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“Mommy, what kind of sandwich do you want?”
My sweet four-year-old loves to make pretend meals for me using his play food. I don’t think he goes a day without breaking out the pretend bread and putting together delicious sandwiches for us to enjoy. Play food is so popular with most kids, that it’s an essential item in preschool classrooms. It’s great for dramatic play opportunities (like making sandwiches), but it can also be used in many other learning activities as well!
We use our Best-Buy Play Food Assortment from Lakeshore Learning. There’s a ton of variety in this pack and it works perfectly for all our learning needs.
Learning Activities using Play Food
Kids are already learning through simply playing with their play food every day, but if you’d like to continue using the popular toy in other preschool activities, I’ve got a few ideas to get you started:
- Sorting Play Food
Sorting is a great early math activity to introduce to preschoolers, and there are tons of ways to do it with play food! To name a few: sort by food group, sort by color, sort by shape, sort by which meal they are eaten at, etc.
2. Making Patterns
Our Best-Buy Play Food Assortment comes with several pieces of bread and cheese for sandwich making. We used some of those to create simple patterns. If your students are new to patterns you might want to start with a simple ABAB patterns then move on to more complex ones (ABBA, ABC, ABBC, etc.)
3. Counting Play Food
Teachers are usually stocked up on math manipulatives for counting. Why not use play food as a math manipulative as well? There are 100 pieces in the Best-Buy Play Food Assortment, that’s perfect for counting practice!
4. Following Two Step and Three Step Directions
Following directions are an important part of preschool instruction. Practicing two step directions using play food can sound something like this: “Please bring me one piece of fruit, then pour me a glass of milk.” Once children master that you can try three step directions “Can you please put the orange in the picnic basket, the banana in the refrigerator, then bring me a pretzel? Thank you!”
5. Practice Fine Motor Skills with Foil and Play Food
Combining foil with play food is great for fine motor work as well developing practical life skills! Read more about it here.
6. Play “What’s Missing?” Game
Place several pieces of play food on a tray and show it to your preschooler. Have them close their eyes and remove an item. Let them reexamine the tray and determine what is missing. This is a great activity to help students pay attention to details and work on memory skills!
7. Paint with Play Food
This is an easy process art activity that’s fun for kids! Set out trays of paint and let kids use the play food as stamps on their paper! You can discuss the types of shapes each item leaves afterward.
8. Make Silly New Food Combinations
Kids love silly activities! When my son offers to make me a sandwich I like to request funny combinations of food to see if he picks up on the nonsense 😉 “I’ll take pickle soup with a peas and bacon sandwich on the side, please!” This is not only a fun game, it makes kids think about typical food combinations and encourages creativity.
9. Practice Manners with a Play Food Game
Have your students sit in a circle and pass around a piece of play food. Whoever has the food in the hand responds, “yes, please” or “No thank you” depending on if it is a food they like or don’t like. They can continue to pass the food around the circle until everyone has had a chance to practice using their manners. (This idea was inspired by To Share and Remember’s blog on Thanksgiving food and manners).
10. Play a Guessing Game
Hold a piece of play food behind your back and give clues as to what the food might be. Let children guess until they come up with the right item! This offers lots of critical thinking opportunities and is tons of fun!
11. Put Play Food in a Sensory Bin
Use the vegetables in a bit of brown cloud dough to simulate digging them up in the dirt. Place fruits in a bin of water with a bit of soap and washcloths to practice washing them. There are lots of ways to include play food in play outside of the kitchen area!
12. Make Silly Faces
Use play food in creative new ways, like making silly faces with them! Tomato eyes, bacon nose, and a cantaloupe mouth! How about pea eyes, pizza nose, and a bacon mouth? Come up with as many silly combinations as you can and have fun talking about each food you use for your designs!
13. Tossing Game
Play a gross motor game using play food. Try tossing the pizza slices in a pizza box laying on the ground, fruit into a picnic basket, bacon into a frying pan, etc. This is a great indoor activity that will have the kids excited to play again and again!
14. Make a Leaning Tower of…Pizza?!?!
Get creative with this play food engineering challenge! Stack pretend foods in the tallest possible towers. Have students work in teams for a collaborative twist on this idea.
15. Trace Play Food
Bring several flat pieces of food to a table with paper and colored pencils. Allow students to trace around them and color in their drawings.
What other ways could you use play food in preschool learning centers? I’m sure you have lots of other ideas you could add to the list!
Here are some other fun food-related activities to add to your preschool centers:
The Magnetic Simple Sentence Skewers Activity Center was perfect for my five year old. Since he loves fruits and kabobs, this was a fun way to work on sentence building for him.
I love that it includes little recipe cards! Makes this a perfect activity for beginning readers.
The Count and Sort Ovens were a BIG hit! These little ovens packed a ton of math lessons into cute little baking themed activity!
This set includes 10 ovens and lots of counting/baking trays. Students can also self-correct because the answers are on the backs of each oven.
Each tray goes into the correct oven through a little slot. The door is magnetic and opens for removing trays and playing again and again!
For more summer learning ideas, products and activities, visit our Summer Learning Guide.
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These preschool unit plans are just what you need to engage and teach your littles!