If there is one thing that kids are good at, it is using their imagination. But sometimes the imagination can only go so far, and a little help is needed to get playtime started off on the right foot. Play kitchens are the perfect motivator, offering built-in story-lines and possibilities while not forcing the child to play in any particular way.
In addition, play kitchens are very inclusive in their design, or in other words, they are the perfect way to get a whole group of kids to play together at once. The best play kitchens are a blend of culinary realism with playful whimsy, and there is little doubt that getting one for your own kid is a surefire way to ignite their passion. With any luck, they’ll be cooking you real food in no time!
We’re counting down the 12 best kitchen playsets of the year in an effort to save you the time and hassle that comes with comparison shopping for toys. Later on we will reveal our top pick, as well as a few pointers on how to shop for play kitchens. And make sure to check out our cooking toys for kids as well. They are the perfect match to gift with!
When it comes to kids toys, sometimes it call comes down to the details. What we have here is a fully-detailed 25-piece play kitchen set by Step2, the same manufacturer behind a growing list of durable and engaging toys for kids and toddlers. This kitchen set comes standard with a modern open design and a realistic brick-back kitchen wall. Faux-bronze and copper cookware will be the indicator of a more professional level of pretend chef, and an integrated recycling bin is a good way to teach kids about how they can help out the earth while working in the kitchen.
Unlike most of the toy kitchens that appear on our list, the Grand Walk-In Kitchen & Grill play set from Step2 is fully 3-Dimensional, meaning that it is not just oriented in a straight line for up-against-the-wall storage. Yes, it takes up a little more space than some of the other kitchens, but there is no other model out there with this level of versatility and spaciousness. The 2-sided construction means that kids can play on both sides of the kitchen, meaning that more kids than ever will be able to get in on the fun. Whether flipping imaginary burgers or chomping one at bar, this is where the fun is at.
One way to turn a one-player toy into a multi-player toy is to simply increase the play-area to where it can be accessed from multiple angles. Such is the case with the Little Tikes Kitchen & Restaurant Playset which allows kids to approach it from every side for a different cooperative playing experience. Whether they decide to be the chef, the customer, or a snooty food reviewer, there are plenty of different roles to be played when it comes to pretend kitchens, and no playset does it better for young toddlers than this one from Little Tikes. The modular, swing-style construction is a great touch that allows this to be set up in several different configurations.
Contrary to popular belief, not all kids’ toys need to be made of vibrantly colored plastic in order to keep the attention of a child or toddler. In fact, the increased realism of toy sets like the Modern Wooden Play Kitchen by Teamson Kids might be what makes it so attractive to little ones. This is an elegant yet not overly fancy play kitchen with a faux-brass finish that we haven’t seen anywhere else. The material is sturdy wood, and assembly only takes about 25 minutes. Just like ‘grown-up’ kitchens, this 2-piece play set can be oriented in different ways so it fits easily in any play room.
One of the most fun games that kids can play is ‘restaurant’, where half the kids pretend to be hungry guests waiting for their meal, and the other half pretend to be the staff of a multiple Michelin star restaurant, preparing pretend foods of the highest quality and charging significant make believe money for it all. The Step2 Large Kitchen Playset has everything that even a larger group of kids will need to play an awesome game of restaurant, including spoons, forks, plates, and a collection of classic condiments that will go well with any dish they can come up with. Realistic decals grace the front of the working swinging cabinet doors, and electronic sounds let this setup sizzle with realism.
This little corner-unit kitchen might be more compact than some of the deluxe models out there, but it has it where it counts. With four different cabinets that open and shut for storage, as well as a pretend sink and an integrated dish rack, this kitchen is a great starting point for any toddler who is looking to expand their cooking skills with a little make-believe practice. Electronic cooking sounds add a touch of much appreciated realism, while the corner-shaped construction makes this really easy to tuck into the side of the playroom so it’s both out of the way and ready for play at the same time!
With all the extended counter space, cubby-style storage, and door-opening action, the Ultimate Cook Kitchen by Little Tikes might be one of the best overall bargains on our list. The bright blue accent colors are an absolute charm, and the playful design is closer to what a toddler might be interested in than some of the hyper-modern kitchens that have become more popular in recent years. This is a 38 piece set that includes everything needed for a top-quality feast, from plates, knives, and forks to basic grill foods like burgers and hot dogs. If all that isn’t enough, this mouth-watering playset is significantly less expensive than some of its competitors.
We can start by saying that the Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen is the only deluxe pretend kitchen on our list that features realistic speckled-granite style countertops and an espresso-colored wood finish. We wish this was an exaggeration, but this kitchen might be even fancier than the one we have at home. Your child will learn to spread their culinary wings inside this incredible little play kitchen. Light-up pretend heating elements, knobs that click and turn, and doors that open and shut are just the beginning. Advanced features like an electronic pretend ice maker utilize realistic lights and sounds so it feels just like the real thing.
Both shorter and slimmer that its larger counterpart, the Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen (also featured on this list) the Uptown Espresso Kitchen is the perfect starter playset for young kids and toddlers who have yet to experience the joy of pretend cooking. The awesome modern design is a mix of dark brown and faux chrome, which is stylish enough to even make the grown-ups jealous. Electronic AA-powered lights and sounds are all that is needed to really take the realism to the next level, but the real winner here is a lightweight and compact design that isn’t going to take up too much space in the playroom.
Whether you are talking about pretend kitchen playsets or grown-up home kitchens, one thing is the same: vintage design is in. The simulated chrome build-out of this Vintage Kitchen by KidKraft emulates the classy kitchens of yesteryear, down to the rotary-style phone headset and the big thermometer readout on the front of the fridge door. Real opening cabinets provide plenty of space to store all the make-believe food stuff, and a more restrained height means that this playset is particularly suited for toddlers. One of the more unique features is a removable sink that makes cleanup (even pretend cleanup) a breeze.
Yet another submission into the relatively new category of hyper-modern toy kitchens, this Charcoal-themed play kitchen by Melissa & Doug certainly does a good job of setting itself apart from the pack while also managing to emulate all the most popular features that kids and parents have come to expect from toy kitchens. One thing we love is the faux-tile backdrop with little blue accents … it’s a touch that is sure to help this little unit blend into any play space with ease and class. As usual, Melissa & Doug toys are all backed up by their 100% Happiness Guarantee!
While not every child dreams of growing up to live in Portland or Seattle, now it is possible to experience that with this hyper-hipster Farm To Table Play Kitchen Set by the toy-masters over at KidKraft. By paying attention to every minute detail, from the soft wood-style finished to the brick-back kitchen walls and the windowsill vegetable garden, this play set has everything required to run the hippest pretend-kitchen operation in town. Unlike a lot of wooden playsets, assembly is easy, especially with the BILT App that can walk you through the process step-by-step.
Why Playing ‘Restaurant’ Is Good For Kids’ Social Development
Any parent can tell you that playtime is obviously a good thing for any kid, so we don’t need to spend any time trying to convince our readers to let their kids use their imagination once and a while. In fact, today’s parents have access to far more scientific research regarding the physical, psychological, and emotional value of play, and for the most part this has led to a resurgence of healthy, imagination-based toys into the marketplace.
Play kitchens, however, deserve special consideration by any thoughtful parent because not only do they support imagination-based play time, but they support associative play and cooperative play, both of which have been found by child psychologists to be extremely important for ongoing social development. This is especially true of smart phones, tablets, and video games, which can be particularly oppressive to the way your child learns to interact with other children for common goals and activities.
By letting kids choose from a number of different roles, like manager, chef, server, customer, or food critic, play kitchens set the stage for a play environment where kids need to make the rules for themselves. They learn how to associate, interact, and organize with one another, and the results are significant.
Buyer’s Guide: How To Shop For A Play Kitchen For Toddlers
For grown-ups, shopping for a new kitchen means spending the entire day perusing aisles of tile samples, rows of ovens and stoves, ranks of refrigerators standing at attention, waiting to be purchased. Choosing a play kitchen for your toddler, fortunately, is a heck of a lot easier, especially if you stick with us for a little while longer.
Next, we’re going to share some of the things that we learned when evaluating the different kitchen playsets on the market, and share with you the methods that you can use to decide for yourself what the best toy kitchen for your kid is. At the end of it all, we’ll reveal a few of our Top Picks for kitchen playsets in 2020.
Height, Width, & Shape
The first thing that needs to be considered with any playset is the dimensions, both of the product itself and of the space where you intend it to do. Before making any purchase, consider where in the house the playset will go and whether there is enough physical space for it. While many of these play kitchens are designed in a fairly narrow way so that they can be tucked up against a wall, an equal number of them come in shapes that will most definitely cut into the playroom’s precious square footage.
Because most of these playsets are not height adjustable, you want to make sure that you are getting one that your child is going to be able to enjoy. The recommended age for this kind of toy can range from 3 to 10, so it shouldn’t be of any surprise that they vary in height as well.
Design Style: Traditional (Playful) vs. Modern (Realistic)
Back in our day, kids’ playsets were made exclusively of bright, cheap plastic. While the vivid colors remain in a lot of products intended for toddlers, there has been a growing trend in the toy industry to make more realistic accessories and playsets … in other words, stuff that looks more like the stuff that mom and dad have in the “real” kitchen.
Because of this, there seems to have been a real division in how these playsets are designed. About half of them continue to be playfully shaped and brightly colored in the way that you would expect a playset to be, and the other half look like highly-detailed replicas of real-life kitchens, maybe pulled from the pages of a magazine.
While we don’t doubt that part of the force driving this trend is parents who are, more and more, looking for toys and playsets that are going to look good in any room in the house, and somehow neon pink doesn’t match with as many colors as you think that it might.
When it comes to pretend kitchen sets, it pretty much just comes down to wood (or wood-based material) and plastic. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:
- Wood is growing in popularity for a couple of reasons. The first is that many consumers have begun to reward companies that learn to integrate more sustainable or ‘green’ materials into their toy-making. Not only are these materials better for the environment, but they also lack the toxic chemicals that have been found in some oil-based plastics used for kids toys. Wood is also a good deal sturdier than plastic, though one of its downfalls is that it will start to warp if left out in the elements, something that plastic doesn’t have to worry about.
- Plastic is the go-to base material for most play kitchens and play food accessories, and for a pretty good reason. It is the cheapest material out there and it is relatively sturdy . It holds up against both water and sunlight, which means that plastic based toys can survive better outside than those made of wood. The truth about plastic kitchens, though, is that they are often printed or pressed with impressive aesthetic designs like tilework or brick patterns, so they can appear just as realistic as a wood-based play kitchen. Plastic kitchens also tend to be more affordable, though this is not a hard and fast rule as we have seen a few examples to the contrary.
Electronic Sounds & Lights
Though not all play kitchens have electronic features, it has become more and more common with bigger playsets. These features include light-up heating elements that glow red when the knob had been turned, or button-activated sizzling sounds that are so realistic they will have you tasting bacon in your mouth.
Of all the dozens of play kitchens that we looked at, every one of them was operated by either AA or AAA batteries. We did not find any models with a 12V DC input option, though it is possible that they exist out there. If the play kitchen that you choose has electronic features, then you might want to pick up a few packs of batteries at the same time so that the fun never has to be unnecessarily interrupted.
Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.)
Q: What accessories do I need to buy for a kitchen playset? Does play food come included?
A: The accessories included varies pretty significantly from model to model, so it is important to double check whether or not everything you need for a good game of ‘restaurant’ is going to come in one package. While most play kitchens come with some dishes and condiments at the very least, it seems that a few of them don’t come with anything at all.
Fortunately, play food and play dishes are very affordable and can often be purchased in big lots so your dollar can actually go pretty far. In addition, play food is play food, so to speak, so there is no need to get the same brand as the one who made your play kitchen.
Q: Do the light-up burning elements produce any real heat?
A: Nope, everything on these play kitchens is totally safe. The glowing heating elements are an effect caused by flickering LED lights, and although it can look realistic in the pictures, these play kitchens are totally safe for kids and toddlers.
Q: How hard is it to assemble one of these playsets?
A: While it is important to note that none of the play kitchens on our list come pre-assembled, most of them are not very complicated to put together and can often be completed in about a half an hour. Some of the wooden sets are a bit more sturdy on account of their hole and peg assembly design, so they might take a bit longer.
Many manufacturers have begun offering online or digital assembly instructions, which has made it easier than ever to follow along on a step by step basis as you put everything together.
The Final Course: Our Favorite Play Kitchens For Toddlers And Kids
When shopping for play kitchens it can be difficult to not let our own style and taste instincts get in the way of getting the best one for our own kids. While the speckled granite countertops and faux-copper fixtures of these deluxe playsets might be attractive to us grown-ups, there is a lot more to consider than just aesthetics when it comes down to making a decision.
For toddlers, we think the Kitchen & Restaurant Combo Playset from Little Tikes is the best blend of versatility, compact design, and feature-heavy construction that all comes together under a remarkably affordable price tag.
However the more advanced kid-chef might want something a bit more professional to help impress his clientele, in which case the obvious recommendation would be for the Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen. It is one of the most deluxe playsets on our list, and just looking at it will fill the imaginary customers with confidence that the pretend food they are getting is the best around.
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