In the interest of being totally open and honest (and relieved of all guilt), I must admit right off the bat that our mud kitchen was thoughtfully built by grandpa. But it was a DIY mud kitchen built with two hands. And we do have many suggestions for you that span from building to buying. Even though it wasn’t built with our two hands (or for I guess you could say), it has become a quick favorite backyard activity and so I felt I’d pass on our recommendations and help others interested in setting up the mud kitchen of your kids’ dreams. Because seriously, these things are what dreams are made of. Am I the only one that thinks of the Lizzie McGuire movie with that phrase?
What is a mud kitchen?
If you’ve never heard of a mud kitchen, we won’t get too technical with the details because it’s pretty straightforward. A mud kitchen is an outdoor pretend kitchen. And unlike the ones your kids use outdoors, these use nature as the ingredients. Mud kitchens are not just fun play, they actually have a lot of great benefits. They encourage open ended play, which builds imagination and creativity. Dirt is good for the immune system…really! It inspires independent play (and if you’re interested, we wrote a whole post around ways to promote independent play). Plus it’s good to get messy and scientsy -mixing and stirring and adding.
Step 1: Build or buy your mud kitchen
Ours was a birthday gift for our 4 year old and was built by hand from old deck wood. Since we didn’t build it ourselves, this video walks you through how to build your own mud kitchen – DIY if you will. The other option is to buy a pre-assembled mud kitchen and add all the bells and whistles yourself. This mud kitchen by Hape or this wood kitchen on Amazon are two quality options. But we also used our old indoor play kitchen (which we repurposed for an outdoor mud kitchen) before our current one. We love that this is an affordable way to create a mud kitchen and super easy to hose off and clean. All are great options and will come down to the accessories.
Step 2: All the containers and utensils you can find
When setting up your kids mud kitchen, the cooking vessels can take the experience to another level. It’s easy to find pots and pans you have laying around the house. We have a bunch of Dollar Tree finds, which have been big hits. And you can also find plastic cookware on Amazon or Ikea. Just make sure you have a variety of cooking equipment. Our 4 year old has 6-8 dishes going at one time.
And don’t forget the utensils: spatulas, whisks, spoons, tongs. Everything you’d find in any chef’s kitchen. Ooh dont forget the soap and sponges so they can wash the dishes. And a cupcake pan. Because all kids love mud cupcakes.
Step 3: DIY menu planning for your DIY mud kitchen
Every good kitchen needs recipes, even if those recipes contain ingredients like dirt and weeds. Our general approach is to suggest a food as a jumping off point and see what she can dream up. Recently we had pumpkin soup, pumpkin juice, pumpkin pasta, and even pumpkin coffee (no spice – she was very clear on that when I asked) in the middle of summer. And then you can get a rustic chalkboard to celebrate their most popular recipes.
Step 4: A place to dine
When thinking about how to set up a mud kitchen, the kitchen itself is the obvious focus. But what about a place to eat the tasty creations. Still dreaming about that pumpkin coffee. You could use whatever mini kids furniture you may have. Or a little camping chair if you have one. In our case use one of these kids picnic tables. They love eating lunch on it (of the regular variety) and comes with shade!
Step 5: The most important part…
Mud! No DIY mud kitchen could be complete without the critical ingredient? This could be as easy as using what you have or grabbing a bag at Home Depot. You could also round up some sticks, sand, rocks, and of course water is crucial to actually mixing up the mud. And then let your kids run wild.
Both our 1 year old and 4 year old are entertained mixing and stirring for hours with this thing. And that’s one of the biggest perks. It’s great for all ages. And all kids should be allowed to get dirty and dig around in the mud, right? Just make sure they don’t forget to do the dishes when they’re done.