Give a kid two of nature's finer ingredients-dirt and water-and by sheer instinct they will be transformed into a nice a little pie. It might not be the tastiest tart, but all this fooling around in the dirt shouldn't be discouraged. Yesterday's make-believe cook may be tomorow's bake-off queen. And don't think for one minute that they aren't aware of this in toyland.
They also know that for children, keeping up with the parents is de rigueur . So this year's kitchen gadgets for children are simulations for what grown-ups yearn for-food processors, microwave ovens, peanut butter machines and beverage dispensers, to name only a few.
After 15 years and sales of 5 million, Kenner has updated its Easy Bake Oven. It is now the Mini Wave Oven (about $13). The mechanics are the same, one 100 watt bulb (not included) is the heat source, and the cooking time is the same, 10 minutes. But the Mini Wave has pretend electronic buttons and a timer that the Easy Bake didn't have.
If you are worried about the alleged dangers of pretend microwaves or real electricity, the people at Kenner have "fun tested" their ovens "under action play situations" to insure safety and durability.The Kenner oven also has UL approval and has met the voluntary PS 72-76 safety requirements established by the National Bureau of Standards. Electricity, however, is not the only thing the Consumer Products Safety Commission is afraid of. The no-heat, sheet-metal stoves can cause lacerations and cuts. (Beginning next year a new standard will be enforced that is intended to guard children against unsafe edges and points.)
For kids who hate to cook but still want a snazzy play kitchen there is the microwave oven from Little Tikes (about $13). Batteries light up the burners, and the label boasts of "click click" nobs, but it doesn't cook anything except mud pies.
In the really-pretend-no-cook category there is also the GLJ Cooking Center (about $9) that cooks plastic eggs in a pan of battery-driven bubbly water, and the Hasbro Play 'n' Make Kitchen Center ( $10) with recipe cards, a blender and hot plate calling for neither batteries nor electricity. Illco invented an Electric Kitchen Set (about $10) that has recycling water, an oven that lights up and a battery driven blender.
Beyond the infant microwave craze, toddler kitchen chic has gone nostalgic. For starters, Coleco has developed a plastic play stove of cast iron. Dubbed the Holly Hobbie stove, this oven has a built-in double-wall panel that keeps heat in and the outside of the oven cool. It, too employs a 100-watt electric bulb as the heat source and has UL approval. The Coleco oven sells for about $11.
Since toy manufactureres have yet to make play salad bars or tofu kits, parents will have to put up with what these ovens can cook. The list is not very encouraging-Kenner's Brownie & Cookie Baking Kit and Chocolate Chip Cookie & Brownie Kit, Holly Hobbie Home Baked Cookes, Pillsbury Bake & Decorate, Easy Bake Baking and Decorating Set. The just-add-water kiddy sets sell for $3 to $8. (The grown up version-Snack 'n' Cake and Stir and Frost-sells for about $1.10 in local stores.) The ingredients in the baking kits "can't be toxic" according to the FDA, but they do contain large amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes such as sorbitol, artificial colors and flavorings.
There is one toy that makes "healthy" food-the Tarco Mr. Peanut peanut butter machine. The would-be cook puts peanuts in Mr. Peanut's top hat, turns his left arm and very chunky peanut butter comes out of his right ear. Now you know what Mr. Peanut has for brains. The manually operated peanut grinder sells for about $3. Tarco also sells a peanut vending machine/bank (you supply the peanuts and pennies) for $9.
When Ken comes to dinner your child can impress him with play pate made in the Barbie Play Food Processor ( $3). It comes with three mixing blades that spin around.The catch is that "real food is not to be placed inside the plastic container" of the hand-operated processor. Of course Ken is very happy with plastic food anyway. For dessert Ken may have his choice of ice cream made in the Mirro Ice Cream Freezer (about $7) or Flintstone candy from the Candy Factory (about $5). Another option is snow cones from Hasbro's Frosty Sno Man or Kenner's Ice Bird Scraper or Coleco's Mickey Mouse Snow Cone Maker (from $5 to $7).
Mirro's "real ice cream" is made from Junket Freezing Mix (sugar, dried corn syrup, monfat dried milk, cellulose gum, artificial flavoring, carrageen, gum arabic, bean gum, glycerol, monosterate, articicial color) and 3/4 cup cream. The ice cream freezes with the help of a "non-toxic refrigerant" that has been placed in Mommy's refrigerator.
Flinstone candy is educational. The directions are written in French and English.
Hasbro's snow cone maker chops ice and Kenner's scrapes it, and both are sweetened with Kool-Aid.
The people at Pepsi are feelin' free. But you have to pay about $5 for the dispenser with the Pepsi logo. Thanks to gravity "it really works" if you fill it with cold Pepsi (not included). For the same price you can buy a Mr. Chocolate Drink Maker. All you do is make the chocolate drink, pour it into Mr. Chocolate has for brains.
Despite the trend in copying grown-up toys, the popularity of mud pies and the availability of kitchen gadgets for making them is hardly in danger. Toy shelves are stocked with plastic and porcelain tea sets, plastic molds for sand cakes, pails and shovels, play food and grocery items.
So when the ground thaws in a few months-at just about the time all the fancy mixers and stoves have been broken-juvenile cooks can copy their elders and return to a simple, honest nouvelle cuisine , the highest achievement of which is a perfectly formed and baked mud pie. CAPTION: Picture, Real food from play ovens. By Ken Fell-The Washington Post