Bye-bye breast-feeding, hello solids! When babies start eating real food, they use a lot of the same dishes we do, just in smaller sizes. From plates and bowls to utensils and cups, they get their very own special place setting. Technically, your baby can share some of the dishes you use, but dinnertime will be a bigger success if he has tools designed especially for small, not-yet-dexterous hands.

your basic choices

When it's time to set the table for the smaller members of the family, you'll probably need one or more of each of the following.

plates and bowls
Your child's dishware—both plates and bowls—should be designed to make scooping easy. Look for plates that look more like a bowl, with higher edges for easy scooping and a sturdier base than most bowls provide. Ideally, they'll also come with fitted, microwave-safe lids for easy warm-ups.

cups
Start your child off with a training cup that has a lid and two handles for easy gripping. Next comes the sippy cup—those ubiquitous lidded cups with spouts to mitigate spills. Eventually, your child will graduate to an open-top cup with no lid. Just make sure the cup is small enough to hold and has a sturdy base to discourage spills.

baby spoons
Oh, if only it were as simple as one lovely silver spoon. In the “here comes the airplane” phase, you'll want a long-handled spoon with a small, soft rubber scoop that's ideal for baby's toothless mouth. When your baby starts wanting to feed herself, look for short, soft spoons that make scooping easy.

toddler utensils
At some point, after your baby has mastered the use of his own spoon, he'll start asking for utensils like yours. Now is the time to introduce toddler utensils: small-sized forks, spoons, and (eventually) knives. Look for forgiving prongs and generous spoon ladles with metal ends and soft handles. You can even find starter chopsticks that can enhance dexterity.

to-go containers
These single-serving snack containers have a lid with a small opening that only lets a few snacks escape at a time—no more dumping the crackers all over the backseat!

general guidance

When it comes to pint-size dishes and utensils, there's no one perfect choice—though there are lots of good options. The key is practicality. Think about what will work best for someone with smaller hands, a lack of coordination, and a tendency to spill things.

Try a few brands before you stock up, and keep in mind that what you'll need when you first introduce solids will be different from what you'll need just a few months later. Choose smaller-size everything, and make sure plates and bowls will fit on your child's high-chair tray without teetering on the rim.

features to look for

  • Nonbreakable. Who would make a breakable child's dish? Believe it or not, they exist, so make sure you choose something that can hold up to abuse.
  • Leak-resistant. This one is for the sippy cups. Try one before you buy many, and make sure they do their job keeping spills to a minimum. (Some even have a no-spill feature that prevents them from leaking from the spout when they're on their side.)
  • Easy to clean. Make sure the dishes are easy for you to clean, whether that means dishwasher-safe or just simple to hand-wash.
  • Slip-proof. With plates, bowls, and cups, look for a sticky backing that keeps them from sliding around. If your baby likes to throw dishes, look for stronger suction backing.

additional information

food prep aids
Baby food in a jar is certainly convenient, but more and more parents are hungry for easy, fresh options that they can make themselves. If you want to do some of the cooking yourself, here are a few products that will turn you into a baby gourmet.

food mill
Sure, you can use a fork to mash up baby food in a bowl, but it's tricky to get a smooth consistency. A food mill is a minor investment that will make your job a whole lot easier. The portable kind comes apart easily for cleaning and is dishwasher safe. You can also buy an electric model that's more like a food processor: super fast and efficient, but more expensive and trickier to clean. Either way, this handy little gadget will be a kitchen fixture for years to come.

cookbooks
Start with an instructional feeding book that gives you techniques for introducing solids. More than a cookbook, it can offer instructions for pureeing and mashing, advice for introducing tastes, strategies for sequencing and mixing foods, and ideas for preparation, storage, and serving.

Early-stage cookbooks can help you make meals that are meant especially for kids, with kid-size portions and tastes. Then come family-focused cookbooks, for when you want to stop making separate mini meals and start making meals that work for the whole family. There are also specialty cookbooks that take on a narrower approach, focusing on things like organic foods or cooking with a food allergy in mind.

storage
Freezer storage is essential for the adventurous parent who wants to serve fresh food but doesn't always have the time to prepare it. One great solution is a stackable, space-efficient storage container that looks like an ice tray with a lid. An organized parent can go to the farmers' market on the weekend, puree a variety of fruits and veggies, and stock the freezer with microwave-ready single servings.

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