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Aug. 15, 2022

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Stir up kids’ passion for cooking

Tools and toys teach children ways around kitchen

5 Photos
Danielle McWilliams cooks with her daughters Reese, 7, right, and Remi, 4, at their New Jersey home. Along with the usual cupcakes, crispy treats and from-scratch cookies, they make tarallis, an Italian traditional treat.
Danielle McWilliams cooks with her daughters Reese, 7, right, and Remi, 4, at their New Jersey home. Along with the usual cupcakes, crispy treats and from-scratch cookies, they make tarallis, an Italian traditional treat. (Danielle McWilliams) Photo Gallery

Introducing kids to cooking can be more than fun. It can teach skills and perhaps set children up to be healthier eaters.

Temporary mess in the kitchen, lifelong payoff.

Here’s a look at some of the latest gear for budding chefs, from toys to the real thing.

Pretend play

Play kitchens were a coveted toy at least as far back as the 1950s, when Sears’ catalog offered the all-steel Rite-Hite range, fridge and working sink for just under $30. Little Tikes toy company introduced their Efficiency Kitchen in 1977, with a microwave, range, fridge and sink, and followed up with the 1980s Party Kitchen, featuring a jaunty green canopy, fold-down peninsula, sink, two burners, cupboards and a wall-mounted phone.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, there are loads of vintage play kitchens for sale online. And Little Tikes is still in the marketplace, with the Home-Grown Kitchen, a corner-shaped unit with battery-driven cooking sounds like boiling water and sizzling stove.

Should you be in the market for a play kitchen that looks like a grown-up designer one, you’ll find many options.

KidKraft’s Farm to Table kitchen nails the country-chic trend with lights, running water and cooking sounds, a farmhouse sink, hooks for cooking tools, and window boxes “planted” with plastic onions and carrots that can be chopped and prepared. The Create & Cook kitchen has a vintage vibe, and is equipped with lots of cooking and storage sections. Three food sets let you make faux avocado toast, peach popsicles and apple pie.

Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm have collaborated on a midcentury-modern toy kitchen with two-burner stove, oven and sink set in white MDF cabinetry. Or choose the Chelsea kitchen, with Shaker-style cabinets with brass-toned hardware.

For play prep gear, Pottery Barn Kids’ toaster pops out two perfectly done slices of fake bread with a flip of the lever. And there’s an Italian cookery bundle with a metal pasta pot, sieve, ladles, serving dishes, and ravioli and bow-tie pasta made of felt.

Melissa & Doug’s sliceable, wooden, cookie dough set comes with icing toppers, a tray, spatula and oven mitt. Start the play meal off with a tasty salad, using their 50-piece set of felt greens, veggies, chicken and shrimp, as well as bowl and utensils.

Getting real

Cooking in a real kitchen with kids isn’t just about ingredients, recipes and prep, says Food Network’s Guy Fieri. “It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity.”

Parents should begin with basic food safety, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Start by pulling long hair back; wash hands, surfaces and tools; separate raw and cooked foods. The association outlines the ages at which skills can be introduced. The youngest – around 3-5 years – can wash fruits and veggies, mix ingredients in a bowl, wipe counters and cut cookie dough. Older kids can gradually be given other utensils, ovens to watch and so on.

A sturdy stool is important to get young kids up to counter height.

New Jersey mom Catherine Santonacita recommended Guidecraft’s hardwood and plywood stool, with a non-slip mat, and foldable side panels equipped with message boards. Her daughter Emilia’s been using it since she was 2; she’s now 4, and the stool’s adjustable feature has been convenient.

A cute apron helps kids get down to work. Jennice House’s aprons feature whimsical animal prints in fun colors.

Santonacita, and the team at America’s Test Kitchen, give high marks to Opinel’s Le Petit Chef knife set with built-in finger rings to help kids learn proper holds, as well as a plastic finger guard.

Marisa Issa of Los Angeles has been whipping up tasty things with her daughter Samantha since Sam was about 4. “We started by baking banana bread using Julia Child’s recipe.”

Growing up in an Italian family, Danielle McWilliams made a lot of pizza as a child; she now does it with her daughters Reese and Remi. They’re big bakers, too.

“We make cupcakes and Rice Krispie treats, scratch cookies for holiday presents and parties,” says McWilliams. They also make Italian tarallis, a cross between a breadstick, bagel and pretzel.


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