Kicking it up a notch in our play kitchen

"More coffee?" my son asks.

"Yes, please," I reply, smacking my lips for emphasis and holding out my cup for him.

Playing restaurant in my home is a favorite activity for the whole family, something we do several times a week. This is not surprising given that my kids' play kitchen is in a little nook right in our kitchen where we spend most of our days.

My three-year-old son enjoys playing the chef, tinkering with his tiny metal pots and taking my order for food and drinks. He's so enthusiastic about this game that he even had my younger daughter tasting his imaginary concoctions before she was even eating solids. Lately, he's been bolstered by new skills he learns as he helps more with our cooking.

We've slowly been building our play kitchen area the past couple of years. First, we started with a tiny cooktop range, then graduated to a handsome wooden play kitchen I found on Craigslist for a great price. Slowly, we've been adding play food, mainly Melissa and Doug wooden sets, like the sandwich-and-hamburger set pictured below.

Our latest additions include a Pottery Barn Kids coffeepot and an adorable cookie-baking set from Target, both on sale after the holidays.

A few weeks ago, I decided to kick it up a notch by designing a basic menu with my kids' help. I've learned it's important to keep things simple with a pre-schooler and a toddler so I kept things easy by using only construction paper, stickers featuring foods and markers.

We designed the menu by including only items already in our play kitchen, setting prices based upon what my son wanted, such as $24 for a glass of milk (who will want to eat at our restaurant with these prices!) and restaurant hours of 24/5 (we'll be working our little fingers to the bone!!). When we were done, our four-page menu looked like this (please remember that my drawing skills are not the best!):

Looking it over, I suddenly realized the foods in our play kitchen didn't totally depict our reality. Missing were many of the Mexican meals I make, such as quesadillas, chicken taquitos, enchiladas, etc. And what about others from other countries that I also make, like stir-fry and chicken curry?
Living in Southern California, home to immigrants from every country in the world, one inevitably is introduced to all sorts of wonderful dishes that end up making regular appearances at our tables at home. Wouldn't it be great to introduce these meals to my kids through play? And, what about replicating the dishes our own family sits to at the dinner table?

Off I went in search of "ethnic," multicultural" or "international" food, which were some of the words I used on Internet search engines. I adore play food by German toy maker Haba, but my search didn't turn up the kind of international food I'm trying to find. This is what I came up with:

This combination by Lakeshore, with 100 plastic pieces, is by far the largest set I found online but still doesn't include many of the foods I've mentioned.

This set by Kaplan features basic foods crafted out of vinyl. Each can be purchased individually or as a complete set.

I like this wok stir fry set from the Land of Nod, but some of the pieces may be too small to have around my daughter.
Here are some of my top picks from Etsy sellers:

Felt wonton dumplings in take-out container. By Busy Little Elf in Cleveland.

A felt sushi play set that also includes a placemat and chopstics. From littlecrafttage in Malaysia.

Yes, a quesadilla! From Pickle Things in Oregon.

If you're also searching for play food, try searching the archives of babygadget, where they have a self-professed love for pretend food. Let me know if you know of any other wood or cloth options out there, or even better, if you've crafted your own non-mainstream play food.

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