Giving your child a rich learning play environment doesn’t need to cost the earth.

In fact you can give your child the tools to build their imagination and help them grow with just a few simple things:

Shopping/cooking play

I can’t think of a child I have known that hasn’t loved play shopping or play cooking.

There are all kinds of play kitchen equipment out there ranging from cheapo crappy plastic ones to absolutely beautiful heirloom style wooden sets.

But at the end of the day, you can get away with spending very little on your play kitchen.


First, get yourself a nice sturdy cardboard box; you can probably pick one up from the supermarket.

With a bit of imagination and a couple of marker pens you can turn your box into an oven and stove and guess what is super cool about this? It can also be used to store your play food.


These days you can buy plastic, wooden or felt food and a set with a few key pieces are worth the investment.

My son loved the wooden pieces that had velcro between them so that you can actually chop the food.

If you can sew, there are lots of free patterns out there to make felt food.

Another way to add food to your child’s pantry is by recycling the packaging from the food that you buy. Make sure that you open the package carefully and once you have emptied it, wipe it clean.

Use some scrunched up newspaper to fill the package then re-seal it using clear sticky tape.

It is important to check that the packaging you are using won’t crack and cause sharp edges, some kinds of plastic packaging can do that.

Also think about the age of your child before giving it to them, you don’t want your 2 year old chewing their way through cardboard boxes.

Cooking equipment

Wooden cooking equipment is perfect for play cooking and can be found very cheaply or even raid your own kitchen and let them play with the things you don’t use. I’m talking mixing spoons not kitchen knives here!

In fact, the kitchen cupboard is a great place to start, a small milk pan, plastic or metal bowls, storage boxes can all make great play equipment.

Not just for play cooking, many a musician has started out with the saucepans and a wooden spoon.

Just check again that there is nothing the child can injure themselves with when using it.

Shopping bag or basket

Keep your eye out for a child sized eco bag or a small basket. We have several small plastic baskets because there is often a kiwi fruit special on and that is how they are packaged here.

You can then set up a small area of your home as the ‘supermarket’

Food play is not only important for the child’s development, but you can also work in other things as part of the play:

  • You can talk about where the food comes from, how bread is made out of flour and flour is made from wheat.
  • You can discuss the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods.
  • It is a good way to introduce the concept of money and learning about currency.
  • Playing as a waiter or waitress can help with reading, writing, listening skills and good manners.
  • If you have a set of scales available, you can weigh and measure the food too which helps to develop maths skills.

So, even for the small investment you might make in some kind of play food or play kitchen equipment is actually a massive investment in your child’s education.

Does your child enjoy playing in this way? Please SHARE your experiences below.

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  • My kids didnt have a pretend kitchen. They did however spend time in the kitchen with me making desserts and baking. Or they would be standing on a footstool to stir the pan. There are always things they can do to help.


  • A friend of mine set up a mud kitchen in the backyard for her son. She got just about everything from the tip shop. It’s pretty darn good and little Harry spends hours in there


  • Some great ideas here, my little loves helping me cook.


  • our ikea kitchen is definitely a favourite in our house. also thanks for the links to the food patterns and tutorials.


  • My kids love their cardboard stove :)


  • My kids love playing with their kitchen.


  • Great read. We built a kitchenette using and old tv cabinet, caravan pump (pumps real water)and old camping stove (not working of course) and old microwave. Made curtains. Old kitchen stuff and dome nee play stuff. My daughter uses vegies from garden, dirt, water and anything we can up cycle thats safe to play with. We built it 2 years ago and she still loves it


  • giving your child a rich environment


  • And it’s great for girls and boys, no need to be gender specific in the kitchen, we all need to know how to cook and wash up


  • Thanks for the tips! My daughter loves playing kitchens, we bought a whole heap of plastic food from Kmart for like $10! I love the idea if repackaging some of my foods! Also I need to go through my kitchen as I’m sure I probably Di have things she could use that I have not even thought of! Great article!


  • What a great idea thankyou for sharing this :)


  • A really interesting read! Its good to know!


  • Great read thanks for sharing


  • We have a useful box, just like on Playschool. I put boxes, paper, ribbons, stickers etc etc etc and we pull it out on rainy days.

    • yes even collect containers etc for the kids to use


  • I used to love playing kitchens!


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