‘Let's get a take-away’

Judith Harries
Friday, May 10, 2019

What is children's favourite – a cafe with healthy snacks or a pizza restaurant? Invite them to role-play their favourite eateries and support them to use new vocabulary and learn about the world.

Setting up a juice or smoothie bar is a great way to introduce healthy eating
Setting up a juice or smoothie bar is a great way to introduce healthy eating

Food outlet role-play will be popular with most children, particularly if you combine it with cooking and eating real food! Throughout these activities, make sure the children are clear which food is just for playing with, and which food they can eat for snack.

Start with a café

Most children will have experienced visiting some sort of café with their family during their early years. Start with a basic café layout with an area for cooking and a separate area for eating and let the children do the rest. Start by laying a couple of tables in the role-play area with table cloths, place settings, serviettes, mats and cutlery for customers, and setting up a separate kitchen area for cooking with an oven and lots of pretend food and utensils.

Suggest children take turns to role-play customers, waiters and chefs. Talk to them about the type of café that they would prefer and let them help create different menus by writing, using the computer, or cutting and sticking pictures of suitable food onto a card. Provide some money or plastic cards, lots of dressing up clothes, and let the fun start. Have an open and closed sign to show when the role-play area is open.

Provide some cards and money, lots of dressing up clothes and let the fun start. Let children name their cafe and create an open and closed sign to show when the role-play area is shut


  • Read The Tiger who came to Tea by Judith Kerr.
  • Make some real food with the children to eat for snack at the café. Try some sandwiches using children's choice of toppings
  • Change the cafe into a Tea Shop. Make some real sweet treats to share. Try ginger biscuits, shortbread, jam tarts or scones
  • At the end of the day open the café to parents and sell biscuits and cakes made by the children as a fund-raising activity
  • Arrange a visit to the café area at your local supermarket. They are usually happy to accommodate groups of children.

Child's play

  • Invite the children to think of some suitable names for their café or tea shop
  • Try some tray practice. Ask children to load up trays with food and plastic cups and plates for them to practise carrying. Go outside and try a tray race or two!
  • Make food from play dough or salt and flour dough to sell at the café. Cakes, buns and biscuits are quite easy to make. Fruit and vegetables can be made using scrunched up newspaper, covered in modroc and painted.

Fast food restaurant

Many children will have been to fast food restaurants such as MacDonalds. If you have a local fast food outlet, visit it and ask for some menus and packaging to use in your role-play area. Set up a kitchen area, and front it with a counter to serve the food, along with a few tables or areas to stand and eat the food, quickly! Use pretend burgers or chicken drumsticks and chips.

Talk about the differences between a fast food restaurant and a cafe where waiters take orders and serve food. Always include a large bin for recycling. Take care to discuss litter and the importance of recycling.


  • Carry out a survey to see which fast food restaurant or chain is most popular in your setting, and why?
  • Reassure parents that you will be changing the fast food restaurant to a healthy food café shortly so that children can see a rich variety of places to eat
  • Change it into a drive-thru by chalking a road on the floor, opening a serving hatch and letting children use sit and ride toys to visit it.

Child's play

On a hot day, let children turn the water tray or convenient sink into a Barista Bar serving instant drinks. Provide paper cups, jugs of water, different flavours of squash, ice cubes and let them take turns to serve each other refreshing drinks. How much will they charge?

Health food café

Talk to children about eating healthy food. Make a list of things which are good and bad to eat emphasising a balance of different types of food. Talk about vegetarian and vegan diets.

Many of the role-play outlets can be talked about at snack time time

Re-open the café with an emphasis on healthy food. Discuss what things the healthy food café should sell. Bring in some fresh fruit and vegetables that can be eaten raw – such as apples, satsumas, clementines, bananas, grapes, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, and sugar snap peas, and let children sell them in the café. Remind them to wash fruit before eating it.


  • Make some healthy open sandwiches to serve in the café at snack time. Try topping crackers or rye bread with cream cheese and grapes, cheddar cheese and slices of cucumber, or sliced egg and cress
  • Help children peel, chop and create a big bowl of fruit salad or fruit kebabs to serve in the café as a healthy snack.

Child's play

Encourage children to make some play sandwiches for the café using collage materials. Try thin slices of sponge for bread and fabric slices of cheese and ham, cut out of felt. Shredded paper can look like grated carrot or cheese.

Take away

Open a Chinese take away restaurant. Ask local restaurants for help with free menus and posters.

Decorate the café with red lanterns, red drapes, examples of Chinese writing and posters. Add suitable cooking utensils such as woks and eating utensils such as small rice bowls, ladles, spoons, chop sticks and bamboo mats for the Chinese restaurant. Use wool for noodles, and cut out other food shapes from different coloured tissue paper. Let children create colourful stir fry dishes, using different collage materials, in real woks. Use folded cardboard boxes made from a simple cube net or plastic take away boxes for children to pack their take away inside.


  • Read Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin
  • Cook a real stir fry with lots of fresh vegetables and real noodles to share together for snack. Children can help peel, chop and prepare vegetables and try eating using chopsticks
  • Change it into an Indian take away or Fish and chip shop
  • Invite any parents from different cultures to bring in food for the children to sample.

Child's play

Fill a shallow tray with dry rice and let children use chop sticks and spoons to fill rice bowls and red envelopes.

Pizza parlour

Start by making a real pizza with children to share at snack time. Talk about favourite toppings and carry out a survey. Make a pizza pie chart to show the results.

Collect take away pizza boxes, pizza wheels, and pretend play pizzas. Build a role-play pizza oven out of a cardboard box with an arch opening printed with brick on the outside. Make a pizza paddle for loading pizzas into the oven. Let children create big cardboard pizzas to sell in the parlour using different collage materials. Top with real dried herbs to add a bit of authentic ‘smellyvision’. Cut out tomato, olives, pepperoni, pepper, cheese, pineapple, and mushrooms from different coloured paper. Encourage literacy by making lists of toppings for children to select from and learn names of different pizzas such as Margherita, Four Seasons, and Pepperoni. Develop maths skills by making a price list for children to refer to when designing the pizzas.


  • Read Pete's a Pizza by William Steig
  • Set up a sit-and-ride toy as a pizza delivery bicycle for children to carry pizza boxes around the setting and deliver them to other children or staff. Don't forget to provide a bike helmet and street map to help the rider.

Child's play

Make some pizza play dough by adding some dried garlic salt and herbs such as dried basil, rosemary or oregano to neutral-coloured play dough. Ask children roll out their own pizza bases and top with red play dough (tomatoes), and assorted toppings including buttons, plastic lids, pompoms, dried pasta pieces, marbles and dried beans.

Juice or smoothie bar

This may not be as well known to younger children but is a good way to introduce healthy eating. Start by making some different smoothie flavours for children to try drinking real smoothies or blended fruit juices. Then choose some fruit to include in the smoothie bar, such as bananas, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, oranges, and provide bowls of coloured pompoms for children to make their smoothies. Let them choose a selection of fruit to place inside a plastic milk bottle and have fun shaking. ‘Pour’ into plastic glasses.

Ice cream van

A favourite sound of summer is still the ice cream van playing its musical jingle as it arrives in your street or at the local park.

Construct the side of an ice cream van using a large piece of cardboard with a serving window cut out of the side and wheels added on split pins. Make ice-cream flavours using balls of different coloured tissue, and lots of cardboard cones. Ask children to write labels for the different flavours. Provide a xylophone or some chime bars so children can compose a pattern for the ice cream van jingle to play when it opens. Stick adverts for different ice creams and lollies on the front of the van.


  • Add lots of toppings for children to pretend to add to their ice creams – sprinkles, chocolate chips, sauce, and so on
  • Move the van around the room so it is in a different place each time. Try moving it outside on a hot day and serve real ice creams or lollies for snack.

Child's play:

  • Ask children to think of some fancy names for new ice creams and lollies to sell from the van
  • Help them sing this song to the tune of Do you know the muffin man? Can you hear the ice cream van, the ice cream van, the ice cream van? Can you hear the ice cream van, let's go and choose an ice cream.

Snack time

Many of these role-play food outlets can be used at snack time to extend children's understanding of how to play in them. Take a small group of children into one of the cafés to prepare or share their snack. Don't forget to show children how to tidy up the role-play area so its ready for the next time children want to play in it.

Coming soon

The next article in this series on role-play, in the July issue, looks at ideas for outside areas including a garage, car wash, builders yard, garden centre, DIY shop, mud kitchen, farm and beach.

Key points

  • Children talk about different types of food outlet, which they have visited with their families, and express their preferences for which they like best
  • They use their imaginations to extend the role-play into any direction of their choosing
  • Children find out about healthy eating, collaborating with adults on a list of foods which are good and bad
  • They begin to understand the importance of recycling and avoiding waste
  • They develop maths skills as they use ingredients to make their pizza
  • They develop fine motor skills as they visit or serve in their food outlet.

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