Have you ever noticed how young kids tend to gravitate toward pretend kitchens and play food? Play food sets open a wide variety of pretend play options for preschoolers. Whether your child is cooking you a pretend meal, having a picnic, creating you a birthday cake, or serving up specialties at his own restaurant, play food is an open-ended toy with enormous play value.
Aside from being fun, playing with pretend food helps preschoolers learn. In this Metro Parent article, licensed social worker and therapist Jessica Hendon shares the educational benefits of pretend food. She says play food helps them develop language, hand-eye coordination, and social skills such as handling rejection.
This guide contains some of the best play food sets for preschoolers, ages 3 and up. The list is broken down into four categories to help you organize your shopping.
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Wooden Play Food
Wooden play food sets are typically very durable, making them a wonderful investment for your toy collection. In addition, purchasing wooden play food instead of plastic is better for the environment. These Melissa & Doug wooden play food sets are sure to bring years of enjoyment to your preschooler.
Food Groups: With the Melissa & Doug Food Groups set, your child will be able to stock their kitchens with an assortment of nutritious staples. This wooden play food set comes with four crates of food products, each sorted into a food group. Your preschooler can practice putting together balanced meals and organizing the play food into its appropriate crate.
Sandwich-Making Set: Your toddler or preschooler will enjoy taking your sandwich order and building you a yummy lunch with this wooden play food set. Attach a variety of meats, cheeses, and toppings together between your choice of bread. The set also comes with a wooden knife that can slice the sandwich apart.
Pizza Party: My children adore this wooden pizza set. Your preschooler will be able to top the pizza using a combination of mushrooms, peppers, and pepperoni, practicing sorting and patterns along the way. Then, they can slice it apart using the pizza cutter, which creates a satisfying noise as it cuts.
Cutting Food: Another huge hit in our house, my kids have great fun slicing apart the vegetables, fruits, and bread included in this Melissa & Doug cutting foods set. The included cutting board and sound of the wooden knife slicing through add authenticity to the play experience. This wooden play food set also presents a bit of a critical thinking puzzle as pieces need to be put back together in a particular way.
Grill and Serve BBQ Set: Your preschooler can pretend to be the grillmaster at a summer barbecue with this themed wooden play food set. The box flips upside down to become a “grill.” Use the tongs and spatula to grill up a hamburger, veggie burger, ribs, steak, chicken, or hot dog. You can slice apart the corn on the cob and dress the hamburger with toppings before sticking it between two buns.
Realistic Play Food
These play food sets not only feature realistic details, but they also provide realistic food-related experiences such as making soup and salad, planning balanced meals, and visiting a farmer’s market.
Garden Salad: Get your preschooler excited about healthy eating with this garden salad play food set from Learning Resources. Your preschooler can build and toss salads using colorful pretend vegetables. Then, they can serve the salad using the included tongs, which will help develop their fine-motor skills.
Combine and Dine Dinners: Melissa and Doug’s realistic play food is made out of durable plastic. Each set comes with protein, side dishes, produce, and desserts that can be combined into well-balanced dinners. The sets also include reusable menu cards so that you can easily “order” from your preschooler.
Farmer’s Market Sorting Set: This play food set provides a selection of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables for your child to play with. Moreover, it introduces your child to the concept of a farmer’s market and provides an educational sorting activity. Your preschooler can sort the produce into corresponding baskets labeled by color.
Meal Baskets: Help your preschooler build balanced meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with these baskets from Learning Resources. Parents absolutely rave about the quality of Learning Resources play food. These sets also each come in little shopping baskets so that your child can pretend to go grocery shopping.
- Breakfast Basket: Includes cereal, toast, an egg, fruit, yogurt, drinks, and pastries
- Lunch Basket: Comes with soup, sandwich ingredients, pretzels, fruit, drinks, and a cookie
- Dinner Basket: Stocked with steak, chicken, baked potato, vegetables, a pineapple ring, a glass of milk, and an ice cream sandwich
Soup’s On!: This soup-making set contains a tureen, serving utensils, bowls, and ingredients for making a delicious, healthy soup. Although the set includes traditional soup ingredients, such as celery and noodles, I have a feeling other play food from your collection may find its way into a recipe from time to time.
Multicultural Play Food
These play food sets highlight foods from various parts of the world, providing a multicultural play experience for your preschooler.
Wooden Sushi: Introduce your preschooler to the popular Japanese dish with Melissa & Doug’s sushi set. Among other pieces, this set includes sushi rolls that can be sliced apart and chopsticks that stick to the food to make them easy to use.
Stir Fry: Put together a classic Chinese stir fry with this colorful play food set from Learning Resources. Your preschooler can pretend to cook a variety of vegetables in the wok using the included tongs and spatula. It even comes with a to-go container and fortune cookie.
Taco and Tortilla: Your preschooler can put pretend Mexican meals on the table with Melissa and Doug’s Taco and Tortilla set. Fill the taco shell or use the tortilla to make a fajita or burrito. The set comes with a mix of wood and felt fillings. Your preschooler will love cooking on the skillet and even “squirting” salsa out of a bottle.
Learning Resources Multicultural Play Food Set: Learning Resources has put together a set that includes a variety of multicultural play foods. Preschoolers can add a samosa, edamame, a taco, avocado, and many other diverse items to their play food collections.
Prepare and Serve Pasta: Celebrate Italian cuisine with this fun play food set from Melissa & Doug. Your preschooler can create a variety of pasta dishes, from stuffed ravioli to linguini with sauce. The set comes along with necessary tools such as a colander, pots, and utensils so that your preschooler can cook just like you.
Pita Pockets: Add some Middle East and Mediterranean flair to your play food collection with this pita pocket set. Your preschooler will enjoy stuffing the pitas with a variety of healthy ingredients, such as lettuce, cheese, and cucumber. After all, kids really love putting things in things!
Play Food Desserts
Your preschooler can serve up these sweet play food desserts at the end of a pretend meal or as part of an imaginary party.
Slice and Bake Cookies Set: This wooden play food set by Melissa & Doug gives preschoolers the tools to bake and frost pretend cookies. They can slice off pieces of cookie dough, place them on a baking sheet, and mix and match self-stick frosting.
Scoop and Serve Ice Cream Counter: Kids will love building their own ice cream cones, mixing and matching flavors and toppings with this ice cream toy by Melissa & Doug. The durable wooden play food set comes with a counter, ice cream scoop, and menu so your child can pretend to run an ice cream shop.
Cake Pop Shop: This fun play food set by Fisher-Price allows kids to make pretend cake pops and other pastries. They can mix and match wooden cake pop and cupcakes with felt toppings, and even fill their own macrons. The set comes with a pretty cake stand and to-go bag.
Birthday Party: My kids love pretending someone is having a birthday! With this wooden birthday cake, your preschooler can decorate a cake with toppings and candles and then slice it up to serve to the party guests.
Bake It! Set: Another highly rated play food set from Learning Resources, the Bake It! 15 piece collection includes realistic cookies and cupcakes. It also comes with baking tools so that your preschooler can pretend to be a pastry chef.
Please let me know which of these play food sets you have or are going to add to your collection. Bon appetit!
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