When Can Babies Have Popcorn? Safety + Risks

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Popcorn is a staple and beloved snack all around the world. Is your baby missing out? Should you give them a nib when you are enjoying a bag? What are the risks?

Popcorn in any form or flavor should not be given to children younger than 4 years old as it is a choking hazard.

Yes, it is a great snack to be enjoyed as a family together, but it may be a good idea to skip giving it to your baby until the right age. Below, I have discussed some safety and risk information about popcorn when serving it to infants, let’s get to it.

When Can Babies Have Popcorn? At What Age?

According to the AAP, there is a list of food that could not be given to children younger than four years old as they are known choking hazards, one of which is popcorn. The rest of the food items are chewing gum, raw chunks of vegetables, peanut butter, whole grapes, sticky candy, chunks of cheese or meat, hotdogs, and seeds and nuts. 

popcorn in a transparent bowl

Babies should not be given popcorn under any circumstance. Popcorn should only be given to children older than four years old.

This is because according to pediatricians at the AAP, children at this age can already chew and swallow these foods, including popcorn safely. It is also when children develop their molars which are our primary teeth for grinding their food for easier swallowing. 

Besides the choking hazard, from a nutrition point of view, popcorn isn’t a great option for babies either.

There are multiple types of popcorn in the market, there are ready popped popcorn, or DIY popcorns where you pop the kernels at home, some are flavored such as butter, salt, cheese, sour and cream, these flavorings even extend to the sweet side with some brands offering caramel and chocolate coated popcorns, all of which are not ideal for babies.

Salty flavored popcorn such as cheese, butter and salt, ranch, and so on are not advisable for babies as they require less salt in their food as their taste buds are only still developing, the saltiness of these foods can affect your baby’s preference for salty foods (Source: AGRIS).

Same goes for sugar. Caramel and chocolate coated popcorns are high in sugar and fat and are extremely sweet which can damage your baby’s teeth and can also affect their food preference in the long run.

A bag of popcorn consists of little to no nutritional value, it does not contain any nutrients or vitamins important for your baby’s development. (Source: HEB). As it is a carbohydrate in nature, it can easily fill your baby up and offer no value whatsoever.

Can Babies Over 1 or 2 Years Old Eat Popcorn?

As you may have known, most food items are being allowed to be introduced to toddlers 1-2 years of age. This is because your child is developing their chewing and gasping and their eating habits are becoming more the same to yours. 

However, popcorn is a different discussion. Popcorn, unlike other foods, is a huge choking hazard. Your baby even if they reach 1-2 years of age are still not ready to maneuver popcorn and its pit in their mouths and could still cause problems.

They do not have the molar teeth yet that could grind the popped kernels and make them easier to swallow. In addition, popcorn is malleable in nature, which means it can take the shape of your baby’s throat and could get stuck there (Source: MinistryofHealth).

What Happens if a Baby Accidentally Eats Popcorn?

If your baby accidentally eats popcorn and did so successfully, without choking, remain calm.

Popcorn doesn’t contain common allergen, it is mostly corn, butter, and salt, in some cases, like flavored brands, sugar, so, there is nothing to worry about from that view. Corn allergy is possible, although very rare. If you have fed your baby corn before and is not allergic to it, popcorn will be no different. 

popcorn in a bowl

Just in case, symptoms of corn allergy are itchiness and tingling of the tongue and mouth while severe cases can lead to anaphylaxis (Source:ClinicalandExperimentalAllergy).

If you observe your child having trouble breathing, having swollen lips, eyes, or any other body part, immediately call for help or run to the nearest hospital. 

In addition, you may want to look at the ingredients list of the popcorn if there are any common allergens as some popcorn flavors include nuts, milk, chocolate, strawberries, etc. that can cause some allergic reactions. Again, look for allergy symptoms, and if you observe signs of anaphylaxis, seek immediate professional help.

What’s a Good Popcorn Alternative for Babies?

If you are looking for easy and delicious snacks for your baby, there are a lot of foods out there that can do a better job nourishing your baby than popcorn. 

You may want to try cereals like the original Cheerios which can also offer the readiness and accessibility that popcorn can, but with additional nutrients such as zinc and iron due to fortification. You would also want to try fresh, cut up fruits that are full of vitamins and minerals important for your growing baby.

Another option could be cheese, it is a great snack for babies as long as it is made from pasteurized milk and has low sodium, great examples are goat cheese, paneer, and swiss cheese. It is high in calcium important for bone development and other vitamins and minerals.

I hope you have learned something from this article. We love and would like to protect our family, but sometimes protecting them means saying no to certain things.