Ever since our 2-year-old son, Angus, stopped breast-feeding, my wife and I have served him milk in sippy cups. Now and then, we leave one in the bottom of a bag or the back seat of our car, only to find the receptacle days—or, in several memorable cases, weeks—later, the contents curdled and foul. A run through the dishwasher takes care of the cup, but when there's a leak, we're tempted to declare Angus lactose-intolerant and put him on a strict water diet. (For the record, it's impossible to completely eliminate the odor of rancid milk from car upholstery.)
But I hear calcium is good for the bones. So after an especially nasty cleanup, I quelled the desire to deprive my son of milk from here on out and scoured the marketplace for a truly leakproof cup for kids.
Most modern sippy cups consist of three parts: the cup itself, a lid that screws on to the threaded top, and a plastic or rubber valve that fits on the inside of the lid and controls the flow of both the liquid going out and the air coming in. Beyond this basic design, however, there's plenty of variation.
To start, I surveyed a bunch of experts—namely, the parents of young children—to find out what mattered to them most when shopping for sippy cups. By a long shot, leakproofness was the top concern. Second on the list was ease of care and assembly. A close third was ease of use—both for the child and for the adult. Most of the parents also mentioned that the style and appearance of the sippy cup played some role in their decision.
My poll of 22 parents was split down the middle on the issue of bisphenol A, a chemical used in the production of some sippy cups. In certain conditions—say, after multiple runs through the dishwasher—BPA can leach out from the cup and seep into the drink it contains. Some parents were alarmed by a slew of recent studies that have shown the ingestion of BPA to be potentially dangerous. (As the Washington Post reported last year, BPA has been "linked to breast and prostate cancer, behavioral disorders and reproductive health problems in laboratory animals.") Other parents pointed out that BPA has been used in food containers for decades—seemingly without harm. Good point, but I decided to play it safe and test only BPA-free cups.
Next, I convened a small panel of parents and asked them to put a dozen or so half-filled sippy cups to the test. They gripped them, shook them, turned them upside down, dropped them on the floor, pulled them apart, put them back together, and even sipped from them. Keeping in mind their children's likes and dislikes, they evaluated each cup on the following criteria:
Leakproofness (20 points): It has to keep the milk in the cup.
Ease of care(12 points): The fewer parts to dissemble and reassemble, the better.
Ease of use(12 points): Is it easy to transport, hold, drink from, and refill?
Style (6 points): Was the cup designed with a child's visual sensibility in mind? Or does it look like it belongs in a hospital?
The results, from upholstery-wrecking to hermetically sealed:
Foogo by Thermos Leak-Proof Sippy Cup (7 oz., $17) Foogo's vacuum-insulated, stainless-steel body keeps liquids cold up to six hours, a quality that impressed exactly no one on the panel, especially since all that insulation makes for a very heavy cup. "I guess the six hours would come in handy if I were to take my child on a desert caravan," one parent noted dryly. Foogo also received low marks for its top piece, which consists of three parts: a threaded cap, a semisoft spout, and a hard plastic valve. While the valve snaps right into place, it's tough to pull out of the cap for cleaning purposes. And, as several parents mentioned (some of whom had used the Foogo before), unless you get the cap perfectly aligned—something that's not easy to do—the Foogo leaks without fail. One reviewer summed up the general sentiment: "Thermos should stick to making thermoses."
Ease of care: 5
Ease of use: 10
SIGG Baby Water Bottle (10 oz., $12.59) The SIGG was the surprise flop of this experiment. Maybe it's the overexposure: Just as a regular SIGG water bottle is a must-have for any eco-chic celebrity, the company's kid bottle has become the sippy of choice for the likes of Cindy Crawford and Madonna. "I'm not Madonna, and I shop at Publix," one panelist snapped while inspecting the Swiss-made SIGG, which is made of lightweight aluminum and shaped like one of those old milk jugs. The sports-bottle cap is just one big piece (easy to clean and assemble!), but according to most panelists, it's way too hard for a child to open and close while in use. (To open the valve, you have to quarter-turn an inner cap counterclockwise—try explaining that to a 2-year-old.) This was a deal-breaker for some, especially since, when open, the SIGG is like an open vein. One other nitpick with the SIGG's design: The cap's cover, which looks like a really cool hard hat, snaps off too easily.
Ease of care: 10
Ease of use: 4
Dr. Brown's Natural Flow Training Cup (10 oz., $6.99) Since most of the panelists had used Dr. Brown's baby bottles, they were curious to see how the company's sippy cup fared. At first glance, no one cared for the cup's bare-bones look: a simple blue and white hard plastic cap covering a clear, wide-mouth cup. "It looks institutional," one parent said, "like a urine sample cup." But after testing, many panelists were impressed. The long, straight handles made for a sure grip, and the valve was easy to get on and off the cap for cleaning. Best of all, except for a couple of small drops, it was leak-free. Impressed by the Dr. Brown's cup, one panelist even revised his first impression: What had been an "institutional" look now seemed "simple" and "clean."
Ease of care: 11
Ease of use: 12
The Safe Sippy (11 oz., $12.90) The Safe Sippy is a wavy, stainless-steel bottle covered with a colorful rubber sleeve. Like the Foogo, the Safe Sippy keeps drinks cold for a long time. Unlike the Foogo, the Safe Sippy barely leaks. Its defining quality is the short polypropylene straw jutting at an angle from the cap. Parents who had used the Safe Sippy reported that their teething kids loved to chew on the straw, and panelists who'd previously been unaware of the cup's existence took to its quirky shape. One parent said the Safe Sippy looks like a "funky rocketship," while another was incongruously reminded of a Willy Ronis photograph. The valve is easy to pull out and back in, ensuring proper assembly each time. But one drawback for many on the panel (other than the steep price) is the inability to see how much liquid remains in the stainless-steel bottle.
Ease of care: 12
Ease of use: 9
Nalgene Grip-n-Gulp Bottle (12 oz., $8.17) The largest cup of the bunch, the Grip-n-Gulp has the same indie/crunchy vibe as Nalgene's ubiquitous wide-mouth adult bottles. One panelist described the look as "outdoorsy chic": tall and solid, in three-tone eco-green, with a stiff, vertical spout. While the swooping curves of other bottles elicited mixed reviews, all the panelists liked the relatively straightforward, cylindrical shape of the Grip-n-Gulp. (One parent noted that her "bumpie"—labeled bands that go around the bottle—fit snugly on the Nalgene.) Remarkably, even parents who prefer cups with handles found the handle-less Grip-n-Gulp appealing: It fits into the side pocket of a backpack and is light enough for a very young child to lift. The Nalgene's translucence comforted those panelists who liked to be able to see how much liquid was left in the bottle. And, finally, in the performance tests, the cup excelled. The cap's rubber valve goes in and comes out with ease, and the Grip-n-Gulp, which released only an occasional post-sip drop, is as leakfproof as I imagine a sippy cup can be. If only Nalgene made diapers.
Ease of care: 12
Ease of use: 12