You probably saw this crazy story about a grape stuck in a kid’s throat that went viral recently. (Good news: He’s OK!) We’d love to remind parents and grandparents about other edible choking hazards, and what you should do for choking prevention. Start with knowing when to introduce your baby to solid foods.
It may surprise some of you to know that cutting up food shouldn’t stop at age 2 or 3. Sure, some kids will be more proficient in the chomping department than others. But when there’s a risk of choking, it’s wise to err on the side of caution.
The Most Common Choking Hazards for Toddlers
The majority of kids’ choking injuries are caused by food. Let’s break down the riskiest foods as well as how to keep your kids safe at snack time:
America’s favorite picnic food is actually the most risky food for choking among children. If your toddler or child under age 4 likes hot dogs, slice the hot dog lengthwise in long, noodle-like strips.
Round Fruits or Vegetables
Even healthy snacks like grapes, cherry tomatoes, cherries, blackberries and blueberries pose a choking hazard for young children. These can block a child’s airway if swallowed whole. If you slice around the equator, there is still a risk involved with grapes and cherry tomatoes, so be sure to quarter ’em or slice these items lengthwise. This slick tool ($8) will help you get the job done quick.
This PBJ on a stick recipe would be a fun afternoon snack or lunch, but remember to halve the grapes!
Firm Fruits and Vegetables
Apples, carrots, pears, bananas and melons can be risky if swallowed in large chunks. Carrot “coins” may seem fun, but can still lodge in the throat and block breathing. Instead, cut them into matchsticks. This handy slicer ($10) does just that. You can also serve carrots well-cooked.
Have a picky eater on your hands? Here are 15 ideas to make mealtimes easier.
Some candy tastes so good kids just want to swallow it—eek! That hard shape can block their airway, so it’s best to skip hard candy altogether. For a sweet treat, drizzle chocolate on fruit or cut a peanut butter cup into small pieces.
Peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts and pistachios all have potential to get lodged in a child’s windpipe. They are important foods to include early on due to allergy prevention, but instead of serving them whole, chop them up. This little chopper ($12) is even fun to use!
Nut butters may seem like a less risky choice to serve up than nuts; however, too much in a child’s mouth can ball up and get lodged in their throat. Instead, stir nut butters into yogurts or oats for the very young (six months of age) and slowly increase to thinly spread onto toast or on sandwiches for toddlers.
This healthy homemade peanut butter recipe would taste heavenly on whole wheat toast!
Popcorn may seem like a fun snack for children, but the shape and difficulty to chew can cause a popped kernel to get stuck in the throat. Skip popcorn until around 5 years of age or a child is able to recognize the importance of chewing.
Skip marshmallows with younger children, and teach older children to bite them instead of trying to eat them whole. Don’t mistake the importance of this conversation, it’s often still an issue with kids as old as 11.
How to Reduce Choking Risk
The fears of choking are understandable. But we can all take steps to minimize the risks and eat risky foods, too. Sit down with your children for meals and model how to chew food. Make sure your toddler is alert and not falling asleep while eating. Have those tough conversations, talk to your child about choking on foods and the importance of chewing. (Here are things dietitians don’t say to their kids.)
When you’re packing a lunch and not able to supervise your child, pre-cut foods to help minimize risk. Be sure caregivers recognize the signs of choking and know how to handle these situations, as well!