Popcorn is one of those foods that are a staple at family movie nights and as a snack for kids everywhere. But just when can kids eat popcorn? Should you be concerned about its safety?
Can toddlers eat popcorn?
There are many well known choking hazards out there, like grapes and hot dogs, but popcorn doesn’t tend to be one of them. I constantly get asked things like " can a 2-year-old have popcorn, or even a 1 year old. Even though its dangers are not well known, popcorn is indeed a choking hazard for kids under the age of 4, and shouldn’t be given.
The dangers of popcorn for kids
Popcorn almost always has hard kernels in it, both whole and half popped. Any of these kernels can get stuck in your child’s throat and cause them to choke.
Before the age of 4, kids really are considered immature chewers. They don’t have the molars that adults do, and are unable to chew things and grind them down as well as those who are older. That means that they are at a much bigger risk for choking than adults and even kids over the age of 4.
Popcorn is also an aspiration risk for kids, meaning that they can get pieces of it stuck in their lungs. This then causes infections and often leads to pneumonia.
When can toddlers have popcorn?
Just when can toddlers eat popcorn? Once your child is 4, they are usually mature enough chewers to handle popcorn. Prior to that, it's generally a safer bet to offer them something like a corn puff (think Pirates Booty here in the U.S.) instead of popcorn.
The major choking hazards for kids under 4
The top choking hazards for kids under 4, according to the AAP, are:
Nuts and seeds
Chunks of meat and cheese
Hard or sticky candy
Chunks of peanut butter
Chunks of raw vegetables
For an easy to reference list of these items, grab my choking hazards handout which includes the top choking hazards for babies as well as all kids under 4, and how to prepare these high-risk foods so that they are not choking hazards.
The realities of choking
Choking is one of the leading causes of injury and death in children under 4. Taking a CPR class is vital, but even better is practicing prevention. Being knowledgeable on what is safe to serve kids, and what isn’t, is key!
No one wants to watch their child choke, and being vigilant all the way until 4 about what food they are given can go a long way.
Baby led weaning and choking
As a dietitian who focuses on baby led weaning, I can’t end a discussion about choking without mentioning baby led weaning. Like everything, it’s all about how something is practiced.
When parents are educated and knowledgeable about choking risks and how to serve food safely, babies doing baby led weaning are no more at risk for choking than those who are served only purees. (ref)
The risk factor, for both methods, is parents who are not aware of safety methods! Not simply the style of feeding.
It is vitally important that parents know what foods are considered choking hazards and how to modify them, and to be relatively knowledgeable about things like when kids can eat popcorn or grapes uncut, or even raw apples and carrots!
For a full discussion on how to serve food safely to babies under 1, check out the starting solids course where there is an in-depth focus on serving foods safely.