Choking hazards are everywhere. Small toys, bottle caps, items that are long and stringy... Truly, everywhere. BUT, we are easily able to pick up around the house, put things up, and hide things behind baby gates and baby locks! Win, right? Well, while our homes become a little bit safer with all of those measures, one of the main sources of choking for babies and infants actually comes at mealtime. Keep reading for what to avoid, how to intervene, what to look for, as well as some age-appropriate, hazard-free recipes.
Top 10 Food Choking Hazards for Babies & Toddlers
Pediatrician Catie Sandberg, DO, from our friends over at UnityPoint Health, identifies 10 foods not to give your little one and explains why they are unsafe for your child. These tips are particularly important for children under the age of 4, as they have not quite mastered those chewing skills yet.
1. Hot dogs. This cookout staple is a choking hazard due to the tube shape and compressibility. If you do choose to give hot dogs to children, it is safest to cut them lengthwise and in small pieces.
2. Larger chunks of meat/cheese. Make sure meats and cheese are cut into small, manageable bites for babies and toddlers. Dr. Sandberg recommends avoiding cutting food into strips because children can easily bite off a piece, which is too large for them to handle.
3. Whole grapes. This fruit is fine for babies, as long as it is prepared correctly. Grapes should be cut lengthwise and quartered for all young children. Grape skin can lead to choking when it separates from the grape. For babies, it is best to use cup up grapes without skin.
4. Hard candies. Many candies, including hard candies, can cause issues because they may be the size of the airway.
5. Taffy. This sweet treat is dangerous because it can mold and conform to block a child’s airway.
6. Gum. Just like taffy, gum can mold just right to block a child’s airway, making it a significant choking hazard.
7. Nuts & seeds. While healthy, these items are a choking hazard for young children largely due to children’s inability to grind food. Remember, children under four may not have all their childhood molars and are still learning this skill.
8. Popcorn. Again, this is a risk due to a young child’s inability to chew well. If you’re wondering when babies can eat popcorn, it’s best to hold off until around the age of four.
9. Peanut butter. Globs of peanut butter can be a choking hazard in the same way as gum, taffy, and hard candies. It can conform to a child’s airway.
10. Raw vegetables. When a whole vegetable is given, it is easy for a piece to break off, perhaps cut by the child’s incisors (front teeth). That’s when the large pieces of hard vegetables become a choking hazard.
For more age-specific food hazards please visit:
Gagging and Coughing vs. Choking
An infant is developmentally able to suck and swallow and is equipped with involuntary refluxes, including gagging and coughing, to help protect against breathing food into his/her airways. It's a natural reaction and often harmless, but for parents, it can be incredibly frightening. Here's some more information from Children's Wisconsin:
When you start feeding solids around 6 months, your child’s gag reflex is actually farther forward in the mouth — it’ll move farther back in the throat as they get older. Because of that, coughing and gagging and expelling food will be a common occurrence during those first few months of solids.
If your baby starts to cough or gag, give them time to work through it on their own. Don’t try and remove the food with your fingers initially as you risk pushing it farther back and causing it to get lodged in their throat. In extreme cases, your baby might actually vomit. Again, this is a perfectly normal and instinctual defense against choking.
CPR and First Aid
Choking, on the other hand, means a piece of food has partially or completely blocked the windpipe. Whereas gagging involves a lot of coughing and gurgling, choking can cause high pitched sounds while breathing or may even be silent. If this occurs, you need to intervene immediately.
Brush up on your choking response knowledge with this video guide:
Practices to Prevent Choking
The CDC recommends the following practices at mealtime to prevent choking:
Sit up while eating (no lying down).
Sit in a high chair or another safe place.
Avoid eating in the car or stroller.
Cook and prepare food in ways that are appropriate for your child’s development.
The United States Department of Agriculture Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children put together a guide on Infant Nutrition and Feeding. Please see THIS SECTION on complimentary foods and how to transition.
Recipes and Meal Ideas
Is your child ready for the transition to solids? Are you trying to gear up for baby-led weaning? Check out these awesome recipes and meal ideas!