Whether you start with rice cereal, do traditional purees, make your own baby food, or try baby-led weaning, the road to starting solids can be a daunting task! There are many things to keep in mind, and oftentimes, parents will receive conflicting information from different doctors, friends, and articles online. No matter which route you choose when giving foods to your little one, there is always one major factor to keep in mind: choking.
Choking risk is highest for children ages 4 and under. Of course, those most at risk are infants and toddlers who haven’t yet mastered the art of biting, chewing, and swallowing. Most toddlers won’t have a full set of teeth until about 18 months, and usually won’t have both sets of molars until closer to age 3! Chewing and grinding up food, learning to take bites that aren’t too big, and learning not to gag on food are all part of the process of learning to eat.
Although choking is a major concern, it is important to note that gagging is different from choking. Gagging and coughing up food are actually protective reflexes to prevent your baby from choking on food and accidentally breathing food into the airways. If you are very concerned about gagging and/or choking, consider taking an infant CPR class to learn about ways to protect your child in an emergency!
Here are the top foods you’ll want to be aware of as your little one begins his or her journey with food:
Whole grapes should be avoided completely until age 4. Because of their shape, they have the potential to become dangerously lodged in a child’s throat. Babies who are beginning to eat table food should have grapes sliced into quarters, lengthwise. Having long, skinny chunks makes it easier for baby to swallow. Continue to divide grapes into at least halves until your child is older.
2. Hot dogs.
Like grapes, hot dogs are another round food that can block a child’s airway if it becomes lodged in the throat. A baby or toddler should never be given a whole hot dog to take bites of. Never slice hot dogs into round circles - instead, slice lengthwise down the middle and cut into smaller chunks. Although hot dogs are a typical “kid food,” they are one of the most dangerous if not served correctly.
3. Hard candy.
Hard candies present a major choking hazard for little ones under 4. Many hard candies are round, perfectly sized to get trapped in a young child’s airway. Excess sugar should be avoided for little ones too!
4. Raw fruits and vegetables.
Raw fruits and vegetables can become a choking hazard if a baby or toddler can’t bite and chew them into adequately small pieces. Uncooked carrots and apples are especially dangerous. Although older toddlers and preschoolers may enjoy munching on raw fruits and veggies, always supervise them when eating and never feed a child who is not seated and upright. If you want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet, consider pureeing them into pasta sauces, blending them in smoothies, or baking them into muffins.
5. Nuts and seeds.
Babies, toddlers, and young children should not be given raw whole nuts and seeds. Nuts like almonds, cashews, and peanuts are hard to chew and have sharp edges. If you want to incorporate nuts and seeds into your child’s diet, opt for a sandwich using a nut or seed butter and jelly.
Popcorn can be tricky to chew and swallow, and the unpopped kernels are especially worrisome. Popcorn presents an aspiration risk as well. Although popcorn is a fun treat food, hold off on giving it to your little one until he is older. There are plenty of safer alternatives out there nowadays! Rice cakes or puffed corn are excellent alternatives.
7. Crunchy foods.
For babies and toddlers under 2, use extra caution when offering hard, crunchy snacks such as pretzels or hearty crackers. Chips, especially tortilla chips, should be avoided for babies and toddlers as well because of the choking hazard and sharp edges. Opt for softer, puffy snacks that dissolve like teething wafers, cereals, or cheese puffs.
8. Chunks of meat or cheese.
Large chunks of meat or large chunks of cheese can be a choking hazard because they are often hard to chew. Use your discretion when it comes to offering your child meats. Cut into small, bite-sized pieces and opt for juicy, tender meat. Some cheeses can be hard to chew as well and never cut cheese (such as string cheese) into round pieces that can block a child’s airway. A great alternative is shredded cheese, which many babies and toddlers can pick up easily.
9. Sticky foods or nut butter.
Avoid straight spoonfuls of nut butter like peanut butter, as they can be difficult for a baby or toddler to maneuver and swallow. Although it should go without saying, avoid gummy candy, taffy, and gum with little ones. They probably don’t need the extra processed sugar in their diet, anyway!
Choking can be a major fear for many parents when it comes to starting solids. However, if you know what foods to avoid, your little one should have a safe and enjoyable experience with beginning foods! Remember, always consult with your child’s pediatrician before starting solids of any kind. And don’t forget to grab a KeaBabies Bandana Bib to use during mealtime and snacktime!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.