March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Having teeth doesn't mean children can handle all foods. Small, hard foods, slippery foods and sticky foods can block the air passage, cutting off a child's supply of oxygen.
- Don't offer these foods to children younger than three or four years of age:
- Small, hard foods — nuts, seeds, popcorn, snack chips, pretzels, raw carrots, raw celery, raw peas, whole olives, cherry tomatoes, snack puffs, raisins. For toddlers and preschoolers, cut foods into slightly larger pieces that they can bite and chew, but not put whole into their mouths.
- Slippery foods — whole grapes; large pieces of meats, poultry and frankfurter; and hard candy, lollipops and cough drops, which may be swallowed before they're adequately chewed. Chop grapes, meat, poultry, hot dogs and other foods in small pieces. Avoid offering chewing gum.
- Be careful with sticky foods, too, such as peanut butter. Spread only a thin layer on bread. Avoid giving your baby peanut butter from a spoon or finger. If it gets stuck in your baby's throat, he or she may have trouble breathing.
- Watch out for these foods: taffy, soft candies with a firm texture such as gel or gummi candies, caramels, marshmallows, jelly beans, raw peeled apple and pear slices, cherries with pits and dried fruits.
- Avoid propping your baby's bottle. Refrain from feeding your baby in the car, too; helping a choking baby is harder when the car's moving.
- Offer appropriate foods. Finger foods for older babies and toddlers are pieces of banana, graham crackers, strips of cheese or bagels.
- Watch your children while they eat. That includes watching older brothers and sisters who may offer foods that younger children can't handle yet.
- Insist that children sit to eat or drink, not when they're lying down, walking or running. As they develop eating skills, encourage them to take time to chew well.