Choking Hazards for Toddlers and Beyond

By Team Ahimsa



Time to Read: 9 min

Nikhila Raol, MD, MPH

When my youngest son was one-year-old, my father-in-law unknowingly handed him a whole pecan to eat while I was in the kitchen. Hearing a commotion, I turned about to see my sister doing a finger sweep and my son still choking.

Being a pediatric otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in working with tiny ears, noses and throats), sticking fingers and instruments in the head and neck was my expertise. So I ran over, stuck my finger in his mouth and swept out the pecan. While I would not recommend anyone go through this traumatic experience, it did make me realize that as caregivers, a little education on when it’s safe to eat certain foods would be really helpful! And in hindsight, my finger sweep posed the risk of shoving the pecan further down his throat.

Please don’t do what I did, but instead see the choking hazard warning guide below for the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended steps. My own scary experience as a mom is exactly why I want to share some information with you today - here we go!

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Kids under 4 years of age are at the highest risk of choking.

Kids under 4 years of age are at the highest risk of choking due to lack of appropriate molars to break down hard foods combined with a lack of a mastery of chewing.

This is because of their underdeveloped dental structure, specifically the absence of appropriate molars necessary for breaking down hard or tough foods effectively. Younger children also have not yet fully mastered the complex process of chewing. This combination of physiological and developmental factors significantly increases their likelihood of choking, emphasizing the need for vigilant supervision and adaptation of their diets to ensure their safety.

Here is a list of the top choking hazards for toddlers and high risk foods/types of food that I avoided giving my own children until they were at least 4-years-old (not accounting for the pecan incident!!).

Top Choking Hazards for Toddlers

Nuts and Seeds as a Choking Hazard

As you know from eating these yourselves, you have to do a lot of grinding and chewing to get these to a safe consistency to swallow. I can’t tell you the number of times I have removed these from kids’ airways. But wait, you think to yourself, didn’t we just hear that we should introduce nuts early to prevent allergy? We, as pediatric otolaryngologists, are absolutely on board with early introduction of food to prevent allergy, but want to ensure we are being safe. Stick to feeding these foods to your younger kids in a nut/seed butter form to allow for early exposure while avoiding the choking hazard.

Peanut Butter and other Nut Butters as a Choking Hazard

And on the topic of nut butter, just be sure you aren’t giving gobs of it to your kids. It is quite sticky and sometimes hard to get down (see Barney’s peanut butter and jelly song—it can really get stuck anywhere in your mouth and throat - link below!!).

Hot Dogs as a Choking Hazard

These are actually one of the scariest food choking hazards. That’s because when kids choke on these, they are typically a size that can get stuck right at the entrance to the voice box and completely obstruct the airway. One way to reduce this risk is to cut the hot dogs lengthwise and into small pieces (≤1/2 inch).

Hard/Gooey/Sticky Candy as a Choking Hazard

These candies are often the size of the opening to the airway and can (like hotdogs) also completely obstruct the entrance. Combine that with the stickiness and need for lots of chewing - it makes the list of foods that are choking hazards.

Chewing Gum as a Choking Hazard

In addition to the fact that a lot of toddlers do not understand the concept of chewing and not swallowing what they chew, the ability of gum to mold to the airway makes it a high risk food!

Whole Grapes as a Choking Hazard

While grapes are good for your kids, the best way to serve them is quartered and without the skin for toddlers.

Chunks of Meat and Cheese as a Choking Hazard

Cut into no more than a half-inch pieces to make sure that if your toddler swallows them whole, they will go down easily and not get stuck in their throat.

Raw Vegetables as a Choking Hazard

We absolutely encourage early veggie consumption, but stay away from the raw forms early on. The safest way to serve these is either pureed or in a squishy form. If you can compress it into a sort of a puree between your fingers, you are good to go!

Popcorn as a Choking Hazard

This is another food that is risky because it’s difficult to chew it well. Additionally, the pericarp, which is attached to the white popped part of the popcorn, can independently go into the airway and cause issues!

Being a parent can be tough, especially when kids are curious and are putting everything in their mouths. A few other foods to beware of are raisins, apple chunks and marshmallows.

How to Reduce Choking Incidents

Now that we’ve covered some of the foods that are most likely to cause choking, and you’ve removed them from the immediate vicinity, how can we best make sure that the child won’t end up choking on the foods you’ve decided to serve instead?

  • Make sure your toddler is seated upright when eating.
  • Don’t let them walk around and eat.
  • Avoid feeding them in a car or moving vehicle.
  • Encourage them to eat slowly and chew thoroughly.

While every food has some inherent risk of choking, these tips can help to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of choking incidents.

Being a parent can be tough, especially when kids are curious and are putting everything in their mouths. As a doctor who specializes in children’s airways and a mom of 3 young kids, choking is something that is pretty much always on my mind. I hope these tips can make your choices a little easier when deciding on what to feed your little ones.

Now that we’ve covered the foods that pose the highest risk of choking, you may be wondering what the best foods for a child’s overall health may be, and for that, we suggest you take a look at our mealtime guide, which looks at it from the perspective of finding the most nutritious, balanced, and enticing meals for children. While our business is stainless steel dishware, our mission is healthier and more engaged children at the dinner table, and we hope this guide to choking hazards for toddlers is the first step in a health-focused shift in family dynamics that will engage your children with the food they eat.

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

About Dr. Nikhila Raol

Nikhila Raol is an Associate Professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and health services researcher at Emory, as well as a pediatric otolaryngologist at CHOA. She completed her medical education at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and her otolaryngology training at Baylor College of Medicine. She completed her pediatric otolaryngology training at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, during which time she obtained her Master of Public Health degree at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Her primary research and clinical interests center on the management of children with pediatric feeding disorder and obstructive sleep apnea. When she’s not obsessing about how other people’s kids eat and sleep, she obsesses over how her three kids and husband and dog eat and sleep. She and her family also love spending time reading, rooting on their favorite sports teams, and enjoying the outstanding Atlanta performing arts scene.

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

About Ahimsa Founder Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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