Having a play kitchen to play pretend in is so much fun, but it is just as important to have quality play food too. Children want to be just like the grown ups in their lives and will be drawn to imitating what they see. My kids love to pretend to cook and they cook what they know - for example, they make coffee like daddy, or boil pasta in their pots. They also love to pretend to bake cookies and cakes. This is why I believe that the type of play food kids have access to is so important. If I want to encourage healthy eating in my children, I want to ensure that the play food I provide my children are healthy. I also want to provide my children play food that will also help with other skills, such as their fine motor skills, such as using a knife to cut their food, or a mixing bowl to mix their food. Here is a list of my top 5 favorite toy food items for kids to learn and play with.
1. Melissa and Doug Cutting Fruit Set
I love this set because kids LOVE to practice cutting. It is good fine motor practice for them, plus the more they are exposed to healthy fruits, the more they hopefully will want to eat it!
2. Melissa and Doug Sushi, Taco, or Pizza Sets
These sets appeal to me because they help expose kids to a variety of food. My children can be fairly picky eaters, however my and I LOVE eating all kinds of food so we try to expose our children to a variety of food from early on, including Indian food, Japanese food, Mexican food, and more. They (1 and 3 year olds) love eating spicy food already and are willing to try new foods even if they may end up not liking it yet. When they play with different types of food, it becomes normal for them.
We love Ikea play food at our house. They are soft toys that have velcro on them so they can either break apart or peel. For example, lettuce leaves peel off the head of lettuce and you can peel down the banana peels. The healthy play food comes in little baskets, and importantly, they are super affordable.
5. Waldorf Inspired Wooden Food
You can find all kinds of handmade wooden food on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/market/wooden_play_food
These are an awesome choice because they are often more natural pieces of play material where children have to use more of their imagination to pretend. Foods are often not exact replicas of the real thing, but sometimes just general shapes where children can pretend the shape can represent a variety of different foods. For example, a sphere can represent an apple, orange, or even a loaf of bread. It leads to a more open ended style of play where children are encouraged to learn how to think, not what to think.
1. Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
This is a book about a child who grows a tomato in his own garden. It is a fun way to teach children where food comes from and how we put it together into a meal.
2. I Will Never Not Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child
This is the perfect book for picky eaters. These kids use their imaginations to make food fun and interesting.
3. Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle
Eric Carle is one of my favorite authors because his artwork is incredible. This book explores the process of making pancakes, starting from threshing wheat and gathering eggs. What a fantastic way to teach kids about where food comes from.