Preparing Food Safely to Reduce the Risk of Choking

Preparing Food Safely to Reduce the Risk of Choking

As a parent, it’s normal to worry about how your little one will manage eating and you may be nervous about gagging and choking. We want to support you to feel more confident about safety at mealtimes, so in this blog we explore simple steps that you can follow to manage gagging and prevent choking.

Baby with food all over their face

Gagging  – Safety at Mealtimes

Gagging is something that many families worry about, particularly when introducing new textures and fingers foods. Firstly, please be reassured that gagging is completely normal and can happen quite a lot during weaning. Here is the reason why:

  • Children’s gag reflexes are much more sensitive than ours- it’s quite far forward on their tongue
  • Gagging is actually a safety mechanism to reduce the risk of choking- as the motion of gagging helps to bring food back to the front of the mouth
  • You’ll find that the more exposure and experience your baby has to different textures, the further back the gag reflex becomes on the tongue!
  • That’s also why it’s important to move your baby on to thicker and lumpier textures so they get more confident to bite, chew and swallow.

What you might notice if your little one is gagging on food:

  • Eyes might water
  • Face may go red
  • Tongue moves forward (or out of their mouth)
  • You may hear coughing and spluttering
  • They might bring the food forward in their mouth
  • They might make a retching movement, or they may vomit.

Baby coughing

What should I do if my baby gags when eating?

  • If your baby does cough or gag when eating, it’s important that you stay calm and reassure them
  • More often than not, your baby will carry on eating, but if they become upset don’t force them to carry on and simply try again at the next mealtime
  • Afterwards, give them a smile, some reassurance and a sip of water if needed.

Remember to always stay with your little one while they are eating!

Top Tips

  • To help your baby get used to different textures and tastes, try moving on to mashed and finger foods (from purées or blended) as soon as they’re ready. This helps them learn how to chew, move solid food around their mouth and swallow solid foods.
  • Give your baby a spoon and let them try feeding themselves – you might need to stick a mat under the highchair though!
  • Babies take different amounts of time to get used to lumps, but it’s an important skill they need to learn. Offer more mashed, lumpier foods as well as a variety of finger foods, and stay with them so you can be sure they are swallowing it safely.

Parents can be supported to get lots more advice and support on introducing solid foods by signing up to one of our FREE Weaning Webinars (opens in new tab) or taking a read of our FREE Parent Course, Feeding your Baby in the First Year (opens in new tab).

Weaning your Baby Webinar Publicity

Choking – Safety at Mealtimes

Choking is something that a lot of parents worry about, but it’s reassuring to understand that it’s uncommon.

For babies and young children, food can be a choking hazard, especially if they don’t chew their food well or they try to swallow it whole.

Choking can happen with any foods, however firm foods, food containing bones and small round foods present a higher risk.

There’s lots you can do to reduce the risk of choking at mealtimes:

  • Avoid offering chunks of food, such as pieces of sausage, chunks of fruit & vegetables & cubes of cheese
  • Instead of chunks, cut foods into narrow batons to make them safer & more manageable
  • Cut round foods, such as cherry tomatoes, grapes, cherries, berries & strawberries lengthways & then into quarters
  • Peel the skin off from fruits & vegetables to make them easier to chew & swallow
  • Always remove hard pips & stones from fruit
  • Start by softening firm fruits, vegetables & legumes, like butter beans, chickpeas & tofu, by steaming or simmering them until soft. As children become more confident eaters, you can gradually increase the firmness
  • Remove all bones, skin & fat from meat & fish. Cut meat into strips as thinly as possible
  • Avoid offering chunks of cheese- instead grate or cut it into short, narrow strips
  • Very finely chop or flake whole nuts, peanuts & seeds
  • Do not give nut or seed butters to babies & young children by itself. Only use nut & seed butters as a spread or in cooking, for example in curries or mixed into porridge
  • White bread can form a ball shape with a dough-like texture in the throat. Try lightly toasting white bread, or use brown bread instead. Always cut bread, chapatis, naan bread & other breads into narrow strips
  • Don’t give whole raisins or dried fruits to babies under the age of 1 year. Always cut them into small pieces
  • Avoid offering foods, such as marshmallows, raw jelly cubes, popcorn, chewing gum, boiled sweets & ice cubes
  • Babies and young children should be seated safely in a highchair or appropriately sized low chair while eating.
  • Your baby should never be left alone while they are eating.

The following foods shouldn't be offered to infants and young children as they can increase the risk of choking: - popcorn - chewing gum - marshmallows - jelly cubes - boiled, gooey and sticky sweets - Ice cubes - Whole and broken nuts and seeds - Nut and seed butter served by themlsves - Whole raisins and other whole dried fruits.

Useful Resources:

In this video we explore information and guidance on preparing and serving food to reduce the risk of choking.


What you might notice if your little one is choking on food:

  • they’ll be unable to breathe, cry, or cough
  • they’ll have a red puffy face
  • they’ll show signs of distress.

If you think your child is choking and cannot breathe properly, you should:

  • shout for help
  • get them out of the high chair
  • support their chest and chin with one hand and – with the heel of your hand – give 5 sharp blows between the shoulder blades.

To give you a little more confidence, you might like to take a short paediatric first aid course (opens in new tab). The NHS (opens in new tab) and Red Cross (opens in new tab) also have some helpful videos, if you’d like to find out more.

 Eating Environment Tips

  • Babies/toddlers should never be left alone at mealtimes when eating and drinking – it is always important to supervise them
  • Ensure babies are ready for the introduction of solid foods. This is usually around the age of 6 months when the following signs are seen together- firstly baby will be able to sit up unaided and hold their head steady, they will be able to coordinate their eyes, hand and mouth meaning they can look at food, pick it up and put it to their mouth and they will be able to swallow food and be less likely to spit the food out. You can find more information on the Start for Life (opens in new tab) website
  • Ensure baby is in a sitting position in a high chair and strapped in safely at mealtimes. This means they can swallow the food safely and also spit the food out easily if required. Toddlers should also be sitting up well, with their feet on the floor
  • Try not to have any distractions at mealtimes so your child can focus on the food they are eating.

Baby in high chair eating finger food

Early Years Providers

As outlined in the EYFS (3.29):

  • Staffing arrangements must meet the needs of all children and ensure their safety
  • Providers must ensure that children are adequately supervised, including whilst eating, and decide how to deploy staff to ensure children’s needs are met.
  • Providers must inform parents and/or carers about staff deployment, and, when relevant and practical, aim to involve them in these decisions.
  • Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff and always within sight or hearing.

There is lots of additional support on food safety provided by the Department for Education on their page ‘Food safety – help for early years providers’ (opens in new tab)

For more information and tips on introducing solid foods, check out our online Food and Nutrition for Infants training (opens in new tab), created especially for early years settings!


  1. Raheela Wisal on November 13, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Thanks Emma for sending useful and interesting information. I had read and got alot of important information when feeding to babies and younger children. I know how to cut some of fruits and vegetables when serving to kids. I also understand to take precautions if child choke or gagging. Hope you will send some important information next time. Thanks

  2. Djouher dadi on November 17, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you Emma , very helpful information
    I have learned how gagging differ from choking hazard.
    We have to be aware about the position giving to the babies,the pictures show clearly the suitable and suitable choices.

  3. Sehrish Kayani on June 4, 2024 at 11:25 am

    Thank you for the useful information. I like the information about gagging vs chocking, as I struggled with this as a new mum. My son gagged a lot during weaning, and because I was not aware of the difference, my response was that he was always chocking and I started limiting food because I was scared he would actually choke. I am glad this information is out here for us and parents to learn how to introduce new foods, how to serve it and what to do if a child is gagging on food. Thanks

    • Early Start Nutritionist Georgia on June 4, 2024 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Sehrish,

      Thank you so much for your comment. We’re glad you think this is a useful resources for families. Please feel free to share it with your family and friends.

      Best wishes,

  4. Inun Nahar on June 4, 2024 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks a lot Georgia and Emma,
    I have read everything about gagging and choking hazards for babies and toddlers . That’s really refreshing ourselves specially the practitioner who works in the baby room they experience more often. They need to know how to prevent them and how to prepare the food at snack and meal times. I have had experienced that gagging and choking problem with baby many times, and I am glad myself I managed to save the baby out of panic. Thanks again for sharing us all the information about gagging and choking and it’s really useful for all the practitioners and parents.

  5. Sughr Gul on June 4, 2024 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Georgia
    Thank you so much for providing of useful information for how to prepare food and tips to keep children safe during mealtimes. We will make sure to follow the rules to keep our children safe .

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