Introducing kids to cooking can be more than just fun. It can teach skills and possibly prepare children to be healthy eaters.
Temporary clutter in the kitchen, reward for life.
Here’s a look at some of the latest gear for budding chefs, from games to the real stuff.
Play kitchens have been a sought-after toy at least as far back as the 1950s, when the Sears catalog offered a Rite-Hite range and fully functional refrigerator and sink for less than $30. Toy company Little Tikes introduced the Efficiency Kitchen in 1977, with a microwave, range, refrigerator, and sink, and followed that up with the 1980s Party Kitchen, which features a green canopy, foldable peninsula, sink, two stoves, cabinets and wall-mounting phone.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, there are plenty of vintage play kitchens for sale online. Little Tikes are still on the market, with the Home-Grown Kitchen, a corner-shaped unit with battery-powered cooking sounds like boiling water and a sizzling stove.
If you’re in the market for a play kitchen that looks like an adult designer, you’ll find many options.
KidKraft’s Farm to Table kitchen accentuates the country chic trend with lights, running water, cooking sounds, a farmhouse sink, hooks for cookware, window boxes “planted” with plastic onions, and carrots that can be chopped and prep. The Create & Cook kitchen has a vintage feel and is equipped with plenty of cooking and storage sections. Three food sets let you make fake avocado toast, peach sundae and apple pie.
Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm teamed up for a mid-century modern toy kitchen with a two-burner stove, oven, and sink in a poplar frame with white MDF (medium density fibreboard) cabinets. Or choose the Chelsea Kitchen, with Shaker-style cabinets in white, gray, pale pink, or black, with brass hardware.
For play equipment, a cream-colored hardwood toaster from Pottery Barn toasts two elaborate slices of (imitation) bread by flipping the lever. And there’s an Italian cooking package with a metal pasta pot, sieve, ladles, serving plates, faux ravioli pasta and hookah pasta made of felt.
This Melissa & Doug Wooden Slicer Dough Set comes with toppings, tray, spatula, and oven mitt to whip up some great baking. Start your play meal with a delicious salad, using a 50-piece set of felted greens, greens, chicken and shrimp, plus a bowl and utensils. The self-adhesive tabs give vegetables a crunchy sound when they’re chopped. Time for a drink? The coffee maker comes with three capsules, cream, sugar and a menu card so the coffee makers get the order right.
Food Network star Jay Fieri says cooking in a real kitchen with kids isn’t just about ingredients, recipes, and settings. “It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says parents should start with basic food safety. Begin by pulling the long hair back; washing hands, surfaces and tools; Separate raw and cooked foods. The association determines the ages at which skills can be offered. Younger children – about 3-5 years old – can wash fruits and vegetables, mix ingredients in a bowl, wipe tables, and cut cookie dough. Older children can gradually be given other pots and ovens to watch, etc.
Strong stools are important to getting young children to reach an even height.
New Jersey mom, Catherine Santonacita, recommended Guidecraft’s hardwood and plywood bench, complete with a non-slip mat, foldable side panels and outfitted with message boards. Her daughter Emilia has been using it since she was two years old; She is now 4 years old, and the seat adjustment feature was comfortable.
Cute bib helps kids go to work. Jennice House aprons feature whimsical animal prints in fun colors; Cotton apron ties at back and adjustable neck strap.
Santonacita, and the team at America’s Test Kitchen, gave high marks to the Le Petit Chef Knife from Opinel with built-in finger loops to help kids learn proper grip, as well as a plastic finger guard.
Marisa Issa from Los Angeles has been whipping up delicious things with her daughter Samantha since Sam was about 4 years old. “We started by baking banana bread using Julia Child’s recipe, since bananas are always ripe.”
One of Sam’s favorite 7th birthday gifts, Klutz’s Kids Magical Baking Set includes tools, decorations, and recipes to create creative dishes like mermaid-shaped pancakes, fairy-sized cheesecakes, and pretzel sticks.
The 31-piece Baketivity set includes a range of recipes, kid-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 children Keegan, 8, and Landen, 5, used an ony pizza oven for Neopolitan Pizza. The kids’ favorite part of the process, Matt says, “is seeing the pizza transform from the ingredients they put together into a finished product that they can eat and others can enjoy.”
Danielle McWilliams grew up in an Italian family, and she made a lot of pizza as a child. She now does so with her two daughters, Reese and Remy. They are great bakers, too.
“We make cakes and Rice Krispies, and scratch cakes for holiday and party favors,” says McWilliams. They also make the Italian taralis, which is a cross between a bread stick, bread, and pastry.
Parents may consider in-person or online cooking classes for children. 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 lessons and videos.
Some of them have interactive features; Kids can download pictures of their finished dishes and earn achievement badges. Chop Chop has a print magazine too.
Introducing her children early to cooking has led to some rather unexpected and complicated results, Santonasita says.
“Emilia loves to eat adventure,” she says. “She loves duck poutine and mussels from white wine at our local restaurant. It’s not a cheap date.”
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