Prep: 5-10 Minutes / Activity Time: 15-20 Minutes

Many 4-year-olds love to imitate experiences they’ve seen in real life. Pretend play is a great way for your child to strengthen creativity and oral language skills. Use a few items from the kitchen to transform your child into the next great chef.

** Note:  Please use safe kitchen tools while doing this activity. Do not use sharp or breakable objects.

  • make a chef’s hat
  • a child-size apron or make a dishtowel apron
  • recipe books or cooking magazines
  • pots and pans
  • unbreakable mixing bowls
  • plastic or paper plates and bowls
  • mixing spoon, spatula, measuring spoons and other safe cooking tools
  • a timer (you could use your cell phone or a kitchen timer)
  • cans and empty boxes from real food items
  • potholders or oven mitts

Step 1: Have a conversation with your child about chefs: where they work, what they do, what they wear, etc. Read about chefs and their jobs to extend your conversation. Two children’s books about this topic are: Chefs and What They Do by Liesbet Slegers, and I Want to Be a Chef by Dan Liebman.    

Step 2: Provide a chef’s hat and a small apron, or make a dishtowel apron. Collect canned foods, empty food boxes and empty containers for your “ingredients.” Set out the pots, pans, measuring cups, measuring spoons and other kitchen utensils.

Step 3: Set out some recipe books or cooking magazines. Look through the pages together and choose things to “cook” or “bake.” When your child sees something yummy to “make,” read the recipe’s title and talk about the picture. See if you can guess the ingredients you will need by looking at the picture together. Encourage your child to describe the food and predict how it would taste. Will it be sweet, cold or spicy?

Step 4: When your child is ready to start cooking, read the recipe instructions aloud. You can even make up the recipe as you go along. Invite your child to pretend to add a teaspoon of this and a cup of that to her bowl. Be sure she has lots of opportunities to mix pretend ingredients in a bowl!

Step 5: In need of a make-believe oven? Try sliding the dish under the couch or in an empty box. Ask your child to set the temperature on the “oven.” Provide a timer that can be used to “turn the oven on.”  

Step 6: While you are waiting for the timer to go off, your child can find a new recipe to try.

Step 7: When the timer goes off, it’s time to get the dish out of the “oven.” Use this as a teachable moment about kitchen safety and tell your child that chefs always use potholders or oven mitts to take food from a hot oven.

Step 8: Enjoy your “food” and continue finding new recipes!

To make it easier, provide fewer choices.  Set out picture cards or pictures of favorite foods, each showing a very simple “cooking” activity with only a few ingredients, such as making Jell-o, boiling an egg, or making a salad. Ask your child which one she would like to “make.”  



To add some challenge, create your own restaurant. Have your child draw a sign for her restaurant with a picture and a name. Ask your child to create a menu for her customers.