Play kitchens offer all the excitement of cooking without any of the mess or potential for setting off the smoke alarm. Besides, where else can you make cherry pie with pickles, or pizza with fried eggs and French fries? Help your kids cook up some fun of their own with our five top picks for play kitchens. – Kate Bayless
For the best combination of quality and price, we were impressed with the Battat Kitchen Center, which is sturdy, compact, made of wood, battery-free and offers some bells and whistles while allowing ample room for imaginative play. Complete with a sink, stovetop, oven, microwave and dishwasher, the Kitchen Center has knobs to turn and buttons to push and comes with a handful of kitchen tools. Though the Battat kitchen advertises itself as made for two players, it is only 28″ long – which means that unless your toddler can stay within a fourteen-inch space, elbows will definitely bump. If the Battat is too blue for your tastes, go pink with the similar Play Wonder Kitchen Center ($129), which includes a stovetop, oven, sink, microwave, increased storage and chalkboard. One caveat: neither comes pre-assembled, so set aside an hour or two to put it together.
Get the Battat Kitchen Center Play Set at Amazon.
Get the Play Wonder Kitchen Set at Amazon.
If you’re in the market for a plastic play kitchen, check out the Step2 Party Time Kitchen. The Party Time Kitchen d’cor is not for the minimalist or modernist, but the kitchen does have lots of modern conveniences, including a microwave, stovetop, phone, overhead light and clock. This kitchen required the most batteries (ten) of any tested, but also made the most beeps and bings, which kids inevitably love (our tester’s favorite was the boiling-water noise for the pot). The kitchen has decent storage (two cabinets, two wicker baskets, one drawer), which is good because it comes with thirty-three cooking accessories (but no food). As another plastic option, we also liked the Little Tikes Sizzle & Serve kitchen ($169), which offers thirty accessories (including a coffee pot) and a number of fun features (like flickering flames on the grill). For both units, assembly isn’t difficult, but does take time (don’t forget about all those decals!), and while we didn’t have any problems with pieces fitting together, we’ve heard from lots irked parents who did – but such is the nature of mass-produced plastic pieces. Those who did have problems said Step2 and Little Tikes were very accommodating with replacements.
Get the Party Time Kitchen at Step2.
Get the Party Time Kitchen at Amazon.
Get the Little Tikes Sizzle and Serve at Little Tikes.
Get the Little Tikes Sizzle and Serve at Amazon.
If you’re worried that a standard kitchen might bore your child too quickly, the Deluxe Wooden Kitchen & Laundry Center by Little Tikes surely won’t. In addition to the stovetop, oven, dishwasher, fridge and microwave, this unit has a washer/dryer, ironing board, telephone, clock and chalkboard. The play center’s battery-free features include clicking knobs, an audible timer, some plastic cooking tools, an iron and a laundry basket. Storage of play food and dishes is often a problem with play kitchens, but the 44″-long Deluxe offers storage space in the fridge, under the dishwasher and oven and in a unique curved shelving unit at one end. Be warned — the directions have no words for the forty-three steps to assembly the unit, which took us about three hours (and we’re pros!). One time-saving tip we’ll pass along: look for the number underneath the plastic screw holder to help determine which screw goes where. Once assembled, the Deluxe is sturdy, easy on the eyes, gender-neutral and made us hope that our kids will one day be as excited about doing real laundry as they were pretending.
Get the Wooden Kitchen and Laundry Center at Little Tikes.
Get the Wooden Kitchen and Laundry Center at Amazon.
While this kitchen is pretty cheap — and I do mean that in all the word’s connotations — kids love it. (Even my cable-less children, who have never seen an episode of Dora, were thrilled.) It comes with a stovetop, oven, sink and fridge as well as a built in noise-making blender, radio and telephone where you can “talk” to Boots, Diego or Abuela. It also includes five interactive “recipe adventures,” with audio food-making instructions (the foods are named in both English and Spanish). While this kitchen isn’t guaranteed to turn your kid bilingual, I did overhear my son tell his imaginary guests: “I need fresas!” In addition to the five recipe adventures, this kitchen comes with twenty-eight accessories, including pans, utensils and more play food than any of the other sets. If you’re looking for a kitchen that is small, lightweight, cheap and comes with a ginormous head of Dora on the side (which is easily detachable), you’ve found your match.
Get the Fisher Price Dora’s Talking Kitchen at Amazon.
Bonus: DIY Play Kitchens!
Can’t find a kitchen to suit your needs, space or budget? We were inspired by a post over at Apartment Therapy’s Ohdeedoh about parents who used a little creativity and some grunt work to put together their own unique, stylish and affordable play kitchens. Click here for photos, material lists and directions.