At our practice, therapists will often use food preparation as a fun avenue to tackle treatment goals. If you think about it, cooking requires several different skills that need to be integrated all at once. Both OT and SLP goals can be easily addressed through a cooking project. Here is how I like to approach cooking with children to allow them to get the most out of the experience:
Step 1: Pick a dish.
*Social Wonder questions (“What do you like to eat?” or “Have you had ____ before?“)
*Perspective taking (“If my friend does not like chocolate, we should pick a dish without chocolate.”)
*Decision making (“I need to think of my own idea or choose between a few choices.”)
Step 2: Read a recipe. (Or watch a tutorial on YouTube!)
*Comprehension (reading or auditory)
*WH Questions (I like to pause videos periodically and ask questions as we go to ensure comprehension.)
Step 3: Make a list of ingredients.
* Working memory/recall
Step 4: Gather ingredients and materials.
*Problem solving (“Where can we get the ingredients?”)
Note: For older kids, I have even taken a field trip to a grocery store to shop for ingredients. Talk about unlimited opportunities to practice problem solving ,executive functioning and social skills!
Step 5: Prepare the food.
*Following directions (Use a visual schedule if needed!)
*Fine motor skills (cutting, pouring, scooping, etc)
*Sensory experiences (Don’t be afraid to get messy!)
Step 6: Clean up.
*Independent task completion
Step 7: Enjoy and/or share with others!
*Trying new foods (I find that kids are much more likely to try something that they made themselves!)
I look for recipes that require no more than 5-6 ingredients to make things easier. We don’t have a full kitchen in our office, so I choose no-cook dishes or things that can be cooked in the toaster oven. I typically divide this up over a few sessions- we use 1-2 sessions to prep and then another to actually prepare our food. Doing this in a social skills group adds a whole other layer because the kids have to negotiate responsibilities, be flexible, and work as a team!
Here are a few ideas to get your started:
*Rice Krispie Treats
*Homemade Ice Cream
*Ants on a log
*English muffin pizzas
And if you are working with a child with food restrictions, you can make something non-edible such as slime or play dough. There are lots of great video tutorials on YouTube and several of them feature kids doing the cooking! Always check with parents ahead of time to make sure you are aware of all allergies and sensitivities.
Parents- this is just as therapeutic at home! Get in the kitchen with your kiddo and cook up something fun! 🙂
-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP