Our little boys received an IKEA play kitchen last Christmas. And while I was SO excited to stock up on play food, dishes, pots, pans, and more…I (and our playroom) was wholly unprepared for all the little things strewn about everywhere. I somewhat assumed everything would stay nice-and-tidy in the play kitchen (which it did not); so I then started throwing everything into a single catch-all basket (which was actually even worse). So in a recent mission to pair down and consolidate our toy footprint (more on this in coming weeks), I needed to figure out how to organize play food so that it was both easy to play with and easy to clean up. This was another fun quick organizing project that’s had great results so far. Let me show you what we did!

How to Organize Play Food

When we first stocked up on all the adorable play food, I happily sorted into its original containers at the end of every day. Well, that got old pretty fast. And after stepping on and/or loosing too many errant wooden fruits, vegetables, and cookies, I started throwing everything into a basket (that sits on a nearby shelf) and called it good.

A messy basket full of play food and kitchen items.

However, this catch-all solution meant that if the boys wanted to play with anything, the entire (unmanageable) basket just got dumped. All the while, every cabinet in the play kitchen sat completely empty.

An IKEA play kitchen with empty cabinets

It’s been a while since I’ve shown our playroom, but we are in the process of trying to consolidate all of our toys down into a single 16-cube Kallax unit. So in being very strategic about what fits where, it occurred to me that we were wasting precious storage space in the kitchen itself. And while I am grateful this specific play kitchen has cupboards and shelves, the sizes didn’t naturally accommodate many of the bins and baskets I already had on hand.

You guys know by now that when I’m organizing something, I don’t like to waste any space if I can help it. So I did a fair amount of measuring, researching, and shopping to find just the right storage containers for this play kitchen.

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

A combination of perfectly-fitting boxes, open trays, and understandable labels now help us take advantage of every inch, while still keeping everything easy to find, easy to play with, and easy to put away!

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

How to Organize Play Food

To organize the play food, I started as I do every single project: by dumping the basket out and sorting everything into general categories. I also took a few minutes to hunt around the playroom to make sure I had anything that was tucked into other baskets or lost under the couch. To start, my general categories were:

Play food sorted into categories.

When I first started looking for containers that would fit inside the tiny IKEA play kitchen cabinets, I struggled to find ones that maximized space. But then I found these gorgeous clear lidded boxes. The dimensions were spot on for the cabinets, plus they were roomy enough to fully accommodate the sizes and quantities of play food. Although these boxes are pricier than I would have liked to spend on “toy boxes,” they are such a great size that I know we’ll be able to repurpose them down the road as needed.

How to organize play food in plastic boxes

After loading in each food collection, I added some labels that match the rest of the playroom. These are just white pictures on black squares, all made from vinyl with my Cricut Joy. You can learn how I make my vinyl labels here.

Organized play food in plastic boxes with black labels

The fit of these lidded plastic boxes really couldn’t be any better. They take up almost every available inch; the boys can easily see what is where; and if they want to just play with certain things, we don’t have a mess of all the food all over the house floor.

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

I should note that we only needed four boxes to hold our food and utensil collections. If you have more food sets and/or want to keep things better sorted, the IKEA kitchen can hold up to 8 of these boxes!

How to Contain Play Dishes and Pans

After getting the food and utensils all sorted out, I was still struggling with how to store the bulkier dishes, pots, and pans. Just through experimenting with items I had on hand, I discovered the wooden tray that came with some of the play food was a perfect fit for both the cabinet and the dishes!

Play plates and bowls in a wooden tray.

I can never leave well enough alone, so I wrapped the tray in some leftover peel-and-stick wallpaper and loaded it back up. By having a tray dedicated to specific items, we are more likely to actually put things back rather than just haphazardly throw them in!

Play plates, pots, and pans inside an IKEA play kitchen

Finally, I used the play “cookie sheet” as a tray of sorts for the rest of the pots, pans, and cutting boards. It also fits perfectly on the shelf, but isn’t too hard to get in and out when it’s play time.

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

You’ll notice that I have nothing hung on the storage bar with hooks or in the upper cabinets. This is intentional. Our littlest one can’t yet reach the top shelves and would absolutely climb up to get whatever he needed. I’ve also tried…so many times…to put items on hooks to open up the cabinets below. Our little guy thinks it’s hysterical to yank everything all down, so I’ve given up on that (for now!). Having everything stored away in the cabinets underneath is the best solution for our kiddos at the moment!

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

Key Take Aways for Organizing Play Food

Not every play kitchen is the same, not every food collection is the same, and not every child plays the same way. So what I’ve done here might not work exactly right for your family. Regardless, here are some key take aways to consider when trying to figure out how to organize play food in your home!

  1. Consider how your kids play. Place items where they can reach, and use bins/trays/baskets they can carry themselves.
  2. Use the available storage space. Even though one cabinet is an “oven” doesn’t mean it has to remain so when not in use.
  3. Match your collection to the storage space you have. Things feel cluttered when you have too much stuff in a particular space. If you can’t fit everything where you need it, it’s likely time to pair down.
  4. Find the right containers for your specific kitchen. Well-fitting containers will allow you to store as much as possible in the footprint you have.
  5. Don’t overlook the bins play food comes in. Not all, but some play food sets come in really great containers. Many wood ones can easily be re-covered, painted, etc to match your kitchen.
  6. Avoid making items too hard to get out or put away. These lidded boxes don’t have latches (they literally just lift open) and are fairly light. They’ve been much easier for the boys to manage than the over-stuffed basket on a high shelf.
  7.  Make easy-to-understand labels so everyone knows what goes where. Kids respond well to labels, and they sure work wonders at clean up time!

Organized play food inside plastic boxes in an IKEA play kitchen

It took me over 6 months to get this play kitchen set up exactly right. Although it took some brainstorming and experimenting, I’m really excited to have it organized in a way that is playable but still cleans up easily. I hope some of these ideas work for you; and back here next week, I’m going to show exactly how I made the adorable “subway tile” backsplash (pssst – it’s even reversible!).

See You Soon!
Megan