Mud kitchen ideas for garden play
Mud kitchens are the perfect way for kids to engage in make-believe play in the garden. Read our guide to mud kitchen basics, including craft ideas and which kitchens and accessories to buy.
Our ultimate guide to mud kitchens will help you with all the decisions you need to make about buying a mud kitchen for a child.
These garden toys can be incredibly entertaining and have many benefits to aid your child’s development, exercising both their creativity and imagination along with fostering a connection to nature and an enjoyment of the outdoors.
Here, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to mud kitchens to help you decide which one to buy and listing all the accessories and equipment you may need too. We’ve put together our best ideas for projects, recipes and crafts and advise on how to stay safe during play.
What is a mud kitchen?
In its purest form, a mud kitchen is an outdoor setup for children to pretend to prepare and cook food using any combination of mud, sand and water.
In addition to the mud itself, there will be a surface to work on, shelves or cupboard space, and a hob to cook on or oven to bake in. To complete the life-like kitchen experience you can also use mixing bowls, pots and pans and tools to prepare, cook and serve.
Just like in the home, mud kitchen design is limitless, but the most loved and used kitchens will be far from perfect or pristine.
How can children benefit from a mud kitchen?
Learning through play doesn’t get much more hands-on than with a mud kitchen, which offers many benefits to a child’s physical and personal development. The exploration of natural materials in a life-like setting is both entertaining and educational.
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Along with the benefits of role-playing, imitating grown-ups, and fostering a love of cooking that comes with any play kitchen, the addition of sensory materials like mud and sand takes the experience to the next level.
Mud kitchens stimulate creativity and imagination and provide engaging and valuable play to children in a wide age range. Children between age one and seven will get the most out of a mud kitchen, but older children are still likely to take pleasure from it too.
Academic subjects come into play – numeracy via counting, measuring and weighing, and literacy through reading and writing recipes, shopping lists and menus.
Basic chemistry, biology and physics will all be practised as they play, discover and experiment with different materials and learn to identify creatures, plants and minerals.
A child on its own should get hours of independent play from their kitchen – they’ll build confidence and self-esteem as they make and do. Play with siblings and friends will involve teamwork and role-play, communicating, negotiating and sharing.
Which mud kitchen to buy?
TP Toys muddy madness mud kitchen
This is a decent-sized, fantastic-looking rustic kitchen that includes a hob and oven, along with water butt and tray for mixing mud. It’s got lots of workspace, a rail to hook utensils and a handy shelf. The oven opens and can be used to store accessories – stainless steel pans and a whisk are included.
The refillable water butt and tap kept the kids engaged and excited as they poured water and mixed mud from the garden. There’s a worktop that pulls out to reveal the plastic mixing tray that extends to provide more workspace and keeps things tidy.
Plum Discovery mud pie kitchen
The Plum Discovery mud pie kitchen is a lovely, rustic looking mud kitchen which comes with lots of space for working, storage shelves, sink bowl, a built-in planter, wooden wind chimes and a wipeable screen for painting too. Note that this one doesn’t include a water function.
Muddy Chef hand build a range of affordable mud kitchens in Dorset. They offer a variety of sizes and heights for different aged children, untreated, treated or painted wood and the option of adding a tap that can attach to running water via a hose. A vast range of accessories like bakeware, extra hooks, mud scoops, pots and utensils are all available on their website too.
Mud Kitchens make a range of premium quality, handmade mud kitchens and accessories which can be customised with different paint colours and finishes and can be engraved too.
They build to order, and the kitchen will arrive fully assembled, which is perfect for those that don’t have the DIY skills necessary to put together some of the mud kitchens available to purchase. To expand your outdoor kitchen set up, they also offer co-ordinating mud kitchen stool, vegetable garden, matching ‘nestagon’ bird boxes and more.
Mud kitchen accessories
Aprons and overalls
Outdoor aprons are great to protect clothes in the summer, while waterproof overalls or puddle suits will keep your child clean, dry and warm in winter months too. Wellies are perfect all year round and also protect little toes from getting hurt. We love the recycled materials and designs used by Muddy Puddles for their Eco Light all in ones and wellies.
Aprons and ‘mud macs’ in a range of colours, along with other fab looking mud kitchen accessories like a chalkboard mud splat and personalised wooden spoons are available from Mud Kitchens UK.
EcoLight all-in-one suit – available from Muddy Puddles (£32)
A watering can works as the sole water supply but will also help encourage your child to keep plants and anything they are growing watered.
There are many child-sized bright and colourful options in both plastic or traditional galvanised metal. We love the pink flamingo watering can from Rex London; the recycled plastic watering can with tools from Trouva; and the range of coloured metal watering cans from Esschert Design available from Garden Divas.
Adding flower pots to your mud kitchen enables your child to grow plants in their mud, reinforcing the connection between soil and the food we eat. We love this colourful set of 10 hanging flower pots – hook them onto your mud kitchen or a nearby fence. They’re great for storing ingredients too.
Dproptel set of 10 colourful metal hanging flower pots – available from Amazon (£22.99)
Mud kitchen sign
A chalkboard comes in useful for menus and recipes. This may be integrated into your mud kitchen or some can include freestanding boards or easels in the setup. Don’t forget the chalks for writing; your child can also crush them in a pestle and mortar to add colour to sand or mud.
Artbox large chalk board – available from Amazon (£4.99)
A set of mixing bowls will allow your child to mix, pour, separate ingredients, and so on. A colourful set with assorted colours and sizes will offer variation, but any bowls will do really.
Four coloured plastic mixing bowls – available from Asda (£5)
Ample water supply will make life easier for you and your child; a portable water carrier designed for camping would work well positioned near your mud kitchen if it doesn’t have a built-in supply.
Redcamp plastic water container – available from Amazon (£29.99)
Take a look at your existing kitchen kit – whatever you have in there that could work with mud would complement your child’s mud kitchen perfectly – think old pots, pans, mixing bowls, bun trays, jugs and funnels, bakeware, jelly moulds, ice cream scoops and ice cube trays.
There’s no limit to what could work with mud, sand and water. If you find any kitchen equipment you don’t use, why not donate them to the mud kitchen? Your unused icing nozzles would be fantastic for piping mud onto a pie! When you’ve exhausted your supply, try asking family and friends or check your local charity shops.
Staying safe when using mud kitchens
Hand washing after playing in mud is essential due to the potential for it to contain nasty bacteria and bugs. Playing in mud is seen by some experts as a way of building a child’s immunity to bacteria, but it’s better to be on the safe side when choosing the mud for your child to play in.
You should ensure mud and sand does not contain any animal poo and if you can’t be sure, buy a fresh bag of loam/topsoil. Supervision is advised, especially with young children who may choke on small stones etc. You should explain to your child and keep them reminded that they shouldn’t eat any of their muddy creations or ‘ingredients’.
Whether you’ve built your own, or put together a bought version, always make sure there aren’t any sharp surfaces or rough wood that could cause splinters – a bit of sanding down can help to smooth surfaces. Like with heavy or large furniture within your home, be sure to secure anything that couple topple and hurt a child too.
10 of the best mud kitchen ideas
Grow their own
A mud kitchen can double as an excellent potting table for your child to start growing and planting. A wooden planter nearby, or set of colourful plant pots hooked onto your kitchen will give endless opportunities to grow flowers or plant herbs and vegetables.
A child that understands and appreciates where their food comes from, from an early age, will learn valuable life skills and have the foundations needed to enjoy good food for the rest of their lives.
Magic bubbling potions
Powdered paint or crushed-up chalk can be added to mud or sand to add a colourful new dimension to your child’s creations. To create a bubbling magical potion mix one part baking powder with one part mud in a big shallow pan or bowl to make a ‘pie’.
Then sprinkle powdered paint (or crushed chalk) over the top in your desired pattern. You then need vinegar to activate the bubbles! Just pour or squirt over a cup or so full and watch as the baking soda fizzes away to make a magical frothing potion.
Make play food
You can introduce plastic or wooden food into your child’s kitchen pantry; or a great project is to paint play food onto rocks or stones. Simply paint food onto the rock and if you want it to last, use an acrylic sealant to protect the paintwork. They look great and will give your child something to be proud of as they use them in their cooking.
Leaf tea, hot chocolate, cappuccino and beer
Your child’s imagination is the limit here. Make leaf tea by infusing a variety of available leaves with water in a teapot, jug or saucepan. A rich, thick hot chocolate needs one part mud to three parts water and cappuccino needs careful frothing of a muddy, watery mix with a whisk. A cup of sand and lots of water whisked together makes a great looking “beer”.
What better place to make your loved ones a bottle of perfume? All you need is a mixing bowl, sealable bottles, water and the best-smelling flowers, fallen petals, herbs and leaves you can find. Mix the ingredients, leave to infuse, fill your bottles, decorate and label before presenting to the lucky recipient.
Flowers, blossom, grasses and leaves all make excellent decorative toppings for pies, cupcakes, and salads. Children will love exploring the garden and learning the names of flowers and seeing how they change with the seasons. Just mix any combination of mud, sand and water to create your ‘cupcake’ and decorate.
If you live near the seaside this one will be easy; otherwise you’ll need to wait for your next holiday or trip to the beach. Seaweed, driftwood, washed up rope, shells and pebbles would all make great ingredients to mix into or to decorate mud pies.
Making fat balls and bird feeders can be a messy affair. Why not use your mud kitchen to create tasty treats to attract birds to your garden?
Wherever you live, a walk through the local woodland, park or a garden should bring foraging opportunities to find seasonal ingredients and toppings to take your child’s mud pies to the next level.
Make sure your child seeks permission first and leaves enough to ensure future supply. Look for interesting leaves, sticks, stones, flowers, and pince cones (a fantastic ingredient for pies or pizzas). On your next holiday or day trip, be sure to look out for treasures to stock up your mud kitchen pantry.
Why not challenge your child to recreate their favourite recipe from your favourite cookbook, magazine or website? The spring sharing board would be the perfect challenge, using spring shoots, blossoms and flowers from gardens and hedgerows. They can make dips from mud, sand and any other finds.
For more inspiration and a great guide to creating your mud kitchen, take a look at the Muddy Faces website. For educational based resources try Twinkl and a Pinterest search for mud kitchen ideas will bring you lots of fun things for your child to do in their mud kitchen.
Expanding your mud kitchen
There are endless opportunities to expand on your mud kitchen setup. Depending on your child’s age and interests, you could facilitate growing by adding a herb garden or raised vegetable beds. Add a seating area to create a cafe or restaurant, or extra shelves to encourage selling their creations in a shop scenario.
You can move towards more forest school learning by building worm farms, dens, treehouses and bug hotels. As you replace things in your kitchen in the home, consider adding the rejects to the mud kitchen set up; an old microwave, toaster or kettle with the wires removed will all bring new possibilities for play.
How to make your own mud kitchen
Depending on budget, space and your ability you'll need to decide whether to buy, DIY, or assemble using gathered, donated or repurposed items like old sinks, cupboards and shelving. If you’ve got the time and are handy with a drill, you’ll find advice and guides to build your own online.
Look at what you can repurpose that you already have in the home: old shelves, basins or large containers and cupboards provide you with the basic framework for a kitchen. Ask friends and family or try charity shops, car boot sales or auctions.
Find a safe, suitable area of your outdoor space that your child can get messy in their kitchen. A corner of a garden would work, or on a patio or decking.
A nearby supply of water will let play flow for longer. Some mud kitchens can be connected to an outdoor tap via a hose, or have a water butt or tap as a feature so consider this when positioning your kitchen area.
A large working surface with lots of space for preparations and experiments will facilitate play, especially for multiple children to work together. Shelves and cupboard space will help keep their kitchen realistic and tidy with somewhere to put everything away at the end of the day.
Hooks for pans and tools are convenient, along with baskets for ingredients and lots of pots, bowls, jugs and bottles. Utensils can include anything from everyday spoons, spatulas and whisks to more exciting tools like potato ricers and pipettes – anything goes!
You can buy mud and sand from DIY or hardware stores; topsoil (or loam soil) is best. Compost works but you’ll find it’s a little clumpy and doesn’t achieve a smooth ‘muddy’ consistency.
Sharp or soft sand can be used for different effects. If you source mud from your own garden consider whether animals like foxes or local cats frequent the area before using. You’ll want something with a cover to keep this in too.
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This review was last updated in April 2020. If you have any questions or suggestions for future reviews, or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.