Plastic free play dough ideas - cooking class

Play dough is a brilliant way to keep kids busy and allow them to explore their creative side and imagination, without it being an adult led activity. That being said you can take lead from what your child is showing an interest in just now and build on it to form an activity that ignites that spark even more. My daughter is massive on role play, so whenever you put play dough in front of her she decides she's a mum in the kitchen and cooks everyone dinner. We have a great laugh with this, especially when we need to find imaginative ways to hide it before we get in trouble for not eating our food! From this, I started showing her how to make different shapes that resembled her favourite foods, mainly because I was bored of getting rainbow toast and hot cross buns for every meal! Then when The Leith Collective approached me at the end of last year to see if I had any ideas for a plastic free kids workshop to help promote their #plasticrevolution2020 campaign, I knew this idea was something I could build on to make a class.

This tutorial comes in 2 parts - In this one I'll cover how to make play dough look like food, without the help of plastic tools and then I'll following it up with another tutorial on creating your own plastic free toy cooker in the coming weeks.

I'm not going to pretend I came up with my own mircle playdough reciepe - there are so many great ones online already that instead I'll share I heart naptime's as it works the most consistently out of all the ones I've tried. If you don't already have it, I'd also recommend getting so quailty gel food colourings as you only need a little amount and the are great for so many fun things with the kids like making your own paint. I'd recommend Wilton and you can get it on Amazon

My number one rule for activites with my daughter is preperation is key - if I tell her about the task but spend too long trying to decide how we will do it or gathering things we need, then she looses interest and no longer want to take part. If I don't have time to do the whole task in one day then I split it into sub tasks but only tell her about each part when we are ready to get started, otherwise she often wants to skip to the last task and get frustrated when we can't. This was definitely a task I had to split up as making all the different playdough colours can take a while to mix up. You know your child best so you can adapt this to format that works for them but this is how I split it up at home.


1. Have a conversation about food

Does your child already have an interest in baking? Making pizzas? Would you really like them to explore some new foods? 

This conversation could be sparked when you are cooking, out food shopping or just sitting on the couch - even better if they bring it up. My daughter has a high chair for her dolls so we did some roll play where she was putting imaginery food in a bowl for her baby and I got her to describe to me what she was putting in. This can then lead onto what colours are in each of these foods and it help you figure out what types of play dough you need to make.

Here are some of our favourites:

dark brown = sausages

light brown = pastry, cupcakes, pizza base, biscuits

red= pasta/pizza sauce, tomatoes, cherries

yellow = pasta / spagetti, cheese, chips

dark / light green = broccoli, green pepper slices, peas, leaves on veg like carrots

orange = carrots

black = great for pretending they've burnt their food


2. Making the dough

This is a great task to do with the little one but there might be some parts you end up doing yourself. 

Following the reciepe from I heart naptime I made the dough without using any food colour to begin with. This is great practice for kids to lean about measuring, counting & mixing ingedients together without worrying about having to eat the results. Again I had all the ingredients layed out on the table with the measuring tools we needed, so that we could get stuck in straight away. Pour all the ingredients straight in the pot and then I put it on the hob by myself as it's ready very quickly. Then it needs some time to cool a little before you add the colours.  

Once cool, split the play dough into sections for each colour. Based on the "menu" I'd created with my daughter in the previous step, I tried to figure out how much i would need for sausages, broccoli, chips etc and devided the dough accordingly. She was really keen to help me add the colour to the dough but after 2 colours she lost interest, so I saved the rest of it for after her bedtime and finshed it infront of the TV. I you are using the gel colours I recommended above then you can dip a cocktail stick into the colour and wipe it onto the dough before folding it in and needing the dough until the colour looks even all the way through.

When finished, you can put the dough in old jars or any other airtight container before placing in the fridge and leaving it until you want to use. It should last for 2 to 3 months in the fridge but check the play dough tutorial for advice on this. 


3. Gathering your "cooking" tools

You don't need fancy play dough sets to make realistic looking food. With a few simple tools you can find round the kitchen or at a local supermarket/discount store, you can have great fun in a more imaginative way. This is another great task to do with your child with a little preparation. Plan our what items you want in advance and write them on a shopping list, before either go out to the shops together or turn it into a hunt round the kitchen. 

Plastic free tools that I use at home:

ceramic plate, metal cutlery, metal fishslice, wooden rolling pin, metal cookie cutters, paper cupcake cases, metal baking tray, small glass / ceramic bowl


4. Get cooking

This is a brilliant role play activity yo can do wit one or multiple children. Treat it the same way as if you were making a meal in the kitchen for real, or that they are at a cooking class and you are the instructor. Decide what meal your going to make, this can be a joint task or you can come up with a menu based on the foods you discussed earlier in the process, then talk through each step e.g.

Making sausage rolls

First lets make the sausages. Take your sausage meat and put it through the sausage machine by rolling it. Once you have the perfect sausage shape put it to the side. You can make more depending on how many sausages you want

Then take your pastry and roll it out flat into a rectangle big enough to cover your sausage. You can use a butter knife to cut a smaller shape if needed. 

Put your sausage in the middle of the pastry and fold over both sides of the dough into the middle. Flip the sausage roll over so the fold is on the botton and sqaush it down a little. Use your butter knife to score the top of the pastry. You can choose wheather you want large sausage rolls or you can cut them into smaller ones.

Put your sausage roll(s) on a baking tray and then in the oven (if you don't have an pretend oven yet,  then you can just put then in a carboard box or tupperware).  Set the oven dial to the correct temperature. Ask your child how long they think they should be in the oven for, regardless of if they give a time in seconds, minutes, hours or just a number, then count that number in seconds. I count up, rather than down as it's easier for little ones but you know if your child's abilities. Say they say 5 minutes, then count together with your fingers (making this as over the top as your want) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ding ding ding ding - sausage rolls are ready. Take the sausage rolls out the oven but be careful its really hot. If you want, as the adult you can tell them you need to put things in and out of the oven like you would with a real one to role play safe behaviour in the kitchen. 

Use your fishslice to take the sausage rolls off the tray and put them on the plate. Make sure suer they've cooled down - you can have fun blowing on them. Then you can both eat them together or offer them to someone else in the family to eat. Remember to tell them how good they tasted



I follow a similar process for other foods. Vegtables are prepared as if you were making them from scratch and then if they need boiled we put them in a bowl, pretending its a pan) and put it on top of the cooker. Again do the counting until they are all cooked. You can also do multiple foods all at the same time for a larger meal, putting it all on the baking tray or hob together.


Tips for making foods

Upside down bowls can me used for cutting out pizza bases

Spagetti can be rolled from one big flat sheet and then use the butter knife to cut thin strips

Chips can be made by putting a lump of dough under the fishslice and then pressing it down so the dough pushes through. Use the fishslice to cut them off once you have a good chip size. Grated cheese can be done using this method or similar to the spagetti one.

Cupcake icing can be a long snake shape that you place in a circular motion round the outside of your cupcake going into the middle as if you were piping butter cream icing


I'd love to hear if you havev any tips you've discovered at home!


As you can see, we've turned a task you would have done in 30mins with traditional ready made play dough into a range of ideas to spark their imagination. Don't be worried if you never make it through them all - sometimes children loose interest before you finish the task but the good thing with this dough is you can leave it in the fridge for a couple of weeks and come back to it when they are more in the mood or you can use it for some other imaginary task if they don't want to "cook". Don't make a big deal over them not wanting to do the task, as it will put them off doing it in the future or it will force them into feeling like they have to do it which won't be fun for either of you. My daughter has never got as far as doing the cooking class part with me as she likes to independently come up with her own ideas for cooking and then bring me a surprise to eat, but I'm sure we will do it together one day!