Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next tableware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too!
What is Melamine?
Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, which resulted in 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Yeah, it's bad news. While eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.
How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?
Many times the word 'melamine' will be in the product description or details. It's also pretty easy to identify if the product description isn't available to you. Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It looks tougher and feels harder than ordinary plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware.
What Do I Use Instead?
If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:
- Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
- Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
- Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
- Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
- Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!
If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.
- Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
- Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.