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20 Foods You Should Never Feed Kids Under 3 Years Old

Mom.me logo Mom.me 17/10/2018

Delicious but dangerous

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Moms of toddlers, listen up. Once our kids have moved past the purees and have a full set of teeth, it doesn't mean they're ready for all the foods in our fridge. We've compiled a list of things kids 3 and under probably shouldn't be eating, at least without a little extra chopping and supervision. As always, parents should consult a pediatrician for specific dietary advice tailored to their child's unique needs. Keep reading for more.

Chunks of cheese

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What we're not saying is that all cheese is bad for children under 3 (that's just crazy talk). What we are saying is that big chunks of cheese, like Parmesan, cheddar and brie, pose a major choking risk to children and should be avoided. Since cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein, simply shredding the cheese or providing extremely small bites that can't get lodged in a child's airway are a better way to serve this beloved snack food.

Raw, unpasteurized dairy

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Speaking of cheese, one thing young children with under-developed immune systems should never consume is unpasteurized dairy products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that raw milk from cows, goats, sheep and other mammals (we've heard camel milk is a thing) is "150 times more likely to cause food-borne illnesses" and can cause "13 times more hospitalizations" than pasteurized milk products, due to its potential for being contaminated with deadly pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli and Campylobacter.

Hot dogs and sausages

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Did you know that a major food hazard for kids under age 4 is hot dogs? A childhood and BBQ favorite, hot dogs, as well as sausage links, are the most likely to lodge themselves in a child's airway, which can lead to asphyxiation and death. Experts say cutting the meat links into bite-sized rounds is even more dangerous and suggest cutting the meat lengthwise first before slicing it, to keep it small enough for kids who might not be the best at chewing before they swallow.

Cherries, grapes and baby tomatoes

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It might seem contradictory advice to not feed a child actual, whole fruit (which is way better for their diet than processed sweets), but some foods, like cherries, grapes and baby tomatoes can increase a child's risk for choking. These bite-sized, sweet, natural treats are also perfectly shaped to slip into a young child's airway, cutting off oxygen. Instead, parents should cut these fruits into quarters, making these tasty snacks far less dangerous.

Soda

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We're not here to judge your dietary choices, but we are here to remind parents that soda has zero nutritional value. These cloyingly sweet beverages not only add an excessive amount of calories to a child's daily intake, they also put a child at risk for tooth decay and a lifelong dependency on sugary drinks. Think sugar-free sodas are a better option? Think again. Studies on the effect of artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, reveal they're dangerous to a child's developing brain.

Whole citrus segments

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Oranges, tangerines and other citrus fruits are fantastic sources of vitamin C and fiber for children and a wonderful snack in general, but they can be dangerous for small mouths. Giving a child entire segments of citrus, even sweet little clementines, can increase their risk of choking. Like many other fruits and foods, simply cutting the segments before serving can drastically reduce the risk and allows a child to enjoy a healthy, natural snack.

Spoonfuls of nut butters

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While new research has shown that babies younger than 6 months old should be introduced to peanut butter to reduce the occurrence of peanut allergies, it's important to keep the serving sizes mindful of young eaters. A spoonful of peanut or any nut butter might seem like a great way to serve this creamy, protein-packed spread, but it increases a young child's choking risk. The viscosity of nut butters means large bites can clog up a child's airway. A simple solution? Spread it thin on things like strips of toast.

Marshmallows

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Along with being a choking hazard (marshmallows are spongy, making them particularly good at blocking a child's airway) these fluffy, sweet treats are also incredibly high in sugar, and not a lot else. Marshmallows offer little in the way of nutrition but can increase a child's taste preference for sugary treats, which can lead to tooth decay and a stubborn refusal to eat their veggies.

Cough drops and hard candies

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If your child has a cough, it may seem natural to let them suck on a peppermint throat lozenge, but, like most round, small foods (including hard candies), those drops can cause a parent's worst nightmare when they get stuck in a child's throat. Even lollipops on a stick pose a choking risk for children under 3. Not only are cough drops not recommended, but cough and cold medicines in general shouldn't be administered to children under 12.

Boxed mac 'n' cheese

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Like cheese, boxed mac 'n' cheese is one of the most beloved meals for kids of nearly any age. The only problem? It's incredibly bad for them. One peek at the label reveals a high amount of salt plus a host of genetically modified ingredients no growing body needs. Although kids tend to love instant mac, a better solution is homemade macaroni and cheese, which provides actual, calcium and protein rich cheese with fewer questionable ingredients.

Gum

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents refrain from giving young children gum as they are more likely to swallow it, causing a choking hazard and potential gastrointestinal issues, like chronic constipation. (Don't worry, the old wive's tale of gum staying in the stomach for seven years is just a myth.) Sugary gumballs and pieces also contribute to the development of cavities.

Raw carrots

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Sorry Bugs Bunny, but raw carrots are no good for kids 3 and under. Like many of the foods on our list, raw carrots present a choking hazard for young kids. Although they're rich in beta-carotene, potassium and B vitamins, cooked carrots are far safer and easier for kids to nosh on until they're old enough to chew their food properly and not accidentally swallow a large piece that can obstruct their airway.

Large pieces of meat

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If you guessed "choking hazard," you're catching on. Large pieces of meat are great for older kids and adults who can manage a fork and knife, but for small children, they create an eating obstacle. Kids, who have a known lack of proper chewing technique, can get big meat chunks stuck in their throats while trying to eat. A simple solution is to cut the meat into small pieces first before serving.

Mini candies

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Tooth decay, choking hazards and having an unhealthy influence on a child's palate and future health are all reasons not to give kids sugary treats in general, but be extra cautious when handing a child "fun size" piece of candy. These adorably small versions of the full-size candies are small for adults but too big for a young child's airway, making the likelihood of choking king-size.

Popcorn, pretzels and chips

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Sorry movie lovers, but your toddler just isn't ready to munch on popcorn, pretzels or chips yet. Pediatricians consider these snack foods choking hazards as well as nutritionally inferior for a growing child's diet. Instead, offer your child servings of small, chopped fruit and vegetables to get them (and keep them) on a healthy track.

Rare meat

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Young children, as well as the elderly and people with health problems, are all advised against eating rare beef or lamb due to the chance it could make them sick. Since children under 5 produce less stomach acid than adults, they're less capable of fighting off bacteria in rare meats that can lead to illness. When a child's ready to eat meat, make sure it's cooked to a safe temperature and cut into small pieces.

Raw eggs and raw egg products

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For the same reason young children shouldn't eat rare beef and lamb, they shouldn't eat raw eggs or products containing raw eggs. Although the majority of eggs in the U.S. are pasteurized, removing many of the health risks, they still carry a risk of Salmonella, which under-developed immune systems have a hard time fighting. That means no raw cookie dough, no egg nog and no runny yolks for children under the age of 5.

Raw fish

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Sushi, sashimi and poke are delicious, protein and omega-3 fatty acid-packed foods, but, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, children under the age of 5 shouldn't eat them. Even in Japan, where raw fish is a dietary staple, parents often wait till their little ones are at least 2-1/2, sometimes as old as 5, before they introduce this beloved food product. Eating raw fish carries potential risks, like hepatitis, parasitic infections and Salmonella, which emerging immune systems can't always fight.

Meat with bones

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Not only do small bones found in meats like chicken and fish pose a choking risk for young children, but a Cornell University study found that kids who eat meat off the bone are more likely to be aggressive. Say what? Their research showed that kids who eat foods like chicken drumsticks and wings were "twice as likely to disobey adults and twice as aggressive toward other kids." Their solution? Cut the meat off the bone before serving to make your child more docile—and less prone to choking.

Whole nuts

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While the dietary guidelines for children have certainly changed regarding the consumption of nuts (kids as young as 4 months are now encouraged to eat them, often after a negative allergy test and under the supervision of a doctor), that doesn't mean whole nuts are safe for kids. These delightful spheres of nutrition still present a choking risk, meaning parents should opt for nut butters (in small amounts) and nut powders instead of whole nuts.

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