Foods That Can Be Unsafe for Toddlers

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - 4:22pm

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

You have successfully made it through the infant feeding cycle, transitioning your child from breast milk or formula, through baby cereal and pureed fruits and vegetables, and on to finger foods. Now that your infant has become a toddler, there is a wider variety of foods you can offer her. As she begins to explore this new world of “big kid” food, there are a few precautions to keep in mind. The following are some foods that are potentially unsafe for your toddler:

Peanut Butter
Peanut butter served alone, such as on a spoon, is unsafe for toddlers. It can be hard to swallow, and may stick to the mouth or throat, possibly obstructing the airway. Even a soft piece of bread with a generous spread of peanut butter will become very sticky in a toddler’s mouth when mixed with saliva. To avoid this, spread a very thin layer on crackers or toast. Mixing peanut butter with a small amount of applesauce will also thin it out and reduce its stickiness.

Large Chunks
Toddlers have not yet mastered the art of chewing food completely before swallowing. In fact, they likely only have a few teeth, and do not have molars to help grind food to a fine consistency. Therefore, some of the foods you give your toddler will go directly down her throat, and anything larger than pea-sized pieces of food have the potential to get stuck. Vegetables should be cooked well and finely diced. Even bite-sized fruits such as grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into quarters before serving. Meats and cheese should be cut into very small pieces or shredded.

Small, Hard Foods
Some foods are choking hazards despite being small. Nuts, hard candy including cough drops, seeds, popcorn, dried fruit, and raisins can all easily get lodged in a toddler’s throat. Raw vegetables and under-ripe fruits, even when cut into pea-sized pieces, are hazardous. Avoid these foods until your toddler is at least 24 months.

Create a Safe Eating Environment

In addition to avoiding foods that are choking hazards and providing appropriately sized pieces, you can also create an eating environment that minimizes choking risk. Most importantly, do not leave your toddler unsupervised while she’s eating. Never let her run with food in her mouth.  To make this easier, restrict eating to appropriate areas, such as a high chair.  Sit her upright in her high chair and discourage her from eating and talking at the same time.

A Word about Allergies
By 12 months of age, most children’s immune and digestive systems can tolerate the foods containing common allergens, such as cow’s milk, soy, wheat, egg whites, and citrus fruits. However, if your child had allergies as an infant or you are concerned about a family history of allergies, you may want to delay the introduction of allergens. In this case, wait until two years to introduce egg whites and three years for shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts (including peanut butter).

This is an exciting time for you and your toddler as she explores many new tastes and textures. This is your chance to help her expand her palate and lessen her chances of becoming a picky eater as an older child and adult. Don’t let fears of choking hazards and allergies stand in your way of offering a variety of wholesome foods, but do take heed of the precautions that will help keep your toddler safe.

*This article is intended for general information purposes only, is not individual-specific, nor is it intended to replace the advice of your healthcare team.