Learning Environments

Use of Feeding Chairs with Trays in Head Start Infant/Toddler Programs

Feeding chairs with trays, including low-to-the-ground and high chairs, provide infants and some toddlers with a mealtime space that reduces distractions and limits food sharing among children. Selecting a type of chair depends on the program option and the ages and stages of children in the program. This tip sheet guides decisions about which feeding chairs to use and how to use them appropriately.

Tip Sheet LogoIntroduction

Early Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs must design and implement services that are culturally and developmentally appropriate and meet the needs of each child, including children with special dietary needs or disabilities. The feeding requirements for young children vary depending on a child's age and stage of development. For example:

  • Infants are always held while being bottle fed.
  • Infants capable of sitting upright independently may sit in a feeding chair. This means children have enough trunk support and head control to hold themselves upright on their own without their head tilting or their body leaning to the side or slouching down.
  • Infants should be placed in a feeding chair that is low to the ground, with high sides, and safely secured.

"Feeding chairs" are defined as child-sized chairs with an attachable tray, allowing children to sit independently while being fed or self-feeding.

Feeding chairs with trays provide infants and some toddlers with a mealtime space that reduces distractions and limits food sharing among children. More important, the chairs allow a caring adult to give his or her full attention to one child and create a more intimate feeding experience.


Types of Feeding Chairs

Generally, there are two styles of feeding chairs: low-to-the-ground chairs, where the seats are 10 inches from the floor, and traditional high chairs. Selecting the type of chair depends on the program option and the ages and stages of children being served.

Feeding chairs, especially those that limit the mobility of an active toddler, should be used primarily for feeding and for only as long as it takes the child to eat. If low-to-the-ground feeding chairs are used for learning experiences for toddlers, they should be ones that allow toddlers to leave easily, safely, and independently when they are done. Also, some toddlers with Individual Family Service Plans (IFSPs) may need feeding chairs for learning experiences if indicated in their IFSP goals and objectives.

Selecting Feeding Equipment and Furniture

Staff should receive training on how to use snack and mealtimes as learning opportunities that support staff-child and peer interactions and foster children's development, learning, and socialization. This is especially important when children are sitting in individual feeding chairs. 

When selecting furniture for feeding and mealtimes, programs should consider whether it:

  • Complies with all health and safety regulations
  • Provides opportunities for social interactions
  • Allows for intentional, individualized care and interactions during feeding
  • Promotes proper sitting posture, where the feeding chair supports the child's correct head and body alignment while seated
  • Aligns with the program philosophy and curriculum

Many center-based programs choose feeding chairs or other furniture that are low to the ground, such as child-sized tables and chairs. Some families, family child care providers, and home-based programs use traditional high chairs in their homes or group socialization settings so that children can be placed near adult-sized tables during mealtimes. In these settings, using traditional high chairs may be suitable for providing individual feeding care. Families and programs choosing to use high chairs should refer to Caring for Our Children (CFOC) High Chair Requirements to learn about safety considerations and specifications.

child eating in feed chair

Remember the intended purpose for feeding chairs. When a child is finished eating, he or she should be cleaned up promptly, removed from the chair, and allowed to engage in other learning opportunities. Feeding chairs should never be used for discipline purposes or for restraining a young child who is not actively eating or involved in a developmentally appropriate learning experience.

With all types of feeding chairs, programs should:

  • Clean, sanitize, and dry all surfaces between uses
  • Monitor children's safety when seated in feeding chairs
  • Store chairs when not in use, as needed
  • Secure children using the chair straps rather than relying on trays as safety restraints
  • Provide ample and appropriate spacing of chairs to limit distractions and food sharing

Head Start Program Performance Standards

Teaching and the learning environment, 45 CFR §1302.31:

  • (d) Materials and space for learning
  • (e) Promoting learning through approaches to rest, meals, routines, and physical activity

Child nutrition, 45 CFR §1302.44:

  • Nutrition service requirements

Safety practices, 45 CFR §1302.47:

  • (a) and (b)(2) Equipment and materials

Additional Resources

Caring for Our Children

Harms, Thelma, Debby Cryer, and Richard M. Clifford. Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale—Revised Edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2007.

Harms, Thelma, Debby Cryer, Richard M. Clifford, and Noreen Yazejian. Infant and Toddler Environment Rating Scale. 3rd ed. New York: Teachers College Press, 2017.