Eva is at the age of pretend play. She loves taking care of her babies, making her bunnies have pool parties, and racing trains around their wooden tracks. Her absolute all-time favorite thing to do these days, however, is to make and serve food. We get small plastic snacks all day long. She brings them on little plates and watches our pretend bites with a look of concern, leaning in to ask, “Is it good? Do you like it? Do you need some more?”
We noticed that she was starting to play with her food more and more a couple of months ago and decided that we wanted to get her a play kitchen. I looked at a ton of DIY play kitchen tutorials on Pinterest and saved a bunch that were made from old cabinets and entertainment centers, but I was put off by the cost.
In theory you would think that making your own play kitchen would save money, but we didn’t have the materials for the kind of kitchen we wanted. We figured that we’d play $20-$30 for a piece of used furniture (if we were lucky), another $30 on paint/hinges, $30 on fixtures/handles/burners, and then you’re looking at $90 for something that takes a lot of time and might not end up looking anything like what you wanted in the first place.
That was the other thing – I had a pretty specific kitchen in mind and spending a lot to recreate that exact look was what was going to cost so much. You can make cute play kitchens out of cardboard boxes or by painting burners on nightstands, but I was in love with a Red Retro Kitchen that I saw in an It’s a Small World playroom a couple of years ago and all other kitchens were falling short. So, I was thrilled when Kyle’s mom offered to buy it for Eva on her last trip out.
Isn’t it darling? I love that it’s a kid piece of furniture but it doesn’t make the kitchen look like a daycare center. You might have noticed that the play kitchen bumped the latest version of Eva’s toddler Montessori station. Although that second attempt at having Montessori play in the kitchen did work better than the first, the reality was that she just wasn’t using it enough and most of the time she was carrying her works into other rooms instead of playing in the kitchen (defeating the point). The play kitchen, on the other hand, is perfect for keeping her occupied when I’m cooking because she just mirrors whatever I’m doing and no longer feels the need to help me cook (i.e. burn herself and spill things).
There’s tons of storage for her play dishes and everything wipes down easily so when we started with a little fake-food-real-food confusion it wasn’t a problem. Again, I’m very happy that there’s a place for really kid-colored things to be out of site.
My mom found a cute Melissa & Doug Fridge Food Set that has items for the fridge and the freezer so we’ve been talking about how some food needs to be cold and some food needs to be really, really cold. It’s kind of a tricky thing to explain to a preschooler, but she caught on faster than I thought she would.
I also made a little play market area in our dining room so Eva has a place to buy her groceries. I know it’s sort of an over-the-top installation in our little house, but I’ve always loved the idea of pretend grocery stores and I think I did it more for myself than for her. Plus, this was a seriously cheap project and we had a little corner of space in our dining room nook where we kept a table that Eva has outgrown so it was a fast swap.
You might remember these shelves from Eva’s montessori station. They’re IKEA shoe shelves and we got them a while ago for $6. I added a $6 piece of wood, cut down for back supports and shelves, $8 worth of L brackets, and $10 worth of trays and baskets from the thrift store and voila! Play market. Originally I was going to make a little awning, but I was worried that it would be too much for the dining room so she has a sign made out of a dollar set of flashcards instead. It’s not as fancy as the ones I’ve seen on Pinterest, but I like how shallow it is and the fact that she can easily swap her food from the shelves later and pretend that it’s something else. Art gallery? Library? Nature museum? Shoe store?
The cash register was a contribution from her dad, who popped her down to the toy store as soon as I had the play market up. I wasn’t thrilled with it at first because I had visions of one of those vintage tin registers with the big buttons and the numbers that pop up, but this one has been surprisingly lovely. Eva has a lot of fun swiping her credit cards and scanning the food, so I think makes more sense to her than an older register would have. (Note: I did originally have a money jar full of money because I thought she could have a little hippie co-op and practice counting. Yeah, that’s the fastest way to get small pieces of plastic and paper all over your dining room.)
The Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart is sort of what started this whole thing. It’s just Eva’s size and has some great safety features, so it won out over other ones that we looked at. I got lucky and picked it up at a sidewalk sale for $30 when I was pregnant. Score!
As for play food, I still have quite a bit from when I was little, but I picked up some plastic bread, fruits, and veggies from Toys R Us because they were a realistic size and not very expensive. We’ve also had a lot of fun with a set of Learning Resources 1 to 10 Counting Cans that we got her for her birthday. I think it’s supposed to be an educational toy for homeschooling, but the foods are cute and I like that we can talk about the colors and numbers when we’re “shopping”. Her Hide N Squeak Eggs are another education matching toy, sent in as a big sister present from my friend Margi.
Thrifted/Hand-me-downs: wooden shelves, dishes, assorted play food, baskets, trays
Purchased/Gifts: Red Retro Kitchen, lumber and brackets, Hide N Squeak Eggs, 1 to 10 Counting Cans, Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart, Melissa & Doug Fridge Food Set, play food and cash register from Toys R Us