When you’re a parent, everyone has an opinion on how things should be done. There’s no shortage of judgement, and plenty of people seem eager to tell you you’re doing it wrong, especially people on the other end of the computer screen. That is not the intent of, or the heart behind, this post. I’m not here to tell you you’re a bad parent if you feed your toddler popcorn. This post is not about living in fear either. We can’t prevent all tragedy, and we shouldn’t obsess about everything that could potentially go wrong. (If you struggle with that, see my post Letting Go Of What If’s.) That said, I never want to unintentionally put my child in danger because I didn’t know the risks. This post is about helping parents make an informed decision regarding when to introduce popcorn to their children.
My decision not to allow my daughter to eat popcorn as a toddler was born out of a personal experience with a family who expressed “I wish we’d known the risks.” Popcorn seems like a perfect toddler food. If you remove all the kernels, the rest seems to be a soft snack that dissolves easily. If not for the following experience, I have little doubt that I would given G popcorn by now. Just this week, as I made batch after batch of popcorn while working on a seasonal caramel corn recipe, I caught myself thinking that it would be a quick and healthy snack to give her. Then I remembered why I decided to wait until she’s much older to introduce popcorn.
My view of popcorn as an acceptable toddler food was forever altered long before I had children. When I was just twenty years old, I arrived at my job as a summer camp counselor, stopping to get a cup of coffee before clocking in. I noticed a Xeroxed photo of a family of four on the wall above the coffee carafes. A mom, who worked in our HR department, her husband, five year old son and three year old daughter were pictured. A notice accompanying the photo announced that the family’s three year old daughter died just days before. Though the family was grieving, they wanted to share their story to raise awareness. Their daughter choked on a piece of the popcorn she was sharing with her brother. This family had no idea that the popcorn itself, not just the kernels, posed a choking risk.
Popcorn, even with kernels removed, is a choking risk for toddlers. The hulls can get stuck in the esophagus, making it hard to swallow or remove if a child is choking. (source) A further risk is that some children accidentally inhale popcorn into their lungs.[clickToTweet tweet=”Popcorn, even with kernels removed, is a choking risk for toddlers.” quote=”Popcorn, even with kernels removed, is a choking risk for toddlers.”]
While parents may feel that it’s safe to give their toddler popcorn as long as they are supervising them, sadly many parents have experienced that supervision doesn’t prevent choking. This article by the New York Times, discussing the need for warning labels on foods that are common choking hazards, shares more in-depth information on choking hazards for young children. It includes the story of a Marine, trained in CPR, who began life saving procedures when his daughter began to choke on popcorn. Unfortunately, he was not able to dislodge the popcorn. They later found that she had inhaled pieces into her vocal chords, bronchial tube and lung.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting until a child is at least four to introduce popcorn. Despite the American Academy of Pediatric’s urging, few popcorn companies issue any sort of warning on their products. On most canisters or bags of kernels, there is no warning at all. Most, but not all, boxes of microwavable popcorn have a tiny caution printed on the bottom of the box. I’ve only found one manufacturer that includes a printed warning on the bag itself.
Due to the lack of warnings on food products, it’s important for parents to be informed through other sources. Sometimes a pediatrician will discuss common choking hazards with parents. Ours did not. If I hadn’t stopped to get coffee that day, years ago, I wouldn’t have known the risks associated with popcorn. Some people don’t know the risks until it’s too late.
If you know of someone who doesn’t know the risks of feeding their child popcorn at a young age, consider sharing this post, or the articles linked within, with them. If a parent reads this or is otherwise informed of the risks and chooses to give their child popcorn anyway (as many do), that’s their choice. However, it’s my heart that no parent encounters a preventable incident and expresses “I wish someone had told me.”
For a list of other common choking hazards, see this article.
Is there a safety tip you’re glad someone shared with you? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below.