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Parents Opt for Breakable Dishes to Avoid Plastic Hazards

By Amy Zimmer | May 19, 2014 6:26am
 Students at Twin Parks Montessori School in the Upper West Side eat on glass plates.
Glass Plates for Kids
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PARK SLOPE — Break out the fine china — it's toddler snacktime.

A growing number of parents concerned about potentially toxic chemicals used in plastics are opting for durable glass or ceramic dishes — preferring the risk of shattered plates to the possible long-term health consequences that studies have found to be linked to chemicals in plastic.

"My mom would kill me if I gave my kids plastic cups," said Daniela Zollo, a Prospect Heights mom who hails from Italy and uses ceramic dishes as much for cultural reasons as for concerns about health issues.

Zollo said that in the entire time her sons — a 3-year-old and 10-year-old — have been using breakable dishware, they've never broken a single plate. That's fewer than she has broken while washing dishes sleep-deprived at 3 a.m., she said.

"Maybe it's a matter of sitting at the table," she said, noting she buys Japanese rice dishes made of heavy glazed ceramic. "They're good eaters. They gulp down everything, so there's no throwing at the table."

Adriane Stare, owner of Greenpoint's Caribou Baby boutique — one of the few baby stores to carry an extensive line of glass dishware — said their line of "Wean Green" dishes have been flying off the shelves.

"We certainly have noticed an uptick in parents coming in asking for plastic-free sippy cups and feeding options," Stare said, adding that she stocks glassware that's specially tempered with kids in mind, to make sure it's less easily broken.

"Most of us as adults have ceramic, glass and metal dishware for ourselves at home," Stare added. "But once we have kids? We are marketed at like crazy — only plastic feeding options, touting its low price, lightweight, and break-proof qualities."

Plastics, however, are harder to clean thoroughly and dangerous when exposed to heat, she said, adding, "No one likes the icky unknown factor of their leeching harmful chemicals into our or our kids' food."

Multiple studies have found exposure to certain plastics during pregnancy or early childhood may be linked to neurological disorders, obesity and reproductive health issues — making it ideal to use a safer option than plastic when possible, said Maida Galvez, professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai.

Glass and stainless steel are known to be safer than plastic, she said, followed by products labeled BPA-free, she added.

"Ultimately, families need to know that products that are on the market are safe for their families," Galvez said.

Lisa Roazen, a Park Slope mom and emergency physician, said she was concerned about BPA and phthalate in plastic when she decided to start using ceramic plates, bowls and mugs when her oldest daughter turned 2.

Three years and two more kids later, Roazen continues to avoid buying plastic dishware for her children, now ages 5, 3 and 8 weeks. In that time, only two bowls and one glass have shattered, she said.

"Kids are capable of doing a lot more than we give them credit for," said Roazen.  "[The dishes] makes our kids feel more grown-up."

She said her medical training has made her extra sensitive to "potential hormone disruptors" in plastics — and added that she took the extra step of buying a lead test kit to check the safety of the glazes on the plates she buys.

The upside of using breakable plates is that it teaches kids to be responsible for themselves at an earlier age, she said.

When dishes have broken, Roazen lets her kids pick up the bigger shards with their "little" dust pans and brooms and then "we shoo them out of the kitchen" to clean up the rest. 

Liz Lowy, education director at the Central Park branch of the Upper West Side's Twin Parks Montessori School, said that her school also uses glassware — with teachers introducing 2-ounce Duralex glasses in classrooms with infants. They give a set of Corelle bowls, dishes and glasses to each of their 1 1/2-year-old children to use for the year, which are kept on a shelf in the classroom. 

"We want to minimize waste, and we want to encourage care of our environment," Lowy explained, noting that teachers emphasize — and model — the importance of walking carefully, how to handle breakable things and holding plates with two hands.

If a child is walking while carrying a dish with one hand, for instance, they have to start over with two hands, she said.

Thankfully, she said, the dishes are durable and tend to only break if they're defective or hit the floor at a strange angle.

"We've had two bowls break in the entire year," Lowy said. "And that's rare."