Lately, my two-and-a-half-year-old son Teddy has been insisting on using real chairs at the table and it’s kind of breaking my heart. Not because he’s growing up and transitioning from baby to kid, but because I just really, really love the highchair.
From his first bite of solid food at six months old until very recently, nearly all of his meals and snacks have happened in the highchair, usually in the kitchen. Because I was often on my own with Teddy for his mealtimes, and I wanted to keep an eye on him, I always strapped him in before I started to cook. In addition to keeping him a safe distance from the stove, it gave him a front-row seat to meal preparation.
Being a professional communicator, I couldn’t help but explain every little thing I was doing. Now we’re going to boil the water for the noodles. See that fire? That’s very hot, that can hurt us! Now we wait for the noodles to cook. And so on.
While we waited for carrots to caramelize or mushrooms to soften, I’d give him a few peas or blueberries, let him smell herbs and spices, and when all else failed, hand off some random but safe (enough) kitchen gadget to use as a toy. It kept him engaged, somewhat entertained, and there’s no doubt it was good for his development.
It turns out all the messes he eventually made of those meals were also good for his little brain. A 2013 study found that toddlers who ate in highchairs and were allowed to play with their food were better able to assign names to "nonsolid substances" (i.e., foods).
But beyond turning my kid into a brainiac, I have plenty of reasons to love our highchair.
You think I’d ever let my kid loose in my house with paint? Think again! Our highchair has been the perfect place for a toddler paint his little heart (and face, and hair, and ears) out. We’ve also used it for playdough and any other arts and crafts projects I want to keep somewhat contained.
We also have two rowdy rescue mutts who won’t hesitate to sneak a snack from just about any surface. While they’re not winning any obedience awards, we trained them early on that the highchair tray was Teddy’s territory. Sure, he sometimes hands them a carrot or a noodle, and they’ll lick spills from his lap, and never leave a crumb on the floor (which is a bonus!), but having this one, small designated area was a great way to easily establish a no-go zone for the dogs.
And we've had some milestones in this spot. Teddy’s first haircut was very unceremonial. I did it myself, after dinner time, a week before his first birthday, in his highchair. The cut wasn’t half bad, and it was pretty easy because he was content, preoccupied, and best of all, contained! I’d be lying if I said I haven’t moved it in front of the TV for subsequent haircuts, but hey, we do what we have to do to get by, right?
I’m not quite ready to put our highchair in storage. It's held so many memories for us: just Teddy and me humming along in the kitchen cooking away, head-to-toe paint masterpieces, a mini circus act of furry friends at bay, first hair cuts. And we have so many more years left with it. Luckily, it’s not hard to convince Teddy he has a better angle on his mac-and-cheese or cereal from up high than down low.
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Emily Farris is a writer, recipe developer, prop stylist, and blogger. She lives in Kansas City, MO, with her husband, toddler son, and two rowdy dogs.