Our Guide to Safe Mealtimes for Toddlers

Mealtimes for Toddlers

For their first few years of life, your child will need your constant care and attention. As they grow and develop, they will become more and more curious about the world around them. They will touch anything that catches their interest and put random objects in their mouths. These activities are typical for any child. Parents and caregivers need to be vigilant to make sure children get to learn and explore without getting in harm’s way.

It is natural to feel anxious about your child getting hurt. Anxiety is nature’s way of drawing up your guard and making you alert to possible hazards. For many parents, their anxiety tends to be at its peak during mealtimes. In the United States, a child dies every five days from choking on food. More than 12,000 children are hospitalized each year from food-related choking incidents. 

A young baby must learn to transition from a fully liquid diet of milk to solids by learning to mash, chew, and swallow food with his jaw and mouth. To successfully guide them through this process, you need to give them age-appropriate and nutritious food, and you need to monitor them carefully while they eat. If you want to prevent any incidents of choking on food, here are several tips to keep in mind:

  • Give them a proper place to eat

Make sure your young baby or toddler can sit upright independently before you start transitioning to solid food. Do not feed them or allow them to eat while in a reclining position. Put them in a highchair or booster that supports their back and keeps them securely upright during mealtime.

  • Offer food that is smaller than their fingertips

Your child’s airway is no wider than their fingers, which means anything larger than that can block it. You are offering purees, start with tiny smears at the tip of an age-appropriate spoon. For solid food, a good rule of thumb is to cut it smaller than your child’s fingertip. That way, they can still try to pick it up with their own hands and bring it to their mouths, and you ensure that it will lessen their chances of choking on it.

  • Slice round or oblong food

If your child is graduating from purees to more solid pieces of food, they will need to practice chewing. Babies swallow liquids and pureed food easily and quickly, but for solids, they need to learn to mash and chew them first. Be careful when you start to offer larger cuts of fruits and vegetables, especially if they don’t have many teeth. Slice blueberries, grapes, strawberries, peas, or any similarly-shaped food horizontally or vertically to avoid choking hazards. 

  • Remove pits and seeds

Even if your child has improved chewing skills, there may be hidden dangers inside the fruit you offer. Grapes and papayas have seeds that could get lodged in their airways. Watch out for nuts embedded in muffins or cakes that you give to your toddler.

  • Eat without distractions

Choking can happen at any time, even if you feel you prepared the food properly.  Remove all distractions from mealtimes for both you and your child. Your toddler should focus on the food in front of them, and you should be alert in case there are any early signs of choking.

Other prevention tips

Other methods of prevention include attending a baby first aid class. You and anyone who will be assigned to watch over your child can learn to perform the Heimlich Maneuver and infant CPR. The Heimlich Maneuver is an abdominal thrust performed on another person or child with an obstructed airway. If the situation calls for it, knowing this technique can help you remove the blockage instead of waiting for healthcare professionals to come to your house.

You should also keep the number and address of your local pediatric urgent care center or emergency medical services displayed prominently on your refrigerator door. Take the time to visit the facility and familiarize yourself with the route in case of an emergency. 

In conclusion

Like any skill, learning to eat and enjoy food will take time to master. Once your child becomes adept at handling different food tastes and textures, mealtimes will become easier. Until then, prepare for any emergency with these guidelines in mind, and stay alert while your child is feeding.

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