You Should Never Serve Hot Dogs This Way To Young Kids

If there's one thing that could call itself the official food of summer, the hot dog could put forth a good case. We gobble them down at ballparks and beaches, eat them off sticks at fairs and festivals, and when we're home we throw them on the backyard grill. Sure, they may not be as impressive as, say, helmet nachos or grilled filet mignon, but one thing hot dogs have going for them is that they're usually one of the cheapest eats available. Another point in their favor is that they're among the kid-friendliest of foods — as long as you're talking about older kids, that is. Hot dogs, for the younger ones, can be downright dangerous.

According to the doctors at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, the biggest problem with hot dogs has nothing to do with their ingredients (which, admittedly, can be a bit dubious), but rather lies in the fact that they pose a huge choking risk for little ones. Hot dogs are actually the leading cause of choking incidents requiring medical intervention in children under 3, accounting for 17% of such cases. What makes hot dogs so dangerous? Johns Hopkins Children's pediatrician Nisha Kapadia, M.D. explains that "the hot dog has just the right size and consistency to perfectly block the airway," calling it "the perfect plug that doesn't allow any air to get through."

How to kid-proof your hot dogs

So are hot dogs off the menu for all young children? Not necessarily. Hot dogs can be safe enough to eat as long as you prepare them the proper way. Hot dogs should not be given whole, but you should also avoid cutting them into "coin" shapes. Sure, these small rounds are easy for chubby little fingers to grasp, but they're very hard for tiny throats to swallow. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you only serve hot dogs that have been cut in half lengthwise as well as width-wise.

You could make always make your hot dogs even safer, and more enjoyable to boot, by slicing them into thin sticks. Hot dog fries: What could be more fun than that? In fact, Wisconsin eatery Sprecher's Pub used to offer a menu item called "brat fries" (via Facebook) that could easily be adapted to something cheap and kid-friendly. All you'd need to do would be to slice some hot dogs into thin strips, then fry the strips up with or without a batter coating and serve them with your chosen condiments on the side for dunking.

A few more safe eating tips

Changing the shape of a hot dog so it's too narrow to block even the tiniest airway is the safety measure you need to adopt ASAP. Still, there are several other things you can do to help your child enjoy risk-free franks. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests you take into consideration the following safety tips no matter what foods your kids are eating.

Don't allow your kids to eat while they're running around playing. Any such "high-energy activities," as the AAP describes them, increase the likelihood that kids might inadvertently swallow large chunks of food. They also say that you should make sure that children have plenty of liquids to drink, but you'll need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't try to eat and drink simultaneously. (If you can't picture doing such a thing, this is because you are over the age of 3.) In fact, the best thing you can do to ensure your child's meals are as danger-proof as can be is to sit down with them as they eat. That way, you can make sure that no food is causing them any trouble and step in immediately to assist if needed. With luck, the worst thing that will happen to you all summer is some serious mustard stains on the tablecloth. No, those probably won't wash out, but tablecloths, unlike kids, can always be replaced.