Cooking in the Classroom Q&A | Fun Food Friday

Cooking in the Classroom is one of the best decisions I made as a teacher in the self-contained classroom. There are so many skills you can practice during Fun Food Friday that no other lessons can do.

But maybe you have some questions about cooking in the classroom, especially during distance learning. So today we will be answering all of your questions!

Welcome to the SPED Connection, a collection of tips and tricks from other special educators all over the world. Because we’re all in this together!

Today’s tip comes from Cortnie, a fourth year, self-contained Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom with 1st and 2nd grade students.  Cortnie says, “The majority of my students are on standard diploma, but my classroom starts with comfort first, and learning next.  Our foundations are in behavior management, self-regulation, and core communication strategies infused throughout the day, as well as daily social skills instruction and, of course, academic and IEP goal instruction and intervention.  I’ve always loved digital resources, and this wild year has thrown me in the deep end of making each part of my day both digital and physical!”

Cortnie is the teacher behind Just Add Visuals.

How did you start cooking in the classroom?

I started cooking in the classroom after I began my first full year in my self-contained 1st and 2nd grade ASD classroom and found Mrs. D’s blog.  Seeing the posts full of ideas and products for classroom cooking excited me! 

I never realized all of the skills that could be incorporated with the fun of cooking.  I did my research, dipped my toes in slowly, and when my second year started in the same classroom, I started Fun Food Friday every single week and never looked back.  I’ve even gotten another teacher on my team on board with cooking – my kiddos go to her when they get to 2nd and 3rd grade, and beg for Fun Food Friday.  She has loved doing it with them, too. 

I hope it becomes a unit-wide tradition some day!

How did you get admin on board? What about parents?

While I was excited to get started, I was nervous, too.  Because my setting is self-contained and most of my students learn with our regular state standards, the focus is always on academics. 

I knew there had to be a way to “get away” with incorporating these crucial skills into my classroom, so I did what teachers do – I sat and I planned.  I laid out all of my students’ goals, my grade-level standards, and I aligned both to a Fun Food Friday planning template

Measuring, counting, comparing…
Reading, comprehension, sequencing…
Following directions, matching, waiting, taking turns, sharing, communicating…
You name it, cooking covers it! 

Because my “lessons” (read: cooking sessions) are based on standards and IEP goals, it is 100% appropriate to do in the classroom.  This got admin on board without a hitch. 

I let parents know about my plan to do Fun Food Friday in my Meet the Teacher packet before the start of school, and got zero complaints.  Most even thanked me for incorporating these skills into school time, and a few donated supplies. 

The permission slips included with the Real Pictures Fun Food Friday bundle covers both permission and possible donations, so take advantage of those if you can.

How have your students responded to cooking in the classroom?

My kids adore cooking in the classroom.  They look forward to it starting on Monday when they walk in the door – “Is it Fun Food Friday yet?!” “What are we making on Friday?”. 

I’ve even been able to use it as a behavioral incentive when needed – have a certain number of “earning” days during the week, and you can cook on Friday instead of doing other goal-based tasks. 

Not only do they love having something fun – and yummy – to do in the classroom, but I’ve noticed that some of my students have developed a passion for food and cooking.  They love watching cartoons on YouTube about cooking (they especially love The Bumble Nums from Super Simple TV), and out of all of the play and toy options I have in the classroom, they always fall back to play food. 

Cooking has even initiated pretend play opportunities that are hard to initiate sometimes in ASD settings – I have observed my students playing restaurant, grocery shopping, and of course, cooking with play food, both by themselves and even with friends.

It’s scary to start cooking at first in some ways – what if it’s too many steps?  What if the wait to eat is too long?  What if there’s a huge mess?  The best thing I did was dive in and never look back.  It was messy, it was clumsy, and there were tantrums – these things will happen when new things are introduced! 

By the third or fourth recipe, the kids knew what was coming, they knew the expectations, and I and my assistants could predict and prevent hiccups – lessen wait time, stand by that friend who needs extra help, give lots of chances to have a turn, etc.

How have you been cooking in the classroom virtually?

When I started lesson planning for the 2020-2021 school year, with so many unknowns, one of my first questions was, “How can I keep cooking?”.  At first it didn’t seem possible – I used to have my students sit in a circle and take turns measuring, stirring, and assembling, as well as using the recipe folders to sequence the steps as we took them. 

And when I found out I would be teaching simultaneously (both in-person and online, at the same time, via live stream) I really didn’t know what to do.  When I sat and analyzed the recipes, I realized that while it might not seem as fun, my students could still be engaged while they observed me following the directions from the recipe – helping me count, reminding me what and how to measure, identifying ingredients and tools. 

The biggest thing I missed was sequencing with the pictures in the recipe folders – this was always sure to catch those kiddos who drifted off while others had their turn cooking. 

When Mrs. D updated the visual recipes to include digital sequencing steps, this filled in that missing piece!  Now even if they can’t always stir or measure, my students can watch and have their turn touching and dragging the steps to the correct number on the SmartBoard. We sanitize hands before and after our turns, and do a quick wipe and spray of the board between students.  And many recipes have steps that students can have their own food items to manipulate.

Now you’re probably wondering – what about my virtual only students?? 

I’ve had great success with this piece as well!  I was afraid I would have little involvement, but I’ve got all families on board. 

I start by posting the recipe and ingredients at the beginning of the week so they have time to shop and prepare.  My classroom is live streaming throughout the day, so they have the option of cooking right along with us.  With Mrs. D’s digital sequencing, these online kiddos can also do their own copy of the activity while they cook, or while they watch if they don’t want to cook! 

And I of course gave families other fun activities to do if they were unable or unwilling to cook with us.  I let them know from the start that if they wanted to cook but didn’t have access to ingredients, I would be willing to bring some to them or have them come pick them up from school.  Admin could also help with this.

So far, we’ve done Pizza Bagels where students had their own ingredients and I could spoon them their own sauce, and Sand Pudding, where students had their own bag of cookies to count and crush before adding it to their own cup of finished pudding that I mixed and measured while they observed and sequenced. 

The kids love it, and haven’t missed a beat despite the differences from last year.

How do you incorporate cooking in the classroom into your lesson plans?

While my plans are standards- and IEP-goal-based, I had to find the time to squeeze these cooking sessions in.  Start to finish, when I cook with my class, the recipes can take anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. 

At my school, we have P.E. every day, and Art and Music once per week.  On the days we don’t have Art and Music, I plan for IEP goals and Fine Motor practice time.  I replace that time on Fridays with Fun Food Friday, because it covers both of those areas!

Screenshot 2023 05 10 at 10.54.50 AM

How and where do you buy all of the recipe ingredients? Who pays for it?

I got all of my cooking supplies and tools from The Dollar Tree.  The one-time investment was so worth it.  I even got class sets of plastic plates, cups, and silverware to reduce waste and repeated expenses.  This was doable for me because we have a dishwasher. 

I purchased those, as well as the weekly ingredients, with my own money.  I can’t justify it as a supply expense because it’s a voluntary activity.  I work in a low-SES community so I don’t rely on families or PTA funds for donations.  I think of it as a gift for my students, and I have tons of fun doing it!

Anything else you think people may have questions about, anything that excites you that you want to share, any memorable stories… really anything! 

If you’re on the fence, jump. 

I was nervous and almost never started Fun Food Friday.  My students’ reaction, happiness, and growth in skills had me hooked from the start and I’ve never looked back. 

We are teachers and we are unstoppable!  We have tackled every single obstacle this crazy quaran-teach time has thrown at us – digital, in-person, or both at the same time. 

Fun Food Friday is more than possible!  Let it be the bright spot in your challenging week.  You never know – it might be the brightest part of your students’ week, too.

How are you cooking in the classroom virtually this year? Let us know in the comments below!




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