From Choking Hazard to Safe Snack
You hear about food safety from your pediatricians, but sometimes you wonder if all the warnings are blown out of proportion. Is choking really that big of a problem for kids? Based on a little research, it turns out it is. According to studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics (The AAP), “choking is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children, especially those aged 3 years or younger.” Children under the age of 4 are at the greatest risk of choking. If you have thought to yourself that your toddler is good at eating and won’t choke, or that you only feed her certain foods while you are watching, you might want to seriously consider changing the way you approach food safety.
A study looking at emergency room visits from 2001-2009 for nonfatal choking injuries found that 34 children between the ages of 0-14 choke every day! Young kids have such a high risk of choking because of the sizes and shapes of certain foods in proportion to the size of their trachea and their still developing chewing skills. When a child is choking, it is because an object is blocking their trachea. The trachea is your child’s airway. The trachea in young children is the size of a straw so it is very easily blocked. This is why the size and shape of food matters! Also, smooth, hard round foods pose a great risk because they require a grinding type of chewing that children do not do well until at least the age of 4. Cutting up dangerous foods or waiting to serve certain foods to your toddler is not being overprotective, it is a smart choice to make.
Let’s look at some of the common snack foods that pose a greater than normal choking risk for young children. We’re offering up safe alternatives and ways to make these foods safe with preparation.
This is first on the list because it is one that the majority of parents do not realize is so dangerous. Popcorn seems like a good snack idea because it isn’t too large, however, toddlers can easily choke on popcorn by accidentally inhaling the pieces of the kernel. If you look closely, you will notice that packages of popcorn contain a warning label that it is not safe for babies and children under 4. Sadly, enough children have been injured or died from eating popcorn to necessitate this warning.
A safe alternative for popcorn is Pirates Booty. Made from corn, it looks like popcorn but doesn’t have the dangerous kernel pieces that can be inhaled. Pirates Booty is all natural and most every kid just gobbles it up.
Grapes are one of the foods that are dangerous because they are solid, smooth and round. For a young toddler just starting to eat, it is best to quarter them. For an older toddler, just cut them in half. It seems like an arduous task, and you can be tempted to skip cutting grapes up because you don’t have enough time. However, it only takes less than a minute. If a minute can help prevent a choking accident, injury or death, it doesn’t really seem like a lot of time, does it?
For a simple grape-cutting approach and something you can do on the go, check out the OXO Tot Grape Cutter. You just push the plunger down and grapes are quartered instantly. Grapes are great because they are a healthy, clean food that kids usually love, you just need to take the extra minute and cut them up to prevent choking.
Let’s talk about hot dogs. Hot dogs are a well known choking hazard. In fact, the AAP has pushed for hot dog makers to change the shape of the hot dog to make it less of a choking hazard. Most young kids love to eat them and they are an easy go to for a quick meal. You do not have to eliminate hot dogs from your child’s diet. If you are going to serve a hot dog to a toddler, just cut it up. Quarter it. You want to serve crescent shaped hot dog pieces, not penny shaped pieces. The penny shaped pieces are dangerous for toddlers. So, the next time you are out to eat and your young child orders a hot dog, remember that with minimum effort and only half a minute’s time, you can make that hot dog much safer to eat.
The AAP and the American Academy of Otolaryngology state that nuts should be avoided until age 7. Nuts require the grinding type of chewing already discussed that children don’t master until age 4. Toddlers tend to swallow stuff whole if they cannot chew it properly. This is why nuts are so dangerous. When a toddler swallows a nut whole, the chances of choking are very high. The size of many nuts is so similar to the size of a toddler’s esophagus that it is difficult to get a nut dislodged to stop the choking event.
To prepare a safe snack with the nutrition of nuts, make your child crackers with peanut butter or any other nut butter you prefer.
Lollipops and Hard Candy
Everyone needs a treat now and then and we love to give our kids something special. However, when you are picking out something sweet for your little one, skip the hard candy! Hard candy is the number one food that children choke on according to the emergency room study from 2001-2009 we mentioned earlier. Hard candy is slippery in a child’s mouth and round hard candy is hard for adults to bite let alone a wiggly toddler still learning to eat properly.
Give your child a cookie or ice cream for a sugary treat instead of hard candy. You can serve up homemade chocolate chip cookies or cookies that are decorated in fun ways like the World’s Best Cut-Out Cookies. Surprise your toddler with a cookie decorating party for a real treat that will be better than any piece of candy!
As with anything in raising kids, you can do your best for your family when you make informed decisions. While the research shows what is the safest choice to make, you as the parent still have to decide how you want to use the information, and if you choose a little differently than the AAP might choose, that’s ok. It is just like car seat safety; with a little research, you can learn what is the absolute safest, yet we all make different decisions on how we buckle our kids in. Just like car safety, eating whole grapes or popcorn isn’t any more of a milestone in your child’s life than sitting in a booster seat instead of a 5 point harness. Supervision and safe eating behavior is always a factor and is always important whether you cut up grapes or have never cut a grape in your life! Know what to do if your child is choking. Finally, respect other parent’s decisions and never feed a snack to another kid that is considered unsafe unless their parent says it is ok.
Sources: New AAP Policy on Choking Prevention, Numbers of Food-Related Choking Incidents in Children Continue to Climb, Kids Health from Nemours: Choking, Choking Prevention: What Can I Do to Keep My Child From Choking?, AAP Policy Statement – Prevention of Choking Among Children
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