Updated: Sep 22, 2022
We all know the food on someone else’s plate looks better than the food on our own and children seem to exemplify this desire and always want what someone else is having. But, what can be shared with a child, and how? How do we ensure the foods, portion sizes, and textures are safe for a child? Read below for tips on what can and can’t be shared with children of different ages. Most foods, barring any medical concerns, are safe after age four.
Thinking of food safety, the first thing that comes to mind is choking. What are the general types of food to avoid in young children, under four years of age?
· Small and Firm
But what foods fall in that category? Here are some examples:
Small and firm: nuts, seeds, popcorn, raw vegetables, whole cherry tomatoes
Slippery: whole grapes, whole berries, large pieces of meat, hard candy
Sticky: gum, taffy, chunky peanut butter, marshmallows, gummy candy, dried fruits
Is there a way to serve some of these foods safely? Of course! But where do you start? Can it be mashed? Nuts and seeds are safe mashed, like peanut butter, if spread thinly on food such as bread or a cracker. If it is thick it passes into the unsafe sticky category, so spread it thin! Once vegetables are steamed, they are soft and safe to eat. Many soft foods made for the family can be quickly given to an infant after being run through a baby food mill. You can get a handheld one to use quickly and easily at the table. Hotdogs and other meats need to be cut into a safe shape. Make sure to cut food lengthwise and smaller than ¼” in size.
One food that cannot be served safely under the age of one is honey. It contains bacteria that the body isn’t ready to process and it can make an infant very sick. So make sure to keep honey out of the food you are feeding the littlest ones. If a recipe calls for honey you can substitute raw sugar or maple syrup safely.
Are you struggling to cut a plate of grapes or cherry tomatoes in half quickly? Put them between two flat plates, paper plates work well, and use a large knife to slice between the plates. You’ve quickly prepared several servings of sliced fruit for the meal!
Another critical piece of food safety is having everyone eat while sitting down. It can be really challenging to have a
child slow down long enough to eat, but it helps them listen to their body cues and stay safe while chewing. If your child tries to walk around while eating, say something like, “It looks like you are still chewing, sit down until you are done.” Or, “Oh, when we stand up from the table we are all done eating. Is your body telling you it’s are all done eating?” Sitting down to eat together is a great time to learn new words, practice in conversation, and is a reminder for the adult to eat, too.
Finally, don't forget hand washing! A growing body is also a growing and developing immune system. Make sure to keep food prep areas clean, hands clean, and the food stored at a safe temperature. Cold foods should be kept under 40 degrees and hot foods should be heated beyond 140 degrees. For more food storage and preparation information look at the information on FoodSafety.gov.
Information for these tips are available on the following websites: