A child’s ability to grind food with his teeth is limited until he is at least 4 years old. When a baby or toddler does not chew his food well, he may try to swallow it whole or incompletely ground-up, which puts him at risk for choking. Because of this, it is critical that babies and young children always be supervised while eating meals and snacks.
Closely monitor your child’s chewing and swallowing abilities in order to know when it might (or might not) be appropriate for her to try more difficult textures. Generally, children less than 4 years of age are at greatest risk of choking, but that does not mean there’s no need to be concerned about older children. Above all, take your child’s developmental readiness and skills into account.
Choking Hazards to Avoid or Modify as Appropriate up to at least 4 Years of Age
Hard or Crunchy Foods That Are Tough to Chew and/or Swallow
- Raw vegetables – serve soft-cooked and chopped up until your child is at least 1 year old; when appropriate, dice into tiny pieces or serve shredded
- Corn niblets
- Raw carrots, including baby carrots – serve soft-cooked and cut-up until at least 1 year of age; when appropriate, shred, cut into thin sticks, or cut thin coins into quarters
- Chunks of hard fruit – serve soft-cooked and chopped until at least 1 year; when appropriate, dice into very small pieces or shred
- Apples – serve soft-cooked and cut-up (or serve unsweetened applesauce) until at least 1 year; when appropriate, chop into very small pieces
- Large chunks of meat, coarsely-cut meats, and meats that are difficult to chew and/or swallow – do not serve if too coarse or tough; if appropriate, shred or dice into very small, manageable pieces
- Nuts and seeds
Sticky or Chewy Foods
- Sticky and gooey candies
- Peanut butter and other nut butters. Serve creamy only (not crunchy) and spread a very thin layer with jelly on toasted bread. Do not offer peanut or other nut butters on a teaspoon.
- Raisins and other pieces of small, dried fruit
- Chewing gum
Round, “Slippery” and Firm Foods
- Whole grapes, whole cherry or grape tomatoes, and whole olives – cut into quarters
- Beware of cherry with pits. Both the cherry and the pit are choking hazards.
- Hot dogs and sausage – do not serve until at least 1 year; when appropriate, cut lengthwise into fourths and then into quarter-inch sections
- Hard candies, round candies, suckers, jawbreakers, gum drops, jelly beans
- Avoid serving melon balls – serve soft-cooked and chopped up until at least 1 year; when appropriate, dice into tiny pieces and ensure there is no rind present
- Avoid serving string cheese that is cut into chunks. “String” the cheese and then cut the strings into bite-sized pieces.