Summer is here—and even for our kids who are attending camps or extended school year programs, this is a season of less structure and can be a time when parents struggle to keep up children’s social and academic skills. As an educator and a parent of a 12-year-old son, George, who has autism, I’ve found cooking to be a wonderful, hands-on way to work on a variety of skills during the summer. Cooking is a fantastic activity for children of all abilities—it builds focus and attention and can be used to facilitate communication and connection between parents and kids. In my children’s cookbook The Kitchen Classroom I share lots of tips, resources and recipes from my experience as a cooking instructor and from cooking with George and with my students.
- From the Garden or Farmers Market: Planting a garden with your child is a wonderful, concrete way to show where fruits and vegetables come from and children can be engaged so many different jobs, from watering plants to pulling weeds. But even if you haven’t started a garden this year, find a local farmer’s market and become regular visitors. Let your child help you put the fruits or veggies into your bag, pay the farmer, and help you carry your bags. There are so many opportunities for conversation at the farmer’s market—notice colors and sizes of fruits and vegetables. Encourage your child to try something new each week. Fruits and veggies can be prepared in so many fun ways—check out my ebook ABC Fruits & Veggies 4 Me for some really fun recipes!
- Homemade Popsicles: When the weather gets warm, my kids and I get out the popsicle mold! Putting your ingredients into a blender is a really fun way to get your kids comfortable in the kitchen. We use unsweetened coconut milk, fresh or frozen berries, a few spoons of honey or drops of stevia and blend. Here’s a short video of George from a couple of years ago making popsicles with me—notice his amazing attention!
- Fresh Fruit Salad: Making fruit salad is another favorite summer activity. As different foods come into season, you can add variation to your salad. Children can rinse fruit (great sensory activity!), peel and chop soft fruits with a butter knife.
- Smoothies: Breakfast on a hot summer morning doesn’t have to be hot food. Making a nutrient-dense smoothie is a wonderful way to start the day and kids can help you measure and pour almond milk and fruit into the blender. We add nut butter for added protein and even make a berry-avocado smoothie that tastes creamy and sweet!
- On the Grill: Of course you’d never have your child working the grill alone, but he or she can help you prep a variety of foods to be grilled. Grilled peaches and plums with a few drops of honey is one of our favorite summertime desserts.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of The Kitchen Classroom and loves teaching inclusive cooking classes. She directs Whole Community Inclusion at Jewish Learning Venture and coordinates Celebrations! at Mishkan Shalom.