Cooking to Connect and Communicate
By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
We are fortunate that my son George goes to school just half a block from our home at our local elementary school. He is an autism support classroom there, but our school district makes a great effort to include George and his classmates in school events (Cheltenham's record on inclusion is one of the reasons that we bought a home here several years ago). This coming Monday, the school is hosting a service day in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as so many schools, places of worship and other organizations are doing.
One piece of the service day that Myers Elementary is sponsoring is for families to bring a home cooked food that will be delivered to a homeless shelter. This is a project that my son will be able to engage in—and enjoy participating. We have been cooking together since he was four years old and I share our experience and the benefits of cooking together in my children’s cookbook “The Kitchen Classroom.”
I will cook this at home with my kids on Sunday afternoon. It makes me happy that my son can be of service to others through helping to prepare food. I know that many of the themes of Dr. King day are too abstract for George to understand at this point in his life, but I absoluetly believe in the value of instilling a foundation of doing service in him, just as I do with my daughter June. It would be hard for me to take George to do some of the other big service projects in our area: the sheer number of people and the noise generated in the space where the service will take place could easily overwhelm him. But cooking for others at home in our kitchen is the perfect kind of service for us.
George, like many other children who have autism, is especially loving and it is interesting to me to watch the way that he doesn't notice a person's skin color, their size, whether their clothes or old or new. Both of my kids go to schools with diverse populations and are growing up in a neighborhood where people of different backgrounds mix happily and easily. George's autism has brought me into the incredible world of parents who have specail needs children, where I frequently meet people from different faiths, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, with whom I have so much in common with. The bond of having a child with autism helps us to quickly relate to each other's lives, despite the differences.
If your community is not hosting a service day, make these veggies and take them to a local shelter or food kitchen. If you want ideas for other great recipes to take to a shelter, pull out your copy of The Kitchen Classroom and make a big batch of Mama's Meatballs (p.77), a pan of Carrot Coins (p. 94) and some Favorite French Fries (p. 96). I think they'll be a hit with the diners!
And make yourself a batch, for goodness sake.
1. 8 Potatoes
2. 1 clove garlic
3. 5-6 turnips
4. 10 carrots
5. 1 bunch celery
6. Salt & Pepper
7. Olive Oil
2. You and your child can preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
3. Your children can wash all of the vegetables (no need to wash the garlic).
4. A grown-up can peel the turnips.
5. Using hand over hand, help your child cut the potatoes into 3-4 big chunks each. Put in a roasting pan.
6. Your child can separate the garlic cloves. Help your child pull the skin off the garlic (you can loosen it with the tip of a knife). Put the cloves in the roasting pan.
7. Using hand over hand, help your child cut the turnips into pieces. Put in the roasting pan.
8. Help your child peel the carrots (tips for this process can be found in The Kitchen Classroom on page 95). Chop into coins and put in the roasting pan.
9. Help your child break the celery (tips for this process can be found in The Kitchen Classroom on page 92). Cut into small pieces and put in the roasting pan.
10. Drizzle with olive oil.
11. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake for 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes, gently turn the vegetables so they all get well coated in oil.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is a cooking instructor and parenting coach who works with families all over the world. You can reach her at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com