New parents quickly learn that they only have about a month or two before they'll be scouting for a cheap high chair. The market is saturated with a vast assortment of budget options produced by the usual players in the baby gear market, including Graco, Fisher-Price, Safety 1st, Cosco, and Evenflo. Although a well-designed and well-built high chair with a price tag in the triple-digit range might become a family heirloom, you can easily get by without spending more than $85.
Cheap High Chairs Buying Guide
We selected our top picks based on value, performance, and features. In the best cheap high chairs bucket we put the Graco SimpleSwitch (starting at $70) for its two-seats-for-the-price-of-one design (high chair becomes feeding chair) and parental seal of approval, and the Fisher-Price EZ Clean (starting at $77) due to its parent-friendly cleaning and storage attributes. The second-best cheap high chairs on our list are the Graco Meal Time (starting at $77) with its convenient fold-up design and favorable parent feedback and the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Feeding Chair (starting at $50) for its efficient no-legs design and secondary purpose as a backless booster. We're also keen on the Cosco Flat Fold (starting at $29) with its no-frills simplicity, portability, and super cheap price, but didn't add it to the list because it seems to be near the end of its run. (Act now if this model meets your needs.) The Badger Basket Embassy Wood High Chair (starting at $82), a stylish wooden high chair that isn't all that user-friendly and sits just at the edge of our price range, fails to get our vote.
All high chairs serve a similar purpose but vary in terms of visual appeal and functionality. Some are traditional stand-alone models, some conveniently fold for storage and portability, and some dispense with the legs and sit strapped atop a regular chair, and one on our list converts from a high chair to a feeding chair. Remember, children typically sit in a high chair for a maximum three years (or until they weigh 40 to 50 pounds), so cheap high chairs that are sturdy and safe, with portability an extra bonus, are adequate to the feeding tasks at hand.
As you start shopping you'll definitely notice differences between cheap and pricey models. Entry-level high chairs are usually made with a metal frame and a soft, cloth-covered plastic seat. They won't win awards for aesthetics, but they're functional (most have adjustable seats suitable for infant and toddler feeding and removable trays and/or insert; some have wheels), easy to assemble, and relatively durable. Upmarket high chairs generally feature more contemporary design (see, for example, the angled wood of the Stokke Tripp Trapp, which starts at $250, or the cocoon-like Bloom Fresco Chrome, which starts at $449), serve multiple purposes as the child grows (a base that converts to a play table, for example, or a chair that can be rocked for sleeping and later transformed into a booster-like chair), and boast an assortment of frills (e.g., detachable battery-operated lights and toys).
Aesthetics and functionality aside, the most critical qualification for a high chair, cheap or otherwise, is a JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) certification. JPMA is a national trade organization for the prenatal-to-preschool industry that ensures a high chair produced by its members meets standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM). What this means: High chairs should have no sharp edges and include easy-to-see warning labels, appropriate locking devices to prevent unintentional folding, and straps that can withstand a force test (i.e., an older child can't break or pull the straps out of the bolts). The high chair should also feature secure caps and plugs, break-resistant trays, and legs wide enough for stability but not wide enough as to cause others walking by to trip. We confirmed that all the best and good cheap high chairs on our list are JPMA-certified. By the way, experts say that more high chair-related injuries stem from improper use than from poor design, but always be on the lookout for product recalls. Other important features to note on a cheap high chair include the range of seat adjustments, the type of safety harness, and the weight capacity.
Basic budget high chairs can be found at the usual big box outlets or online. If you buy online, be prepared to assemble the chair yourself, which may or may not be a welcome chore. Experts suggest that before settling on a model, go to a store for a physical inspection: poke and prod, test the folding mechanism (if relevant), check out the tray, and look for sharp edges.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Fisher-Price EZ Clean Review
Style/Design Free-standing high chair
One-hand Removeable Tray Yes
Reclining Seat 3 positions
Weight Capacity 50 pounds
|77||Free-standing high chair||Yes||Yes||3 positions||50 pounds||5-point|
Graco SimpleSwitch Review
Style/Design Hybrid (high chair converts to booster/feeding chair
Folding Legs detach
One-hand Removeable Tray Yes
Reclining Seat 3 positions
Weight Capacity 40 pounds (high chair); 60 pounds (booster/ feeding chair)
Harness 3- & 5 -point
|70||Hybrid (high chair converts to booster/feeding chair||Legs detach||Yes||3 positions||40 pounds (high chair); 60 pounds (booster/ feeding chair)||3- & 5 -point|
High Chair Reviews
Reviews for the high chairs on our list skew strongly positive. Parents are especially pleased with the value, according to online comments, even though some quibble about minor flaws. The high chairs reviews we read focus primarily on portability, ease of cleaning, and overall functionality.
High Chair Portability.One appealing feature of budget high chairs is the ease with which they can be moved around and stored away. Parents appreciate the folding design of the Graco Meal Time (starting at $77) and Cosco Flat Fold (starting at $29), according to their high chairs reviews. These models fold flat (or almost so) and suit families that travel or have small living quarters. One parent writes in a post at Amazon that the Cosco Flat Fold works well in a small apartment because it's so easy to move out of sight; another report on Buzzillions tells of hanging this 14-pound model on hooks in a closet.The Fisher-Price SpaceSaver (starting at $50) doesn't fold (no legs on this one), but at eight pounds and a 18.5x18x16.5-inch footprint, it easily moves from chair to chair to floor and back or to the homes of friends and family, assert reviews on Babies R Us; in between uses, the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver can be stored in a pantry or closet. The Graco SimpleSwitch (starting at $70) doesn't fold either but the two-in-one design affords a similar type of portability. This chair detaches from the legs to become a feeding chair, and parents' comments posted at Walmart note the convenience of a take-it-(nearly)-anywhere high chair.
Wheels provide portability of a different sort. High chair reviews of the Graco Meal Time say being able to move a chair around the house as you go about your chores keeps children out from underfoot and lets them keep a watchful eye on you. A parent post at Walmart also notes that the four wheels on this model have locks, which prevent children who are mobile from making the chair mobile as well. The absence of back wheels on the Fisher-Price EZ Clean (starting at $77) initially gave one new mother pause, a review at Diapers.com says, but adds that her concerns vanished after realizing the front-wheels-only design rolls smoothly and ensures the chair stays put unless pulled by an adult.
The Badger Basket Embassy (starting at $82) is the least portable of the models we researched: it neither folds nor rolls away (no wheels).
High Chair Cleanup.Little eaters make big messes, so a high chair that's easy to clean is a necessity. The Fisher-Price EZ Clean lives up to its name, writes one parent who crows in a post at Amazon that the spill-resistant cushion is so easy to wipe that she hasn't needed to put the cover in the wash. Parents like the washable seat cover, dishwasher-safe tray insert, and wipe-down cleanup of the Graco Meal Time, according to reviews. Ditto for the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver, which also boasts a spill-resistant and washable pad, although one review notes that food and spills collect under the seat cover and the one-hand removable tray is too large for a dishwasher. The flat tray on the Graco SimpleSwitch scores with parents whose high chairs reviews point out that indented cup holders found on other models are a bear to clean; several also laud the stain-hiding pattern on the seat cover.
Commenters also took a few swipes at a couple of the models we researched. The tray on the Cosco Flat Fold can be set in three positions, but several high chairs reviews say food and crumbs cascade down regardless and the permanently-attached seat pad is hard to clean (one parent suggests using the power spray in a car wash). A high chairs review at Baby Earth asserts the wooden Badger Basket Embassy is far easier to clean than metal and plastic chairs because there are fewer nooks and crannies where crumbs and grime gather. Other reviewers, however, wonder how you can properly clean this one given that the instructions caution against using soap.
Overall Functionality.In general, the best and good high chairs on our list win plaudits from parents for practicality and durability, especially given their budget prices. We didn't find any reports about struggles to assemble these models, and many say the chore is handled in less than 30 minutes. Still, it's worth noting some minor issues that pop up in the reviews we read. The Cosco Flat Fold isn't suitable for infants because the seat cannot be angled back, for example, and it features a small tray and requires two hands to collapse. A few high chairs reviews of the Graco Meal Time report that it doesn't fold quite as flat or roll quite as effortlessly as its upmarket siblings. About the Badger Basket Embassy, parents tell of struggling to get their children in and out of the seat due to the fixed tray and generally gripe about the quality of the wood and finish.
Portable High Chairs
Some parents begin looking for a high chair that will blend with their decor but quickly realize that functionality trumps beauty. In the budget end of the market you'll find free-standing high chairs (including some that fold), feeding high chairs that perch on a regular chair, and feeding chairs that attach directly to a table with arms that lock into place above and below the surface. Each has its pros and cons, but we found in our research that parents are leery of the hook-on arrangement, despite its travel friendliness, because of concerns about safety (i.e., if the chair is improperly attached or if the table edge doesn't allow the arms to lock as they should). As a result, we did not include any hook-on feeding chairs on our list.
Free-Standing High Chairs.Stand-alone high chairs are convenient when feeding a child away from the table but stand like a sentry, in a corner or maybe in the middle of the room, when not in use. Several of the models we researched, including the Graco Meal Time, Fisher Price EZ Clean, and Cosco Flat Fold, compensate for their bulk with a fold-and-stow design. The latter two also feature wheels, so they're easily pushed out of the way.Another class of free-standing high chair, which includes the Graco SimpleSwitch and Badger Basket Embassy, stands rigid and can be hard to ignore. The Graco SimpleSwitch offsets what might be considered this disadvantage with a money-saving, versatile design: the legs snap off, leaving the seat to function as a feeding chair when the child is ready. The two-in-one functionality is popular with parents and children; at the Graco Baby site one post notes this was the only model a toddler sat in without crying while the family shopped for a new high chair. The Badger Basket counters its unfoldable stance with an aesthetic that imitates the sleek tiered design of the far pricier Stokke high chairs; it also converts to a toddler chair that can be pulled right up to the table once the tray and safety bar are removed.
Feeding High Chairs.If you're looking for an alternative to a space-hogging stand-alone chair, a feeding high chair should fill the bill. Like boosters, feeding chairs lack legs and sit securely anchored atop a regular chair; unlike boosters, they include a feeding tray and a back. Feeding chairs don't take up much room in the dining area but do require a sturdy, good-sized chair underneath and one that can handle the stains of spilled spaghetti sauce, yellow baby food, and what have you.
Feeding chairs, such as the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver and The First Years miSwivel (starting at $42), go over big with parent and child. One online post tells of a toddler who actively disliked a traditional high chair and is a better eater now that he sits with the family at the table. Online comments also indicate that parents value the multipurpose efficiency of the design. Aside from meal-time functionality, they tell of placing feeding chairs on the floor for child-friendly seating during play time and loading it in the car for travel. Moreover, models like the SpaceSaver and miSwivel spare families the expense of buying a booster seat; the backs on both can be removed for older toddlers.
High Chair Seats, Trays, and Restraints
High Chair Seats.The seat on a high chair, be it a feeding chair or free-standing model, should offer some creature comforts. Padding is standard and many come with multi-position backs and seat heights, which facilitates feeding a child from infancy through early toddler years. The Fisher-Price EZ Clean and Graco Meal Time, for example, boast four seat heights and three recline positions. In reviews at Amazon one mom writes that the reclining feature on the Meal Time lets her child nap in the chair and another reports that the adjustable height takes her child from table-level to couch-level in seconds. With three seat heights and three recline positions, the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver wins kudos from parents for the same reasons; online posts assert the seatback angles on this legless model facilitate eating as well as sleeping and bottle feeding. The Graco SimpleSwitch features a three-position recline but no height adjustments. The First Years miSwivel offers a five-position recline and a seat that swivels into seven positions, while the seat on the Fisher-Price Precious Planet Healthy Care (starting at $79) can be set to seven heights and three recline angles.The barebones Cosco Flat Fold, on the other hand, neither reclines nor adjusts for height, and this leads to some parent griping. One post at Walmart grouses that the seatback angle is a bit too relaxed, causing her child to slump and need frequent repositioning, and another at Amazon says the child requires a pillow to sit upright for meals. Note that this very low-cost high chair is not intended for infants and most parent reviewers are satisfied with the design. The Badger Basket Embassy is also fixed at one baby/toddler height and one seatback angle, and a high chair review at Overstock cautions that the lack of a recline or head support means this model doesn't work for children who cannot sit on their own.
All the models we researched, but for the Cosco Flat Fold, come with machine-washable seat covers or pads. The seamless and spill-resistant pad on the Fisher-Price EZ Clean also can be wiped down, as can the coated straps.