Choking cautions

Making finger food safe for toddlers

Isn’t it so much simpler now that your child is old enough to eat pretty much what you do? But Lynne Warda, chair of the injury prevention committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society, cautions that because little people are not great chewers, we still have to take extra care in what we give them to prevent choking. “There are actually two groups of foods,” she explains. “One is foods that just should not be given to kids under four. Obviously, the younger the child, the more important that is — some three-year-olds might be ready to cope with some of these, but one- and two-year-olds, no. The other group is foods they can have, but you need to specially prepare them.”

Foods to avoid

When children are this small, forget about foods such as:
• popcorn
• peanuts and other small nuts
• sunflower seeds
• hard candies
• cough drops
• gum

“Young children don’t chew these properly,” says Warda. Either they are smooth and slippery, and kids may swallow and choke on them, or they break into little pieces and can be inhaled if the child laughs. Other no-nos include sharp items like fish with bones, and any snacks with toothpicks or skewers (kids tend to accidentally skewer themselves).

Foods that need extra prep

Raw hard fruits and vegetables, such as apples and carrots: Chop into fine little pieces, slice thinly or grate. “We have actually had deaths here in Manitoba from kids eating apples,” says Warda.

Fruits with pits: Remove pits first.

Round, plug-shaped food: Hot dogs and grapes, for example, should be sliced lengthwise. “Some people say slice wieners and quarter them for the youngest kids, or dice them into little wee pieces,” says Warda.

Peanut butter: This should always be spread thinly, and don’t allow young children to eat it off the spoon. “Peanut butter literally can glom up the throat and be very difficult to get rid of, even when EMS arrives,” Warda explains.

Supervision is the other essential ingredient. “You have to be right there and really paying attention to how they are handling it,” says Warda. If you notice that, on the first bite of a food, your child swallowed it whole without chewing, then maybe you need to wait a bit on that food.

She also reminds us that people of any age can choke on their food. “Kids shouldn’t be running around with food. They should be seated. And we should all chew properly — like your grandmother said.”