We can’t believe how quickly October came and went. With November here, we’re all beginning to plan for our holiday celebrations, especially the food! Cooking is a wonderful way to foster skills like creative thinking, planning and organizing, sequencing, vocabulary, and sensory awareness. This month’s blog post offers suggestions for how you can build in these skills and get your child involved while you’re planning and preparing your holiday meals.
As a reminder, neurodiversity is the idea that brain differences, such as ADHD, autism, or learning differences, are all natural variations in a wide array of human brains. The neurodiversity paradigm advocates for acceptance of all ways of thinking, learning, and interacting with the world and rejects the idea that differences are pathological in nature. There are lots of ways to honor and respect individual learning and processing styles in the kitchen!
Our recommendations for integrating learning and fun into cooking projects are outlined below:
1. Discuss food traditions associated with the holidays before you cook
Help your child to better understand the history behind holidays and their respective foods. Read books about the holidays you celebrate in your home, practice typing and spelling skills to Google pictures of traditional holiday foods, and teach new vocabulary while you discuss.
2. Make a plan!
If you’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, you know how much the plan matters. Let your child get involved in this process! Work together to create a holiday menu while highlighting key executive functioning and language skills. Discuss the thought processes involved in planning out a holiday menu such as grocery shopping, defrosting, oven schedule, and cooking times. Read through the steps in a recipe to familiarize your child with the process and order of events. Visual aids like lists and flow charts may be helpful in illustrating timelines and stepwise tasks.
Have a picky eater? You might consider letting your child choose a recipe to include in the holiday menu! They can assist with the process from start to finish, from choosing the recipe to shopping for the ingredients to preparing and serving it.
3. Emphasize sensory-awareness skills and descriptive language
Cooking is a great way to discuss sensory concepts like texture, temperature, noise, smell, and taste. You can passively address these skills using one of our favorite therapy tools: narration! Here’s an example: While blending a smoothie, you might talk through possible sensations and feelings. “I’m going to turn the blender on now! Sometimes the blender is too loud and it makes me feel scared. I like watching the liquid swirl around inside the blender- it’s exciting. Do you want to push the button to turn it on?” You can also use this opportunity to describe what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in the kitchen using rich adjectives; smoothies are cold, tangy, sweet, icy, colorful, etc.
4. Relax, be flexible, and have fun!
Cooking with kids can be messy and stressful for both parents and kids! Use this opportunity to model mindfulness techniques like deep breathing, positive affirmations like “I can do it even when it feels hard,” and remaining calm when things inevitably go off-plan. Use narration as a tool to describe big feelings that might occur around the holidays and big meals and the ways that you, an adult, cope with them! Examples include anxiety about a recipe turning out just right, fear of burning yourself while cooking, relaxation after organizing the shopping list, excitement to see family and friends, etc. All feelings are valid, and using clear language to discuss emotional and sensory differences and associated regulation skills is a great way to support cognitive, emotional, and sensory flexibility.
If there is anything we can do to further support your child, we welcome a check-in call to discuss your specific ideas and questions about anything at all! We hope your month ahead is filled with comforting foods, chilly evenings under cozy blankets, and many smiles as well as continued growth in learning and communication.