Parents are aware of the experts’ advice on what not to serve toddlers as finger foods: no hot dogs, whole grapes, or peanuts, but there is quite a larger list of foods that are just plain a bad idea to give, and it goes beyond the usual. Choking injuries are caused by many foods that parents are told are safe and excellent food choices. Many are indeed nutritionally wonderful, but frankly, the risk in giving them is too great. Choking on food is something parents fear, yet seem to believe won’t happen to their child.
Age four is the age it is acceptable to begin giving the foods that are not appropriate for toddlers. By this age a child should be well able to sit calmly to eat without moving all around, talking and laughing with food in the mouth, or eating while jumping or running. They are also able to consciously control the ability to move their food from the front to the back of the mouth to swallow, as well as move it forward with a small cough if it should start to go down wrong.
Raw fruits and veggies are so often suggested as healthy snacks, and they are indeed, but not until they are finely diced, shredded, pureed, or cooked to tenderness. Seeds and peanuts are very risky and should be avoided until age 3 1/2 or 4. Some foods have a texture or feature that makes them a choking danger. Popcorn, with its light and airy consistency, is easily inhaled into the windpipe. In addition, the hulls attach to soft surfaces in the mouth causing gagging and choking. Celery is very stringy and can be dangerous if not chewed thoroughly. Peanut butter shouldn’t be given in large globs because of its very sticky nature. Very soft and small foods can also pose a problem. Things such as marshmallows, jelly candy, raisins and dried fruit, and even chewing gum, should be eaten under close supervision. The classic lollipop is even very dangerous due to breaking off the stick and getting sucked into the throat. Parents should be aware that ANY food can become an accident waiting to happen if children are riding in a moving car while eating or drinking.
Small children should avoid other foods as well due to the risk of an allergic reaction. Cow’s milk, egg whites, peanuts and peanut butter, shellfish and strawberries are just a few more common ones. Always wait until one year old to introduce these foods. In addition,if either parent has food allergies themselves, it is advised to wait until the third birthday to give them.
Lastly,botulism poisoning is a great risk for small children under one year old. Do not give honey or even corn syrup to be safe. An ingredient in these products that is tolerated by older toddlers is very harmful to babies because they lack the maturity of their stomach properties to absorb and digest it safely. Never dip pacifiers into honey or corn syrup.
Always use great care and consideration when choosing baby’s and toddler’s foods. Supervise all eating activities at all times, and be knowledgeable in what to do should choking occur. Call your Red Cross chapter to find CPR training. Remember that children depend on us to choose what is safe for them.