Cooking With Fire

Renay has been setting up virtual cooking with some of her students this week. Previously, whenever Renay was assigned to Foods or Health classes, Renay never really got into helping the student unless they were really in the kitchen. And being in the kitchen with a student with disabilities looks very different depending on the disability.

Renay has done a variety of settings with students in kitchens. Some things to be aware of:

  • Kitchen settings in public schools tend to be training grounds for professional level kitchens. Skills students are learning here will translate to both the home kitchen and to professional kitchens.
  • While there will be plenty of space in a kitchen, students who have wheelchairs should remove as much off the back of their chair as possible and be very careful moving around a kitchen than they might be normally. If possible, assign less students to the kitchen just because some student’s chairs are big and when a student moves out of the way, it is easier with less students.
  • Students who need walkers or chairs should be placed in kitchens that have an edge where the walker or a chair can be put on a corner.
  • Be ready to engage the OT with ideas how to support a student with needs in the kitchen at school.

The kitchen in general is an amazingly safe place, even with students who are unfamiliar with most kitchen appliances. Teachers who are cleared to teach Food classes are amazingly resilient and handle some level of organized chaos very well.

A lot of the work in the kitchen may involve hand over hand supporting a student. Ask the student before you go ahead and lead the student. We are not fans of students over instructor for cooking. It is much easier to help the student to control if they are under your hands.

What foods should students cook?

Be aware of student allergies and food restrictions. Food restrictions are different than allergies. Some students, and especially students with disabilities, may have food restrictions, in ability to eat specific foods. This is not the same as being ‘picky’. Students with food restrictions also include students who have religious objections to certain foods. Knowing your student’s restrictions can help make some recipes easier. For students on liquid diets for medical reasons, ask before you take their food that they worked on with their class. Some students do want to take it home to share with family who are not on limited diets and other students eat physical food socially but get most of their food via their liquid diets.

Some students, and especially students with disabilities, may have food restrictions, in ability to eat specific foods. This is not the same as being ‘picky’.


We aren’t done with allergies: if your student has an allergy make sure to know the type of reaction they have. Some reactions are within minutes. Others are a slow reaction. And especially if a student doesn’t know they are having a reaction.

If you are uncertain of the level of comfort a specific student has in the kitchen, try some of the easier steps. Has the student ever scraped a carrot to make carrot sticks? Can the student crack an egg into a bowl? Has the student ever measured flour, sugar, water, or salt with appropriate measuring device? These aren’t prerequisite skills and technically the general education students are learning as the process goes through, but work to provide the opportunity to the student who has not likely had this option.

But We’re Distance Learning

This is where Foods class takes an interesting turn. Foods at school is about increasing a student’s potential independence. Foods at home is about survival.

First: check with the teacher if pre-made items are allowed. Can the student go to the store and follow the recipe to their favorite mac and cheese box instead of trying to make all of it from scratch? What if the student bought the cupcakes and just decorated them? Can the student melt cheese in a sandwich on a sandwich machine instead of trying to grill on a pan on the stove? This needs to be discussed with the teacher and the student present, though often, expect in some cases the parent being there as well.

Model what the students should do and can do in your own kitchen. We’ve been taking photos of Renay taking items out of the oven with two hands in oven mitts, washing dishes in the sink after use, and checking the temperature with a thermometer.

Know your own comfort level with cooking. Okay we’re pretty lucky, Renay knows her way around food. With only a more recent history of some air fryer fails, Renay actually is pretty decent in the kitchen and outdoor kitchen. But if you don’t know how to make a double boiler at home or are confident in using the microwave but not the stove top, then don’t push the envelope too hard. Watch the example of the Food instructor. Try it for yourself without the students watching you. Maybe you’ll get through some tricks. But don’t admit to the kids you are bad at cooking. Admit this instead: “I am working at improving my skills in the kitchen.” Set yourself up for a win to learn alongside the students.

Speaking of Cooking Tricks:

  1. To know if a pan is ready, sprinkle water on the pan while it is on the stove. If you hear the water sizzle away, it is hot. If the water lingers for a few seconds, it’s ready, if the water evaporates, turn down the heat, it’s too hot!
  2. Be patient with yourself. Few people in their home kitchens follow the professional level skills of chopping and other food preparations. At school, we have to follow professional level not just to teach the students, but to avoid food borne illnesses.

We’ve seen a dozen memes talk about how folks should value skills like Foods not just because it is a class. After all, we all eat.

And in case you run into fire in the kitchen, know where the fire extinguisher, the pan lid, and some baking soda are. Never throw water on a fire in a kitchen, especially if you don’t know if the pan has grease or oil in the pan.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

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