Introducing children to the kitchen can be more than just fun. You can teach skills and perhaps prepare children to be healthier eaters.
Temporary mess in the kitchen, reward for life.
Here’s a look at some of the latest gear for budding chefs, from toys to the real thing.
THE APPEARANCE GAME
Play kitchens have been a hot toy since at least the 1950s, when the Sears catalog offered the all-steel Rite-Hite stove, refrigerator and sink for just under $30. The Little Tikes toy company introduced its Efficiency Kitchen in 1977, complete with a microwave, stove, refrigerator, and sink, and followed up with the 1980s Party Kitchen, featuring a cheery green canopy, folding peninsula, sink, two burners, cabinets, and a wall. -mounted phone.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, there are plenty of vintage toy kitchens for sale online. And Little Tikes is still in business, with the Home-Grown Kitchen, a corner unit with a battery-powered kitchen that sounds like boiling water and a sizzling stove.
If you’re looking for a play kitchen that looks like a designer one for adults, you’ll find plenty of options.
KidKraft’s farm-to-table kitchen sets the country-chic trend with lights, running water and cooking sounds, a farmhouse sink, cookware hooks and planters “planted” with plastic onions and carrots that can be chopped and prepared. The Create & Cook kitchen has a vintage vibe and is equipped with plenty of cooking and storage sections. Three food sets let you make fake avocado toast, peach ice pops, and apple pie.
Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm have collaborated on a mid-century modern play kitchen with a two-burner stove, oven, and sink in a poplar frame with white MDF cabinets. Or choose the Chelsea kitchen, featuring Shaker-style cabinetry in white, grey, blush pink or black, with bronze-toned hardware.
For the play-ready team, the Pottery Barn Kids Cream Solid Wood Toaster pops out two perfectly made slices of (fake) bread with a twist of the lever. And there’s an Italian Kitchen Pack with a metal pasta pot, strainer, ladles, serving plates, and soft fake ravioli and bowtie pasta made from felt.
The Melissa & Doug Slicable Wood Cookie Dough Set comes with icing decorations, a tray, a spatula and an oven mitt for sweet pretend baking. Start the play meal with a tasty salad, using your 50-piece set of felt sheets, vegetables, chicken and shrimp, as well as a bowl and utensils. Self-adhesive tabs give vegetables a crisp sound when you cut them. Time for a drink? A coffee maker comes with three pods, synthetic cream and sugar, and a menu card for little baristas to order right.
MAKING IT REAL
Cooking in a real kitchen with kids isn’t just about ingredients, recipes and preparation, says Food Network star Guy Fieri. “It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity.”
Parents should start with basic food safety, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Start by pulling long hair back; wash hands, surfaces, and tools; Separate raw and cooked foods. The association describes the ages at which the skills can be introduced. The little ones, around 3 to 5 years old, can wash fruits and vegetables, mix ingredients in a bowl, clean counters and cut cookie dough. Older children can gradually be given other utensils, ovens to watch, etc.
A sturdy stool is important for young children to reach counter height.
New Jersey mom Catherine Santonacita recommended Guidecraft’s hardwood and plywood stool, with a slip-resistant mat and fold-down side panels outfitted with message boards. Her daughter Emilia has been using it since she was 2 years old; He is now 4 years old and the adjustable feature on the stool has been convenient.
A cute apron helps kids get down to business. Jennice House aprons feature whimsical animal prints in fun colors; the cotton apron ties in the back and has an adjustable neck strap.
Santonacita and the America’s Test Kitchen team give high marks to Opinel’s Le Petit Chef Knife Set with built-in rings to help kids learn proper grips, as well as a plastic finger guard.
Marisa Issa from Los Angeles has been making tasty things with her daughter Samantha since Sam was around 4 years old. “We started by baking banana bread using Julia Child’s recipe, as we always have ripe bananas.”
One of Sam’s favorite birthday gifts, the Klutz Kids’ Magical Baking Set includes tools, decorations and recipes for making imaginative treats like mermaid-themed cakes, fairy-sized cheesecakes and pretzel wands.
Baketivity’s 31-piece set has lots of recipes, kid-friendly tools, and a silicone baking mat printed with helpful measurements.
Making pizza is a great family activity. In Chicago’s western suburbs, Matt and Lindsey Martin and their sons Keegan, 8, and Landen, 5, use an Ooni pizza oven for a Neopolitan-style baked pizza. The kids’ favorite part of the process. “It is to see the pizza transform from the ingredients that they put together to a final product that they can eat and that others also enjoy”, Matt says.
Growing up in an Italian family, Danielle McWilliams made a lot of pizza growing up; now he does it with his daughters Reese and Remi. They are also great bakers.
“We make Rice Krispie cupcakes and treats, shaved cookies for holiday gifts and parties,” MacWilliams says. They also make Italian tarallis, a cross between a breadstick, bagel, and pretzel.
Parents can consider in-person or online cooking classes for kids. Raddish Kids, Tiny Chefs, The Dynamite Shop, America’s Test Kitchen, The Kids Table and Chop Chop Family offer sweet and savory digital recipes and instructions and/or online classes and videos.
Some have interactive features; kids can download photos of their finished dishes and receive achievement badges. Chop Chop also has a print magazine.
Santonacita says that introducing her children to the kitchen from an early age has led to some unexpected and quite sophisticated results.
“Emilia is an adventurous eater,” she says. “He likes the duck poutine and mussels in white wine at our local restaurant. She’s not a cheap date.”