What I considered to be a good play kitchen has changed with time. As my daughter exits toddlerhood she is more enthralled with her play kitchen more than ever, but sadly enough she has already outgrown her beloved Little Tikes Ultimate Wood Kitchen. I loved this kitchen two years ago and still do, but it is simply no longer big enough or tall enough for my 3 year old daughter and her two year old brother. So now what? After hours of late night searching, I once again found my kids “dream” kitchen based on the following criteria:
What to Look For in A Kitchen
- Durability: Play kitchens take a lot of abuse. Both wood and plastic units are durable, but I prefer the look and feel of the wood sets over plastic.
- Size: If you have more than one child, a kitchen with separate pieces is highly recommended as it simply gives more room for kids to play.
- Color & Gender Neutrality: Boys like kitchens too. If you have a boy and girl close in age, be sure to stick with a gender neutral color.
- Counter Space: Just like mom and dad, kids need counter space to cook. Most compact units cram so much into a small space they leave little space for kids to work.
- Storage: All that play food has got to go somewhere. Play refrigerators offer a plethora of storage.
- Height Adjustable: Your kid’s get taller over the years, shouldn’t their kitchen?
- Cost: Most kitchens with separate units are expensive, but no one should play $600 for a play kitchen.
The Best Play Kitchen for Your Dollar
Best Bet: For $138, Ikea’s Duktig Play Kitchen, is your best bet for an adjustable, dollar friendly play kitchen. With a sink, oven, microwave, hanging bar for pots, hot plates with working diodes (lights) and feet that adjust to three different heights, this kitchen just about covers it all. It is compact without being busy and even has decent counter space. But what about the refrigerator? While Ikea doesn’t offer a refrigerator in the set, creating a matching one from Ikea parts is all too easy to do as demonstrated by this Ikea fan (scroll down until you see the pictures). By simply buying a $45 EFFEKTIV wall cabinet in birch veneer, a $15 white EFFEKTIV door, an $8 LANSA handle and $10 CAPITA legs (available in different height to grow with your child) you have a complete refrigerator for $78, bringing the grand total to $216. Not bad for a fully adjustable kitchen. Ikea also offers a whole range of budget-friendly kitchen accessories. Looking for something cheaper, save yourself $39 by not purchasing the top section of the base unit, lowering the price to $177. If you have more than one kid as well as space to give, consider purchasing a second $45 EFFEKTIV wall cabinet and CAPITA legs for additional counter top space. When left horizontal, the EFFEKTIV cabinet and CAPITA legs are essentially the same height as the kitchen counter.
Build Your Own: If Ikea isn’t an option, build your own. Check out these plans from Ana White.
Option B: If you don’t have Ikea or the tools to build your own, consider Kidkraft Retro Kitchen and Refrigerator in Pink for $150. The height is not adjustable, but the quality is good and the units are separate allows for more space. Have a boy, the oven unit comes in red or silver for $130,KidKraft Red Retro Kitchen or KidKraft Silver Retro Kitchen, but a matching refrigerator is not offered.
The Best Play Food
Play Food Criteria: If you haven’t had an experience with cheap plastic play food consider yourself lucky. Cheap food, is just plain annoying. It falls apart, is too small, doesn’t retain it’s shape during play and it usually comes complete with one vegetable and twenty pieces of strange doughnuts, hardly identifiable pizza and french fries. The plastic is also very “chewy” making cheap food toddler teethers instead. So while it is tempting to grab one of those cheap jumbo buckets, please save yourself the money and sanity by purchasing real play food. Regardless of your price range, high-quality plastic food is your best bet, as it is washable, durable and often represents food better than wood.
“Cutable” and peelable” play foods are also sets to be cautious about. Originally I loved these sets, but after searching the house for missing pieces or showing my toddler 20 times how to put the fruit pieces back together, I know can’t recommend them at all. I still love the quality and learning value of our Garden “peel-able” Fresh Fruits & Veggies Set, but honestly, it’s just too messy. Melissa and Doug cutting sets, such as Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Box, are also fabulous sets, but are a pain as well.
Best Bet: Any play food sets made by Learning Resources are your best bet. Yes, they are expensive, about $20 for 17 pieces, but they are made of high-quality plastic, realistic in size and color and will be the last play food set you will every have to buy. They also offer “healthy” eating sets that are free from any cakes, ice cream, chips or donuts. Even though other brands offer 100 pieces for the same price, don’t be fooled into thinking you are getting a better deal. If you are looking for large set and can’t swallow the high price tag, try Lakeshore Learning’s Play Food Set for $50. The food isn’t as realistic looking, but the quality is there.
Bottom Line: Sturdy, hard plastic food is a best buy as it is easy to clean, durable and more lifelike than wood. Plus, as an added bonus, they don’t hurt nearly as much as wood when the food is thrown.