Warnings are issued to parents about which toys and household items are choking hazards to small children. We read the labels, listen to news reports, and do our best to be vigilant about what our little ones are putting into their mouths.
That includes food. Since their airways are so small, young children are at risk of swallowing bits of food that are too large, which can lead to choking. Whether you’re feeding them or they’re feeding themselves, accidents can happen.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, food accounts for half of choking incidents in small children. To help avert this danger, they’ve highlighted which foods pose the biggest risk to children under age 4:
Nuts can easily get caught in a child’s airway due to their size. Additionally, tiny teeth may not be able to handle chewing whole nuts, so avoid giving nuts to little ones. Sometimes shells from the nuts restrict airways too. Wait until they are well over age 4, can sit while eating, and have learned how to chew their food completely.
Besides contributing to cavities, hard candy like lollipops sends thousands of kids to the ER each year. Even a small piece can get lodged in a child’s throat. Avoid giving hard candy and marshmallows to your child until they are over age 5 and can chew thoroughly.
Because of their size and slippery texture, grapes are a major choking hazard. Doctors recommend considering a no-grape policy for kids under 4 or cutting them into quarters (or smaller) before serving them to your child. Similarly shaped foods like cherries should also be avoided at this age.
According to Johns Hopkins, one of the biggest threats to kids under 3 is hot dogs – even if you cut them up! Choking on a small piece of hot dog can lead to hospitalization if you’re not careful. If you want to give your child hot dogs, make sure to cut them into thin strips or tiny, minced bits.
Meat and Cheese Chunks
Like hot dogs, chunks of cheese and meat are difficult to chew for growing toddlers. Food should be diced so that it is no larger than 1/2 inch, and your child should be supervised while eating these foods.
Nut butters can get stuck not only to the roof of the mouth, but also in the throat. For kids under 2, skip the globs of peanut butter and other nut butters. When serving to older toddlers, spread a thin layer of it onto bread or crackers. You can also thin it out by mixing with something else, like water.
Chewing gum causes dangerously sticky situations for small children. They are prone to trying to swallow it or accidentally inhaling it while chewing. Do not give chewing gum to small children at all.
Veggies and Fruits
Vegetables should be cooked until soft, and cut into small pieces that are no bigger than 1/2 inch in size. It’s suggested to avoid stringy veggies like celery or string beans altogether. Chunks of raw vegetables or fruits like carrots or apples should be avoided for children who are still learning to chew.
Popcorn shouldn’t be given to kids until they’re at least 4. ER visits are up for toddlers and babies because of kernels getting lodged in their airways.
New and seasoned parents should remind babysitters and other caregivers about these food dangers. Err on the side of caution and don’t assume that these individuals are aware of (or pay attention to) this information.
Parents should also be aware of what they allow babies and toddlers to snack on while driving, pushing strollers, or engaging in other activities where they can’t keep an eye directly on the child. Kids this young should also be seated when they’re eating.
If your child is choking and you can’t dislodge the item on your own, call 911. Don’t try to remove the object unless you can see it, otherwise you risk pushing it further down the airway.
Local hospitals and other community groups offer courses on giving the Heimlich maneuver, first aid, and CPR to infants and children if you’re interested in hands-on learning. Otherwise, there are tutorials available online that teach people how to administer these emergency techniques on themselves or others.
Were you aware of these food hazards for children? Have you ever been in a dire situation where a child was choking?
Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Babycenter, Mayo Clinic.