Before I was married, I had the opportunity to babysit for a family that I admired very much. Both parents were very cultured and elegant and I soaked up as much as I could on the Mondays that I cared for their little girl. One of the things that I noticed was that they gave their child real food on real dishes with real silverware. She ate her grape tomatoes, slices of salami, and wedges of cheese very daintily. Grilled shrimp, olives, and soups were eaten with relish. There was not one chicken tender or noodle coated in butter in sight. This child even liked Bubble Water (mineral water) in her glass. I thing I loved most was that she could enjoy wholesome foods on the same plates that everyone used.
When it was time to start feeding Sugar Plum food, I was eager to avoid the ugly plastic dishes and utensils in our price range and so I looked for alternatives to the baby dishes one can find in the big box stores. I didn't have to look far! Many shops sell different kinds of tiny dishes for condiments, sauces, and tiny portions. Over the years, I have picked up a wide variety of little dishes for very little money. I have also found that many places sell tiny forks, spoons, and knives for appetizers and these are perfect for little ones learning to feed themselves.
Though I mainly sought to use real dishes and utensils for two reasons - practicality (children's things don't seem to work as well... especially the utensils) and beauty (children's things in our price range are ugly) - I have found that there are some other benefits as well. For one, our little ones are careful with breakable things. I also believe that avoiding plastic as much as possible is good for their health.
Mealtime can be one of the best times for a family and having a table set with pretty things can make it even more enjoyable!