Implementing Life Skills with Cooking and Other Tasks

As a parent I am positive you have had this day.  Its not that things go right or wrong – its just a FULL day.  My son wanted a bowl of oatmeal.  I put the bowl on the counter, I am reaching into the pantry for the oatmeal, the dog starts scratching his dish to let me know he also wants food.  I grab the dog food and put it in my son’s oatmeal dish.  I just kept looking at the bowl thinking this is wrong.  I look up and my son is about to fall out of his chair laughing.  Ok it is funny. We need to enjoy the moments when they happen.  But how did I turn this moment into a teaching opportunity?  When he recovered from laughing I asked him if I should put the oatmeal in the dog dish?  Should I put the oatmeal on top of the dog food?  Should I pour out the dog food and just put the oatmeal in the dish?  The final point became we can give the dog the dog food, but we need a new dish for the oatmeal.  

So how do you implement life skills with cooking and shopping?

 “What are we going to cook together?”  A simple question, execution takes a bit of planning. 

As I describe the different steps below it is important to understand to pick a couple of the teaching moments and execute them well.  If you try to do all of them at once – it will drive you crazy.

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How to Incorporate Teaching Opportunities

Getting Ready to Cook

  • Pick a recipe that’s simple. Simple = Successful. Let’s use this Let’s use this Summer Salad recipe as the example.   Click on the recipe icon.
  •  Print out the recipe and look over it with your child.
  • Plan a trip to the grocery store to find the items you’ll need.
  • If your child is working on handwriting skills, have him write the grocery list.

Decision making time: 

  • Which flavor of gelatin will you pick? (I use the sugar-free versions.) It may be tempting to buy more than one flavor.  Talk to your child about how you can only use ONE box (one flavor) in the recipe.  Decide what flavor of gelatin you want to use.  Lime and cherry are easy picks, but some companies put out seasonal flavors like peach, grape or watermelon.
  • What would it taste like if you mixed together flavors that don’t go together well?
  • You’ll need crushed pineapple for your recipe.  Take your child to show them the different types of pineapple: tidbit, crushed and slices. You even have the choice of natural juice or heavy syrup. 
  • Use the recipe to show your child how to match up the letters to get the correct product. This is helpful if your child struggles in reading like my son does.
  • You’ll need frozen whipped topping.  Show your child the different sizes of containers. Use the recipe to match up the right size. Show them the choices: full fat, reduced fat, or fat free (that’s your choice!).
  • When it’s time to pick the mini marshmallows, show them the different brands (name brand vs. generic). Talk about the savings it might represent.
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Ready to check out?

  •  If your child is working with money at school, go to the self-checkout lane. 
  • Put several coins down. Review that a quarter is worth 25 cents, a dime is worth 10 cents, etc.
  • Now have your child put the coins in the slot until you reach zero amount, then high five! 
  • Pay the rest as you would normally pay.  Make it a high-five moment when you reach the zero-change amount.
  • Paper, plastic, or did you bring a reusable bag?  For younger children, you might choose paper, so they can draw pictures of your adventure on the bag.  If they are older, have them draw the sequence of steps – going to the store, cooking, and then eating.


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Note for parents who have their child in lots of therapy: Yep, the shopping trip is a therapy moment also:

  • Gross Motor Skills: Get a small cart or basket, and navigate the aisles, the displays, and other shoppers.
  • Speech: Have your child ask for help finding the (canned) pineapple?  For older kids, this could be just about the pineapple. Why?  Well, fresh vs. canned -- they are in different areas of the store and it allows for clarification to take place.
  • Behavior: Practice using Please, Thank You, and Excuse Me.

Ready to Make a Recipe?  Use attached recipe.  See Icon at the top

  • ·         Health and Hygiene: Wash hands and the countertop.  Hint: Remind your child that dishes will need to be rinsed at the end.
  • ·         Teamwork: Split up the steps.  For example: Parent opens the can of pineapple; child pours it in.
  • ·         Mix the ingredients slow and steady.
  • ·         Clean the dirty dishes. Rinse them off. Put them into the dishwasher.
  • ·         Serve and praise at the next meal.

Will you be able to incorporate all these teaching moments in one setting? Maybe. But more realistically, probably not. It is important to pick a few steps and execute them well.  Then next time, try to add in a few more.

Time is one of the most valuable and non-renewable resources we have – especially as parents.  Yes, it does take time to do one or more of these teaching moments, but it’s an important investment in helping your child develop her life skills. And life skills mean INDEPENDENCE!

Enjoy your salad.  Tomorrow is another day and another adventure.