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When Can Kids Eat Popcorn? A Pediatrician Explains Why To Wait

Popcorn is can be dangerous for little kids.

by Mishal Ali Zafar
Originally Published: 

Popcorn is one of my family’s favorite snacks, and we often make it for an afternoon treat or movie and game night at home. Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about it as a choking hazard now that my kids are older, but for toddlers eating popcorn, there are a few more concerns. Can toddlers even eat popcorn? It’s such an easy snack to make and is easy to take with you places (it’s also one of the most popular snacks at fun events or things to do), but when can kids have popcorn? When is it safe to enjoy as a snack, without choking concerns?

Can toddlers eat popcorn, or is popcorn a choking hazard?

While there are many obvious choking hazards for children like hot dogs, candy, and gum, even seemingly healthy treats like grapes, nuts, raw veggies, and popcorn can be dangerous for young children under the age of 4. “Popcorn is one of the highest-risk choking hazard foods for little children. Unlike other high choking hazard foods, there is little you can do to make it any less dangerous,” Dr. Lyndsey Garbi, Chief Pediatrician at Blueberry Pediatrics says. “Toddlers do not have the ability to chew it well and handle the kernels, which can get lodged in their airways. As a popular food at birthday parties and during movies, it's very important families know to hold off on giving it to their little ones.” So in short, can a 2-year-old have popcorn? Absolutely not.

When can kids eat popcorn?

The official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that parents should not offer popcorn to their children until they’re over the age of 4, because it’s almost impossible to slice or dice it into safe bites. It’s better to be safe and wait until your child can truly enjoy these foods. Once your child turns 4, you should be OK to give your child popcorn. If you’re worried at all about your child’s ability to handle more advanced foods, though, talk to your pediatrician first about when they feel your toddler can eat popcorn.

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Choking prevention: Step away from the popcorn (for now)

Avoiding foods that can easily get stuck in your toddler's mouth is crucial. Choking is the leading cause of injury in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and children under the age of 4 experience the highest rate of food-related choking, and popcorn is high on their list of most common choking hazards.

So what foods are considered safe snacks for toddlers? The AAP recommends parents feed their toddlers fresh fruits that are thinly sliced, like bananas, peaches, nectarines, and pears. For fruits like plums, grapes, or cherries, the AAP suggests pitting and "smushing" them, so that they are safer to eat. Another safe and healthy option is cooked or diced mashed veggies like carrots, peas, cauliflower, potatoes, and broccoli.

It’s also always a good idea to consider taking an infant and child CPR course (if you haven't already). And no matter what, avoid the most common choking hazards, like popcorn and hot dogs, until your child is old enough to safely enjoy them. Like your grandmother (probably) said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Dr. Lyndsey Garbi, Chief Pediatrician at Blueberry Pediatrics

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