Take a tip from Italian pediatricians on the subject of healthy baby food. When it’s time for babies to transition to solid food, they recommend Parmigiano Reggiano as a “first food” with high-quality, easily digestible proteins. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that babies are at least 8 months before cheese is introduced.
Parmesan is gentle on a baby’s delicate digestive system because, during the long aging of this cheese, the proteins are broken down by enzymes into easy-to-digest free amino acids.
Dairy products are the richest source of calcium, an essential nutrient that plays an important part in baby nutrition. Even infants and toddlers who have trouble digesting dairy products can generally eat Parmigiano Reggiano because the aging process renders it completely lactose-free. To build strong bones, infants 6 to 12 months of age need healthy baby foods supplying 260 milligrams of calcium per day. That number almost doubles for toddlers. Parmesan also supplies vitamin B12 as well as contributing other valuable vitamins and minerals.
Grated Parmesan, stirred into puréed foods or sprinkled over rice or pasta dishes, helps fulfill a baby’s nutrition requirements. Plus, little ones love the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano! Use it to flavor and melt into foods they are eating. You might even consider giving your baby a fruit and cheese course by stirring grated Parmesan into puréed apples or pears. By introducing healthy baby foods that are also delicious, you are helping your child form good habits of eating. Serve prepared baby foods or, using a food processor, blender or food mill, purée your own. Many parents find it convenient to fill ice cube trays with fruit and vegetable purees—it’s easy to pop out a couple of cubes to thaw in a microwave. Healthy baby foods such as a two-potato purée seasoned with Parmesan can be gourmet treats for parents as well as their baby. And they can take satisfaction in the fact that, as their child grows older, he or she will enjoy a ever-larger range of foods at the family table.