Choking: How to Keep Your Kiddos Safe

I’m not yet a parent but I’ve heard many parents over the years comment on how their worst fear is their child choking. In fact, that squished face kid in the picture is my brother who once sucked down a gummy worm just a bit too excitedly and choked on it. He certainly knocked a few years off my mom’s life with that one but thankfully walked away unscathed. He did not, however, get gummy worms after that for a very long time.

Knowing what to do when your child is choking is super important (we’ll cover that later). But perhaps even more important is knowing what foods to avoid and how to prepare food for your kiddos to minimize the risk of any kind of choking event. I’ll also cover a few lifestyle tips to help reduce choking risks.

Here’s the thing: anything your child puts into his or her mouth is a potential choking hazard (food and non-food alike). You could drive yourself nuts worrying that they’re going to choke on anything and everything but I would encourage you to take a deep breath and focus on the things you can control. So what foods are the major choking culprits?

The foods you see above (grapes, peanut butter, hard raw fruits and veggies like carrots and apples, dry snacks like granola and popcorn, and whole seeds and nuts) among others, including airway shaped foods like hotdogs, or overly chewy foods like dried fruit, are risky foods but that doesn’t mean they’re off limits for your child. They just need to be prepared in a way that’s safest for them to eat.

  • Foods that are small and round, like grapes and hotdogs, should be cut into quarters length wise and then further cut into smaller sizes* if necessary. Avoid cutting into round slices as this can still block the airway. Length wise slices are easily chewed and slide through easier if accidentally swallowed whole.
  • Hard, raw fruits and veggies should be cut up into bite sized pieces. Make sure your child has enough teeth to chew these properly. They can otherwise be cooked to soften or can be added to things like smoothies or breads to get them in!
  • Dry, crunchy foods like toast and granola can be a bit risky because they don’t have much moisture and tend to glob up when they’re chewed, making them hard to swallow. You can add butter or jelly to toast to make it a little safer. Granola can be softened with milk or yogurt or broken up into small pieces.
  • Whole seeds and nuts can be ground up and eaten that way to prevent the risk of inhaling or choking on them or they can be added to other dishes to make them more exciting.
  • Thick, chewy foods like dried fruits or marshmallows should be chopped up into small pieces that allow for easier chewing. Again, keep in mind how many teeth your child has when deciding whether they should try a super chewy food.
  • Peanut butter and other nut butter and thick spreads: this last one is a bit of a sensitive topic for me as I LOVE peanut butter and frequently eat it by the tablespoon but this one is a pretty darn high risk food for kiddos. It can be super globby and when it gets stuck in the windpipe, it is nearly impossible to get it out with traditional choking remedies because it just sticks. The best way to let your kiddos enjoy this magic food is to spread it thin on another food like bread or allow them to use it sparingly as a dip for apple slices or other snacks. As delicious as it might be, you absolutely want to avoid giving your child a big glob of peanut butter for snack.
  • This is not a full list of potential choking hazards. Check out this link from Nationwide Children’s Hospital for more foods to keep an eye on and some additional tips for preparing food safely.

*In general, foods should be cut into pieces no larger than 1/2″ as foods at this size can usually safely pass through the esophagus (the food tube) without getting stuck if swallowed whole.

There are a few things that you should generally avoid until your child has a more adult sized mouth and airway and has better coordination in terms of chewing and swallowing. These are foods that don’t really add any nutritional benefit meaning their risk really outweighs their benefit when it comes to your child’s diet. These include things like hard candy, gum, mints, gummy snacks like fruit snacks and gummy bears, popcorn, and snacks that have dry, sharp edges.

There are also a number of non-food items that pose particular risk to children, especially those under the age of 4, as these kiddos tend to spend more time crawling around on the floor and may come across these things more often. According to HealthyChildren, this includes:

  • Coins
  • Buttons and button batteries
  • Toys with small parts, especially with small removable parts
  • Small balls or barbles
  • Game pieces
  • Balloons, especially after popping as the pieces tend to fly and get lost only to be found later by a little one
  • Small hair accessories
  • Pen and marker caps
  • Magnets
  • Pieces of hard pet food (, 2019).

So how can you keep your child at a lower risk for choking? Along with the food preparation recommendations above, there are some relatively simple tips to keep your child as safe as possible. Try these things:

  • If you have a child who is about ready to crawl or is crawling already, get on their level and see what you can see. Try to identify potential things that your wee one might come across in their travels through the house that might end up in their mouth. Look specifically for the things listed above and remove them if you find them.
  • Supervise your young kids while they eat. This allows you to see what they’re eating and to respond quickly if they do have a choking episode.
  • Try not to let your kids eat in the car. The extra bumbles and jumbles of the road can make choking more likely and if that does happen, you’ll need extra time to pull over in order to help which increases the danger.
  • In the same vein, don’t let your kids walk around, run, or jump while eating. They absolutely shouldn’t be doing activities with gum, candy, or mints in their mouths. This includes gym class and sports for older kiddos.
  • Make sure your children are playing with age appropriate toys. A lot of toys are marketed for specific age groups because they contain parts and pieces that can pose a choking risk to smaller kids (Nationwide Children’s, 2020).

If the Heimlich doesn’t work or the child becomes unresponsive, you or someone with you needs to call 911 for emergency help. Make sure you communicate clearly who is responsible for calling to avoid confusion and delays.

If you’re alone and the child is unresponsive, you’ll need to start CPR and continue until help arrives. I highly recommend for all parents to signs up for a basic CPR class to learn how to safely help choking children of all ages, including infants.

Photo by Roger Brown on

I hope that this has served as a concise resource that will help to keep you and your kiddos safe, happy, and healthy. Please reach out to me if you have questions, concerns, or other practical suggestions regarding this or any other topic.

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Choking hazard safety. (2020). Retrieved March 02, 2021, from

Choking prevention. (2019, September 30). Retrieved March 02, 2021, from

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