Why I replaced the kids’ plastic dishes: out with the plastic, in with the porcelain

THE TIME HAS COME. There are two things that I keep reading about: an inspiring Montessori approach to eating, and weird news stories about BPA. That’s why I decided to pack up the plastic dishes this week. The new ones are glass (gulp), porcelain (double gulp) and metal (actually, good for gulping). They’re designed to teach little kids good eating habits, without exposing them to chemicals along the way.

It’s pretty popular here in the US (and indeed all the Montessori preschools in our part of North Carolina are full), but the Montessori approach to eating involves giving even the littlest kids real glasses, plates and utensils so they can truly learn how to master them. The logic goes like this: If a plastic glass falls off the table and doesn’t break, the consequences are fewer than they would be with glass. I’ll say!

It’s not for the faint of heart though. A friend of mine who lives in Amsterdam sent his daughter to a local Montessori preschool and cringed when he told us about visiting for lunch one day. “They all use glasses, real glasses, and set the table themselves. Everyone’s wearing a little apron. Sure enough, a cup crashes on the floor about five seconds after we get there, and there’s glass everywhere. But they just clean it right up and carry on.” He thought it was really stressful, and I don’t blame him.

But it’s also about trust. Audrey Butters says in her blog I heart Montessori, “Real plates, bowls and glasses portray to the child ‘You are trusted’ and build confidence.” Along those lines, our kids love doing everything that mom and dad do, even more than they like drinking out of a monkey sippy cup.

I actually love our new glasses, from Williams-Sonoma which are just little 3.25 oz. juice glasses ($15 for set of 6) and best of all, they’re quite sturdy. We have 3 very small people (3 1/2, 2 and 9 months though he has help) drinking out of them, spilling them, and picking them up off the floor. So far, nary a break.

The plates are brand new so I have less to report on so far, though I do suspect they’re easier to shatter. That’s okay though. They’re also less expensive (Target $15.99 for set of 8) and that’s one of the tenants of the Montessori approach at home. Use real stuff, but buy it inexpensively, even from a garage sale, so replacements are easy on the wallet. I also like plain white because even replacements always match (at least well enough) and we can dress things up elsewhere with place mats, napkins and tablecloths. Also, no one has to cry over who has the pink bowl ever again.

Then there are hand-me-downs. The kids’ “new” bowls are dipping bowls purchased from Pier 1 about 10 years ago, for $2 each. And last, we’ve stocked the kids’ drawer with forks and spoons from our regular utensil collection–they use the salad forks and tea spoons. It’s actually the stainless steel set that we registered for in our wedding almost five years ago now, but they’re so sturdy and there are so many of them that it’s a perfect way to actually USE our stuff.

Best of all, everything the kids are eating from now is totally toxin-free. Plastic gear is easy to clean and amazingly durable, but these news stories about how dangerous plastic is for kids just aren’t going away. So the dishes will have to.



  1. says

    I love, love, love this idea. The only problem is that my son already steals our forks and brandishes them as though they are swords, and he throws plates, even plastic ones. Still, I just might have to give this a try. You’re right, after all, about the bad news on plastic.

    • Megan says

      I had a new student start in my Montessori toddler community who had the habit of throwing things and was used to plastic. On his first visit to the class, he picked up our ceramic tissue box holder and threw it across the room. It was hand-painted for our class by a parent, so I wished he’d picked another item to learn on… but it did smash into pieces and we cleaned it up, and he never threw another breakable item again. At least not in my presence or at school 😀 It’s an experience that sticks with the child – a little scary to hear the noise and see the mess, and they definitely notice how quickly the adults swoop in to make sure no one gets hurt on the pieces. It makes an especially big impression if it was a dish they liked, because now it’s gone (although if they were really upset about it I would make an effort to replace the dish after a week or so). It might not be so quick and easy as it was for this child, but it really works (barring any developmental or emotional issues that might affect the matter, of course)!

      • says

        I am loving reading this albeit nearly a year after you wrote it!! Sorry for coming late to the party! You all make such great points and reasons why children should absolutely be using real china and glass tableware. We are a tiny company (me and my husband) making china tableware for kids in the UK and have road tested our china plates,bowls and beakers on our two girls since they were two. So many people come up to us and say ‘oh if only you did it in plastic’. Which we won’t because we think it’s about getting kids to take responsibility for things. I LOVE the montessori way and think it really does ring true with our experiences of giving china to children at a young age. They feel like you have trusted them enough to use it and so they’re proud of themselves. Small things make a difference. Great to hear your views. Wish more people would share them x

  2. says

    We’ve moved to using a sturdy glass for the little one and it seems to be going well. Last summer, I bought (adult-looking) melamine plates from Target that we all use for dinner so that we could be using the same plates, but now you’ve got me wondering if I should move back to the ceramic ones. What you say makes sense. Thanks!

  3. says

    Just like you, I’ve read many advices against the use of melamine dinnerware. My hubby says I’m too paranoid but I’m not going to care about that. The safety of my kids is my priority.

    Between metal and porcelain dinnerware, what will be your recommendation? Is there no difference at all? Or is there something else that I’m not yet aware of?


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