That’s why a play kitchen is a crucial part of our childrens’ education at home. Through playing at cooking and serving food, our kids can practice the skills they will need as they get older. They can learn about nutrition, how to prepare a balanced meal, and how to interact with others around food. Kids like to imitate the work we do around the house, and a play kitchen can provide an entry into helping grownups in the “real” kitchen.
Who can benefit from a play kitchen? It is traditionally thought of as a toy for girls, but given that everybody eats, and everybody can prepare food, it is just as important and just as valuable for boys.
You can spend as much or as little money as you wish. We have a simple wooden kitchen with a stovetop, a sink, some cabinets and an oven. Most toy stores carry more elaborate models with a microwave, a kitchen clock, and various dials and thingamajigs. But you can use most anything to make a play kitchen, and the kids will be glad to help. A cardboard box, with circles drawn on top for burners, works just dandy.
There’s no need to buy play food, either. My girls recently stocked their pantry with food they made from clay and painted; they frequently use wooden blocks, paper cutouts, water, dry rice and beans, mud (preferably while outside, though this is not always the case) and pure, all-natural imagination. They love to play with empty containers such as butter boxes, yogurt cartons, and cupcake holders. We often “hand down” old utensils, plates and cups.
Kids love to help out with food preparation. Even toddlers can stir batter, combine ingredients, chop vegetables, fruit or, say, cheese sticks (closely supervised, of course, with a butter knife or crinkle cutter: safety first!). My nine year-old daughter has mastered baking from a recipe, and can scramble eggs like a champ.
Involving kids in kitchen work is a great way to introduce math concepts through measuring and timing; to show them where ingredients come from and how they work together to make a meal; and to model cooperation and sharing work with others. The added responsibilities will make them feel proud and useful. Best of all, if kids are picky eaters they are much more likely to try, and enjoy, foods they had a hand in making. Inevitably, they practice these skills in the play kitchen as well.