Toddlers have a lot in common with celebrity chefs: They can be demanding at mealtime, difficult on the staff, and temperamental in public — but they can also be truly inspired when it comes to unusual food combinations. Kids are natural observers who act out (or at least try to) the same things they see adults doing, like flipping pancakes, roasting a chicken, or baking a cake. Kids’ kitchen sets are a great option for toys that encourage learning. The best play kitchen sets encourage children to use their imagination as they cook dinner, work together to figure out who serves and who does the dishes, and safely explore foods (rutabaga, anyone?) that may seem daunting or unappealing.
“As toddlers engage in pretend play, they are learning a new language, seeing the perspective of others, negotiating and taking turns, and solving problems that arise,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs for Zero to Three.
Some tips: choose a play kitchen that’s relatively easy to put together, but has enough realistic features to mimic what kids see in the real world. Opt for a kids’ kitchen set that’s small enough that it won’t take over your living space. A wooden play kitchen might offer more aesthetic appeal, if not higher quality. And while we love shiny things as much as the next person, remember that the more a toddler kitchen set does in terms of lights and sounds, the less pretending your kid has to do. The toy kitchen sets that do the least are those that inspire the most use of imagination.
The Best Toddler Kitchen Sets
With its retro feel and modern accents, this is the play kitchen of culinary dreams, and it's seriously discounted for Wayfair's annual sale, down from $150. The microwave opens and closes. The finish is hand-painted, and it's built to last. The sink is removable, the oven knobs click and turn, and there's plenty of room to store pots, pans, and plates. It's 35.75 inches tall, making it the perfect first play kitchen for toddlers.
Compact and just plain gorgeous, Hape's wooden kitchen set includes starter pans and utensils, plus essential foods. It has cabinets that open, hooks from which to hang supplies, and is the perfect height for kids. It's solid-wood and a beautiful addition to any playroom. It's 25 inches tall.
Handcrafted from wood, this detailed cafe is perfect for group and pretend play. Kids get a toaster, coffee pods, clacking dials, a milk steamer and spout, cups, plates, utensils, and even sugar cubes. Plus pasties, sandwiches, and cupcakes. Tips are always appreciated, of course. It's 21 inches tall.
If you really, really suck at putting big toys together, this pop-up play kitchen is for you. It has a clock to help kids practice telling time, bright red knobs to control the stove and grill temperature, a pot and lid, a frying pan and cooking utensils.
The Best Play Kitchen Sets for Kids
This full kitchen features a stove, oven, sink, fridge, freezer, microwave, phone and washing machine. The knobs, burners, and icemaker light up and make realistic sounds, and the countertops are made to look like granite. It's large enough for multiple kids to play, and has plenty of counter space for preparing play food.
Melissa & Doug's toy kitchen includes an oven, stove, microwave, sink, a refrigerator with an actual ice dispenser, freezer, and ample storage space for easy cleanup of all the kitchen accessories. This kitchen is made of wood, and thus should last longer than its flimsier plastic brethren. And most importantly, this kitchen is big enough for multiple kids to play in it together. It's 36 inches tall when assembled.
This kitchen stands out because it has a working recycling bin, hence teaching your kids good habits early on. When making breakfast, or pasta, kids hear frying and boiling water sounds on the stove's front burner. The microwave includes a working electronic keypad. It's 41.5 inches tall, so this kitchen is especially suitable for older, taller kids.
Quite possibly the most beautiful play kitchen ever made, this one is crafted entirely from solid wood: No plastic, no particle board, and no MDF. It has a pull-down oven door, knobs, burners, and a grill. Because it doesn't make noise, it forces kids to actually use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. Plus, it's an heirloom piece that will last way longer than the turkey your child roasts you for dinner. It's 26 inches tall.
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