As soon as you start introducing solids, your baby will need a place to sit during meals. He won't be ready for a dining-room chair right away—and you won't be ready for the dining-room mess!

This is another product that we recommend buying new. As lovely as your grandmother's old high chair might be, antique and vintage chairs weren't made with today's safety standards in mind. In fact, they can actually be dangerous.

For example, most older models don't come with a five-point harness. Many of them have wider seats, as well, making it easier for a child to slip through. If you're going to go the secondhand route, just make sure it's a fairly recent model chair that will keep your child safe and secure.

your basic choices

Whether it's a standard high chair, a European-style chair, a portable seat, or a booster, there is a wide range of styles available.

standard highchair
This is your standard, everyday chair with a tray. These can be used as soon as the child is sitting (at about six months), and some reclining models can be used even earlier.

European-style highchair
These chairs don't have trays, allowing you to bring the baby right up to the table with you, starting at about nine months. As a general rule, this style can be used beyond the high-chair stage as a toddler seat.

hybrid
These chairs have trays and can be used as early as six months, but they also grow into a toddler chair. They tend to look more like furniture and go well in dining rooms. The trade-off is that they don't have all the features of standard high chairs.

portable highchair
Whether you are traveling, need a backup seat for Grandma's house, or just don't have enough room for a standard high chair, this compact seat that clips onto your table or chairs is an easy solution.

booster seats
Sometime after about 18 months, your child will make the transition to a booster seat. This is the modern version of using a telephone book to help your child reach the table, but it comes equipped with a seat belt to keep squirming youngsters in place.

chair harness
Not technically a chair, this fabric seat-cover ties to the back of a chair and has safety straps to anchor your child in place. This style is extremely easy to travel with, but doesn't provide the boost that a true booster seat does.

general guidance

If you buy a standard high chair, keep in mind that it's useful life won't be all that long, although you'll enjoy its special features during the early stages. At some point, your toddler will need to move to a booster seat or a European-style toddler chair, and this can happen as early as 18 months for some children.

No matter what type of chair you buy, here are some factors to consider.

  • Size. How much room do you have, and how much room does your chair of choice require? Make sure these two measurements add up.
  • Stability. As a general rule, the wider the base of the high chair, the more stable it will be. Make sure yours will stay standing through hectic mealtimes.
  • Washability. There's no way around it: high chairs get dirty. No matter what kind you choose, make sure it's easy to clean, and definitely avoid fabrics that will stain or require a lot of maintenance.

If you're buying a portable high chair, you have two different styles to choose from: one that clips onto your table, or one that clips onto your chairs.

  • Portable that secures to table. These have become so popular, some families buy them instead of a regular high chair. You just have to make sure it fits onto your table and won't damage it. Although these are as secure as standard high chairs, be sure to adhere to weight limits to ensure the chair's stability as your child grows. Best for travel are the fabric seats on a collapsible frame that fold and pack flat.
  • Portable that secures to chair. These use the legs of a chair for elevation, and can be as complex as a mini–high chair, with all the same features, including a tray. Because these seats don't pack flat, fewer people choose them as a portable option. However, because this style is smaller than a full-size, it can be great as a second chair to be kept at Grandma's for part-time use.

features to look for

  • Five-point harness. This is a must for keeping your baby securely in place during the high-chair stage. In the booster seat stage, the harness is optional, but recommended.
  • Seat-adjustability. Babies come in all different shapes and sizes, and those shapes and sizes will change rapidly, so pick a high chair that will grow with and adjust to your baby at every stage.
  • Adjustable footrest. The footrest should be movable to accommodate your growing baby.
  • Height-adjustability. This setting lets you move the seat to whatever height allows you to comfortably reach your baby, whether you're sitting or standing.
  • One-hand maneuverability. From latches to seat belts to adjustments, the more you can do while holding a plate of macaroni and cheese in one hand, the better. This is especially true of the tray.
  • Collapsibility. If you don't have a lot of room to leave a high chair sitting out, find one that folds up for easy between-meal storage.
  • Recline settings. If the chair reclines, you can start your child in it earlier, rather than waiting till he can sit up. It will also come in handy for the child who enjoys a quick snooze immediately after eating.
  • Locking mechanism. If you pick a high chair with wheels, make sure that you can lock the wheels into place, for obvious reasons.
  • Extra functions. Some high chairs can do double duty as rocking chairs, bouncy seats, or swings, saving you a purchase and meaning one less thing for you to store.

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.

stage considerations

A standard high chair provides adequate support for the sitting baby as early as six months. You can start using a European-style chair when the baby is able to sit totally unassisted and without support, usually around nine months.

European-style chairs are meant to grow with your child, and many are designed so they can be used indefinitely.

By about age two, most children have progressed past standard high chairs and have moved into the land of toddler or booster seats, depending on the child and the parent. The focus then moves away from safety and becomes more about getting your baby through the meal without distractions.

How long your child will need a booster seat depends mostly on his size and your tolerance for messes. If he can reach the table and sit still throughout the meal, he's earned his way out of the booster.

lifestyle considerations

Space. Space-constrained parents might want to consider a collapsible high chair that folds up for storage between meals. If you're really cramped, consider the minimalist approach: a portable clip-on seat that can easily be folded.

Multistage. Hybrids and European styles are multistage, and if you don't mind the minimalist approach, portables are, too.

Portability. The most travel-friendly seating option is the collapsible, cloth seat that clips onto the table. If your child is tall enough to reach the table, consider the harness belting system for secure seating.

Style. High-chair choices are driven as much by aesthetics as anything else, so choose what will fit best into your home. Some look more like actual, adult furniture, while others have more of a molded-plastic, baby-gear feel.

usage tips

  • If you prefer using a dishwasher to hand-washing, pick a high chair with a spare feeding tray.
  • Use the five-point harness for safety—and resist the temptation to stop buckling up your child when she starts getting bigger and looking more stable.
  • A slightly reclined seat can be great for bottle-feeding and is a necessity until the baby can sit upright without any help.
  • Keep sharp, hot, and dangerous items out of reach of the high chair, especially in the kitchen. Even while seated, kids can be amazingly fast and agile!
  • High chairs are for sitting, not standing. Of course, if your child's five-point harness is always secured, this should be easy to enforce.
  • Double-check that the chair is locked into place when you use it, especially collapsible chairs.
  • Never leave your baby unattended in any type of high chair or booster.
  • Do a bib check. If you're using anything other than cloth (such as rubber), double-check that the bib fits with the high-chair tray and doesn't create discomfort for the child.

accessories

  • Seat cushions and covers. While most high chairs come with some type of detachable seat cushion, some don't. Even those that do could use a backup.
  • Splash mats. Made to go under the high chair and catch whatever falls, a splash mat can save your floors. They also make cleanup a whole lot easier, saving you a lot of vacuuming, mopping, or carpet shampooing.
  • High chair-friendly dishes. Make sure the dishes you choose fit within the tray, and look for ones with "sticky" bottoms to help keep them in place.
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