Can a 3-year-old Eat Popcorn?

Can a 3-Year-Old Eat Popcorn? – Ten Unusual Choking Hazards

Popcorn is one of the top ten unusual choking items. But there is one choking hazard that causes more deaths per year than popcorn. Every parent needs to read the full list of the most unusual and dangerous choking hazards so they can prevent these tragedies.

Popcorn is delicious and depending on what flavorings you use, it can also be healthy. Plus, it’s the prime movie snack. The perfect snack for your 3-year-old? Unfortunately not, it can be dangerous, or even deadly to your 3-year-old child.

So, can a 3-year-old eat popcorn? No, I wouldn’t advise letting your 3-year-old have popcorn because it’s a choking hazard. The best advice I could find from pediatricians is to wait until they are at least 4-years-old before letting them eat popcorn. While you might know about more obvious choking hazards like grapes and hotdogs. Popcorn seems like an innocent snack but actually ranks high on a list of unusual but highly dangerous choking hazards that every parent needs to know.

According to the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics), choking is the leading cause of death for children aged 3-years-old or younger1. At 3-years-old. It is crucial that you know the main choking hazards for your child. Then you can make sure that they don’t have access to those items.

When your child reaches 4-years-old they have better chewing and swallowing skills. So, choking hazards like popcorn become safer to eat. 

“At least one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S., and more than 12,000 children are taken to a hospital emergency room each year for food-choking injuries.”

– New York State Health Department.

It’s surprising to find out that popcorn was such a dangerous choking hazard for a 3-year-old. So as a parent I was concerned about other choing hazards I might have missed.

So, I found a list of lesser-known but surprisingly dangerous items that your 3-year-old can choke on. Hopefully, this list can save some parents/children from a nasty choking experience.

The top ten unusual and dangerous choking hazards

1. Latex balloons

I was bewildered that latex balloons could be a serious choking hazard, but unfortunately, they are the worst. Uninflated balloons and parts of burst balloons are the most dangerous. 

From 1972 – 1992 latex balloons caused 29% of all childhood choking deaths1.

68 Children died from choking on latex balloons from 1990-2004 in the United States.

I had absolutely no idea that a children’s party favorite was the tragic cause of so many deaths. It has definitely made me more careful when buying balloons for my kids.

2. Peanut butter

This one shocked me. I thought choking hazards were hard items. But, it turns out that peanut butter, because it is so dry, thick and gluey, can stick in your 3-year-olds airway. Cruelly conforming to the same shape. Leaving no room for a vital air gap.

Since finding out that peanut butter can be so dangerous and possibly even deadly, I only give my little ones thinly spread peanut butter. I know how nutritious and healthy peanut butter is for growing children so I didn’t want to remove it from their diet. But, I needed to find a safer way for them to eat it.

Remember, It’s the big thick globs that make it so dangerous.

3. Bananas

Now, let me make this clear. It isn’t bananas specifically that are the problem. It’s the way you might be cutting them. Everyone is used to cutting their bananas into little circles. They look prettier, right?

Little banana discs are fine for adults, but they are perfectly sized to lodge in a 3-year-olds throat. 

Don’t be hasty and cut bananas out of their diet just because they might become a choking hazard. They are far too nutritious and tasty for your little one to miss out on.

Slice the banana length-ways to form longer thinner finger-width pieces. Cutting your bananas this way will greatly reduce the chances of your child choking on them. The thinner pieces are less likely to cover your 3-year-old’s airway.

4. Raw vegetables

Everyone is encouraged to feed their 3-year-old more vegetables. I try and make sure my little ones smash through their 5 fruit and vegetable target every day. 

Lately, there has been a health trend for raw vegetables. Some people swear by raw fruit and vegetable diet. You might be tempted to introduce some raw vegetables to your 3-year-old’s diet because they are healthy and easy to prepare, but they can be a serious choking hazard if cut incorrectly.

When you give raw vegetables to your child. They can bite off large hard chunks that can get lodged in their throat and block their airways.

If you are keen to give your 3-year-old raw vegetables why not try serving them in a way that will reduce the chances of them choking. By cutting the vegetables into long thin “fingers” even if your 3-year-old bites off a chunk, it will be too small to block their airway.

5. Hotdogs

I knew that hotdogs were a dangerous choking hazard for children and I have always been careful with them. The shocking reason why they are on this list is the sheer scale of the problem.

In a 41-state study, hotdogs accounted for 17% of all food-related asphyxiations among children under 101.

Be safe, cut up your 3-year-olds hotdogs before they bite off a piece too big for them to handle.

6. Coins

Of the non-food items for children to choke on, coins were one of the worst. Coins are easily dropped and then found by your little one. 3-year-olds explore objects with their mouths as well as their hands which can lead to fatal accidents.

Check your floors regularly for coins, batteries, and buttons that could have fallen there by accident.

7. Toys

Toys are also a leading cause of choking in younger children. It’s difficult when you also have older children in the house that may accidentally leave out toys unsuitable for your younger child to pick up.

Toys can have small removable parts that are completely unsuitable for younger children. It’s a dilemma when your older child’s needs have to be considered

Keep your older child’s toys in a separate place to your 3-year-olds. This will prevent any unsuitable toys or parts being mixed up.

8. Balls / marbles 

Round toys like balls and marbles that are approximately the same width as your child’s throat can be dangerous. They can form a snug fit, completely blocking their airways and making it difficult to remove them in a rescue.

Avoid buying any ball that has a diameter less than 1.75 inches (4.4cm).

9. Popcorn

I know I have mentioned this one already but I wanted to include it so I could link to this terrifying article about a mother’s ordeal with her choking son. (Don’t worry it is a happy ending!). 

That’s why I have included it on the list because that article reminds me of the importance of knowing what to do when your 3-year-old is choking.

10. Nuts & seeds

Nuts and seeds are healthy and should be part of everyone’s diet. But, if you are giving them to a child under 4-years-old then they need to be either ground, flaked or chopped.

Children under 4-years-old may not have all their molars so it is difficult for them to grind up nuts and seeds enough to make them safe to swallow.

Choking Prevention tips for 3-year-olds

Here are some simple tips to follow to help prevent your child from choking:

  • Have them sit while eating. Your child is much more likely to choke if they eat lying down, running, playing, or being active. Sitting at a table or on the floor will reduce the risk. Try sitting and talking with your child while they eat so they are less tempted to run around.
  • Encourage your 3-year-old to chew food well. Have them take their time during meals. Eat with your 3-year-old and show them by example.
  • Keep food small. Don’t give your 3-year-old food in chunks that might be big enough for them to choke on. For ultimate safety, nothing larger than the size of a pea.
  • Hard foods need attention. Cook them, grate them or mash them. Just don’t serve hard foods whole. They are a choking risk. 
  • Don’t give your child whole nuts. The evidence says not until they are 5 years old.
  • Keep small items out of reach. 3-year-olds explore with their hands and mouths. Remember to check the floor in case anyone has dropped a coin, battery, or anything else dangerous.
  • Keep toys for older/younger children in separate places. Don’t let toys for older children get mixed in ones for 3-year-olds. Some have dangerously small removable parts.
  • Check your 3-year-olds toys. Check that their toys haven’t been damaged or any parts have become dangerously loose. Check screws and battery compartments are secure.

What should I know to help my 3-year-old if they are choking?

Be prepared, hopefully, you never have to use this skill, but I review some simple first aid tips every year to make sure I’m prepared for the worst if it happens. Here is a great guide on what to do if your 3-year-old is choking.