We have started a new group on the Challenger unit in SaintA’s Residential program, which works with our youngest boys, approximately ages 7 to 11. It is a cooking group, in which staff members help a small group of boys prepare a meal for dinner.
So far we have kept the menu simple so the boys can experience a certain level of success and build the general skills required to cook more complicated dishes. We have made cheeseburgers, brats, barbecued chicken and hotdogs. We also help them to prepare a side dish, such as macaroni and cheese, along with a vegetable.
We are working on teaching them respect for working with the heat of the stove and the items being cooked, reading cooking instructions, measuring ingredients, how to stir the food properly, how to turn items over to cook the other side, and how to tell when things should be turned over. We also are teaching them food preparation and storage in regards to being sanitary and not allowing food to spoil.
It is interesting to learn that things we take for granted like flipping a burger are not necessarily intuitive and do need to be learned to prevent grease splattering, or losing your burger to the floor! Stirring a pot so that the food is stirred evenly is also a similar learned skill and is not intuitive.
The children really enjoy cooking things for themselves. They like the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment they get in preparing the food, as well as the satisfaction and reward of eating something they have cooked for themselves. It is a small, but impactful success when they are able to flip that chicken breast properly or stir the cheese into their macaroni without leaving clumps of unstirred cheese.
They also enjoy being able to season food to their own personal liking. They are very excited for the day of their cooking groups, and, because they know that they need to demonstrate the responsibility that goes along with cooking, listen very carefully to instructions given by staff.
There are countless benefits to the group: one of the obvious ones is the important life skills the boys are learning, which will help them be independent. Some of the other therapeutic benefits include building relationships, building left brain/ right brain connections, improving fine motor skills, etc. Many of the tasks built into cooking require a person to use both sides of their brain, such as stirring a pot or turning a brat. The fact that all of your senses are open and alert during food preparation helps to build and/or strengthen upper brain connections that may or may not be tapped into otherwise.
And there is openness in communication and a bond that is built between people when they cook and eat a meal together. This bond can help our boys trust and open up to staff during crises or times of need, whereas before they may have been reluctant.
I think that the cooking groups are very therapeutic. I enjoy being a part of the process. It is very rewarding when you can be a part of someone else’s success. I personally enjoy cooking at home as well, and this group gives me the opportunity to share my passion for cooking with the children I work with.
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