There are entire aisles in Target and Babies R Us full of “essential” baby dining products. There aren’t just cups – there are training cup SYSTEMS, with a variety of “stages” including endless combinations of removable handles, bottle nipple tops, sippy tops, straw tops, sport bottle tops, wide fat cups, tall skinny cups, and so forth.
You can get plastic dishes with divided sections so that different foods don’t have to touch each other, and bowls with suction cups on the bottom to foil your clever and devious children. Everything must be plastic and unbreakable. Because of course children are maniacs and can’t be trusted to handle anything of any importance.
In Montessori philosophy, babies are weaned (as in baby-led weaning/solids, not as in halting breastmilk/formula suddenly) at low tables with tiny chairs they can get in and out of on their own very early. They are allowed to feed themselves using their fingers or a “pre-loaded” fork or spoon (until they can “load” it themselves). They drink out of appropriately-sized glassware and use real ceramic dishes. To appeal to the child’s sense of beauty, a flower in a vase or other centerpiece may be placed on the table.
To see this in action, watch this video. It’s not mine, but it’s been a favorite of mine for a long time. It just goes to show that children, including very young babies, are not maniacs by nature. They are extremely capable and only need to be taught and supported in order to learn skills of independence. Babies are small people learning at astonishing rates… not animals to train or inconveniences to manage.
I personally decided to forego the Montessori weaning table (and it may be a bit “extreme” for most families), because I wanted to be able to sit around our regular dining table as a whole family, and share a meal. I chose instead to use a Svan high chair, which is highly adjustable and extremely sturdy, with a foot rest that can be lowered as the child grows up, to allow her to climb into the chair on her own (the independence aspect). Another similar chair is the Stokke Tripp Trapp. Watch for a sale (I got mine on mamabargains, but they said it’s unlikely they’ll get a chance to feature it again) or scour craigslist for yours. They’re expensive new.
I almost never used the tray, and very soon also removed the “cage” around the seat so that Anneliese could sit closer to the table. That instantly reduced mess, since most of the food she accidentally dropped would land on the table. Still, a lot went on the floor at first, but now we hardly have anything on the floor at the end of a meal. Have patience with your child. She is learning every single day.
(I had the seat cushion on backward, so that it would pad the edge where her legs hung down. Now that she is bigger and sits more comfortably, that’s unnecessary, and she does fine without the cushion at all when it is being washed.)
Dishes don’t need to come from a special line of baby dining “essentials.” In fact, you might have some in your house already. We didn’t buy any new plates or bowls for Anneliese. Instead, we use saucers, appetizer plates, and salad plates as her dishes. Her bowls are ramekins and small dipping bowls. If your dishes are more precious to you, or irreplaceable, try looking for pretty saucers at your local antique store, or just buy a few separately at the dollar store, Pier 1, or World Market. I want to let you know though, that Anneliese is 1 year old, and she has never broken a dish or bowl.
Finding appropriately-sized silverware is a cinch too. Choose silverware the same way you would decide on it for yourself. See if it feels balanced in your hand, and notice if it looks beautiful (children are more likely to treat something with respect if it is obviously a thing of beauty or value. They’ll know if you just give them “the cheap crap” because you don’t trust them).
Anneliese’s first silverware was actually an appetizer set we already had (left). It’s unfortunate that they’re no longer available. The gorgeous 12-piece set was only about $10. We picked up a similar set at IKEA (right) which is in “toys and play” but is food safe. We actually haven’t used this set, and I want to note that the fork tines don’t seem sharp enough to actually pierce much effectively, but I do love the shape of the spoons and knives. Plus, the set of 16 utensils is only $7.
This spring, I found a jackpot at World Market, where you can buy individual pieces of beautiful condiment flatware. I bought a few matching sets of forks and spoons, although knives were available too.
Cups and glasses are another story, and another area where you don’t have to just buy what’s on the shelves at Wal-Mart. Anneliese has never had a sippy cup. There is nothing WRONG with sippy cups, but I just don’t see the necessity of it, if she can drink out of a glass or a straw like any other person. I drink from glasses at home. When I’m at restaurants I use straws. On the go, I might have a straw cup or a sport-top bottle. These are all viable options for babies too.
Here is the glassware/drinkware that Anneliese uses.
From left to right:
- A creamer we already owned (we have 2), used as a pitcher by my husband and I for refilling her small cups
- A shot glass we already owned (set of 6, which we never actually used for alcohol) which is the perfect size for Anneliese to hold and drink from on her own – this is the most-used out of the three options. The weighted base also helps to prevent accidental spills.
- An espresso mug from World Market.
- A stainless steel baby mug.
When Anneliese learns to walk and starts to want to help out in the kitchen, I’ll store her dishes and flatware where she can reach them, so that she can help set the table. Her place setting, when complete, will probably look something like this (or with one of the larger cups to drink from):
I will probably also make her an embroidered or appliqued placemat to help her with setting her place.
Not all baby-led-weaning families are Montessori families, but both philosophies tell you to trust the child, to follow the child’s lead, and to support the child in her learning. If I can trust my child to gag up a piece of food that’s too big, I can trust her with a ceramic dish.
Baby’s age: 12 months. Dishes/glasses broken to date: 0
Feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll try to answer them in the comments or in a later post.