"Play Food" Cards for Imaginative Kitchen Play




About: Artist, craftswoman, reenactor, costumer, mom, geek, nerd, gamer, designer. Love building props and costumes and lots of other things for fun, have gotten to do it for money in the past. Grew up restoring ho...

This is a ridiculously basic how-to. Simply put, it is upcycling brightly colored, realistic images from food packaging into realistic looking, free, recycleable, toy foods for children to play with during imaginative food-related play (kitchen, restaurant, tea party, etc).

The main image is a selection of play food cards in my sons' toy kitchen. The second is a view of the kitchen, which is itself hacked from a modular shelving system (similar to the Ikea IVAR shelves, if you want to start from the same place I did), using a selection of found/recycled materials. The table that forms the "L" was being thrown out by a local daycare center and I rescued it with permission.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Tool and Materials

You will need:

  • a pair of scissors sharp/strong enough to cut food packaging
  • food packaging boxes with life-size or smaller images of food

The example is a cereal box from Trader Joe's, which is a great one because it has two images to work with, front and back, and they are about life size, with a nice detail (strawberry).

Step 2: Cut Out Food

Cut into the box and cut a rough approximation of the shape you want. Make it bigger than you intend to. I usually go for roundish shapes because they fit well in play kitchenware and have no sharp corners.

Recycle the rest of the box.

Step 3: Trim to Size

Fairly carefully trim the shape to fit the plate/bowl/pot it will be used with. Round any corners for safety, if the shape is not essentially round.

Any scraps usually go right in the recycling bin.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Repurpose a container for storage (clear plastic produce or deli containers work well).

Play until worn out, and make more, recycle the old ones!

If you want to make them last longer, These can easily be laminated, but the process renders them non-recyclable. Up to you!

Other ideas:
  • for homeschooling/unschooling, ingredients or nutritional info can be written on the backs of the cards, or info about where the foods come from
  • Any brightly colored cardboard will work, and you can make soups, pancakes, toast, from plain cardboard colored with markers
  • Paint/draw your own toy foods on any sturdy paper or small wood pieces (though, that kind of gets away from the upcycling intent of this instructable)
The Instructables Book Contest

Participated in the
The Instructables Book Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Book Character Costume Challenge

      Book Character Costume Challenge
    • Made with Math Contest

      Made with Math Contest
    • Cardboard Speed Challenge

      Cardboard Speed Challenge

    12 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Incr-edible up cycling project that implants the repurposing not tossing idea into young minds!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    this is a great idea! I just had a discussion on ways to reuse at a local moms meeting, and they all looked at me like i was crazy when i said i reuse cereal and other cardboard boxes.

    I use them for making patterns in cloths making and quilting, to make little picture frames for the fridge, or a meriad of other craft things. some people just dont understand the value of just one person NOT contributing to the landfill.

    I also make things from the plastic bags and had some eye rolls there too.

    thanks for sharing this and I will be passing on the idea!

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    When I was REALLY young (4/5 sort of age) My mum used to use the plastic bags as aprons for us when we were painting lol! so I know where you're coming from :) as we got older, it turned into black bin bag liners.

    My mum used to save up my dad's daily paper and use them in crafts with us, along with our cereal boxes, inner tubes of toilet and kitchen roll and even the corks from a random wine bottle :)

    Just to add, we're weren't poor, my mum and dad were just more into recycling and reusing then, as you said, adding to the landfills.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Outstanding idea! This would travel well too. Reminds me of a time I added some small cutout pictures of some of my favorite kids with cereal-looked like "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" cereal bowl.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Yay I like many aspects of this one.I think I may even put it together for a young friends birthday gift.To encourage creative and inexpensive gifts you can make youself if your not handy with other crafts.(Im handy but sometimes just feel opressed by the time factors for crating these special gifts).This looks great for a quick and not wastefull cheap break in a minute gift.Cheers

    Since finding this instructable a couple months ago, I have cut out many 'foods' for my young girls and they love it. They will not let me recycle or throw anything out now without having me inspect it first for potential cut-outs! Such a great, simple, and FREE idea! It may have never have occurred to me to do this, thank you so much.

    Yes they would (and I suggest that in step 4step 4, if longevity is desired), however, we have so many food packages over time that can become play food, that I just recycle the worn ones and make new ones.

    If you laminate them, they have to go in the landfill when you're done with them, or at least a part does, and I was trying to avoid that. :)

    However, if you are making these for a daycare/school situation, where lots of kids will be using them, and you need them to be as sturdy as possible (and also where gathering appropriate food packaging may involve a class project), then laminating is definitely the answer.

    jauncourtteh darkcloud

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The big thing is that the kids love it. I cut out more cereal today (went through another box), and my boys had a friend over, and they were all able to have "cereal".