Ages ago, when I found a couple of really adorable Montessori Toddler Kitchens on Pinterest, I thought, “Wow! I want to do that for Anneliese!” but after every single mini fridge I tried to buy off of craigslist or facebook was already claimed, I settled for less of a “kitchen” and more of just adapting things already in our kitchen, which worked okay but wasn’t as DARLING.
I had moved the kids’ cups to an accessible drawer, and the “water plug” (as Anneliese calls it) is already kid-accessible too. I made a snack drawer and put pre-mixed (by me) trail mixes and little bowls in it, for Anneliese to grab at any time.
It worked well for a while, but lately she’s been more into Real Kitchen Stuff. Wanting to help wash, peel, and cut fruits and veggies. Stirring and pouring. Wearing her little apron. Sweeping and cleaning spills. And standing inside the refrigerator, door open, scanning for snacks.
So when a mini fridge popped up on facebook, I swung into action. It was meant to be. It was Time. Time for a toddler kitchen. Under the “breakfast bar” type area seemed like the perfect place to tuck a little kitchen corner, so that’s precicely what I did.
Oh, and that used mini fridge? Did not look so cute when we picked it up. It was originally fake wood grain ugly brown, and the girl I bought it from had spray painted it with chalkboard paint, which dried with drips, and which was littered with phantom chalk words that hadn’t quite erased. Oh, and no shelves.
So we took off the door, and I painted everything aqua (which we had mixed to match the paint I used for some picture frames in our dining room several months ago). My husband cut some shelves from pegboard and painted them white. I’m looking for a new handle because this one is ugly/aesthetically broken, but it works for now.
See? These are the frames it matches. I love the color but I think the craft paint color was discontinued (I couldn’t find it anywhere), so I’m pretty excited to have the leftover fridge paint for other projects.
Anyway, back to the toddler kitchen! We went to HomeGoods in Fresno to look for some sort of shelf or cabinet that would work, and found this great white bathroom cabinet – I guess meant to store extra toilet paper and shampoo and whatnot. But it’s the perfect height for the kids and looks great in our dining room. I also picked up the mini colander and the small cutting board there.
Inside the cabinet, I have the kids’ dishes, a shelf of snacks, and water cups.
The children’s cutlery is in an organizer thingy from the Target dollar spot a while ago. The small plates and bowls are just the bread plates and dipping bowls from our dish set.
The glass spice jars from Ikea are perfect for holding trail mix ingredients – and they’re easy enough for Joseph to open when he wants to, but not so easy the caps will fall off accidentally. I replenish snacks while the kids sleep, both at night and at naptime, so I only need to load the cabinet and fridge with enough snacks for between breakfast and lunch, and then between lunch and dinner. That keeps choices obvious and limited, and potential messes or waste minimal.
The “rules” are simple – the kids may have anything from their cabinet or fridge any time they want, but when it runs out, they have to wait until they sleep (presumably after the next meal) for it to be restocked. And at this point, Anneliese is also reminded to share, because she is very enthusiastic about “my OWN cabinet” and “my OWN fridge” but they’re really for Joseph too, who is learning just as she is.
Here is Anneliese preparing a snack of trail mix for herself. (When she says “orange and yellow must match Joe” she’s talking about his snack container – so adorable.) This is right after I introduced the cabinet and snacks to her. I love that she puts everything away without being reminded to; she’s really stepped up to the responsibility of having Her Own Kitchen.
A lot of Montessori people seem to be only interested in real glass/ceramic cups for kids. I teach my kids how to use those, but I recognize that I don’t walk around all the time with an open-top glass cup, or only drink water at my chair at the dining room table, or bring glasses into the car… so I’m good with lidded straw cups (or sport bottle things) for the kids too.
This video is kind of funny what with the louuud noise… thought I’d share it anyway. Also, I think I’m going to get rid of these cups. The snap-on lid is too hard for Anneliese to do herself, but she can do screw-on lids just fine. Joseph likes to play with the straws until everything spills too, so… these aren’t my favorite.

Anneliese has had a lesson in washing fruits and veggies in her colander, and knows she can use her step stool to access the kitchen sink to do that whenever she needs to. She’s also had a cutting lesson and will have more in the future. We use a butter knife and I show her how to curl her non-cutting-hand fingers under a bit and keep her fingers clear of the blade.

Bananas are a great practice fruit to cut, but she has also done nectarines and a plum. At breakfast, she likes to use her smaller “kid knives” to cut her eggs or pancakes on her plate too. She’s getting really good at it!

Inside the fridge, there is room for a few cold snacks. I’m going to make some small containers of frozen peas or “peas n carrots” for the freezer section, and the main section can hold unfinished breakfast or lunch to snack on later, fruits, containers of yogurt or applesauce, or “squooshies” (refillable squeeze pouch things) full of smoothies or whatever, hard boiled eggs, or chunks of cooked chicken or ham. Again though, not too many choices at a time, and only enough for between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner – since refills happen while kids are asleep.


The kitchen isn’t “finished” yet, but I figured I’d share it now instead of waiting however long until it’s “perfect.” I’m going to add some decorative touches like framed photos and a vase for flowers. I’ll also put hooks up for Anneliese’s apron (and make an apron for Joseph) and for some child-sized towels (which I need to make) to hang on. I also plan to have a basket for cloth napkins, placemats, and a few more small prep tools.

I love our toddler kitchen because it’s fully accessible for both kids (which – as a bonus – means less “Can I have a snack, Mom?” for me), beautiful to look at, and safely out of reach of the dog. The kids love it because it gives them more freedom and responsibility, and because it’s just FUN to do your own “cooking” and food preparation.

Just for fun, here are a few phone pics from the last few days of our new kitchen setup.

Joseph can access snacks too now, but still needs a little help “getting started.” He’s asking me to start peeling this banana for him.

Anneliese washing some fruit in her colander.
She found some honeydew slices in the fridge.

“Shopping” for a snack.”

Is a functional toddler kitchen something you’d consider for your house? What would you include or leave out? Anything important I’ve forgotten?


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  1. Very cool! I went to a Montessori preschool and when I was in kindergarten or so my dad started giving me child-sized kitchen implements. Each month I’d get a new ‘cooking club’ item (small knife, small whisks, etc) and use it with him to prepare meals. We’re preparing to welcome our first child in October and are really enjoying reading up on Montessori baby and toddler things!

  2. […] Joyful Abode – Emily upcycled a mini refrigerator for her children.  Her children’s cupboard are wonderfully clean and simple, yet functional.  She has a couple of videos showing her daughter getting snacks and getting some water from the dispenser. […]

  3. At what age do you think it’s approbate to set something like this up? My son is currently 10 months and thinking ahead to the future.

    Thanks for a great post. I love showing my husband stuff like this, he’s all about personal responsibly and what better way to teach it than Montessori.

  4. This is beyond adorable! Thanks for sharing this. I loved the video where A makes her own trail mix.

    S starts Montessori this Fall. It’ll be nice to “Montessorize” our house. Again, this post is too awesome for words.

  5. Ugh, I’m jealous of your super cute setup! I wish I had the funds to make this happen in my house. I am just now working on setting up his area in our big fridge. Baby steps!

    Goes without saying, this project is amazing!

    • I think doing it in the big fridge is great! Ours is so packed most of the time that a designated “toddler drawer” just wouldn’t happen. Maybe if we didnt have 3 bags of scraps for goats and chickens taking up room… Haha

  6. My daughter is just over two and a little too snack crazy right now, but I’m definitely saving this post for later this year or early next year. I’ll have to give up my bedside fridge (what can I say, I like a cold drink in the night, haha), but she really enjoys cooking with me and doing for herself, so I can see a “PENNY do it!” kitchen being right up her alley. This is really impressive, thanks for taking the time to write it all up.

    • Mine are snack crazy like whoa. But this is great because they can get their own snacks of food I “approve” and in amounts I set out (and when it runs out they have to wait until the next meal). So much easier than begging me for snacks all day long.

  7. Hey there,
    If you want to get more of that paint you should paint a sample on some paper and take it to home depot they will color match it for you. Very easy!

    Do you also have a lesson in teaching kids to use a knife?

    • That’s what we did to get enough for the fridge! Works great.

      Do you mea a blog post or did I present a lesson to Anneliese? I’ve been showing her how in mini-lessons. But no blog post.

  8. Hurray! I just adore this idea. In our current kitchen, there’s just no space for a mini-fridge – so I’ll probably go the works-fine-but-not-as-darling route, for now. I bet I could dedicate a cabinet shelf to unrefrigerated stuff and a refrigerator drawer to cold stuff (since she can open the door). Thanks for the inspiration, Emily!

  9. I love this idea! I’m going to run this by the husband tonight and see what he thinks of doing this in our house!

  10. How sweet! I love it! I do have a question. I’m doing Whole30, and it’s really my first introduction to paleo/whole eating, etc. They strongly recommend that all snacks be a mini-meal – protein, veggies, good fat, maybe some fruit. Do you think for kids it is fine for them to grab just a banana or just a pear for a snack consistently? Is the mini-meal concept just something Whole30 recommends, but it isn’t necessarily part of an on-going paleo lifestyle?

    I also love the fact that Annelise made a complete trail mix – did you teach her, or is she just used to eating it that way? I’ve been making a trail mix for my toddler, but he just picks out all the raisins and won’t eat the nuts :/

    I guess I am trying to get my mind around the freedom to choose while still being sure they choose balanced options. My toddler would live on just fruit if I let him. He likes veggies and meat, but if he has a choice, fruit always wins.

    • I think it is totally fine for kids to have just some fruit or whatever. If all they have is fruit for days I do “push” protein and fat more. But in general I think they eat what their bodies need as long as we offer a variety of healthy choices and let them pick.

      When you’re eating the paleo way you won’t snack as often. You just won’t be as hungry between meals. So it isn’t really a big issue.

      A usually just eats the raisins too, if I make it these days. But making it herself? She eats the nuts too. Because SHE mixed it up.

      I wouldn’t worry about your fruit crazy toddler. Just limit dried fruits, give fresh fruits, and keep offering other choices.

  11. This is so adorable and functional, I love it!!

  12. Oh I love this!! It looks great Emily! And it looks like it’s a big hit with the kids, too – naturally… I definitely would like to have a toddler kitchen, right now we don’t have any room for it and obviously Claire is a little too young for it anyways. I hope by the time she’s ready for it, we’ll be in a bigger place! Something I remember doing A LOT in kindergarten (it was a Waldorf kindergarten) and in our play kitchen at home was grate things, usually chestnuts. We had small, kid sized graters with a fine grate that would turn the chestnuts into powder… and we loved it! I’m not sure if that is something that could (or should?) be integrated into a functional toddler kitchen though… After all, what could you grate? I guess you could grate apple and carrots and make a all salad with it? But for that you would need a grater that is much rougher than the one we used, which means… Well… Potentially bigger chunks of fingers missing… Hm. Lol, I guess from a practical standpoint a grater doesn’t need to have a place in a toddler kitchen.
    Other than that… It looks to me like you have thought of everything :-) thanks for sharing!!

    • That is so cool that you went to such a wonderful kindergarten!

      I will teach the kids to grate, no doubt, but since it isn’t a daily task they need to do for snack preparation I probably will limit it to when we actually need something grated for dinner prep, and they can use the full size grater. I don’t see why not…that’s how I learned, you know?

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