Choking Is a Serious Risk For Toddlers; Here's How to Cut Their Food For Safe Eating
Having a toddler (aka a little one between the ages of 1 and 3) can be a lot to keep up with. From the curious hands that have to touch everything to the opinionated personalities that suddenly love to use the word "no," being a caregiver to a toddler can be a surprising time to navigate.
Among the many things toddler caregivers have to keep up with, how to safely feed the kiddos is one that shouldn't be ignored. With an estimated one child dying from choking on food every five days in the U.S. and more than 12,000 children taken to a hospital emergency room each year for food-choking injuries, knowing how to offer food to toddlers while reducing their risk of choking is incredibly important.
If you're wondering about the best ways to cut all the foods your toddler loves, you've come to the right place. Unlike us "grown-ups," toddlers are still learning how to chew food properly, running the risk of swallowing their food whole and blocking their tiny airways. Because of this, cutting your little one's food properly is of the utmost importance to reduce the risk of choking.
But getting a tip to "cut your baby's food properly" doesn't cover all the bases you need. Certain solid foods must be prepared appropriately to reduce the risk of choking.
Preparing Toddler Food to Reduce Choking Risk
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 4 should not eat small (marble-sized), sticky, or hard foods that are difficult to chew and easy to swallow whole, including foods like cheese cubes, gummy fruit snacks, hard pretzels, marshmallows, and whole nuts and seeds.
"Common choking hazards are crunchy foods (think chips, pretzels, popcorn), hard foods (like baby carrots and whole nuts), round foods the same size as a child's airway (like hot dogs and grapes), and sticky foods that are hard to chew and soften (like certain protein bars, candy, or a big spoonful of peanut butter)," Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, pediatric dietitian and creator of mamaknowsnutrition.com, told POPSUGAR. She advises that, because of this risk, these foods that are not cut or prepared in a toddler-friendly way should be avoided.
A great rule of thumb is to avoid serving foods that are as wide around as a nickel, which is about the size of a young child's throat. "By cutting foods into appropriate sizes, you minimize choking risk by ensuring foods are shaped and sized to make them more easily swallowed and less likely to get lodged in the trachea," Amber Rodenas, RD, LDN, a pediatric dietitian and owner of Littles Nutrition, explained.
To help you navigate this tricky world of preparing toddler food, we rounded up 15 popular toddler foods to show you exactly how to prepare them for your little toddler. Just keep in mind that advice is always evolving, and you should always default to your own healthcare provider for the most up-to-date tips on how to prepare your toddler's food to help keep them safe.
— Additional reporting by Camila Barbeito
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eggs as an important food for infants and toddlers. Eggs are a complete protein with varying amounts of all key nutrients cited for brain development by the American Academy of Pediatrics, including choline. In fact, eggs are one of the most concentrated sources of choline, and just one large egg (with the yolk!) provides the daily choline needs for babies and 75 percent of the recommended intake for toddlers. Plus, the early introduction of eggs may also help reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy.
Eggs are an easy and fast-cooking food to feed little ones. Whether hard-boiling, scrambling, or making an omelet, ensure that the yolk is fully cooked before serving. For babies younger than 9 months, mash hard-boiled eggs to make an egg salad (try mixing it with creamy avocado and thin as needed with water, formula, or human milk). You can also offer scrambled eggs or cut an omelet into easy-to-grab strips. For children older than 9 months, you can offer quartered or sliced hard-boiled eggs. Peel the hard-boiled egg completely, cut it lengthwise to create two halves, and then cut each half in half again.
Whole grapes are a no-no for little ones, as they are a perfect diameter to block the esophagus and cause choking if they are swallowed whole. For little ones, be sure to cut each grape in half vertically, and then again in half to form long quarters. Children over the age of 2 may enjoy grapes that are cut vertically only (length-wise), per the Canadian Academy of Pediatrics, but you can stay extra safe and cut them into quarters until your child is out of toddlerhood. Of course, it's always best to follow the advice of your healthcare provider and if your grapes have seeds, don't forget to remove them before serving!
Rodenas recommends that food pieces such as apples, carrots, and celery be cut into long, thin stalks similar to shoestring French fries. The Canadian Academy of Pediatrics suggests serving apples chopped or grated, too. Barnes suggests certain toddlers can eat apples whole, too, but be sure to keep an eye on them as they're biting and chewing.
Giving toddlers whole cherry tomatoes is a no-go, as they can also get lodged into the esophagus if they're not chewed appropriately. Like grapes, cutting cherry tomatoes into quarters will be your safest bet. Rodenas suggests that whole tomatoes may also be served diced.
While we don't suggest that hot dogs become an everyday food for little ones, as they are typically loaded with sodium — once in a while, they can fit into a balanced and healthy diet.
That being said, the tube-like shape of hot dogs can be a choking hazard for little ones. Because of this, hot dogs can be cut lengthwise into quarters and then cut into bite-sized pieces to keep them as safe as possible.
Barnes shared that for one-year-olds, hot dogs may be enjoyed after they are sliced lengthwise in quarters. Once the child is 2 or 3, Barnes said they may be eaten after they are sliced lengthwise in half.
Baby carrots are a fantastic way to include veggies in your toddler's diet, as their somewhat-sweet taste, crunch, and bright color make them an exciting option for littles. Even though baby carrots are already small, they can present a choking hazard. Barnes suggests avoiding raw carrots until closer to age 2. Once the kiddo is past their second birthday, slice raw baby carrots into thin strips, per Barnes. The Canadian Academy of Pediatrics recommends chopping and grating carrots before serving them to toddlers. Thicker chunks, like the ones pictured, are more appropriate for older toddlers if they are developmentally ready for them.
Celery's stringy consistency can make it difficult for toddlers to swallow it properly. Before serving celery to a little one, use a peeler to remove the stringy outside layer of the celery stick.
Like apples, Rodenas recommends cutting celery into long, thin sticks similar to shoestring french fries for toddlers. As the toddler gets older, larger pieces of celery may be offered, depending on the kiddo.
Although blueberries are already pretty small, their round shape can make for a possible choking hazard, so quickly cutting them in half is a safer way to serve them to toddlers. The antioxidant-rich superfood is even easier to pick up this way.
If you are serving your blueberries whole, Barnes recommends serving them smashed until around 18 months.