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7 Foods Toddlers Should Not Eat

Learn about the seven types of foods toddlers should not eat.

Do you ever wonder if there are foods you should avoid feeding your toddler? Yes, parents, there are foods your toddler should not eat.

In this article, I’m reviewing seven types of foods that toddlers should not eat. Why? Because these foods are dangerous for your toddler. They may cause choking, food poisoning, or contribute to unhealthy food preferences.

Let’s dig into the information you need to make smart food choices as you feed your toddler.

7 Foods toddlers should not eat

Dangerous Food for Toddlers (& Why Toddlers Should Avoid Them)

There are three main reasons for avoiding certain foods when you have a toddler. They include: choking, food poisoning, and the potential for developing unhealthy food preferences.

Choking is the leading cause of injury and early death in children. And it’s totally preventable.

Exposure to bacteria from food can cause diarrhea and dehydration in the toddler. This is totally preventable, too.

Last, certain foods aren’t great for your toddler’s health. When your toddler is exposed to a variety of foods, they can develop preferences for them, changing their eating habits and influencing their nutritional and overall health.

Of course, this can work out in your favor, especially when nutrient-rich foods are frequently part of your toddler’s eating pattern. But if the foods you’re offering are minimally nutritious, then it can work to undermine your toddler’s health.

The best news about all of this is that choking, food poisoning, and unhealthy eating habits are easier to side step when you have nutrition knowledge.

7 Types of Foods Toddlers Should Not Eat

Here are seven different types of foods that your toddler should not be eating.

Sugary Foods and Drinks

Pediatricians and pediatric dietitians like myself recommend no added sugar for children under the age of two. Why? Toddlers have tiny tummies and they don’t have a lot of extra room for nutrients that don’t contribute to their growth and nutritional status, like added sugar.

Added sugar is the sugar we add to food to make it taste sweeter. So when you think about making cookies, you actually add cups of sugar. That’s what we’re talking about. Candy, soda, and even granola bars, sugary cereals, and sugary yogurts have added sugar.

If you want to learn more about the different types of sugar in your toddler’s diet, read: Added Sugar vs. Natural Sugar.

The goal is to be careful about added sugar in the foods you give to your toddler. Allowing candy, cookies, and other desserts crowd out the essential and critical nutrients your toddler needs to grow and develop well.

It’s not about restricting or controlling sugar, but about ensuring your toddler has a nutrient-rich diet to support their optimal growth and development.

If your toddler drinks 100% juice, the recommendation is to limit it to four ounces, or half a cup, per day.

Salty Food

The second type of food your toddler should avoid eating is salty food. Adding salt to food, such as sprinkling table salt or soy sauce on food adds high amounts of sodium to them.

Other potentially salty foods include canned vegetables, canned soups, chips, crackers, and ready-to-eat meals (boxed mac and cheese or frozen dinners, for example).

Processed meats like lunch meat, hot dogs, salamis, other salty meats, or some brands of chicken nuggets can be a source of too much salt for your toddler and should be avoided.

Hot tip: Lower the sodium in canned vegetables or beans by simply rinsing them under water. It cuts sodium by 40%!

Hard or Round Foods

Hard or round foods can be a choking hazard for toddlers. Hold off on these until your toddler is very proficient at chewing, swallowing, and managing food inside their mouths.

Some examples of hard or round foods are raw vegetables or fruits such as carrots, corn, or apples.

Grapes, cherries, berries, or cherry tomatoes that aren’t cut up can also be a choking hazard.

Whole nuts like peanuts or cashews are a risk, too. You can chop these up to a finer consistency, and they’ll be much more manageable.

Believe it or not, the ever-popular string cheese can be a choking hazard. They’re marketed as stringy cheese, so tear them into strings so you reduce the risk of choking. This goes for large chunks of cheese also.

I always cringe when I see a toddler eating tortilla chips or corn chips, and recently witnessed a preschooler choke on tortilla chips in a Mexican restaurant. These chips are large, hard and have sharp edges. In this case, I suspect the chip got stuck in this little guy’s throat. It was traumatic for everyone. Me included.

Even popcorn is a choking hazard for young toddlers.

List of foods toddlers should not eat

Squishy Foods

I’m talking about foods like gum or marshmallows. These squishy foods can be really hard for your toddler to manage in their mouth without choking.

A spoonful of nut butter like peanut butter is squishy and sticky, making it challenging to maneuver in little mouths.

Nut butter is okay when lightly spread on a cracker or bread, but avoid a spoonful of it.

Caffeine-Containing Foods

Caffeine is ubiquitous in our food environment. Soda, coffee, chocolate. You can find caffeine in lots of places. Caffeine is a stimulant and most toddlers I know do not need additional stimulation!

Even a little sip of soda or a latte taste here and there is going to give your toddler a shot of caffeine. Remember, their bodies are so much smaller than yours – so a little bit goes a long way.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that young children get no caffeine. So watch out for caffeine-containing foods.

If you want to learn more about caffeine, read: How Much Caffeine is Too Much for a Child?

Or watch this video:

CAFFEINE AND KIDS | Can Kids Drink Coffee? | How Much Is OKAY and How Much is TOO MUCH? (For real!)

Mercury-Containing Foods

Mercury interferes with brain development. Mostly, mercury is found in fish, so you want to be careful about the types of fish you offer to your toddler.

Of course, we want toddlers to eat fish because it’s an important source of DHA and EPA, both omega-3 fatty acids that help with your toddler’s brain development.

But certain types of fish have higher levels of mercury, like king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, and orange roughy, and you want to avoid feeding these to your toddler until they are older.

Learn more about which fish to avoid, and offer, your toddler in my article: 5 Tips to Help Kids Eat More Fish

Now you might be wondering which types of fish are good for your toddler to eat. I’ve got you covered!

Canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, are cod fish all get the green light. These types of fish offer those important nutrients to your toddler without high levels of mercury.

Raw Foods

Foods like raw milk, raw yogurts, and raw cheeses have not been pasteurized, which is the process of heating milk to a temperature that will kill bacteria. When milk is raw, or unpasteurized, it may contain levels of bacteria that may cause food poisoning, such as E. Coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. This can be dangerous for your toddler.

As a clinical dietitian, I unfortunately saw a few children with severe food poisoning as a result of eating raw foods or undercooked food.

Pasteurization kills the bacteria present in raw foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young children should not consume unpasteurized or raw milk or any food made with raw milk like soft cheeses, yogurt, and ice cream.

Make sure if you’re offering these foods to your toddler that they are made with pasteurized milk.

Other foods like the raw fish found in sushi or raw honey (especially for children under age two) may also contain live bacteria. Generally, young children don’t fully develop their immune systems until around age five.

Therefore, they are less able to battle the bacteria that might be transmitted to them through these foods. If you want to start introducing sushi to your toddler, choose options with vegetables, avocado, cooked egg, or cooked fish or shrimp.

7 FOODS TODDLERS SHOULD NOT EAT (To Keep Them Safe and Healthy)

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