.” I have taken a similar approach when serving dairy free cheese to my children – in moderation, and providing balance by serving less salty foods alongside and at other meals throughout the day.
As a general rule, the salt content in the vegan cream cheese alternatives are lower than the hard cheese options.
The upsides! Dairy free cheese adds taste, enjoyment and variety for babies & toddlers
OK, so none of the above sounds particularly positive! Lower protein, energy and fats and high in salt is not ideal on the face if it. But in my opinion there are some great reasons to include some dairy free cheese in your child’s diet.
The first important factor is taste! Although many grown ups will turn their nose up at the taste of vegan cheese, my experience is that children who have never had the real thing really like it! It’s important – especially for allergy kids – to make food an enjoyable experience. And for my kids, vegan cheese has played a big part in that. They love it!
Secondly, dairy free cheese can really open up meal options for babies and toddlers with CMPA. This is important for your sanity and not to be underestimated.
Finally, dairy free cheese also adds additional calories (albeit not as many as full fat dairy cheese) and – if you choose a fortified version – essential calcium and vitamins.
Bearing all of that in mind, when you decide to start including dairy free cheese in your baby’s diet, the main things to remember are:
- To be aware of the salt content wen thinking about portion sizes, and balance other meals accordingly
- To make sure protein, energy and fats are being accounted for with other foods
Dairy free cheese available in UK supermarkets – product list
There is, thankfully, an ever increasing range of dairy free cheese available in UK supermarkets. However, reliable stock is still an issue, so you might find that your local supermarket only has one or two. Or, they might have a great selection one day and none the next time you go! I find that doing online shops is the best way to avoid this frustration, and I also tend to pick up a few at a time, as the dates are generally quite long.
I’ve split the list below into whether or not they are calcium fortified. Stockists change all the time, but I have noted those that I know of. Also dairy and soy free supermarket own brands are increasingly available – with mixed levels of tastiness success!
Whilst taste is largely a matter of opinion, I’ve noted those which I or my kids really like – as well as any dairy free cheese which parents in CMPA online support groups frequently say their babies love. Any which are truly awful have been left out entirely!
I have listed cheeses which do not have dairy or soya listed as an ingredient, and have noted where there are any ‘may contain’ warnings. Ingredients were last checked online on 16th Jan 2023, but always double check as they can (and do) change without warning. I have also noted any other allergens in the top 14, but always double check to ensure the product is safe for your child or you.
Dairy-free cheese alternatives, fortified with calcium
- Sheese is coconut oil based. They have a good range of hard cheeses, including grated and sliced. Sheese is a brand that often gets recommended for melting well; I like their mozzarella alternative on pizza. They also do some soft cheeses, but be aware that some of those contain soy. Stockists include Sainsburys, Ocado and Waitrose.
- There was general delight when Babybel released their plant based version! My kids love the taste, and they are really handy for taking out and about. The size and shape are a potential choking risk for babies, so you will need to chop it up depending on your little one’s age and stage. It is Calcium & B12 fortified. Stockists include Sainsbury’s, Asda & Morrisons.
- Cathedral City plant based dairy free cheese was another release which caused a lot of excitement! The CMPA facebook groups were full of parents saying how good the taste is, and that it melts really well. My kids are actually not keen on it, but that seems contrary to popular opinion! Stockists include Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Beware that Cathedral City also do a lactose free cheese which is not suitable for those with CMPA.
- Applewood vegan smoked cheese is another favourite for melting well. It is fortified with calcium and B12, and comes in block or sliced form. Stockists include Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Ocado.
- Koko vegan cheddar alternative is one of my personal favourites. It’s not always easy to get hold of, but I really like the mild taste and it’s well fortified with calcium, vitamin D2 and B12. But, salt levels are particularly high. Stockists include Ocado and Waitrose.
- Nurishh have a good range of block, grated and sliced options. The products are calcium and B12 fortified – with the exception of the camembert alternative. Stockists include Asda, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Tesco.
UK Supermarket own brand dairy free cheese
It used to be the case that nearly all own brand supermarket dairy free cheese was soy based. In recent years many have changed recipes to remove soy, and also added in calcium fortification. Here are some of the available options:
- M&S Plant Kitchen has a range of block, grated and sliced products, fortified with calcium. At Christmas they also do a festive selection box! You can buy from M&S or Ocado.
- Tesco Plant Chef have a grated mozzarella & cheddar alternative, as well as a mature block. I haven’t tasted it, but that the online reviews for the mature block are really not good 😬. However, it is particularly well fortified with calcium, B12, Vitamin D and – unusually – Iodine.
- Sainsbury’s Deliciously Free From have a number of coconut based cheese alternatives, but be aware that the soft cheese is soya based.
- Aldi Plant Menu cheeses get good reviews taste wise, but are not always well stocked outside of Veganuary. They are also not calcium fortified (although they do contain B12).
Dairy-free cheese alternatives, not fortified with calcium
- Violife has a range of hard and soft cheeses including grated and sliced options. Although Violife is not fortified with Calcium (with the exception of the mozarrella flavour slices), it does have additional B12. It’s also really well stocked in a range of shops, and nearly all major UK supermarkets now have it. I need to give a special shout out to Violife for being the original dairy & soy free cheese – and my kids top favourite!
- Oatly creamy oat spread is a nice mild tasting alternative to cream cheese. It’s good as a spread and also to use in cooking. It is oat based and is not completely gluten free. Stockists include Ocado, Sainsbury’s & Tesco
- Philadelphia is another of the big brands who have released a plant based version of a classic! The spread is oat (labelled as gluten free) & almond based (may contain warning for other nuts). Stockists include Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and Tesco
- Nush almond cream cheese style spread comes in two flavours – plain and chive. These spreads are my favourite of all the vegan cheese options! They also have a better protein content than the majority of other vegan cheeses options. However, they are almond based and so unsuitable for anyone with a nut allergy. Suppliers include Asda, Ocado & Sainsbury’s.
How to serve dairy free cheese to babies & toddlers
As discussed above, try to serve dairy free cheese alongside protein rich food and keep the rest of the meal low in salt for babies and toddlers.
When serving, be careful to avoid giving any pieces which would pose a choking risk. For baby led weaning, start with long thin strips. Grated cheese is good for babies moving on to practising their pincer grip.
Dairy free cheese can work well as part of a ‘picky’ lunch, giving various finger foods to choose from. For example, serve alongside lightly steamed veg sticks, crackers or toast with nut butters, cold meats or hummus. Another easy way to serve dairy free cheese is to grate and sprinkle on top of pasta dishes and jacket potatoes.
Dairy free cream cheese works really well as a sandwich filling or spread on things like oat cakes or rice cakes – I actually prefer it to the hard cheeses as it stays in place better when being manhandled by a baby or toddler! It can also be used as a dip for veg sticks or breadsticks.
Dairy free cheese recipe inspiration
There are lots of ways to use dairy free cheese when cooking for babies and toddlers. Here are a few ideas to give you some inspiration! These are suitable for dairy free weaning, feeding toddlers, and beyond:
- Dairy free mac and cheese, made using butternut squash.
- Mini pizzas, with a tomato or mixed veg sauce, sprinkle of dairy free cheese and some extra protein such as tuna or shredded chicken.
- Make quesadillas and serve cut into strips or triangles. Additional filling ideas alongside the dairy free cheese include tuna, sweetcorn, grated carrot, or mashed up cannellini beans.
- Bake vegan scones; I love this Little Veggie Eats recipe.
- Soft cheese simply stirred through pasta makes a nice creamy sauce. Or, you can add some extra nutrition by making this creamy avocado pasta dish.
Let me know your favourite dairy free cheese weaning recipes in the comments below!
If you’re here because your child has cmpa (cow’s milk protein allergy), you might find these posts useful:
- The basics of cmpa (cow’s milk protein allergy) in babies
- A beginner’s guide to dairy free weaning
- Dairy and soya free yogurts for babies and toddlers
- Our favourite allergy friendly recipe books
- Links to free support & resources available to help allergy parents
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