03/21/2013 05:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Out With Plastic, In With Porcelain: Why I Replaced the Kids' Dishes

The time has come. As a mom who blogs about cooking for kids, 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, no gulp). They're designed to teach little kids good eating habits, without exposing them to chemicals along the way.

Montessori is pretty popular here in the U.S. (and indeed all the Montessori preschools in our part of North Carolina are full), and this 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-shaped sippy cup.

I actually like our new cups which are just little 3.25 oz. juice glasses and best of all, they're quite sturdy. We have three very small people (3 1/2, 2 years and 9 months, though he's got help) drinking out of them, spilling them and picking them up off the floor again. So far, nary a break.

The plain white plates are also a hit, though I suspect easier to shatter. That's okay though. They're also less expensive (picked up at World Market) 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 white because 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 a couple bucks each. And last, we've stocked the kids' cupboard with forks and spoons from our regular utensil collection -- they use the salad forks and dessert 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.

One more thing about the kids' cupboard: it's awesome. Even ours who are 3 1/2 and 2-years-old can set the table, and feel really proud about it. Those are two things I'd like to foster from here on out.

But best of all, everything the kids are eating from now is 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.