High Chair vs Booster Seat: Differences, When to Switch, Pros & Cons

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High chair vs booster seat

It must be tough to be a baby or a toddler and not be able to reach the dinner table!

Luckily, there are plenty of nifty devices they can sit down in and enjoy a meal as part of the family.

If you’re a new parent, or maybe just a rusty one, you might be wondering about the two most common options (outside of stacking phone books on a chair):

What’s the difference between a high chair vs a booster seat?

Here’s the skinny… A high chair is a padded chair and tray that sits on legs or a stand to bring your baby up to table-height — they’re really standalone eating devices. A booster seat is for an older baby or a toddler who doesn’t need as much support but just needs a little bit of a “boost” to reach the table.

Which one you need is a pretty simple decision, but there are a few factors to consider.

Let’s dive in a little deeper to the differences, how to choose, and when to switch from a high chair to a booster seat.

What is a high chair? (Key features explained)

A simple & popular Cosco high chair. Click to see it on Amazon.

High chairs are a little bit like the strollers of eating.

The seats, harnesses, and buckles will remind you a lot of your infant stroller, as a matter of fact.

When your baby is first ready to try eating solids (probably around 4-6 months old), you’ll want to start him out in a good high chair.

High chairs are usually padded and slightly reclined, in case the baby has any trouble sitting upright on his own.

They also have complete buckle systems to strap baby in securely.

The seat of the high chair will most often be around 3-feet off the ground — around table height, or a comfortable height for you to sit down and feed your baby cereal or blended vegetables.

(It’s common for the height of a high chair to be adjustable, as well, though not every model will have this feature.)

You might also find high chair models without legs or a stand. These, instead, will strap tightly to a chair in order to achieve the right elevation, and they’re sometimes called “toddler chairs.”

The trays are typically removable, and the high chair itself will most often fold up for easy storage. (Otherwise, they’d take up a ton of space.)

When my daughter was little, we used a leg-less model that stripped to our kitchen chairs and quite liked it!

Eventually, though, your baby will outgrow the high chair and soon enough he or she will be ready for a booster.

What is a booster seat for eating? (Key features explained)

A popular Ingenuity Baby booster seat. Click to see it on Amazon

Make sure not to confuse booster seats for eating with booster seats for the car!

However, to be fair, the two have a lot in common.

Booster seats are for older babies or toddlers who don’t need the reclined seat, padding, and secure harnesses of a high chair anymore.

They can sit up on their own, move about freely, and will want some freedom to feed themselves (or just play with their food).

A booster seat sits on a chair and boosts the child a few inches higher so he can be at eye level with everyone else at the table. They’ll usually have a simple lap belt but nothing like the 5-point harnesses found on most high chairs.

(Booster seats often come with their own trays and can be stand-alone eating devices, or the tray can be removed so your toddler can eat at the table.)

Your baby or toddler should be ready for a booster seat by 18 months, though it may be a lot sooner than that.

The main differences between a high chair vs a booster seat

Let’s recap the differences here so we’re all super clear on which is which.

  • High chairs usually have a reclined seat, extra padding, and a multi-point harness and buckle
  • Booster seats are often plain plastic seats with just a simple lap belt
  • High chairs usually sit on top of legs or a stand, though some can be strapped to a kitchen chair
  • Booster seats almost never have legs, and will simply buckle to a chair
  • Both have removable trays, but you probably won’t use a high chair to belly baby up to the table (booster seats are ideal for this)

More than anything else, it’s an age thing.

Most babies will start in a high chair and then transition into a booster seat when their motor control and eating habits improve (more on that shortly).

To that end, high chairs have a lot more support, stability, and safety features (like an infant stroller) and booster seats are a little more bare-bones (like an umbrella stroller or car booster).

Make sense?

Pros and cons of high chairs

What’s to like about high chairs? Well…

  • Baby straps in securely
  • Seat is often padded with lots of head support
  • Seat is usually reclined for babies who can’t sit upright
  • High chairs often fold away for storage
  • Adjustable height available

There are a few drawbacks, however, that will prompt you to move on to a booster seat when the time is right.

  • Baby will outgrow it within a year
  • Bulky and take up a lot of room, even when folded
  • Can’t take it to a restaurant or relatives house easily

Pros and cons of booster seats

Let’s start with the pros.

  • Small and usually inexpensive
  • Portable and can go with you to restaurants
  • Baby or toddler has more freedom to move around and eat independently

Now for the cons:

  • Not as comfortable and usually has less padding
  • Often not adjustable, can only sit on top of chairs you own
  • Doesn’t fold up and may be harder to store

When to switch from a high chair to a booster seat

Your baby will probably start eating or at least trying some solid foods around 4-6 months old, and will need a high chair for the occasion!

When you switch to a booster seat is entirely up to you and how fast your baby grows and progresses.

The general rule of thumb is to switch somewhere around the 18-month mark — though some babies will be ready earlier.

If he or she can sit upright and shows an interest in engaging with food (not just being spoon-fed), you may want to give him the freedom and independence of a booster seat.

(And, of course, if he flat-out, physically out-grows his high chair… it’s time!)

Another option to consider is investing in a convertible or hybrid high chair from the get-go.

You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck and longevity out of something like the Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 — it starts as a high chair, turns into a toddler chair (remove the legs and strap it to a chair), and then into a free-standing booster seat for sitting at the table.

Check out photos of the SmartClean Trio in action on Amazon.

Wrapping Up

That about covers high chairs vs booster seats.

High chairs are for babies who need the extra head and neck support, plus a serious harness to keep from falling out!

Boosters are for toddlers who can sit by themselves just fine but might need a little help reaching the table.

It’s not so much about one vs the other as it is understanding the difference and when it’s time to make the switch.

(Or, again, go with a hybrid option and save yourself the hassle.)

Did I leave anything out? When did you switch your baby from a high chair to a booster?

And hey, don’t miss the rest of my “baby stuff explained” guides like diapers vs pull ups, crib vs mini crib, and crib vs pack ‘n play.

Hope this helps, parents, and good luck!