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Family Action Play Activity – Food

03 August 2022

Fill your bellies and your day with this handy guide showing you how to involve food in your child’s play.

What is it?

Food preparation contains lots of elements that promote play and lend themselves to promoting learning and development and independence. These activities help you to find the fun in food while ensuring nothing is wasted.

This sounds like a lot of hard work… Convince me it’s worth it!

  • This activity fits in nicely with the daily routine, so you don’t have to make any special allowances for it. You were probably going to have to make dinner anyway, so this way you manage to kill two birds with one stone by turning it into a fun activity
  • Worried about the mess? Read more about easy ways to set up and clean away spaces for play
  • Getting out to a park or even the garden for a picnic can be a nice change of pace for stressed parents trying to entertain their children
  • It’s all about the social aspect of food so if you don’t feel like cooking that’s fine… have a pretend tea party instead


Simple to prepare for, because it essentially involves the same preparation as you would before preparing a meal. Just make sure the surfaces are clean and all hands are washed.

You might be tempted to get plates and utensils out… but to do so robs children of the chance to use their problem-solving skills. See if they can find the correct tools for whatever job you have planned.

What are my children secretly learning? (don’t tell them!)

  • Decorating food allows for expression and design
  • Measuring ingredients helps with mathematics, hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity
  • Listening to and reading instructions can help with communication/language development and literacy
  • Mealtimes and the serving of food promotes personal, social and emotional development
  • Tea parties (pretend or real) provide plenty of opportunities for communication skills, vocabulary, creativity and experience of the world

Fisher-Price™ Play Lab says:

“It’s such a great and enriching experience for children to cook with you. Doing so offers so many opportunities for learning, such as developing literacy skills related to following the recipe and maths skills related to measuring and pouring”.

“There’s also the fine motor skill of pouring things into the bowl or into the pot and stirring them together and, of course, if offers an opportune moment for you to bond with your little one and build the relationship you have while you talk about how you’re cooking together”.

Watch the video below to find out more.

Top Tips:

Here Pre-School Assistant Kirsty Day from our Woodfield Park pre-school in Peterborough gives us a few do’s and don’ts regarding how to make the most of a food session:


  • One of the best foods for promoting play is pizza. Not only do kids love it in general, it also allows for:
    • Decoration (smiley faces are a common decoration, but let your child’s imagination run wild)
    • Learning about risk and consequence by chopping vegetables and ingredients
    • Lovely messy play, with tomato sauce, in particular, creating lots of gooey goodness
    • Spatial awareness and coordination due to the handling of chosen ingredients
  • Since play is the desired outcome there’s no need to make your pizza bases from scratch, and store-bought bases, flatbreads or even crumpets will work just fine
  • Should you want to make your bases with them this can work too, as the dusting of the counter top with flour is particularly good for encouraging messy play. There’s a recipe we’ve tried on the BBC Good Food website that works really well
  • What’s good about preparing pizzas is also true for cookies and cupcakes… but once again remember you don’t need to be a master chef. Picking up a cake mix from a supermarket and working through it with your kids also helps them to understand the world, develop their reading and measuring skills and communicate with you to get it done. If you can you should pick up food that you can decorate yourselves, however, to develop expressive art skills and design


  • Food preparation fun needn’t require cooking skills or even a kitchen. You can develop social skills, interaction and understanding of the world by preparing a picnic with your children
  • This is good as it encourages the whole family to get out of the house and explore a new location… even if it’s just the garden
  • You don’t need anything special and can just use food from your cupboards. Simply encourage children to state their likes and dislikes and contribute to the planning, as this helps build confidence and develops their communication skills
  • You may find they forget something they wanted to include in the picnic, which can be a cause for tears. As upsetting as this may seem remember that this too is teaching them about managing their emotions and understanding consequence

Afternoon Tea

  • This is a particularly social activity, so consider inviting grandparents or friends around for tea. You can even spin it into a larger activity by designing invitations, counting how many you need to produce… you could even deliver them to grandparents or friends by hand
  • You can combine this idea with the picnic or food ideas above, to ensure a whole day of amazing play
  • Encourage children to take the lead with setting the table, putting out glasses and carrying food through to the room you’re serving in. You don’t have to use plastic plates and kids’ cutlery. This is a good opportunity to help your children develop risk evaluation skills and self-esteem
  • So much of the learning and skills related to food activities don’t require the preparation of real food. A pretend tea party works just as well
  • You can discuss all the real or pretend food that’s being prepared to develop vocabulary, and hold a conversation with the grown-ups, friends or toys present to help develop imagination and creative skills

Find out more about Creating Happy Memories through play and the benefits it can bring to your child’s development.