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.

You can read about a fatality from popcorn here. The parents of the toddler who died helped lobby for the warning labels that we see on popcorn today. 

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?

Product Recommendation

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.

Hot Dogs

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.

Try the all-natural almond butters from Justin’s. Your kids will love the different flavors, such as Honey Vanilla Almond Butter. Spread some on a whole wheat cracker and know that your kid is having a healthy snack, safely.

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.   

No matter how safe you are, unfortunately, accidents can happen. Be prepared with Training for Parenthood: Infant and Child CPR and keep your toddler happy (and safe!) with Our Healthiest Toddler Snacks.

Photo Credits: Michelle St. John Grover, Kristen Lee Douglas

Sources: New AAP Policy on Choking PreventionNumbers of Food-Related Choking Incidents in Children Continue to ClimbKids Health from Nemours: ChokingChoking Prevention: What Can I Do to Keep My Child From Choking?AAP Policy Statement – Prevention of Choking Among Children

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

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Kristen lives in Alabama with her handsome hubby and sweet son. Happily, she left behind the life of a Washington D.C. attorney to be a stay at home mama in the south. Her days are filled with writing, photography, and dance parties with her son. On a mission to use her life to love God and love others, you will also find her fiercely working on the many causes near and dear to her heart. She gets it all done thanks to Jesus, chai tea, dark chocolate, and wine.

Comments (2)

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    Jennifer Chess


    Thank you for talking about this topic. One of my daughters choked on a piece of carrot when she was around 8 months old. The carrot lodged in her throat and she stopped breathing. I had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her multiple times before it was dislodged. It was the scariest 20 seconds of my life. At 18mo she only has 10 teeth, including 1 molar on each side. I get a lot of pressure from family and friends because I always err on the side of caution and cut up their food very small and watch like a hawk. I also still serve them mostly softer foods like pasta, very well cooked vegetables, and tender meat cooked in a crock pot. However, I know exactly what it feels like to watch my child’s face turn dark red because she can’t breath and I will do everything to keep that from happening again. The one thing I was suggest you add to this article is the necessity to get trained in infant CPR. I had gotten trained only a week or two before my daughter choked and I honestly don’t think I would have known how to save her without that training.


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    Jennifer Chess


    Sorry, just saw that you already mentioned CPR!


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