Good Enough to Eat: the Best Play Food for Kids

These play food sets are worthy of a chef’s kiss!
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By Martina Garvey, E-Commerce Editor
Updated April 26, 2023
Play Food for Kids
Image: Target
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Does your little one love to help out with dinner prep? Encourage their sense of curiosity (and their culinary talent!) with play food sets. These versatile toys are perfect for toddlers that want to imitate the grown-ups they adore. As you get busy in the kitchen, your kiddo can whip up an enticing—albeit inedible—meal of their own. Aside from the fun factor, play food encourages a healthy sense of imagination, creativity and problem-solving, and helps with fine motor skills too. Better yet, play food sets may even encourage picky eaters to try new things. As your little one gets familiar with different food groups in toy form, they may be more willing to accept unfamiliar ingredients on their plate at mealtimes.

Play food for kids is as varied as real-life cuisine. To help you determine which (pretend) dish is right for your child, we’ve consulted with experts and compiled a list of the best play food sets for every age and stage of development.

Benefits of Play Food for Kids

Play food offers a host of benefits for toddlers, preschoolers and big kids. Read on to learn more about how playing with these items can positively impact your little chef.

  • Develop creativity. Toy food sets encourage pretend play, which is fantastic for building a child’s creativity and flexibility. “As they get older and progress through the stages of play, pretend play also fosters communication, social skills and problem-solving skills,” says Jana Sarno, BCBA, a board-certified behavior analyst and the chief clinical officer of Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers. She adds that they also learn to play alongside and in collaboration with peers.
  • Refine motor skills. Play food sets with individual pieces or cutting tools can help children practice fine motor skills like gripping and cutting.
  • Build color and shape recognition. Just like real food, play food comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors. With this in mind, use playtime as a learning opportunity. Sort the play food into different piles and name each item as you pick it up and hand it to your child.
  • Encourage picky eaters to try new foods. According to Sarno, realistic-looking play food may help children form associations with real food and encourage picky eaters to try new things.

What to Consider When Choosing a Play Food Set for Kids

Before you buy a pricey play food set for your little one ask yourself two questions: Is it age appropriate—and does it align with my child’s interests and strengths?

To determine whether a toy is age appropriate, check the manufacturer guidelines and consider your tot’s stage of development. While children may begin some forms of pretend play as early as 12 months, it’s best to wait until they’re a little older before introducing play food. “Around 18 months to 2 years, children will typically learn to play with more than one toy at the same time, such as toy food on a toy plate,” explains Sarno. At the two-year mark, pretend play kicks into high gear and children begin to imitate daily activities using objects. For example, your toddler may use a block to “feed” their favorite doll or stuffed animal.

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Again, the best play food for kids matches your child’s individual’s needs. “If a toddler is teething, or an older child is a sensory seeker and enjoys chewing on toys, silicone or wooden play sets can work well inside the home as they’re safe and easy to clean,” explains Sarno. On the other hand, lightweight plastic play food is safest for children that struggle with throwing behaviors.

The Best Play Food Sets for Kids

Ready to get cooking? Here find our picks of the best play food sets for toddlers, including a few expert-recommended products.

Food groups play food set

Melissa & Doug Food Groups Wooden Play Food
Image: Melissa & Doug

When it comes to play food for kids Melissa & Doug products are the cream of the crop. Why? The brand has tons of realistic play food made from durable, child-safe materials. This set comes with four crates containing wooden items from each food group: watermelon, milk, cheese, fish and eggs to name a few—for healthy pretend play.

Age range: 2 to 5 years | Material: Solid wood | Weight: 2.5 pounds | Dimensions: 12.25 (L) x 8.25 (W) x 2.5 (H) inches

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Plush play food set

HABA Biofino Vegetable Basket Soft Play Food
Image: Target

Does your little one turn up their nose at veggies? This play food set is a great way to familiarize them with different types of vegetables, so that they don’t seem so icky at dinnertime. The soft basket is filled with plush potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. Tip them out and encourage your little one to pick each item up and name it, you can even mime taking a bite!

Age range: 3 to 6 years | Material: Polyester | Weight: 0.35 pounds | Dimensions: 3.3 (W) x 5.91 (H) x 5.91 (D) inches

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Nutritious play food set

Learning Resources New Sprouts Healthy Dinner
Image: Target

The best play food for toddlers introduces them to lots of healthy ingredients, and this pick by Learning Resources certainly fits the bill. The 14-piece play food set includes a grilled chicken breast, grilled salmon filet, sweet potato, asparagus bundle, lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber and chopped carrots packaged neatly inside a grocery basket. Designed for little hands, the plastic pieces are lightweight and easy to grip. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Age range: 18 months + | Material: Plastic | Weight: 0.88 pounds | Dimensions: 4 (H) x 7.2 (W) x 9.1 (D) inches

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Plastic play food set

Kidkraft 30 Piece Food Set
Image: Amazon

Get serious bang for your buck with this 30-piece play food set by Kidkraft. It includes a healthy mix of plastic fruit and veggies, baked goods and sweet treats. It’s a great option if you want to stock the shelves of their toy kitchen with plenty of play food.

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Plastic | Weight: 1.1 pounds | Dimensions: 2 (H) x 2 (W) x 2 (D) inches

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Dairy play food set

Milton and Goose Dairy Play Food Set
Image: Modern Nursery

Looking for aesthetically pleasing play food for kids? Look no further than Milton and Goose. This brand makes solid wood pieces that are turned, engraved and hand painted by artisans in Ohio. The dairy playset includes organic milk, almond milk, goat's milk butter, and two eggs presented in a beautiful cotton drawstring bag. Talk about cottage-core chic!

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Solid maple wood | Weight: 5 pounds | Milk bottle dimensions: 1.8 x 1.8 x 5.25 inches | Butter dimensions: 3.38 x 0.9 x 1.65 inches | Egg dimensions: 1.3 x 1.9 inches

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Play food sorting set

Learning Resources Farmer’s Market Color Sorting Set
Image: Target

Next up is another expert-approved pick by Learning Resources. The play food set includes five bushels of realistic produce, an activity guide and stickers for labeling. Teach your little one to sort the various fruits and vegetables by color, shape and category. Sarno likes this set as it lets kids work those fine motor skills, as they place each item into different baskets.

Age range: 18 months + | Material: Plastic | Weight: 2.65 pounds | Dimensions: 13 x 10.1 x 5.8 inches

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Soft play food basket

Add a fresh twist to playtime with this tactile farmer’s market play food set. Designed for babies and toddlers, the mesh grocery basket is filled with multi-sensory toys shaped like fresh produce.

Age range: 6 months + | Material: Plush fabric | Weight: 0.5 pounds | Dimensions: 10 (H) x 9.75 (W) x 4.5 (D) inches

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Play food and coffee machine set

Tender Leaf Toys Babyccino Maker
Image: The Tot

Is your tot obsessed with babyccinos? (Ours too!) These frothy, milk-based beverages are a wonderful distraction for parents out for their daily caffeine fix. Don’t have the skills (or the desire) to froth up milk for your tot every time you want a cup of java at home? Invest in this toy coffee machine and play food set by Tender Leaf Toys. Designed to satisfy budding baristas, this wooden set comes with five coloured pods, coffee cups, a milk jug, cookies and more.

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Rubber wood | Weight: 1.91 pounds | Dimensions: 8.07 (H) x 5.91 (W) x 7.87 (D) inches

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Taco and tortilla play food set

When it comes to play food for kids, start by introducing children to items they already eat. “Culturally sensitive play food sets can be helpful, especially for children who are exposed to a different range of foods at home than are typically found in generic fruits-and-veggies sets,” explains Sarno. We like this Tex-Mex play food set by Melissa & Doug. It comes with recognizable ingredients used in tacos, burritos, fajitas and more. Better yet, kids can even “chop” wooden food pieces with self-stick tabs using the pretend knife.

Age range: 3 years + | Material: MDF and felt | Dimensions: 15.9 x 11.9 x 3.4 inches

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Choppable play food set

Perfectly Cute Slice N Peel Food Set
Image: Target
Buying Options

Next up is another choppable option by Perfectly Cute. The plastic fruit and vegetables can be sliced and diced using the included play knife. This type of activity exercises fine motor skills: “By using the play knife, children can work on pushing and strength to cut, as well as gripping the food,” says Sarno. As your little one gets busy in the play kitchen, describe what they’re doing and praise them once they successfully complete the task at hand.

Age range: 2 years + | Material: Plastic | Weight: 1.91 pounds | Dimensions: 11 (H) x 14 (W) x 2.5 (D) inches

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Sushi play food set

HABA Biofino Sushi Set Soft Play Food
Image: Target

Introduce your little one to Japanese cuisine with this sushi set from HABA. The realistic play food set includes stitched rolls, sashimi, wasabi, a soy sauce bowl and some garnish presented on a wooden serving tray, complete with chopsticks. Bonus: The plush pieces are machine-washable.

Age range: 3 to 6 years | Material: Felt and wood | Weight: 0.30 pounds | Dimensions: 8 (H) x 2.5 (W) x 2.5 (D) inches

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S’mores play food set

Sarno recommends this s’mores set as it presents plenty of opportunities for imaginative play, while helping children learn more about creating routines and following directions. The campfire scene is packed with different elements, including two reversible marshmallows that are uncooked on one side and toasted on the other! Bonus: This pick was named a 2022 Top Summer Toys winner by Toy Insider.

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Wood, cardboard and plush fabric | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Dimensions: 16. x 12.25 x 3.5 inches

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Baking play food set

KiwiCo Baking and Fractions
Image: Amazon

Teach your little one early counting skills with this baking play set by KiwiCo. The wooden set includes a hand-operated mixer, butter, eggs, flour and milk, as well as a candle-topped cake. An activity mat and recipe cards encourage kids to count out the ingredients and identify fractions. Better yet, the box doubles as a toy oven. That’s one way to tuck into pretend play—with a hearty helping of math on the side!

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Wood and cardboard | Weight: 4.69 pounds | Dimensions: 16.25 (L) x 13.5 (W) x 4.25 (H) inches

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Barbeque play food set

B. toys Toy Grill & Play Food Mini Chef BBQ Grill Playset
Image: Target
Buying Options

Last up on our list of the best play food for kids is this BBQ set by B. toys. From frankfurters to burger patties, lettuce and corn, this 18-piece set has everything mini grill masters need for a make-believe barbecue.

Age range: 3 years + | Material: Plastic and wood | Weight: 4.69 pounds | Dimensions: 8 (H) x 10.4 (W) x 10 (D) inches

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How We Chose the Best Play Food Sets for Kids

We get it—there’s a surplus of toys on the market, making it difficult to determine which playthings are the best fit for your family. To streamline your decision-making process, our goal is to do the bulk of the research for you, so you don’t have to spend hours scrolling through online retailers. We do this by considering a list of criteria when sourcing products, including quality, durability, value and, last but definitely not least, safety. This way you can count on getting the best bang for your buck, while also having a dependable toy that’ll meet your child’s developmental needs.

To decide which play food sets are the best options on the market, we leverage our familiarity with leading toy brands to make sure items are from reliable manufacturers. We read user reviews to get the lowdown on how these products work for kids, and typically don’t consider anything with less than an average four-star rating. And since many of us are also parents, we rely on our writers’ and editors’ experience using items with their own families.

To make sure we’re highlighting products that are safe and developmentally appropriate, we spoke with a behavior analyst to understand essential features to keep top of mind when you’re shopping.

Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.

About the expert:

Jana Sarno, BCBA, is a board-certified behavior analyst and the chief clinical officer of Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers.

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