Top 10 Choking Risk Foods For Kids

Every five days in this country a child chokes to death while eating.  As soon as Junior makes the move from strained to finger foods we start to worry — how big is too big?  Which foods are the culprits?  Are peas OK? (yes).  Grapes? (not so much). Three quarters of choking incidents happen in children under 3, so here’s the lowdown on what to avoid.

#1  Hot dogs. By far the leader of the pack, their shape and size make them the runaway winner of the choking prize.  They almost look like a child’s trachea.  Frankly, we think there are lots of reasons (nitrites, chopped entrails, etc.) to steer clear of these things.

#2  Whole grapes. Again, shape and size are the culprits.  You can avoid the risk by cutting them in 1/2 or quarters.

#3  Popcorn. Tends to get inhaled without chewing, and it’s irregular shape is just right for getting stuck in small airways.

#4  Nuts. Round and hard, they can get lodged and are difficult to budge.  They also pose an allergy risk under a year, so you might as well wait until kiddo has enough teeth to chew them up.

#5 Marshmallows. Easy to inhale, especially the mini variety.  They’re made of pure sugar anyway — who needs them?

#6  Hard candies. There’s hardly a family who doesn’t have an up-close-and-personal hard candy choking story.  Don’t let the tragic ending happen to the ones you love.

#7 Carrots. Size and shape again (and they sure don’t dissolve).  Try shredding them with a peeler or (for those of us who love shortcuts) buy them pre-shredded in bags.

#8 Peanut butter hunks. Can conform to the airways and form a tenacious seal that’s difficult to dislodge.  Instead, serve small amounts spread thinly on toast or crackers.

#9  Chewing gum. Enough said.  Why would you give gum to your toddler, anyway?

#10  Balloons. No, it’s not food, but it’s actually the #1 cause of choking deaths in children.  Keep them away until yours is old enough to have good control (like age 8 or 9), and even then use them in the presence of an adult.

By now I’m sure you get the drift.  Anything that can plug small airways or be inhaled easily and get stuck is a bad idea.  Food that’s soft, smaller (like the pea example), or dissolves easily (like Cheerios) works best until those molars come in.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending a food-labeling system for those riskiest foods, and is asking the FDA to establish a nationwide food related choking-incidence surveillance and reporting system to warn the public of existing and emerging hazards.

Choking is preventable, and government and consumer protection groups need to work with parents to protect children.  Meanwhile, do what you can to keep yours safe.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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