If there’s anything we know about kids, it’s that they love playing with their food. You could have the pickiest eater on the planet, and they’ll still find pleasure finger painting with applesauce or making shapes with spaghetti noodles. Plus, if your child is the type who’s always pulling out their shopping cart and browsing the kitchen pantry (maybe sneaking a cookie or yogurt melts in the process), they definitely see food as a plaything — and if that’s the case, you might as well add play food sets to their toy collection.
Don’t worry, mom: Play food sets won’t encourage your child to play with their food in the literal sense, but they will teach your child all about what’s going on their plate. Allotting them this hands-on experience with items from all different food groups will also expand their vocabulary, and teach your little one to distinguish vegetables from fruits and beef from poultry. Plus, with your help, your child can start picking up on the importance of nutrition and well-balanced meals as they spend more time sorting and grouping their pretend pantry items.
To start them off, here are the best play food sets for their very first grocery haul.
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1. Learning Resources New Sprouts Deluxe Market Set
No toy shopping cart? No problem. Learning Resources comes fully equipped with both produce and the baskets to pack it all up in. The 32-piece play set includes one bushel basket, one shopping basket and pretty much every piece of produce you’d pick up at a farmer’s market such as apples, pears, berries, broccoli and carrots, plus fun items like juice boxes, cinnamon rolls, three pretzels, ice cream sandwiches and more. Each piece in the set is made of plastic but features high-quality details to ensure your child gets an almost authentic playtime experience.
2. KidKraft Tasty Treats Play Food Set
Is there ever really such a thing as too much food? How about too many toys? The KidKraft Tasty Treats Play Food Set serves up quite the spread with 115 play foods that include healthy items such as broccoli, peppers and asparagus, and sweet treats like cupcakes, donuts and chocolate bars. You can rest assured your little foodie will never tear apart your pantry again with this set handy: KidKraft made sure everything they could ever need in their play kitchen is already accounted for.
3. Melissa & Doug Food Groups Wooden Play Food
Looking for a sneaky way to teach your kids about healthy nutrition? Melissa & Doug have what you need. This gorgeously crafted wooden play food set was designed for healthy pretend play. In other words, you won’t find plastic cookies or slices of pizza in these crates.
In the hopes of introducing the basics of nutrition to little ones — with the added bonus of strengthening their number skills, color recognition and ability to sort and group in the process — the set includes four wooden crates for dividing items by food group: dairy, produce, grains and protein. Your child will learn the names of food and, with your help, how they can benefit the body.
4. Auney Play Food Set
Don’t think for a second that kids don’t know the grocery items in play food sets aren’t the real thing. They see you chopping, slicing and dicing at the kitchen counter, and typically the plastic pieces they’re cooking with don’t separate. Auney’s toy foods do, though. Self-stick tabs hold pieces together but your little one can easily split them apart — with an oh-so satisfying crunch sound to boot. From veggies to fruits and birthday cake to ice cream cones, this 57-piece set is perfect for kids ages 3 to 6.
5. DigHealth Play Food Set
Not only do the grocery items included in this DigHealth play food set split apart, but the set itself comes with a cutting board and knife to further teach your kids how its done. But that’s not all this play food set has to offer in terms of originality: It also features a pot, pan, tea kettle and cup. So not only will your little one be able to play pretend shopper, they can also go into chef and host mode whenever mom pops into the playroom for a meal.