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When Can a Child Eat Popcorn?

by Maggie McCormick, studioD

Full of fiber, air-popped popcorn is a delicious and nutritious snack. Unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous one. Popcorn is difficult to chew and can be a choking hazard for toddlers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Though you may enjoy sitting down to a movie with a big bowl of popcorn, it's probably best to wait until your child is older to introduce him to this American tradition.

The Dangers

A large kernel of popped popcorn is just the right size to get stuck in a little one's throat, but the dangers don't stop there. The hulls can latch on to the esophagus, making it more difficult to remove a piece of popcorn from a choking toddler's throat, even with back blows or reaching a finger into the throat. Additionally, some children have accidentally inhaled the popcorn into their lungs, according to an article in "The New York Times."


The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting until your child is at least 4 years old before letting her try popcorn. When you are thinking of serving it, you should use your judgement about how your child eats. If she thoroughly chews her food before swallowing, she may be ready for popcorn, but if she swallows after a few bites, it may be best to wait longer.

Popcorn Safety

If you have young children in the house, you need to keep on your toes with popcorn. You might be able to enjoy popcorn while giving your toddler a different kid-friendly treat. If your child is the type who always wants what you're having, though, consider avoiding it altogether. When sneaking some after bedtime, clean up thoroughly. Stray kernels may have dropped in the couch cushions or on the kitchen floor and your little one is likely to find them.

Hull-less Popcorn

You might be tempted to give "hull-less popcorn" a try. The hulls of the popcorn are the hard outer shells that form the inside of a popped piece of popcorn. It's these pieces that tend to get stuck in your teeth. Companies advertise some types of popcorn as "hull-less," but this is a misleading name. All popcorn does have hulls, but some varieties have less pronounced hulls than others. Hull-less popcorn is still not safe for young children.

Popcorn Alternatives

If you want a popcorn-like experience for you and your child, butter-flavored puffed corn might be an alternative. Some companies market it in shapes that look similar to popcorn and you can often find cheese-flavored varieties. Alternatively, get used to eating pretzels and hummus or veggies and yogurt dip while watching your movie. You'll have plenty of time for popcorn later.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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