You may have heard that oranges—especially small mandarin ones—are choking hazards.
The culprit? That papery membrane that holds each orange segment together.
And unfortunately canned mandarins (even the ones that say they are in “100% fruit juice” are higher in sugar than the whole fruit. (The fruit juice companies typically use for canned mandarins is white grape juice, which is very high in sugar.) Canned oranges are also soaked in a lye solution (sodium hydroxide) to dissolve the membrane before canning, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
So let’s talk about how to cut oranges in a way that reduces the choking risk:
6 to 9 months: Here you have 2 choices. You can either “supreme” an orange (cut the segments away from the membranes) and serve a whole segment for your baby to suck on (be sure to remove seeds) OR you can slice the orange at the equator and offer large sections with the rind on. (If you do this, buy organic to reduce pesticide exposure from the rind and coach your baby to spit out any rind that gets in their mouth. The rind is edible, just not tasty.) The bigger the piece and fatter the rind (think ¼ of an orange) the better. Be sure to remove seeds.
9 to 18 months: At this age your baby will develop their pincer grasp and can pick up small pieces of food. This is a good time to move down to small cut up segments (membrane removed).
18 to 24 months+: Around this age you’ll notice your babe gets good at taking bites and tearing. Which means you can move back UP in size, making your life a lot easier! Try cutting the orange at the equator and slicing it into half moon pieces and again in half so you have little triangles. (Half moons are fine too at this age but you may find your babe gets more fruit in the belly with this triangle shape. When you serve these triangles, coach your babe to bite from the rind by modeling it dramatically yourself. And when you feel your babe is ready, move back up to whole segments again.
So how long do we need to remove the membrane? There’s no perfect science on it but generally the risk of choking with foods like oranges decreases around age 4 or 5.