Make: Play Cardboard Food (with a French Market Theme!)

Brrrrrrr! With the year off to a frigid start, I’ve put my indoor dramatic play thinking cap on this week and hunkered down for some recycled art time. I had piles of cardboard boxes left over from the holidays I was determined to reuse, and it provided the perfect opportunity for me to create a little set of French market cardboard play food – because who says you can’t enjoy a farmer’s market in the dead of winter? 😉

All the pieces of our pretend play cardboard market food set sitting on a white background.

It’s that time of year again…when I can’t stand the cold a day longer, hop a (pretend) flight to The City of Lights, and wander around eating cheese until May – springtime in Paris with armfuls of croissants! The dream, nest pas?

Press play on the video below for a mini-preview of our handmade cardboard play food set!

So, if the joy of snow days is starting to wear off and your family fancies a little escape, grab some cardboard and escape to la boulangerie with me, mes amis! The hand-painted templates in both color and black & white to make the DIY work as easy as pie!

I’m so happy with the way these turned out and I have the best secret to making your own set the kiddos can help create. I really wanted to give these a graphic, hand-illustrated look (think Richard Scarry’s Busy World books or Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar) but also wanted this pretend food set to be something you could easily recreate. Cutest. Dramatic play. Ever.

The pretend play cookies, strawberry jam jar, pear, and strawberries from our cardboard market food set sitting on a red background.

For more food-themed dramatic play, add our DIY gingerbread play bakery or DIY no-sew sushi set to your setup. Rustle up a lumberjack breakfast sensory play activity, make your own play fair food from paper-mâché, or decorate paper bag ice cream cones.

To make your own French market play cardboard food you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*



Note: If you want to try making a set all your own, using ours as inspiration instead of downloading our printable, go for it!! I recommend drawing your food shapes on the cardboard with a marker first, then coloring in with acrylic paints. Finish by cutting the shapes out of cardboard with a good pair of scissors, and you’re good to go!

If you’re totally into the look of these and want to replicate our set or build off of our templates, read on…

How to Make Cardboard Food for French Market Play – DIY Instructions:

  1. Draw your food onto cardboard or print and cut out our templates

    Download print and cut out our printable play food templates – standard copy paper works best! If you’d rather not download a template, you can use the pictures as inspiration to hand draw your own onto cardboard

  2. Glue the templates onto large pieces of cardboard

    Using Mod Podge or Elmer’s glue, apply glue to the backs of your cutout paper pieces, then glue down to a piece of cardboard. Be sure to spread your glue thinly and evenly all the way to the edges to prevent bubbling when you paint over the surface later.

  3. Paint your market food

    Start coloring in your market food with paint, making sure you actually overlap the black outlines on the paper at least a little. This is a great way for kids to get involved and make this project their own because staying in the lines isn’t really necessary. Once you’ve finished adding the color, let dry.
    This cardboard set of play market food is an easy DIY, a great way for kids to learn about food, and looks SO adorable . | via barley & birch

  4. Add the black outlines to the edges of your food items

    Now it’s time to make the outlines. I used black acrylic paint and a small brush to trace over the outlines on my market food. Even with a generous layer of colored paint, the outlines are bold enough that you’ll still be able to see them enough to follow over them.
    This cardboard set of play market food is an easy DIY, a great way for kids to learn about food, and looks SO adorable . | via barley & birch
    For the smaller detailers (like the strawberry seeds) I used a black permanent marker, but if you’d prefer to stick to paint that works fine too! This doesn’t have to be perfect either – when painting I wasn’t really worried about staying exactly on or in the lines, and it didn’t matter at all.

    *Note: you can actually use a permanent marker to outline everything if the painting starts feeling tedious – I tested it out on a few of my outlines – it looked exactly the same and takes half the time!

  5. Use heavy scissors or an X-Acto knife to cut out your market food

    Cut out your market food! This is the fun part because as soon as you cut out your food items, they look like they just jumped off of an illustrated book page onto your table!
    This cardboard set of play market food is an easy DIY, a great way for kids to learn about food, and looks SO adorable . | via barley & birch

Voila! Just like that, you have a whole set of handmade play market food that looks just as lovely as a French market in springtime!

All the pieces of our pretend play cardboard market food set sitting on a white background.

More Ways to Use Your DIY Cardboard Food for Learning and Play

This cute cardboard food set can be used for dramatic play, but it is also wonderful for learning about kitchen practical skills, food groups, sorting into “tooth healthy” options, and more…

  • CREATE A PLAY FARMERS MARKET. Set up a farm stand or mini farmer’s market by arranging your play food on a bookshelf, small table, or cardboard boxes. This kind of dramatic play is a wonderful way to practice all sorts of practical life skills like simple addition and subtraction, using a shopping list, and even manners. Pro tip: This Farmer’s Market Guide from Storey is incredibly handy and chock full of farmer’s market play ideas! As a bonus activity, make your own veggie-printed farmers’ market tote to use.
  • CARDBOARD FOOD RESTAURANT PLAY. Making dramatic play spaces doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. We threw together a simple but adorable cardboard play kitchen and restaurant using a selection of old boxes, cardboard tubes, and other recycled/household supplies. Our cardboard “counter” has another box inside for support, and is where we store our basket of cardboard food along with some paper plates, napkins, cups, and silverware. On the counter, we have an old phone, calculator, and ordering pad (always the highlight!). From communication to simple math to cleaning up, this play setup is chock full of wonderful opportunities for practical skill-building.
Our cardboard restaurant kitchen play setup
  • DISCUSS DENTAL HEALTH. Some of these foods are great for building strong bones and teeth, while others have more sugars and need to be eaten in moderation. Have kids group foods with dental health in mind.
A few of our cardboard play food items sorted underneath cards with a smiling tooth and a frowning tooth.
  • LEARN ABOUT FOOD GROUPS. Provide labeled baskets and have kids sort the foods by food groups.
Our cardboard play food items were sorted into baskets labeled protein, dairy, grain, and vegetables.
  • PRACTICE TABLE SETTING. Now that you have an adorable set of pretend play food, let your little ones use them alongside real kitchen tools. Layout some plates, silverware, napkins, cups, and a placemat to practice setting a table. Let them explore putting together meals.
Our cardboard play food sitting on a cardboard plate with cardboard utensils

Over the years I’ve reused cardboard boxes and other supplies for quite a few Indoor dramatic play purposes. Be sure to visit the highlighted links for so many more creative play ideas, along with a few more food-themed small world play activities (our DIY cardboard truck is a favorite!).

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


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