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Can this set go "dough to dough" with the national brand?

Craft Dough Fun Lunch Dough with Molds (Dollar Tree)

I remember buying Dollar Tree playdough a couple years ago, when our son was first starting to get into that kind of thing. As usual, we were looking into saving some money over buying the national brand which, let’s be real here, can get quite expensive. At least, for what it is.

Personally, I actually don’t really like playdough of any kind. Even as a kid, when I enjoyed building and creating things, there was something about it that was…gross. I suppose a lot of it was the texture, which I was never a fan of. It was a little sticky and…well…doughy, but not in a good way. Then there was the issue of it drying out should it be left out for more than a few hours. Once again, let’s get real here: Kids are forgetful, and are going to leave it out at some point in their lives. It just felt too…fragile. Pair that up with the nauseating smell, and it was a recipe for avoidance. 

I didn’t get to try Dollar Tree’s version the first time because my family played it without me while I was at work. My wife was unimpressed and it did seem to dry up rather quickly. She was also turned off by the texture, which she said felt off from the brand she was used to. Our son seemed to like it okay, but he was two and would have played with anything.

Just recently, I was looking in the toy aisle when I saw their playdough again. This time, the situation was different: We weren’t dealing with a two-year-old who would play with anything you put in front of him. We were dealing with a very picky five-year-old who can’t stay focused on anything beyond 30 seconds. Still, we hadn’t played with this in a while, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.

There are actual several playdough options inside Dollar Tree. Last time we got the four-pack of individual doughs. This time, I decided to get the “hot dog food set”, which comes with four (smaller) playdoughs and some molds for shaping.

Each dough is individually packaged in plastic wrap. They are about a third the size of an uneaten string cheese and roughly the same width. Obviously, that limits their usefulness, but then again you can’t be picky for a dollar (twenty five). The four included colors are yellow, green, red and blue, covering the spectrum. However, our yellow dough was DOA; it was already dried out in its plastic shell. That’s a shame, because the quantities are already so limited, it would have been nice to have a fourth glob (not to mention the added color). At any rate, the show had to go on. (The dried-out piece is also what led me to compare it to string cheese. My wife stumbled on it while picking up the living room later that night. Unsurprisingly, I had forgotten to throw it away. She almost gagged talking about the string cheese we had left out and wondering how long it had been there. I was as relieved to tell her what it was, as she was to learn it wasn’t an old piece of dairy that had fallen between the couch cushions.)

My initial impressions are that this is a pretty decent set for the price. I actually love the texture of the dough, and think I prefer it to the national brand. It’s nice and soft, with a consistency that I would consider more “rubbery” than “doughy”. And it didn’t seem to have the same gross smell that makes you feel like you have to wash your hands three times to get it off. But I’m probably in the minority, without the sense of nostalgia many others will no doubt have over this.

This set has its obvious limitations, as can be expected for such an inexpensive product. Such as having to tear (or cut) excess dough away after using the “one-way” molds. This leads to some tediousness when creating a design that uses several molds at once. But maybe its biggest downfall is the lack of containers to put the dough in afterwards. Taking the price into consideration, it’s an understandable omission. But just because it’s “understandable” doesn’t make it any less frustrating: We had to wrap the pieces in plastic wrap, caught off guard after suddenly realizing we had no way to store it.

The included food molds are actually pretty cute, and run the gamut from hot dogs, to croissants, crinkly fries and a chicken drumstick that I swore was supposed to be fruit. The fries come in three different lengths, but are a little too skinny, making them harder for adults to work with. But the rest are easy to use and actually result in some decent creations. Of course, kids can stretch their creativity even further by thinking outside the box: Some of the molds can be used for non-food designs, like this alien I made. (Notice the crinkle cut fry arms and legs, because those were easier to work with than manually rolling out thin pieces.)

It’s not just for food items…

The molds themselves seem fairly durable. Unsurprisingly, they’re made of plastic, but seem thick enough to withstand a few droppings. This is pure speculation though – we managed to get through a whole session without a single drop. 

As I always mention with Dollar Tree products, the biggest variable is “durability”. And given the fact one dough was dried out in its packaging suggests they’re not likely to last long. But each set is also $1.25, which evens out expectations a little bit more. I’m on the fence about whether or not to recommend these, but they’re worth grabbing for a rainy-day activity to have on hand.

Overall: 5.5/10. I hate to mention it yet again, but durability is going to be a huge issue with these. One of the individual doughs – the yellow – was DOA on arrival, dried out before it was removed from the packaging. The lack of a “storage container” for the doughs are also a hit; we had to wrap them in plastic wrap in order to salvage them. That’s going to get pretty old having to do after every session (should our son even want to play with these again). But there’s enough variety in the food molds to craft some cohesive “meals”, and the molds themselves seem durable enough to last at least a few sessions. They’re worth picking up for a rainy-day activity, if nothing else.

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