Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.5 Meal Service, Seating, and Supervision

4.5.0 Foods that Are Choking Hazards

Caregivers/teachers should not offer to children under four years of age foods that are associated with young children’s choking incidents (round, hard, small, thick and sticky, smooth, compressible or dense, or slippery). Examples of these foods are hot dogs and other meat sticks (whole or sliced into rounds), raw carrot rounds, whole grapes, hard candy, nuts, seeds, raw peas, hard pretzels, chips, peanuts, popcorn, rice cakes, marshmallows, spoonfuls of peanut butter, and chunks of meat larger than can be swallowed whole. Food for infants should be cut into pieces one-quarter inch or smaller, food for toddlers should be cut into pieces one-half inch or smaller to prevent choking. In addition to the food monitoring, children should always be seated when eating to reduce choking hazards. Children should be supervised while eating, to monitor the size of food and that they are eating appropriately (for example, not stuffing their mouths full).
High-risk foods are those often implicated in choking incidents (1,9,10). Almost 90% of fatal choking occurs in children younger than four years of age (2-7). Peanuts may block the lower airway. A chunk of hot dog or a whole seedless grape may completely block the upper airway (2-8,10). The compressibility or density of a food item is what allows the food to conform to and completely block the airway. Hot dogs are the foods most commonly associated with fatal choking in children.
To reduce the risk of choking, menus should reflect the developmental abilities of the age of children served. Because it is normal for children to get their first teeth at a widely variable age, menus must take into account not only the ages of children but also their teeth, or lack thereof. This becomes particularly important with those whose teeth come in late. Foods considered otherwise appropriate for one year-olds with a full complement of teeth may need to be reevaluated for the child whose first tooth has just emerged. Lists of high-risk foods should be made available. The presence of molars is a good indication of a healthy child’s ability to chew hard foods that are likely to cause choking (such as raw carrot rounds). To date, raisins appear to be safe, but, as when eating all foods, children should be seated and supervised.
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
  1. Rimell, F. L., A. Thome Jr., S. Stool, et al. 1995. Characteristics of objects that cause choking in children. JAMA 274:1763-66.
  2. Benjamin, S. E., ed. 2007. Making food healthy and safe for children: How to meet the national health and safety performance standards – Guidelines for out of home child care programs. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants.
  3. Dietz, W.H., L. Stern, eds. 1998. Guide to your child’s nutrition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  4. Kleinman, R. E., ed. 2009. Pediatric nutrition handbook. 6th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  5. Enders, J. B. 1994. Food, nutrition and the young child. New York: Merrill.
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2002. Making nutrition count for children - Nutrition guidance for child care homes. Washington, DC: USDA. http://www/
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). 2002. Menu magic for children: A menu planning guide for child care. Washington, DC: USDA.
  8. Baker, S. B., R. S. Fisher. 1980. Childhood asphyxiation by choking or suffocation. JAMA 244:1343-46.
  9. Morley, R. E., J. P. Ludemann, J. P. Moxham, F. K. Kozak, K. H. Riding. 2004. Foreign body aspiration in infants and toddlers: Recent trends in British Columbia. J Otolaryngology 33:37-41.
  10. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. 2010. Policy statement: Prevention of choking among children. Pediatrics 125:601-7.