Snow fell peacefully down on a recent winter day, blanketing the grass in white. What would have been a blissful moment was punctuated by screams of "snow day!" coming from my toddlers, ages 3 and a half and almost 2, running around the backyard. Since we live in Texas, this was their first time ever seeing snow — and all they wanted to do was eat it! They caught snowflakes on their tongues, licked a handful of snow from the backyard slide, and tried to eat some directly from the muddy grass. It was cute, but also kind of gross? I get the appeal; snow is so fluffy, light, and downright refreshing. But is it safe to consume — especially for toddlers? POPSUGAR talked to two pediatricians to find out if it's OK for little ones to eat snow.
Is It Safe for My Toddler to Eat Snow?
Trace amounts of snow, like what your toddler can catch on their tongue or a little bit of clean snow from a slide, are probably fine to eat. Although, the experts we spoke to cautioned against eating contaminated snow. "Snow, similar to rain, can accumulate some pollutants as it travels down to earth," said Lauren Lazar, MD, pediatric GI specialist at Children's Health in Dallas and an assistant professor at UT Southwestern. "In addition, snow can become mixed with dirt, debris, and even backyard pesticides once it has already hit the ground. With the right panning and in small amounts, however, eating snow can be safe to do."
The pollutants can vary based on your location, too. "If you live in the city, especially near exhaust from cars and factories, the snow in your area may contain some pollutants. Rural snow may contain bits of manure if you are near a farm," Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, pediatrician and medical consultant for MomLovesBest.com, told POPSUGAR.
To make sure your snow is white and clean, Dr. Lazar suggested collecting the snow straight from the sky. One way to do this is by placing a bowl on your front porch and eating the snow collected in it, which won't have dirt from the ground mixed in. Another strategy is to eat only the "middle layer of snow" by wiping off the snow right on top and not going all the way to the bottom of the pile.
How Can I Tell If Snow Is Dangerous to Eat?
Everyone knows you aren't supposed to eat yellow snow (because, um, gross!), but other shades of snow may not be safe either. "Day-old snow may be visibly dirty," said Dr. Poinsett. "The older the snow, the more debris and dirt it may contain."
Dr. Lazar explained what different colored snow could mean. "Yellow snow may indicate a passing dog, cat, or other neighborhood animal has relieved him or herself in that area," she said to POPSUGAR. "If the snow looks off-white or slightly gray, it may be mixed with dirt. If it is particularly windy day, dirt, trash, and pollutants from other areas can be swept into your snowy part."
To help, Dr. Lazar recommended waiting a few hours into the snow fall to collect snow, as the first part is more likely to be polluted. Additionally, she said to never let your toddlers (or yourself) eat plowed snow, as it may be mixed with chemicals used for salting the roads. Finally, she suggested sticking with "Day 1 snow," as opposed to snow that has been sitting for a while, in order to diminish the accumulation of additional pollutants from stagnation.
What Should I Do If My Toddler Eats Snow?
"Tasting or ingesting small amounts of new snow is not likely to be harmful," said Dr. Poinsett. "Do not panic if your toddler puts a handful of snow in her mouth. Distract your toddler from eating snow by encouraging other snow activities, such as making angels in the snow, making a snowman, or even a snowball fight."
I made warm mugs of hot cocoa filled with marshmallows, and my toddlers were instantly distracted enough to stop eating snow! Do what works for you, follow these experts' advice by letting your kids eat clean snow in moderation, and don't stress. Snow days are supposed to be fun, and they can be with the proper precautions. "Just remember that moderation in all things is best," said Dr. Lazar. "So one small bowl or handful of snow is probably just fine."
If you do have any questions or concerns about something your toddler ate, call your pediatrician or Poison Control at 800-222-1222.