As an avid lover of Top Chef and Tasty videos, it is no wonder why cooking and mealtimes win among my favorite therapy activities!

As a speech language pathologist and feeding therapist, I am fortunate to get to engage in cooking and mealtime activities on a daily basis. These activities are not only great because you ultimately get to eat something yummy (hopefully!), but they also allow you to address a variety of speech and language, and feeding, skills all in one activity.

Here are a few ideas to facilitate your child’s communication and feeding skills during your family’s next mealtime!

Receptive Communication

Getting cozy in the kitchen allows you to help your child develop their receptive communication skills. Engage your child in:

  • Following multi-step directions
    • Example – Take the plate, put the plate on the table, and pull out your chair
  • Identifying common and less common objects in the kitchen
    • Example – Find the salt shaker, Where is the toaster oven?, Show me the peeler
  • Identifying action words used for cooking such as cutting, shredding, blending, toasting, etc.
    • Example – What are we doing? We are blending a smoothie!
Expressive Communication

Use mealtimes to target your child’s development of expressive pragmatic functions! Have your child work on:

  • Requesting
    • Example: I want more macaroni and cheese! / Can I try more hash browns?
  • Commenting
    • Example: I like clementines. / I see broccoli casserole.
  • Protesting
    • Example: No thank you! / I do not want mashed potatoes.
  • Describing
    • Examples: This spaghetti smells like garlic! / This blueberry is squishy.
Social Communication

Cooking and mealtimes can facilitate your child’s social communication by targeting conversational skills, pretend play, and social flexibility. Ideas for social communication during mealtimes include:

  • Conversation: Engage your child in back-and-forth, turn-taking conversation. Demonstrate how to appropriately initiate/end conversation and ask on-topic questions/make on-topic comments while sitting down together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks.

  • Pretend Play: For younger kiddos, “playing” with food gets them engaged in food! I have used vanilla yogurt as paint, cheese cubes as blocks, and larger pepper slices as boats. What play objects can you associate with the different foods on your plate?

  • Social Flexibility: Don’t have your child’s favorite fruit snacks? Work with your kiddo to identify the size of the problem as well as how to remain flexible!

Executive Functioning

Following recipes allows for fantastic work on executive functioning skills. The next time you’re meal planning or cooking, try to incorporate these targets:

  • Planning: Does your child have a favorite recipe? Let him/her plan which day of the week you’ll make their favorite meal and have them help find the recipe ingredients with you at the grocery store!

  • Problem solving: Don’t have all the ingredients you need to make pancakes following the original recipe? Problem solve with your child on what ingredients can be used as substitutes. I’ve used honey to replace molasses and Greek yogurt to replace sour cream in recipes before!

Sensory Exploration

Children need to learn about foods using all their senses!

  • For younger kiddos, model how to use food for messy, sensory play.
  • For older kiddos, model how to be a “food scientist” and use food for experiments and competitions.
  • Whatever the activity, promote your child to explore each food by their look, smell, feel, sound, and taste.

How can you creatively incorporate these skills into your next mealtime? Have fun cooking!

Written By: Breana Galeazzi, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist