Feeding a baby is a messy business. Liquefied rice, vegetables and fruit are just begging to be smeared around. Once your child discovers how to blow raspberries with her tongue, you are likely to be sprayed, repeatedly, with carrots, followed promptly with a huge grin.
A high chair isn't going to make your child a more civilized diner. It can, however, safely contain her during mealtime. Feeding seats, whether traditional high chairs or portable boosters, have come a long way since we were kids, says Paula Motte, senior editor at Babycenter.com.
"Designers are getting really great at intuitive, smart design," Motte said.
Chair patterns now go beyond ponies and giraffes, she said, to fit more seamlessly into the design of your home, with sleek styling and modern fabrics in solid bold or neutral colors.
Some models have a simple foot pedal to raise or lower the seat height, depending on who is feeding the baby, Motte said.
"People are looking for versatility," Motte said. "Anything that makes life easier."
• Always use all of the restraining straps and locking devices. Make sure the harness is fastened as soon as you put your child in the chair, and don't unfasten the straps until you take her out, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. Also, secure any wheel locks. If you have a folding model, be sure it is locked in the open position each time you set up the chair.
• Never leave your child unattended in the high chair. As with other baby gear, keep your child within sight when he is in his high chair or booster seat, particularly if he is able to unbuckle the straps, according to the CPSC.
• Placement matters. Place the high chair far enough away from tables, counters, walls and other surfaces that a child could use to push off and tip the chair or scoot it across the floor.
• Clean it after each use. You're likely to find crumbs and sticky residue everywhere from the tray down to the footrest. After each use, wipe the high chair or booster with a damp cloth, Motte said. If necessary, use a mild soap or dish detergent to remove stubborn dirt.
• Sanitize the tray in the dishwasher. If your high chair comes with a removable tray or tray liner, run it through the dishwasher daily to keep it clean and germ-free.
Low, medium, high
We asked Erica Tun, a marketing associate with Peg Perego, to recommend three high chairs at different price points. All of Peg Perego's high chairs are made in Italy.
• Rialto. A booster seat that folds and has a carrying bag for eating on the go, the Rialto adjusts to five heights. It attaches to the chair and is suitable for children ages 9 months and older, up to 45 pounds. It has a three-point harness and removable tray and comes in orange, green or black. $99.99.
• Prima Pappa Zero 3. Appropriate for children from infancy through age 3, the foldable Prima Pappa has a five-position reclining back rest and seven height positions. The tray is removable and dishwasher safe. The seat has a five-point harness and a bar that fits between baby's legs to prevent slipping. It comes in brown, beige, green giraffe and purple giraffe. $199.99.
• Siesta. Currently Peg Perego's best-selling high chair, this model has wheels that automatically lock for safety. It can be used from birth to 45 pounds and folds for storage. The seat reclines fully and the chair has nine height positions. The chair has a five-point harness, a bar between baby's legs and a removable tray with a dishwasher-safe liner. The seat cover is made of eco-leather, a synthetic material that is easy to clean. It comes in orange, green, beige, black and brown. $299.99.
• If space is at a premium, consider a folding model. High chairs are bulky and take up valuable real estate, particularly in smaller homes. Folding chairs, which can be stored in a closet or corner, have become easier to use, Motte said. Some collapse with a click of a button and can be stowed without being propped up. Babycenter.com has an illustrated guide to shopping for high chairs on its Web site.
• A booster seat can take the place of a full-size high chair. A booster seat that straps to a chair is a great option for traveling with your baby, but you can also use it as your high chair at home, Motte said. Many have removable trays and three-or five-point harnesses and are safe for young babies.
• Think about the long term. Your baby will move quickly from gumming soupy rice cereal to eating mashed peas to dumping a bowl of spaghetti on his tray (or head). Shop for a high chair or booster that will grow with your child, Motte said. Some convertible models go from a reclining high chair suitable for infants to a seat you can pull up to the table to a booster seat for older children.