Pediatrician designs steel plates after report that chemicals in plastics may harm kids

USA Today Lifestyle 5 days ago

When Manasa Mantravadi bought her twins cute, plastic Disney-themed plates, she didn't think anything of it. But then Mantravadi's mother visited — and when she saw them, she gasped.

Mantravadi is Indian, and growing up her mother served her food on stainless steel plates, which are a standard in India. Mantravadi's mother threw away the plastic and replaced all of the children's dinnerware with Indian stainless steel products.

Then last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a recommendation to replace kids' dinnerware with glass or stainless steel for health reasons: chemicals in plastic have been shown to affect children's growth, development and hormones.

"With my mother, it was like the biggest 'I told you so' moment,” Mantravadi said, laughing.

After the AAP recommendation came out, Mantravadi — who works as a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis — received messages from friends who wanted to buy stainless steel plates like hers for their children.

"It kind of made me think, this isn’t really the standard here," Mantravadi said. "I kind of started researching on the market and what was out there ... Turns out, there's very few options."

So last year, Mantravadi formed Ahimsa, a line of colorful stainless steel kids dinnerware sets. After more than a year of research, traveling and touring production facilities, more than 100 pre-sale Ahimsa orders were shipped out this month.

"It seemed like a very practical solution to a problem that exists," Mantravadi said. "I’m always thinking about new ideas, and this one happened to come to fruition."

'Do no harm'

The name of the company, Ahimsa, is a Sanskrit word roughly meaning "do no harm." 

Mantravadi took the message of "do no harm" to heart. Ahimsa products are not only a healthier alternative to plastic plates, but they're also environmentally friendly.

The sets are made solely from stainless steel, which is one of the most recycled materials worldwide. And to top it off, every Ahimsa delivery is packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard — No plastic allowed.

Using all-recycled materials was important for the company, said Kylie Conway, who does communications for Ahimsa. 

"I think as moms and just being forward-thinking, we’ve all independently been environmentally conscious," Conway said. "We stand firm on our belief that we want to rid the world of plastic.”

Ahimsa dinnerware sets range from $65 to $35 and come in two styles, for infants and for bigger kids. All of the sets are manufactured in India and certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Now joined by three other moms including Conway, the four plan to introduce different products in January, including infant cups, traditional cups and bowls. By early 2020, Conway said they will also introduce a stackable cup option.

As a mom and a pediatrician, Mantravadi also wanted to encourage healthy eating, so she designed Ahimsa plates to mimic the modern food pyramid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.

Conway said the plates' material also encourages healthy eating.

"You can't microwave stainless steel, you have to put fresh food on it," Conway said. "Let's teach these kids how to maintain these healthy habits forever."

Make it fun

Although Mantravadi knew moms would want to buy the stainless steel sets for health and environmental reasons, she also wanted to give kids a reason to choose Ahimsa plates over plastic ones that might look more fun.

Inspired by colored metal instruments in a hospital operating room, Mantravadi found she could coat the plates in color without needing paint or dye, which themselves pose chemical risks.

And because the colors are made with a chemical process that changes the actual steel itself, the products won't chip if you drop them.

"I needed a way to make it seem very attractive for children without posing additional risks," Mantravadi said.

Ahimsa also sells monochromatic silver and blue products, but since pre-sale orders first started going out, the rainbow sets have been most popular by far, Conway said.

Mom Sara Parker-Thoe bought rainbow sets for her sons, two-years-old and three-and-a-half years old. She said they love eating off of them because of the fun colors.

Although she bought the sets primarily for health reasons, Parker-Thoe is glad of the environmental benefits as well — particularly the plastic-free packaging.

"I think it would be silly if there were packaging in it, all this plastic and stuff and here we are trying to get away from that," Parker-Thoe said. "It's something that more people need to be aware of."

Parker-Thoe's sons are too old for the infant sets, which come with a patent-pending spoon that hooks onto the bowl, but will be buying some as baby shower gifts.

“I wish we had that when mine were a little bit younger," Parker-Thoe said. "I think we’re going to have one more, so I’m excited to buy that product.”

Right now Ahimsa's primary market is Indianapolis, Conway said, but from personal connections the four-person company has received orders from all across the country.

It's been a "crazy ride" building the company, Mantravadi said, and she hopes it fills a need for mothers who want to get plastic off the table.

"I think modern day parenting has become really complicated, and I just wanted to make it simple and produce a really simple tried-and-true product," Mantravadi said. "It’s something that’s better for (kids) and better for the planet, and we’re putting it on the table and it makes me feel good."

IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Tags: Life

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