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VOL. 38 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 19, 2014

Cooking with special-needs children requires planning

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I received an email not long ago talking about teaching cooking skills to children with special needs. It was written by Beverly Palomba, a teacher for pre-K through high school for more than 20 years.

During the past 11 years, she’s worked exclusively in special education, and four years ago, created a life skills cooking class at the local high school especially to meet the needs of her students.

In addition, Beverly provides cooking workshops at local community centers. This program inspired her first book, “Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook.” For more information, visit www.specialdaycooking.com.

I’m unable to reprint her article due to space limitations; however, you can see that Ms. Palomba has certainly studied and had plenty of hands-on experience with special needs children. She has such an interesting website; I truly hope you have time to check it out.

However, this also stirred me to thinking – both in my own family and at work, we have special needs family members along with toddlers who are desperately trying to help mom in the kitchen.

My daughter sent me a photo via text as she was making cupcakes with my two young granddaughters. The four-year-old daughter, Gwynn, had spilled red food coloring all over my daughters’ foot and floor. It really looked like she had sliced her foot clean off, and at first alarmed me, but on closer inspection, you could see that it was food coloring.

Preparing a meal or treats with special needs children, and with any young children, is a job that takes planning, organization, extra patience, and, as Ms. Palomba says, an extra dose of of love and laughs. Luckily, last night, we were able to laugh!

I’ve had both of my young granddaughters in the kitchen helping me cook various things. This past Thanksgiving, I had Gwynn helping me make a pumpkin pecan cheesecake. She did very well, but it did take planning.

Gwynn loves to crack eggs, and she goes at it with a fury! She will gently tap them on the counter, but then you have to watch closely because she will powerfully bust them with her fists over the bowl. Most times, you have to fish out some stray shell pieces.

Tutti-fruity Crispy Candy

1 (24-oz.) package vanilla candy coating, broken up
2 1/2 cups Fruit Loops
1 cup thin pretzel sticks, coarsely broken

Line a lightly greased 15” x 10” jelly-roll pan with wax or parchment paper. Melt candy coating in a large microwave-safe bowl according to package directions. Gently stir in cereal and pretzels. Spread candy onto wax paper. Let stand one hour or until firm. (Do not refrigerate.) Break candy into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

And she loves to stir. At one point, we were blending the eggs into the pumpkin. She would whisk a bit, then I would take over to speed the process along. After watching me whisk, Gwynn remarked, “Wow, KayKay, you stir really fast.” When I gave her another turn at it, she tried to stir as I had. I showed her how to do it, but another challenge with Gwynn is that she’s left-handed; she’s also very determined, so I know she’ll pick that up soon!

When it comes to having children in your kitchen, especially children that will be helping to prepare the meals, there are a few things you can do to make sure the preparation goes smoothly and the learning easy.

Here are a few tips I can quickly point out:

If the child is small and unable to reach the countertop, have a lightweight step stool handy that they can pick up and move around. Gwynn has a plastic one at home, and I have a roll-around one that once it’s stepped on it, the wheels lock to keep it from rolling.

All sharp utensils should be stored in an area not easily accessible to young or inexperienced hands. When trying to teach cutting skills, use plastic knives.

Other than pre-arranging the ingredients, make sure the utensils are handy. Place heavy mixers where they don’t have to be moved, and store pots and pans so they’re easy to remove from the cabinet.

If possible, use all plastic and metal measuring cups; they’re much easier to handle than heavy glass ones, and if dropped, they won’t shatter.

If your cutting board doesn’t have rubber feet or tabs on the back, you can easily apply some stick-on ones. This keeps it from moving around, which can be worrisome.

One last thing: Special needs children can be easily overwhelmed. Take a good look through your refrigerator, food pantry, and spice area, making sure everything is in an order that’s easy for them.

Maybe even have them help to organize those things; it will be much easier for you to learn their arrangement than for them to learn yours.

Hopefully, these few tips will help. If you’d like more ideas, check out the above website – it’s most helpful!

Here’s an easy recipe you can do with your child or children for the many parties and meals you’ll be enjoying over the next few weeks.

Remember, the most important thing is the quality time you’re spending with your child, so relax and have fun!

Kay Bona is an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.

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