Teaching kids to cook can be more than fun. It can teach skills and maybe make kids healthier eaters.
Temporary kitchen mess, lifetime payoff.
Here’s a look at some of the latest gear for budding chefs, from toys to real objects.
ROLE PLAYING GAME
Play kitchens were a coveted toy at least as early as the 1950s, when Sears’ catalog featured the steel Rite-Hite range, a refrigerator, and a working sink for just under $30. Toy company Little Tikes introduced their Efficiency Kitchen in 1977 with a microwave, stove, refrigerator and sink, followed by the 1980s Party Kitchen with a cheerful green canopy, fold-down peninsula, sink, two burners, cabinets and a wall-mounted unit Phone.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, there are tons of vintage play kitchens for sale online. And Little Tikes is still around, with the Home-Grown Kitchen, a corner-shaped unit with battery-powered cooking sounds like boiling water and sizzling oven.
If you’re looking for a play kitchen that looks like a grown-up designer, you’ll find plenty of options.
KidKraft’s farm-to-table kitchen taps into the country-chic trend with lights, running water and cooking sounds, a farmhouse sink, cooking utensil hooks and planter boxes “planted” with plastic onions and carrots that can be chopped and prepared. The Create & Cook kitchen has a vintage vibe and is fitted with plenty of cooking and storage areas. With three meal sets, you can make faux avocado toast, peach popsicles, and apple pie.
Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm have collaborated on a mid-century modern toy kitchen with two-burner stove, oven and sink in a poplar frame with white MDF (medium-density fiberboard) cabinets. Or choose the Chelsea kitchen with Shaker-style cabinets in white, grey, blush pink or black with brass hardware.
The Pottery Barn Kids Cream Solid Wood Toaster is a game prep accessory that produces two perfectly baked slices of (fake) bread with a flick of the lever. And there’s an Italian Cooking Pack that includes a metal pasta pot, colander, ladles, serving dishes, and soft felt faux ravioli and bow tie noodles.
Melissa & Doug’s cuttable wooden cookie dough set comes with icing tips, a tray, spatula and oven mitt for a sweet pastry. Start play food with a tasty salad using the 50-piece felt veggies, vegetables, chicken and shrimp set, plus bowl and utensils. Self-adhesive tabs give the vegetables a crispy sound as they are cut. time for a drink? A coffee maker comes with three pods, cream and sugar, and a menu card to help little baristas place the right order.
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 back long hair; wash hands, surfaces and tools; Separate raw and cooked foods. The association determines the age levels at which skills can be introduced. The youngest – around 3-5 years old – can wash fruit and vegetables, mix ingredients in a bowl, wipe down counters and cut cookie dough. Bigger children can gradually get other utensils, ovens to look at and so on.
A sturdy stool is important for raising young children to counter height.
Catherine Santonacita, a New Jersey mom, recommended Guidecraft’s hardwood and plywood stool with a non-slip mat and foldable side panels that feature message boards. Her daughter Emilia has been using it since she was 2 years old; She is 4 now and the reclining feature of the stool came in handy.
A cute apron will help children at work. Jennice House aprons feature whimsical animal prints in cheerful colors; The cotton apron ties in the back and has an adjustable neck strap.
Santonacita and the team at America’s Test Kitchen give Opinel’s Le Petit Chef knife set high marks, with built-in finger rings to help kids learn how to hold them properly and a plastic finger guard.
Marisa Issa from Los Angeles has been making delicious things with her daughter Samantha since Sam was about 4 years old. “We started by making banana bread using Julia Child’s recipe as we always have ripe bananas around.”
One of Sam’s favorite 7th birthday gifts, the Klutz Magical Baking Set for kids includes tools, decorations and recipes to make imaginative treats like mermaid-themed cakes, fairy-sized cheesecakes and pretzel sticks.
Baketivity’s 31 piece set includes a range of recipes, child-sized tools and a silicone baking mat printed with helpful measurements.
Pizza making is a great family activity. In the western suburbs of Chicago, Matt and Lindsey Martin and their boys Keegan, 8, and Landen, 5, use an Ooni pizza oven to make a Neapolitan oven pizza. The kids favorite part “is to see the pizza transform from the ingredients they put together into a finished product that they can eat and others can enjoy,” says Matt.
Raised in an Italian family, Danielle McWilliams baked a lot of pizza as a child; she now does it with her daughters Reese and Remi. They are also great bakers.
“We make cupcakes and Rice Krispie treats, scratch cookies for Christmas gifts and parties,” says McWilliams. They also make Italian tarallis, a hybrid of breadsticks, bagels, and pretzels.
Parents could 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 all offer either digital sweet and savory recipes and how-tos and/or online courses and videos.
Some have interactive features; Children can download photos of their finished dishes and receive badges of achievement. Chop Chop also has a print magazine.
Santonacita says introducing her children to cooking at an early age has led to some unexpected and rather ingenious results.
“Emilia is an adventurous eater” She says. “She likes the duck poutine and white wine mussels at our local restaurant. She’s not a cheap date.”