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Preventing Choking in Young Children

By Dinah Torres Castro

There are many things parents and caregivers can do to prevent young children from choking while eating. The best thing anyone can do is to simply be there and be mindful of what the child is doing as he or she eats. It is also recommended that the adults make sure that mealtimes are calm. If mealtimes take place when there is too much excitement or too many disruptions, it can be difficult to keep your little ones from wanting to get up, run off, and play. Sometimes young children may not pay attention to the food in their mouths, forgetting to chew it completely before swallowing. We recommend following these simple precautions whenever your little ones are eating:

  • Make sure children sit down to eat. Children should never run, walk, play, or lie down with food in their mouths.
  • Model how to eat food by taking small bites and chewing thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Never leave children alone while they are eating.
  • Before sitting down to eat, make sure the food your child is eating has been cooked to the appropriate texture, and avoid feeding certain foods that can cause choking.
  • If you have a fast eater, help him or her learn to slow down while eating.
  • Remind children to chew and swallow their food before speaking.
  • Avoid presenting food that is round, hard, small, firm, thick, sticky, smooth, slippery, or cut into large chunks. Food should be cut into small pieces. For example, cut food into ¼ inch pieces for toddlers and ½ inch pieces for preschoolers.
  • Keep the following foods away from children younger than 4 years:

hot dogs/sausages    nuts and seeds            chunks of raw vegetables

chunks of meat         whole grape                 hard or stick candy

popcorn                   chunks of peanut butter  caramels

For more information on choking prevention and other objects that can be dangerous to young children, check out these resources:

Healthy’s Choking Prevention

NYS Department of Health’s Choking Prevention for Children

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at


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