Smart Shopping: High Chairs

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The right high chair can help make the feeding experience better for you and your baby.
Feeding a hungry baby in a high chair isn't always a picnic. But the right high chair can help contain mealtime madness and make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable, for you and your baby. A high chair usually consists of a frame of molded plastic or metal tubing and an attached seat with a harness, a safety belt, and a footrest.
There are still a few old-fashioned wooden high chairs out there with a removable tray, or arms that lift the tray over a baby's head. They're not always as comfortable or cushy for babies as the modern, form-fitting models on the market now, and many of them may not be certified to meet the latest safety standards. We say don't use them.
Some chairs are loaded with features, such as adjustable trays with dishwasher-safe inserts that make cleanup a cinch and seat backs that recline to multiple positions. Others are basic models that don't even fold. A few hybrid units can convert into other types of gear, such as a table and chair for an older child. At the very least, you'll want a stable, sturdy high chair that can stand up to spilling, kicking, and regular cleaning for at least a year. You'll probably use a high chair for less time than you'd think. Although high chairs are intended for infancy up to about age 3, some babies can't bear to sit in a high chair once they become adventurous toddlers.
For our ratings, we tested 19 high chairs ranging in price from $25 to $570. Throughout this section, we'll include insights from our tests that can you help decide which high chair is right for you.
SHOPPING SECRETS
Take a hands-on approach to buying a high chair. We suggest visiting the baby store near you that has the broadest selection. Then do the following:
Open and close the fastener on the seat's safety harness. Try it one-handed to make sure it's easy to use. If it's not, you might be tempted not to use it every time your child is in the seat--which is a must. Although the voluntary industry standard developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) does not call for a five-point harness (waist and crotch restraint with shoulder straps), a three-point harness (waist and crotch restraint) is required for certification. On some chairs, you can convert a five-point harness to a three-point harness, but we don't recommend it. Five-point harnesses are safer because they can prevent a child from standing up in a high chair and possibly falling.
Test the tray. It should be easy for you to engage and disengage, but not for your baby. Ideally, tray latches shouldn't be accessible or visible to your baby.
Check for a crotch post. The voluntary industry standard requires that high chairs have a passive crotch restraint, which is usually a fixed crotch post that may be attached to the tray or the seat of the chair. The crotch post prevents a child from sliding out of the chair and under the tray. In our tests, we found one high chair, the Mozzee Nest ($575), that didn't have a passive crotch restraint. For this reason and others, including its failure in ASTM stability tests, the chair was rated Not Acceptable.
Adjust the seat height to see how well that mechanism works. Not all chairs have this feature, but some come with as many as eight possible heights. Adjustable seat heights can accommodate parents of varying heights and allow the high chair to be used at the level of your dining table, so your baby can eat with the rest of the family.
Assess the seat cover. Look for a chair with upholstery made to last. It should feel substantial, not flimsy. Make sure upholstery seams won't scratch your baby's legs. Seat covers should be wipe-clean (preferred) or machine washable.
Make sure wheels can be locked. If you're buying a model with wheels, they should lock or become immobilized by the weight of your baby in the seat.
Watch out for rough edges. Examine the underside of the feeding tray to make sure there's nothing sharp that could scratch your baby. Look for small holes or hinges that could trap little fingers.
Check for small parts. Make sure the caps or plugs that cover the ends of metal tubing are well secured. Parts small enough for a child to swallow or inhale are a choking hazard.
Try folding it. If you plan to fold up your high chair as often as every day, practice in the store. Some chairs that claim to be foldable can have stiff folding mechanisms. Technically they may be foldable, but they're not user-friendly.
WHAT'S AVAILABLE
Major brands of high chairs are, in alphabetical order: Baby Trend (www.babytrend.com), Chicco (www.chiccousa.com), Combi (www.combi-intl.com), Dorel Juvenile Group (Cosco, Disney, Eddie Bauer, and Safety 1st, www.djgusa.com), Evenflo (www.evenflo.com), Fisher-Price (www.fisher-price.com), Graco (www.gracobaby.com), Kolcraft (www.kolcraft.com), Peg-Pérego (www.pegperego.com), Stokke (www.stokkeusa.com), Svan (www.svanusa.com), and Zooper (www.zooper.com). There are three general price categories:
BASIC HIGH CHAIRS
High chairs at this end of the price range (under $50) are simple, compact, and generally work quite well. These models are essentially plastic seats on plastic or steel-tubing legs, and may or may not have tray and height adjustments. They tend to lack bells and whistles, such as wheels; and they don't fold for storage or recline, a feature you may not use unless you're bottle-feeding. The seat is usually upholstered with a wipe-clean vinyl covering or bare plastic, and the pad may be removable and washable. Some have a towel rack to store bibs, towels, and wash cloths. In our tests, some basic models scored higher than some bigger-ticket high chairs, indicating that price isn't necessarily correlated with safety or ease of use.
Pros: A basic high chair can serve you and your baby well, but it pays to comparison shop because some brands may suit your needs better than others. This kind may be a good choice to keep at Grandma's house.
Cons: Avoid chairs in this price range with grooves in the seat's molded plastic (a mess magnet); cotton seat pads rather than vinyl, which don't hold up as well as vinyl; and trays with side-release buttons that are accessible to your baby. Some parents report that their babies can remove these trays--food and all--as early as 9 months of age. Be on the lookout for chairs with protruding legs. Three in our tests--Baby Connection Convenience ($25), Cosco Beginnings Simple Start ($30), and the Kolcraft Recline 'n Dine ($30)--had such widely spaced legs that we consider them a tripping hazard to parents and siblings.
MIDPRICED HIGH CHAIRS
In this price range ($50 to $200), you'll find chairs with many convenience features, including multiple tray and chair heights; casters for mobility, with a locking feature for safe parking; a reclining, padded seat for infant feeding; a one-hand removable tray; a dishwasher-safe tray insert for easy cleanup; flip-out organizer compartments on the tray that hold utensils, dishes, or baby food jars; easy folding for storage; and a five-point harness instead of a three-point harness. Most have vinyl seat pads that can be removed for cleaning, although you may see models with cloth covers in this price range; those are a challenge to keep clean. Frames and seats are usually made of molded, rigid plastic or steel.
Pros: Generally, these chairs are sturdier and have more usable features. Chair fabric patterns tend to be more muted and sophisticated, with names like "Pebblestone" and "Livingston." If you're looking for a high chair that fits your home décor, or at least isn't covered with teddy bears or nursery figures, you should have lots of options. There's a lot to choose from in this price range.
Cons: If you're looking for a simple chair that doesn't fold, with a wipe-clean cover, chairs in this price range probably will have more features than you may need.
HIGH-END HIGH CHAIRS
In this price range ($200 to $575) are European imports and traditional solid-wood, custom-made high chairs, some that lack a passive crotch restraint. Chairs at this end of the market tend to have a sleek, upscale appearance. Many have fewer features, though, than midrange models and a much higher price tag. Some, on the other hand, go all out to justify their price tag. The Peg-Pérego Dondolino ($230), for example, is a deluxe high chair with seven height positions and four angles of seat recline; it has a padded insert to support younger babies. But what really sets it apart is that it plays music and can function as a rocking high chair.
Pros: Top-dollar high chairs may mean top quality, which is important to consider if you want the chair to last for another baby or more. But that doesn't mean a midpriced high chair won't last, too. High-end high chairs tend to be stylish, but don't make looks your deciding factor.
Cons: Chairs in this range aren't necessarily the safest option. In our tests, the Svan Chair ($230), for example, a wooden high chair by Scandinavian Child, passed all ASTM safety tests except one for forward stability. We determined that a child seated in this chair, or a sibling pulling on it, might be able to tip the chair over, possibly causing serious injury. The Mozzee Nest ($575) failed the stability test, as well. We found the Mozzee Not Acceptable because of this and other failures to comply with the standard.
Important Features
Crotch post. To prevent a baby from slipping under the tray and getting his head caught between the tray and the chair, high chairs must have a fixed center crotch post to comply with the voluntary ASTM safety standard for high chairs. The post is not meant to replace the safety belt, though. Check the leg openings that form between the tray/passive crotch restraint and the sides of the high chair. Children have been known to maneuver both legs to one side. The leg openings on the high chair shouldn't be large enough for a child to fit both legs in one.
Foldability. Some high chairs fold for storage. If that's important to you because your home is space-challenged, make sure there's a secure locking system to prevent accidental folding while your child is in the chair or being put into it. Such a system should engage automatically when you open the chair.
Safety belt. As we mentioned, this is an important feature. Most high chairs have an adjustable three-point harness, but a five-point harness is safer. The shoulder straps it provides could keep a tenacious, on-the-go baby from climbing out and falling.
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Seat adjustment. Seats can move up or down to as many as eight height positions on some chairs. They may also recline (in case your baby falls asleep right after eating). However, except for bottle feeding, don't use a seat in the reclining position while feeding your baby--that's a choking hazard. On a height-adjusting chair, the seat slides along the chair frame, locking into various positions. Height options range from nearly floor level to standard high-chair level; the middle height is low enough so the seat (with the tray removed) can be pushed up to a dining room table.
Toys. Some high chairs have toy bars or toys that attach to the tray, an option your baby will likely enjoy, although to keep your baby busy, you can certainly buy toys that fasten to high-chair trays. But do not use strings to attach them because strings and cords are a strangulation hazard. Make sure the toys are securely fastened and have no small parts that could become detached.
Tray. You'll want a lightweight tray you can take off with one hand or that swings to the side when not in use. Many high chairs have a dishwasher- safe tray insert that snaps on and off for easy cleanup. Some trays have compartments to hold utensils, dishes, or jars of baby food. Those are nice, but not necessary.
Upholstery. Most models have seat coverings--or entire seat panels--that can be wiped clean, or come off for more thorough cleaning. Opt for a seat cover with a pattern rather than a solid color; patterns are better at concealing stains. Vinyl is easier to spot-clean than cloth.
Wheels. Wheels may make it easier to move the high chair around, which is important if you'll be scooting the high chair from the kitchen to the dining room. On the other hand, wheels can be a nuisance because they may allow the chair to move as you're trying to pull a tray off or put your baby in. Older children may be tempted to take the baby for a joyride when you turn your back. If you decide on a wheeled model, look for locks on the wheels, preferably on all four.
RECOMMENDATIONS
Use our Ratings as a guide, and look carefully at the high chairs you're considering to make sure the one you want will suit your needs. Midpriced high chairs generally are the best value and have the best combination of useful features, so start there. The top-rated Graco Contempo 3800, for example, has many convenience features and the slimmest fold of any of the models we tested. It also did well in our Safety tests, and it was extremely easy to use. This chair comes out of the box fully assembled, a real plus. At $100, it's a bit expensive, but we think it's worth the cost. You can always look for sales at baby goods stores or find the best price online.
The Evenflo Expressions Plus is a less expensive choice, at $60, and it has many of the same safety and convenience features as the top-rated Graco Contempo 3800. Most of the other high chairs scored Very Good and, depending on the selection of features you're looking for, might be fine for your needs. You may not know what high chair will suit you best until you try using one. Keep your receipt, or if you register for one, ask for a gift receipt to be included so you can return the chair if it doesn't suit you. Some high chairs have as many as 26 parts. If you're not handy, consider buying a high chair that comes fully assembled.
2009-03-26 15:05:57
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