A Chef’s Best Tips for Raising Non-Picky Eaters

Letting them help in the kitchen may be the key.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the existence of restaurant kid’s menus. Why limit children to a basic menu of mac and cheese, chicken fingers and burgers? Kids shouldn’t automatically be put into a box that shapes them as selective eaters, when they really do not have to be. With more than 225,000 students passing through our doors each year at Young Chefs Academy, the kids' cooking school I founded, we’ve come to learn that there are many things that can be done to promote an adventurous palate and help raise non-picky eaters.

Children can become fussy eaters for a number of reasons. It can be from a parent’s influence, the style that food is served, kids being made fun of for something they brought in their lunch—the list goes on. In addition, there are many accidental things adults do that can cause pickiness. A prime example is parents who label their kids, especially in front of them. When kids are told they are picky eaters, they will believe it’s true and use the label as an excuse to not eat something.

Just as important, parents shouldn’t make a big deal when kids do eat a certain food. If they choose to eat broccoli, don’t applaud them—they should be eating broccoli! I’d veer away from making food associated with a reward process for your children.

If your kids do not like a specific food, suggest they choose how to prepare it the next time. For example, show them how to chop and sauté mushrooms instead of serving them raw. Changing the texture and consistency of a certain food can completely change one’s perception of it.

I am not a proponent of making a different meal for a child, based off of their seeming likes and dislikes, aside from what the rest of the family is eating. Encourage kids to experiment with food they may not initially like, but don't force them to taste anything. I'm a big fan of having fun and interacting with children. Their tasting of new food tends to follow naturally.

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. Working Mother

Pickiness often comes from attention-seeking behaviors. One of the best remedies is to involve kids in the food-making process. Children will become immersed in the creation and steps of making a meal and their perception of certain foods takes a back seat. The focus is taken off the food itself and shifts to the child creating their own meal for themselves. Never in a million years would a parent think that their child would come home after one of our classes and proclaim their new love for lemon grass soup or rhubarb! This stems from utilizing children’s sensory experiences. Have them pick out the veggies from the store, wash them, chop them and prepare them. You will be amazed at what they will end up eating—and thoroughly enjoying.

Also, encourage your child to cook with other kids. Children will listen well and get onboard with an idea if it comes from their peers. Sign up for your own kids’ cooking class, host a cooking birthday party or have a cooking playdate. Kids can experiment and encourage each other to try something new together.

Lastly, never forget that it is okay to not like certain ingredients. Adults are just the same! Pickiness will fade away naturally. A great way for children to expand their palates is through trying new foods with the family. Choose new ingredients from the grocery store to test at home. Experiment with new and adventurous ways to prepare different ingredients and get involved in the kitchen together. Most importantly, have fun!


Julie Burleson has served as Young Chefs Academy Founder and CEO for 14 years. Julie owned and operated two culinary businesses prior to franchising the Young Chefs Academy model and set out on a mission to teach children the joy and value of cooking. She was the recipient of Best Feasibility Plan from Baylor University’s John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and is a proud member of the IFA (International Franchise Association).

Written by Julie Burleson for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Kleynimals and Baby Development – Guest Post from Dr. Patricia Bast

Tummy Time with Jangles

As parents something we always wonder and question is whether our baby is developing at a healthy rate. Here is a little glimpse at what to expect over the first 3 years. The Kleynimals toys are wonderful to encourage these developmental milestones. For example, the large ring of the Rattle is perfect for tiny hands to grasp, the Keys soothe sore teething gums while stimulating imaginations, and the Jangles keep busy little fingers occupied! 

Starting at 4 months old your baby may reach for toys with one hand, batting at hanging toys, and shaking toys with their hands. This is the beginning of using their hands and eyes together. This is also the stage where many babies will start bringing hands to their mouth and following items from side to side. This is the perfect time to introduce the Kleynimals rattle, with a large ring it is easy for tiny hands to grasp and explore.

At 6 months old your baby will start to focus on nearby objects and is now capable of bringing objects to their mouth. Baby may also reach for objects that are just out of reach and will begin to pass toys from one hand to the other. This is when I find my babies start to love their keys, the cold metal is soothing on the gums while the sound they make is beautiful. Learning they can make noise when they shake an object is huge for their development. 

By 9 months old babies develop preference for favorite toys, point to what they want, and may even look for things you hide. They can also now smoothly transfer toys from one hand to the other. All of the Kleynimals toys are perfect for hide and go seek. Shake the toy to draw baby’s attention and place it under a small lovey, baby will love peeking under the blanket to find their beloved toys.

Next, at 12 months old, babies will find hidden objects. In addition to placing objects into containers and taking them back out, this is also when babies love to bang objects together. With their increased awareness, babies love placing their toys into small baskets and dumping them out repeatedly. Another favorite activity is clapping hands together with bangles on their wrist. The musical nature of stainless steel captivates their attention while the cold texture stimulates their attention. 

At 18 months pretend play comes to life. This is such a fun time and the perfect opportunity to introduce the Kleynimals keys as keys. Model them for starting a toy car or opening a door, place them into a purse or backpack, the possibilities are endless. 

At 24 months your toddler will be able to find objects hidden under 2-3 covers, and begins to sort shapes and colors. Simple make-believe games are popular. Hand dominance may be apparent. The Kleynimals toys make the perfect objects for hide-and-go-seek.

Finally, at 36 months old your toddler can work with toys, buttons, and moving parts. They may also play make-believe with dolls, animals, and people. I find this is when jangles are the most enjoyed. The small beads and interlocking rings are perfect to keep fidgety little fingers busy. 

If you are looking for more than toys Kleynimals also makes the most beautiful stainless steel utensils, I highly recommend them!

6 Easy Holiday Decorations Kids Will Love to Make

Boost creativity along with family togetherness by getting your children in on the decorating action.

Children develop an understanding of the world through the senses. The changing seasons provide a great opportunity to engage them through the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feels of fall and winter, as we decorate our homes to reflect the seasons. This year, don’t resign your little ones to school crafts and jack-o’-lanterns—get them involved in decorating your home. Whether it’s baking cookies, hunting for leaves or planting evergreen branches, there are plenty of opportunities for the entire family to get involved in your home’s holiday decor. Here are some inspiring decoration ideas that are kid-friendly and family-approved.

1. Hang Autumn Leaf Wallpaper

Go on an outdoor trek with your children and collect bunches of colorful leaves around your yard, street or even at the park. Press them under a book overnight, then glue them to cut squares of textured paper. The result will be stunning enough to stay up year-round.

While you’re out collecting leaves, grab a few extra to adorn your mantel. Twigs and leaves add a natural, whimsical element to existing fall decor and give your children a fun way to put their stamp on your home.

2. Arrange Decorative Pumpkins and Gourds

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. Working Mother

Let your kids have fun and pick out their favorite pumpkins.

Photo: Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz

These lumpy, bumpy gourds add festive fall color, and the unique textures make them fun and interesting for little kids to check out. Decorations that engage the senses are always a plus.

3. Explore the Wonder of Japanese Washi Tape

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. Working Mother

The designs are endless with this versatile tape.

Photo: Pullga, original photo on Houzz

Washi tape—decorative Japanese tape made of paper—is a great tool for kid-friendly decor. I love how this homeowner made a simple vignette with a washi tape tree on the wall. It is easy to use, is incredibly affordable, makes a big statement and comes down without a fuss. There’s no need to stop at a tree with this stuff—encourage your kids to create snowflake, star and present shapes out of washi tape, too.

Encourage your children to go beyond traditional holiday colors. Give them free rein and see what creative color schemes they can create with a little low-VOC paint, some supervision and a few tree branches or blank ornaments. Who knows? They could come up with the star of your home’s holiday decor.

4. Get Creative with Classic Candy Canes

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. Working Mother

Make sure to save one for a treat after you’re done.

Photo: Michelle Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Some of the best holiday decor is the simplest. Give your children some candy canes (maybe one or two extra for snacking) and craft glue to turn something as simple as a white candle into a colorful holiday accent. This easy DIY project satisfies both the taste and smell sensory categories—once you light the candle, it’ll give off a slight peppermint scent.

5. Pick a Bunch of Branches

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. Working Mother

Perfect for your favorite ornaments.

Photo: Planet Fur, original photo on Houzz

This decorative branch makes me think of adventure! Just imagine the fun you could have while hunting for the perfect collection of twigs or branches with your children. Add simple store-bought or homemade ornaments, or let your children paint it with kid-friendly paint.

6. Create a One-of-a-Kind Christmas Tree

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. Working Mother

No watering needed!

Photo: Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz

Spur children’s creativity by encouraging them to use everyday items in unexpected ways. This holiday tree made of straw hats is a great example. I love how this clever display can be dressed down (as with the straw hats in this photo) or dressed up (by using top hats, bowlers or other fancy hats).

Some other fun ideas:

Fill the Front Porch With Festive Gourds
Sketch Out DIY Ideas on a New Drawing Table
Stylish Plant Stands to Hold Holiday Arrangements

Written by Summer Baltzer for Houzz for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home

Give that mall Santa the year off—these photo ideas will make your holiday cards highly personal and truly memorable.

Sure, you could make the trek to the mall or a local photo studio, but if you feel like taking things into your own hands this year, we have nine fun, easy and creative ideas for taking holiday pictures at home. Enlist a friend to help (offer cookies as a bribe) or teach yourself to use the self-timer, and you can have Christmas card photos done in an afternoon—without leaving the house!

1. Deck the chalkboard wall.

Have a chalkboard wall at home? Consider it your personal photo booth—drape it with a festive garland or strand of lights, and write your holiday greeting right on the wall. Then all you have to do is smile.

2. While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads…

Have the wee ones pile into bed with festive jammies on, and snap a picture while they pretend to sleep. It’s even cuter if they peek.

3. It’s lovely weather for a wagon ride together.

Load a tiny tree into a red wagon, and have your littlest one either sit in or pull the wagon.

Outfit suggestion: holiday pajamas, plus an extra-long red and white striped knit scarf. This would also work with a pretend truck or car.

4. Baby, it’s cold outside.

Bundle up and haul the troops outdoors to your front porch or backyard. Have a fire pit? Light it up! If not, stack some firewood behind you to set the mood. Warm your hands with mugs of hot chocolate or apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Definitely invite the dog.

5. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.

Grab your sweetie and drape yourselves in a strand of old-fashioned Christmas lights—the multicolored kind with extra-large bulbs. Set up your photo shoot near an outlet so you can actually have the lights on. Santa hat optional.

6. Silent night.

Want the focus to be on your house? Take a photo in the early evening, from the outside looking in. Wait until after dark and the contrast in lighting will be too great—aim for early dusk. Focus through a window on the big indoor Christmas tree or place a smaller, potted tree outside, draped in twinkling lights.

Written by Laura Gaskill for Houzz for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home
6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home

Montessori-Style Toys Foster Independence and Imagination

You’ve likely heard about Montessori education, which was developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. This alternative education approach builds on the natural tendencies of children.

Montessori features readily available realistic play materials that are designed to help children relate to and process the world around them.

The Montessori Method of Teaching

Montessori education involves playful hands-on learning — children teach themselves through active exploration. The approach is:

  1. Child-centric: Children are eager to learn and absorb the world around them. They are encouraged to play with age-appropriate items to help them learn from their environment and grow in independence.
  2. Present tense: Children may repeat an activity over and over. A child is welcome to continue an activity for as long as they wish. In this way, the Montessori environment prioritizes the present and doesn’t look to the future or the clock to determine what comes next.
  3. Reality-based: In the Montessori environment, you rarely find fantasy-oriented play. Instead, children are encouraged to use age-appropriate items that have a real-life purpose. For example, they have access to plastic knives to cut real bananas and feed themselves (versus feeding fake bananas to a stuffed animal).
  4. Freely chosen: The Montessori setting offers a variety of materials for children to choose from (but not so many that they feel overwhelmed by the clutter). Children select activities that make them happy and keep their attention. Once they disengage from their selected activity, they choose another and work with it for as long as they wish.

Montessori Toys for Babies and Toddlers

Baby trying to open a door with a toy key

As a parent, I think it’s important to foster a Montessori approach from day one. We don’t have to wait for kids to enter preschool to help them develop their:
· Independence
· Imagination
· Self-discipline
· Love of learning

All you need are a handful of appropriate toys and daily interactions with your baby! At Kleynimals, we’ve designed several of our toys to mesh with the Montessori philosophy (and other holistic-education philosophies like Steiner and slow-learning):
· Flatware: In the Montessori environment, children feed themselves from a very young age. Self-feeding helps foster independence and fine motor skills. We designed our flatware to fit perfectly in baby’s hands.
· Keys: Babies love to play with metal keys. At first, it might be the sound or cool touch that interests them. Eventually, they may put them to use to “unlock” things around the house. We designed our clean key animals to stimulate the imagination and improve gross and fine motor skills.
· Rattles: As with our keys, the sound and cool touch of our stainless steel rattles will capture your baby’s imagination. Your child can wear the jangles around their wrist, so they feel like they’re wearing the jewelry mom does (Tip: You can also wear them as a bracelet when your child isn’t using it…no one will know!).

While my kids enjoy Kleynimals toys (obviously!), I know we aren’t the only company out there making Montessori-inspired baby toys and learning toys for toddlers. We make our toys from non-toxic, dishwasher-safe stainless steel, but other safe options include wooden puzzles, stackers and activity boxes. I also love wooden brushes with natural bristles.

Shop the Kleynimals lineup of Montessori toys. And give them as gifts whenever you can — I guarantee they will bring joy to the recipient over many years.

Christening Keepsakes Fit for a Prince

Baby grasping metal toy keys

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s baby, Archie, was christened earlier this month. Archie’s baptism made headline news, as it should be for every baby — what a milestone! 

A christening, which usually occurs alongside a baptism, offers the infant a Christian name. This ceremony is a momentous occasion for many faiths because it symbolizes the child’s admission into the Christian faith.

Baby Christening Gifts

What we didn’t hear about with Archie’s christening were the gifts he received; I can only imagine the grandeur. If you’ve been invited to witness or partake in a christening ceremony, you’ll want to bring a gift that is as meaningful as the occasion. You can do a google search for ideas including books, artwork or stuffed bears. 

I believe a christening is an occasion that calls for the timeless allure of silver. It is so appealing and so meaningful, but it’s also unrealistic because you have to keep it polished. And, let’s face it, rare is the parent that allows their child to manhandle silver. 

So when I say a baby christening is worthy of silver, I mean something that looks and feels like silver — but without the drawbacks.

Baby Christening Gift Ideas

Below are my top three baby christening gift ideas. They are all things babies love to play with and enjoy. How can I be so confident? Because I make them! 

I designed these Kleynimals to be “practical” christening keepsakes that stimulate a baby’s sense of sight, touch and sound:

1. Kleynimals Clean Key Animals

These non-toxic stainless steel toy keys have no sharp edges. They are dishwasher safe, making it easy for you to keep them germ-free. As a bonus, you can order them with personalization, which is perfect christening gift for a baby boy or baby girl.

2. Kleynimals Flatware Sets

Our flatware is the perfect size for baby’s hands and helps them master the art of self-feeding. Babies know when you’re using metal, but they’re using plastic; our utensils make them feel like the big deal they are. 

3. Kleynimals Stainless Steel Rattle

Remember the polished silver rattle you received as a christening keepsake? Probably not, because your parents tucked it away in a box on the shelf. But babies will remember their heirloom-quality Kleynimals rattle.

If and when you need a baby christening gift — for boys or girls — consider Kleynimals. You can shop on our website. I’m tempted to send Kleynimals to little Archie so he has a gift he can actually enjoy. (I’m betting most of the offerings got tucked away in a royal closet.) 

Autism Toys Help Kids (and Adults) Regulate Behaviors

As of 2018, the prevalence of autism was one in 59 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reporting. A majority of people on the autism disorder spectrum have some level of a sensory processing disorder that makes it difficult to process sensory inputs like sights, sounds or touch.

If you’re the parent of an autistic child, you probably know that an autistic person’s brain receives and processes stimuli differently. Autism can make it difficult for your child to respond to stimuli the way a person who isn’t on the spectrum would.

Early intervention for autism using sensory toys

Early intervention with sensory integration therapy is remarkably effective at helping the autistic population handle everyday stimuli. Sensory toys that are fun and exciting help motivate kids (and adults) to engage in the world around them. Therapists use sensory toys for a variety of needs:

  • Occupational therapists use sensory toys, such as fidget toys, to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills and social skills.
  • Applied behavior analysis therapists use autism toys for pretend play and to teach cause and effect.
  • Speech therapists use autism chew toys to encourage communication and for oral stimulation.

Fidget and spinning toys motivate autistic kids to modify behavior

Parents of autistic kids can use fidget toys or spinning toys to capture their child’s attention and deepen their relationship. They serve as a great reward when your child performs a task or modifies their behavior to be more desirable.

One prominent study showed that, after sensory integration therapy, kids ages 6 to 12 exhibited decreased autistic mannerisms, such as:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Being easily startled
  • Repetitive movements, like hand flapping or jumping

What makes Kleynimals products among the best toys for kids with autism?

Kleynimals Jangles®, Keys and Rattles are the ultimate toys for autistic children because they serve many needs — bracelet, rattle, chew toy and fidget toy. The interplay of the stainless steel materials is unexpected and delightful. As a result, with a single toy your child is processing multiple sensory inputs: Sound, sight and touch.

Helping people with developmental disabilities, like autism, is a core part of the Kleynimals mission. Since 2011, we have relied on the support of developmentally disabled adults at The Providence Center to help us prepare our product for retail.

If you are looking for autism toys, you can shop on our website. BTW, Kleynimals aren’t just for kids on the autism spectrum — they also make a great gift for adults on the spectrum. (For that matter, they’re great for any kid or adult who likes to fidget!)

Stainless Steel: A Modern Spin on Traditional Baby Shower Gifts

We’re in the thick of fulfilling orders for baby shower gifts right now — it got me wondering how baby showers came to be. Through a little research, it seems celebrations of mom- and baby-to-be have been building steam for millennia.

Baby Shower Gifts: How Did They Originate?

In ancient times, people honored moms with a meal on the tenth day following the birth of their baby. But they gave gifts to a ‘Birth Goddess,’ rather than to the mother. It was during the Renaissance period that new moms began to be honored with gifts such as food, clothing and paintings.

Food played a more prominent role during the colonial times when birthing parties were held in the home of the expectant mother. Guests would feast on ‘Groaning Cakes’ (the scent of it baking allegedly eased labor pains) and ‘Groaning Ale’ as a show of sympathy for what the mother-to-be was enduring.

Fast forward to the Victorian era: During this time new moms were honored during a tea after the baby was born (a welcome change, I’m sure, to hosting family and friends while in labor). By the early 1900’s the baby shower as we know it began to take shape. New moms received handmade gifts and grandparents would typically offer gifts of silver.

Timeless Gift Ideas for a Baby Shower

Today, the baby shower can be as simple as a few friends over for tea, or it can be an elaborate affair for the mom-to-be’s closest 400 friends. Food is rarely in short supply, but clever, unique gift ideas are harder to come by. Many shower-goers fear their gift might be outgrown before a baby even gets to wear it.

I find most people want to give a gift that will be cherished, without being untouchable (ahem, sitting on a shelf or behind glass doors). There is still an allure to silver, but it’s not as desirable a baby gift as it once was. At Kleynimals we honor the tradition with stainless steel jangles, rattles, keys and baby silverware.

And babies love metal items — they are shiny, they make noise when banged together or on a table and they are cool to the touch (a real treat for teething babies with sore gums).

Stainless steel Kleynimals give all the benefits of silver, including the timeless feel, without the impracticality, like endless polishing. Because you can personalize many of our Kleynimals with engraving, they make a treasured gift that will last a lifetime. And they are versatile: They make a great baby shower gift for boys or girls.

The Best Gifts for Baby Showers Come With a Stamp of Safety

I learned early on in this venture that not all stainless steel is created equal. Most stainless steel is made overseas (usually in Asia). Since babies and toddlers touch and mouth their Kleynimals all day long, I wanted to be sure I sourced safe steel from the USA.

Safety is important not only to me, but to the gift giver and to the parents-to-be receiving them. You’ll know you’re getting an authentic Kleynimal because we stamp them with our fun characters: Eli the Elephant, Gus the Giraffe, Leo the Lion, Pippi the Polar Bear, Scout the Snowshoe Hare, and Otto the Snowy Owl.

For your next shower, feel confident that, with Kleynimals, you’re bringing a safe, heirloom-quality gift.

You might also consider bringing a Groaning Cake for a good laugh. I found this recipe online, and I’m dying to try it (with or without the ale)!

Personalized Baby Gifts— Timeless and Classy

Spring — it’s a season of birth and renewal. Tree buds are ready to pop, birds are chirping, and flowers are starting to shower us with fragrance and beauty. With spring we look forward to Easter, Mother’s Day, Earth Day…and babies!

Personalized baby keepsakes don’t need to be ordinary

Spring babies are blessed with sweet dispositions (what baby isn’t?).  One study showed springtime babies are more likely to be optimistic and creative. We like to think our personalized newborn baby gifts are a perfect fit for those characteristics.

Kleynimals are a unique choice for your next baby gift. Why? For starters, they are not another:

  1. Embroidered baby blanket
  2. Personalized puzzle or step stool
  3. Set of booties (you get so many of these that babies only get to wear them once)

Instead, Kleynimals are something babies will want with them ALL THE TIME. Babies love the clinking sound and the cool feel of the smooth metal on their tongue and gums. Caregivers love that they are:

  • Non-toxic
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Durable
  • Not plastic

Engraved baby gifts aren’t a relic

In the good old days, baby gifts were cherished mementos: engraved baby rattles or silver cups. They were loved from afar while they sat on the shelf out of baby’s reach. And, frankly, a little annoying because without a regular polishing, they’d turn an ugly shade of brown. Those heartfelt baby gifts often ended up in a box in the attic.

Out with the old, in with the new: engravable, personalized Kleynimals made from USA-sourced 100% stainless steel. We can engrave your baby gift with up to 12 characters per line. For a more classic feel, we offer a traditional script monogram. A big plus, they’ll never tarnish — pop them in the dishwasher to clean them.

Kleynimals: Unique baby gifts with a personal touch

When shopping for that perfect baby gift, we know you want options. Our line of unique keepsake gifts is continually growing. Right now, you can choose from these Kleynimals baby gifts:

  • Flatware sets: A fork and two spoons in two different designs
  • Key toys: The practical keepsake gift with no sharp edges
  • Rattles:The sweet jingling sound keeps babies enthralled (note: we also have wearable bracelets for you that double as a rattle, they just aren’t engravable)

If you can’t decide, we offer four gift sets to choose from. But keep in mind, if you want your personalized baby gift to arrive “on time,“ (whether baby does or not) you’ll need to plan ahead. Engraved Kleynimals can take up to three weeks to appear on the doorstep since we work with a family-owned business to engrave our products.

Gender-neutral gift options for babies

Is it a boy? Is it a girl? It’s rare that the baby’s gender is a total surprise until birth day. But if you’re shopping for the unknown, Kleynimals are a great choice because they work for both genders. If you want it engraved, we recommend using the surname (which also makes it easily identifiable should they get dropped).

Personalized baby gifts are great for the second (third, fourth, fifth) baby. These babies sometimes get cheated out of personalized gifts because, well, they aren’t the novelty the first baby was. Regardless, if you buy Kleynimals for baby #1, you can rest assured the product will withstand years of use and abuse from any siblings (of any gender) that follow.

If you’re ready to shop, order online or check our retail locations. Need more info? Read our story and find out how Kleynimals came to be.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Testimony | Kirsten Chapman

Date of Testimony: February 16, 2011—

Thank you for allowing me to present to you today.  I am a mother of two young boys and a recent entrepreneur.  I have been working on a toy product for two years and just recently launched my toy for sales on December 1st 2010.  The toy is a set of keys for babies six months and up that are made entirely of food grade stainless steel (stainless 304).  

I want to give a little background on my motivation to create this toy prior to talking through the logistics of testing.  Over the past six years, really since the birth of my first son, I have become more and more aware of the various toxins in our environment that I truly believe are leading to increased rates of illness in our population – whether that be developmental delays, autism or cancer.  My evolution started with food, and then moved to cleaning supplies, skin/hair care products and eventually toys and consumer goods. I am not a scientist, so I am not here to present the facts behind how the various chemicals impact us, however, I am sure many of you have heard of the numerous studies – most recently about BPA and lead. I have become an incredibly skeptical consumer as a result, even if I don’t always have a study that proves my suspicions. What I know is that I have a friend who told me that in one week recently she learned of 6 people between the ages of newborn to mid 30’s who were diagnosed with cancer.  I hear stories like this all too often and I think that we should all be alarmed enough to insist on changes.

The reality is that most kids put toys in their mouths.  I was not as sensitive to this with my first son, who absolutely loved Thomas the train, but fortunately did not put them in his mouth.  When many of the Thomas products were recalled because of lead in the paint, I sent all of the affected ones back to the company. But, I did not worry too much from a personal standpoint because my eldest did not put toys in his mouth.  However, my second son has been a totally different story because he puts everything in his mouth. Therefore, as a consumer I find myself seeking toys that are from European companies because of the more stringent restrictions on toxic chemicals in their products (for instance, >90 PPM  of lead in a solubility test). So, while I am particular about what I purchase for my kids, they also have generous grandparents who don’t specifically seek out European restrictions. In fact, they more often purchase items from discount stores that come from China and that make me cringe when I see my youngest chomping on them.  

Thus, when the idea struck me that the market needed a better toy key alternative, I was committed to designing something that was absolutely safe for all kids, because in the end, it’s not just a personal thing – it’s not just my child that matters.  It’s also not just about making money. It’s about providing a product that hopefully is a winning business model, but that ultimately is safe for the individual kids enjoying it. It’s a product that does not lead a parent to cringe when their child inevitably puts it in his mouth.

So, how did I get from that idea for a toy and commitment to safety to actually launching my product?  I was lucky in that I knew I could make the product out of a safe material – something that we eat off of and cook with every day – food grade stainless steel.  Honestly, the material itself was the motivating factor behind my idea. When it came to the logistics of getting the toy to market, beyond the obvious cost of manufacturing, the other costs I had to consider were testing the product for compliance and liability insurance.  I never considered not testing, for that would have been a risk to my company for lawsuits and recalls. And back to individual children – it also would have meant risking their safety. I also never considered not doing the lead testing because I wanted to be able to assure parents that I was offering a completely safe product.  From a consumer perspective, I know I want the assurances (again, back to my desire for European standards). When it came down to the expense of it all, the liability insurance was what nearly led me to give up on my dream of producing the keys. It was not the testing. Liability insurance for someone like me was over $8000. Testing, including additional testing for cadmium, lead and nickel, was still less than $1000, and of note, I was not required to test for any of these contaminants because I used stainless steel 304, but I wanted to go above and beyond the requirements.

Realistically, had the test results come back and were shown to have lead in the toy, I would have been rather devastated.  However, I made it clear in my purchase order with the manufacturer that I wanted material certifications for the stainless steel, and specifically that it could not contain lead. This was not difficult to request, and it seems to me that all manufacturers could require material certification prior to purchasing the material used for the components of their toys.  

If Europe is holding companies accountable to safeguard their citizens by having more stringent restrictions, what makes it so difficult to do here?  Back to my story about Thomas the Train since that is the one that affected my family (and this is not to single them out, because I know it has happened to many companies, god forbid it happens to mine)…But, would that company not have saved money by finding out before manufacturing their product what was in the paint?  Could we not take steps to ensure that components are safe before they are made into the final product? Ultimately, I have to believe that the cost of a recall – both from the practical expense of performing the recall, but also because of the detriment to the brand – has to cost more than ensuring components are safe from the beginning.  And frankly, if it is a question of a company using a manufacturer who has misled them, a contract stipulating exactly what is expected as far as material should be part of the negotiations from the beginning. If the product does not meet the specified safety expectations, that contract should denote that the manufacturer needs to take the financial risk so that they are held accountable.

Why is it that we cannot offer the citizens of the US the same kind of safety protections as are afforded European citizens? I truly believe that a responsible company is one who is honest about the end result of their product on the individual – whether that be a direct impact through chemicals in the product or an indirect impact through deleterious effects on our environment (for example, water and air quality). In the end, what costs us more as a country is treating illnesses caused by the harmful effects of known toxins like lead, especially in the most vulnerable little bodies that are even more susceptible because of their small size.  In the end, don’t we all want our loved ones to be safe… and isn’t everyone someone’s loved one?