Until your little one learns to chew completely and properly, certain foods pose a choking hazard. So till they celebrate their fourth birthday, here are some foods to avoid giving your babies and toddlers.
WORDS GWYNETH TEO
Your baby may just be a crawling bub but as he starts to walk and explore the world around him, he will be eager to try some of the food you are having at the dinner table.
As a mother, you should take it as an encouraging sign to introduce to baby the various tastes and to cultivate in him a liking towards a variety of food. However, before you gleefully spoon off some portions of your food for baby, do be discerning – there are age-appropriate foods for baby at every stage and some of them may turn into a choking hazard, so it pays to be alert.
Just remember that your child is still learning how to chew and swallow food. Although babies as young as six or seven months can bite off a piece of food with their new front teeth, they do not have the capability of chewing their food well until all their molars are developed and they have had lots of practice with them, say by the time they turn four.
Pieces of food that are not chewed by your baby can become a choking hazard as they block the airway and cause an infection. Various foods that are safe for adults to consume can pose as choking hazards for a toddler and should be avoided. Since all kids love to snack, it pays to choose snacks wisely: Don’t give kids popcorn, nuts, seeds, whole grapes, hard candy, gummy candy or marshmallows until they turn four.
Choosing foods that are nutritious aside, parents should be on the guard for signs of allergic reactions when introducing new foods to their toddlers.
What may be bite-sized to an adult may be more than a mouthful to a young child. Get this: a portion of food bigger than a pea can get lodged in a young child’s (less than two years old) throat.
Hence, you should always break down the food, for instance, vegetables such as celery and carrots into mini morsels. They should be cooked till soft before being diced or chopped up.
Cut fruits like grapes or cherry tomatoes into quarters before serving them to your child. Serve well-cooked apple or chunks of very ripe pear.
As for meats like chicken, use your fingers to shred into tiny pieces. If you are feeding fish to your child, always use your fingers to shred the flesh to sift out any bone debris that may be embedded inside the cooked fish.
Factor in a bit more preparation time, meat, cheese, or fruit can be fine for children to munch on. Cut meat into pieces no larger than the length of your fingertips – similarly for cheese which should be sliced into the short strips or shredded.
Common bite-sized snacks
Candies that are hard, cough drops, nuts, and popcorn should not be given to your child as they may get stuck in your child’s throat. Meanwhile, seeds from fruits can be lodged in a child’s airway and cause an infection.
Dollops of peanut butter and other nut butters are also a choking hazard. Avoid spreading too thick a layer of peanut butter on breads or crackers as they can be tough for your baby with a tiny throat to swallow. Spread them thinly on breads or crackers instead.
Gum may be a treat to adults but a threat to a toddler. A normal sized chewing gum is way too much for a toddler’s tiny mouth. As gum is also sticky, it could get stuck inside a toddler’s throat. Soft, sticky candy of all kinds should be avoided for toddler treats. Similarly, marshmallows, jelly or gummy candies may get lodged in your child’s throat, so they should be avoided.
Whole hot dogs
They usually contain nitrite which is not healthy. If need be, cut them into noodle-like strips which makes it easier for baby to consume.
Most of us would cut grapes in half thinking that they are safe for babies – it is not. The grapes should be thinly sliced or pureed before serving to baby.
Popcorn is another choking hazard because of the small kernels. Give them coco crunch or honey stars instead. For an even healthier alternative, go for low-sugar breakfast cereals.
Raw vegetables are too hard for babies who are learning to chew. Give them soft-cooked peas, beans, and carrots instead. Tofu is another alternative but just remember to mash them up as well.
Your child may be older and gaining competency in his chewing skills, however, you should still be alert towards choking hazards such as whole nuts which could completely block his airway. As long as there’s no history of food allergies or other allergies in your family you can give your baby peanuts once they’re six months old as long as they’re crushed or ground into peanut butter.
Other Foods on the No-No List
While these foods may not pose a choking hazard, it should still be avoided.
Honey and sugar
Sometimes, honey contains bacteria that can produce toxins in a baby’s intestines that causes infant botulism. Do not feed honey to your child until they turn one. As it is a form of sugar, it is better to avoid it to prevent tooth decay. Avoid sugary snacks and drinks too to prevent tooth decay. Sweeten food with formula milk, breast milk or mashed fruits like bananas.
Adults may turn to “low-fat” versions of food to skip the fat but fat is an important source of calories and provides some vitamins for babies and young children. Babies and young children under two ought to consume full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese rather than low-fat substitutes.
This is “bad” fat, so avoid giving your child too many foods that are high in saturated fat, for instance, potato chips and junk food like burgers and cakes.
Shark, swordfish and marlin
Shark, swordfish or marlin contain mercury which can affect a growing baby’s nervous system, so it’s best to avoid them.
Raw and undercooked eggs
Although eggs can be given to babies over six months old, ensure they are thoroughly cooked until both the white and yolk are solid.
Avoid adding too much salt into your cooking as it is bad for baby’s kidneys. Stock cubes or gravy are often high in salt.
Other Safety Precautions
You should also discourage your child from eating when he is watching television or when he is moving or distracted. Try to keep him seated – not lying down or walking – while eating. Do not feed him at the playground when he is climbing up the steps, or rocking on the kiddy ride. It is advisable to keep a close eye on young children whenever they are eating or drinking as they cannot produce any noise to alert you that they are choking.
As a guiding principle, always cut up and spread food thinly. Mash or grind food so that it is sufficiently soft for your baby. At the finger-food stage, cut fruit, veggies, meat, and cheese into pea-size pieces.