Did you know that choking is the leading cause of injury and death among children, especially for kids under 4 1 (drowning is the leading cause for ages 1 to 4)? Scary, right? Most choking hazards are caused by toys, coins and food. When it comes to food, you name it and kids can choke on it, but there are some foods that are more risky than others. That’s why you always need to supervise during mealtime—and just about every other time in between—to avoid these common food choking hazards.
Since it’s important for infants and toddlers to try all types of food, it’s vital to know what you can do to avoid a choking hazard and a trip to the emergency room. Take a look at this quick checklist to help keep your child safe:
- Always keep a close eye on your child while he is eating. Choking is silent, so you won’t hear it if it happens.
- Cut foods into ½ inch pieces for babies and young children.
- Encourage your child to sit down while eating and avoid walking around and playing while eating.
- Discourage playing and lots of laughing with food in their mouths.
- Try to avoid letting your baby or toddler eat in the car. If eating in the car can’t be avoided, we strongly recommend steering clear of sharp, dry snacks, such as chips and pretzels.
It’s important to choose foods that are not only cut into small pieces, but are also soft and easy to swallow.
Here is a list of foods that pose a choking hazard for kids until the age of 4:
- Hot dogs. This is the #1 choking food we see in our Emergency Department. We would not recommend giving hot dogs to babies or toddlers from a nutritional standpoint, but if you choose to, be sure to cut slices into halves or quarters.
- Whole grapes. To reduce the choking hazard, cut seedless grapes into quarters before giving them to your baby or toddler.
- Whole cherry tomatoes. This is another one you’ll want to cut into quarters.
- Cherries with pits. Opt for cherries without the pits and cut them into quarters as well.
- Chunks of cheese. Serve shredded or finely chopped.
- Chunks of meat. Choose ground, pulled or finely chopped instead.
- Chunks of raw vegetables. Serve soft-cooked veggies instead, or use a grater or cut them into very fine pieces.
- Chunks of nut butter. Spread nut butter very thin.
- Stringy veggies (like celery) and some citrus fruits. These can lead to choking or gagging if there is a lot of membrane surrounding the fleshy veggie or fruit.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Chewing gum.
- Hard and soft candies.
New research suggests that even these toddler snacks are choking hazards:
- Yogurt drops or melts. After being left out for as little as an hour, they can absorb enough moisture to make them sticky and hard to swallow.
- Teething biscuits. After a baby has been gumming the biscuit for a while, it eventually gets worn down enough to break apart, posing a choking hazard.
- Wheel shaped grain snacks. These are just too big for a tiny baby’s mouth.
Don’t feel as if you’re missing out by not giving these foods to your child. Even though they’re marketed as healthy snacks, they are all made with added sugar your baby or toddler doesn’t need.
Once your baby is ready for finger foods, and up until her first birthday, it’s best to stick to soft, ripe fruits and vegetables. Steaming the veggies is a great way of soften them up. Here are some yummy and safe options:
- Bananas, peaches, pears, mangos, avocados, berries and blueberries (cut in halves or quarters)
- Canned fruits and fruit cups (packed in 100% juice or water, not syrup)
- Broccoli (steamed), peas (steamed), carrots (steamed), sweet potato (baked), lettuce (shredded), zucchini (finely grated), cucumbers (thinly sliced for toddlers) and squash (thinly sliced for toddlers or steamed for babies)
- Canned veggies with no salt added
As your child gets older, many foods that pose a choking hazard cause a lesser risk.
- At around 9 to 12 months, babies get better at chewing. This is the time you can start teaching them how to take bites of big, soft foods. A good food to start practicing with is a banana. Just keep a close eye so he doesn’t bite off more than he can handle.
- By 18 months to age 2, your baby may be able to handle thin slices of crunchier fruits and veggies, such as apples and cucumbers. This varies from child to child. Your child is ready for this step once he can chew food well, has his first set of molars and is able to manage taking “just right” sized bites of food.
Remember, keeping your baby safe is priority number one. With a few simple steps, choking hazards can easily be prevented.