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By Kate Moss, Education Specialist, Texas Deafblind Outreach and Holly Cooper, Technology Specialist, TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach

For many blind and deafblind children, participation in paper and pencil types of tasks that are part of typical classroom instruction can be accomplished with a number of modifications. Other children with blindness or deafblindness, because of their additional language or cognitive challenges, do not benefit at all from paper and pencil types of activities. Having opportunities to learn in a way that includes the use of other sensory channels such as taste, touch, and smell is not only more motivating, but often more beneficial. All children with blindness and deafblindness benefit greatly from experiential learning situations, those that involve activities where the child can learn by doing. Food preparation is a learning activity that is a great idea for most classrooms and grade levels serving children with blindness and deafblindness.

A Great Recipe for Instruction

It is not hard to think of ways to infuse a variety of skills into cooking activities. Here are just a few.

Language, Concept Development, and Communication Skills

Food is a great topic of conversation for most of us. Children with blindness and deafblindness can naturally use objects to request or offer. Learning the names of favorite food items is highly motivating and very functional. Cooking is a natural way to help the child learn language and concepts about different textures (smooth, hard, chewy), temperatures (hot, cold, warm, cool), flavors and odors (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, burnt). The student can learn to identify and categorize items based on these qualities as they learn through participation in the cooking activity.

Hearing, Vision, Fine and Gross Motor Skills Development

Developing hearing, vision, fine and gross motor skills are critical to all children. Cooking is a wonderful way to work on all these skills within a single activity. Children can walk or push a cart through stores to shop. The child must use vision to look for specific items, orient to cooking materials, and read a recipe. Learning to listen is important for all students with visual impairments. Cooking activities provide many opportunities to practice listening skills such as learning to listen for the cashier to ask for money or to listen to a recipe on tape. The students can exercise muscles to reach and lift, clean a table, or wash dishes. Fine motor skills are needed to open and close, to stir, knead, cut and shape, to locate and put away materials, and to clean up.

Orientation and Mobility Skills

Whether or not a child is able to travel to a store to buy supplies before completing a cooking activity, it is easy to infuse O&M skills into routines. Learning skills related to organizing the work space, learning positions of ingredients relative to bowls and blenders is a great way to work on positional concepts. Navigating the room to carry items to the refrigerator, stove, or sink is a natural way to learn to how to follow a route or navigate around obstacles.

Literacy and Math Skills

In the area of math you can learn to count and measure, identify money, count and make change. You can talk about fractions, weights, and sizes. You can learn to read a recipe using words, Braille, or pictures. You can write about the cooking activity you have completed and print a sign to advertise the sale of food items you have made. You can look for particular brands of food in the grocery store or read the signs to help you find the aisle where a specific product is located.

Instructional Routines

Instructional routines are one educational strategy to use with students who have additional disabilities or deafblindness. A clearly defined activity helps build memory, provides a structure for teaching concepts and skills, and helps the child develop an understanding of whole events involving a sequence of steps enabling him/her to participate in the event. Cooking is a perfect activity to develop into an instructional routine. Children may participate in every step of the cooking routine or assist with one or two steps. Cooking may be done as a group activity routine or as an independent activity. A student can complete cooking routines that make food "from scratch" or use frozen or precooked items, depending on his/her skill and interest level. Cooking is also an important independent living skill that many individuals will need or use in their adult lives.


One key to making a cooking activity work for a student with blindness or deafblindness is finding the appropriate modifications. These include recipes on Braille, in large print, picture or tactual symbols, or audio cassette. Using Braille labels, rubber bands or tactual symbols to label products makes them easier for the individual to identify. Appropriate technology in the form of switches, note taking devices, and so forth may also be needed. Placing hard materials in easy to open containers, using nonskid mats, or specially adapted devices for cooking may be necessary for some students. There are a variety of ways to modify almost any cooking activity so that just about every student can participate to some degree.

Below is a list showing typical jobs that might take place in a cooking activity, skills that might be worked on at different levels, and possible modifications that may be needed for the blind or deafblind student.

Student's Job - Collecting Ingredients

Skills That Might Be Worked On: reading a recipe; learning about temperatures; learning concepts and vocabulary related to ingredients; shopping and paying for items; finding items in kitchen or cooking area; carrying items to work area; traveling around the store, kitchen or classroom; organizing materials in a work space and orienting to them.

Possible Modifications: use object symbols, Braille, large print, pictures to make recipe accessible or to make a shopping list; use travel cane to navigate store; use pictures, tactual marker/Braille labels to identify ingredients or location of ingredients; use a basket or cart to help transport ingredients and other cooking materials; use communication notebook or cards to assist in communication with grocery clerk.

Student's Job - Measuring Ingredients

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning concepts/vocabulary related to measuring (scooping, pouring, measuring, fractions); counting skills (number of spoons, cups); organizing materials in a work space and orienting to them.

Possible Modifications: Use hand-under-hand techniques to assist with pouring, scooping; measuring; Use tray, mats, other surfaces to identify work space; Use a slotted box to organize and sort ingredients into a sequence; Match items to pictures/object symbols in recipe to count using one-to-one correspondence; Use measuring spoons, cups that are specially adapted for visually impaired such as measuring cups and spoons with adjusting level guides or a liquid indicator.

Student's Job - Chopping, Grating or Cutting Ingredients

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning concepts and words related to preparing ingredients (cut, chop, grate, slice); using a pushing motion to activate a hand chopper; holding hand chopper steady while activating with other hand; holding a knife and using safe cutting technique; activating a food processor with a switch.

Possible Modifications: use hand-under-hand techniques to assist with cutting, grating, chopping; use duct tape to secure hand held chopper to table or assist the student by holding base of chopper; use an adaptive switch to activate food processor; use color-contrasted board for chopping or slicing; use easy grip knife for cutting.

Student's Job - Mixing Ingredients

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning words and concepts related to blending ingredients such as stir, sift, toss, add; following a left to right sequence using words, pictures, or object symbols; using a hand-held mixer; activating a food processor to knead or mix) using a switch; stirring with a spoon or using hands to mix.

Possible Modifications: use a slotted box to sequence ingredients and work from left to right; use a sequence of objects on a strip that can be removed as that step is completed; use mixer that is on a stand; use switch to activate food processor; use hand-under-hand technique to model mixing motions.

Student's Job - Shaping dough

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning words and concepts related to shapes and shaping dough; using hands/fingers to roll, pat, fold, cut.

Possible Modifications: use hand-under-hand technique to model shaping dough.

Student's Jobs - Preparing Pans and Cooking

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning words and concepts related to preparing pans, using ovens or the refrigerator such as grease, flour, hot, etc.; using hands/fingers to grease or activate spray top on Pam/cooking oil; turning on and setting oven; learning safety techniques for using oven and handling hot pans.

Possible Modifications: use hand-under-hand technique to model spraying motion; use a pump-type squirt bottle instead of aerosol type can; use oven mitts instead of pot holder; use a rack jack device to reach the pan out of the oven.

Student's Job - Cleaning up

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning language and concepts related to cleaning such as empty, wash, dry, etc.; carrying dirty dishes to sink; using hands to explore surface to determine if it is clean or dirty, to hold a sponge or cloth to wipe off cooking area; holding and sweeping with a broom or vacuum; washing, rinsing, drying dishes; returning items to correct location (may involve locating Braille, print or picture card on cabinet, shelf, etc.).

Possible Modifications: use hand-under-hand technique to model washing, rinsing, drying dishes, sweeping with a broom, or vacuuming; use tactual, print, Braille labels to mark cabinets, shelves, etc.

Student's Job - Sharing or Selling Food Items

Skills That Might Be Worked On: learning language and concepts related to selling or sharing food items such as buy, want, give, food names, money concepts; writing advertisements or product labels; bagging, boxing or sacking items for sale or to share; selling products and collecting money; using travel skills to deliver products ; Interacting with customers to ask what they want and to complete sale; sharing food items with friends, family; or pets; using communication strategies to ask and offer; learning math skills needed to handle money and make change; learning how to use an adding machine, cash register, etc.; learning how to figure cost vs. profit; budgeting profits to pay for special item or event.

Possible Modifications: use picture, print, Braille or tactual markers to label items for sale; use jig to hold bag sack open or to help student fold box to put food item inside; use cart to carry items around for delivery; use talking or large print calculators, or cash registers; use communication cards and books to facilitate interaction with others.

Issues and Solutions Related to Cooking Activities

The child who is tube fed

As beneficial as cooking activities are for many of our students, some students who have issues with feeding often seem to be left out of these activities, because they cannot consume food orally. Parents and teachers sometimes think they can't do cooking activities with their child or student because the he or she doesn't eat like a typical child. But any child can participate in cooking activities.

A child who is transitioning towards getting off tube-feedings may benefit greatly from exposure to food in a way that does not put pressure on him/her to take food orally. It is certainly less threatening to lick off your own finger that accidentally got dipped in the instant pudding than it is to have someone try to feed you pudding from a spoon that makes you gag. Having exposure to the textures, smells and tastes of food in this incidental way may make work the OT does on actual oral feeding much easier since the child has more familiarity with the food items.

The child who is severely disabled

Another benefit of cooking, even if the child will not be eating it, is that he or she can prepare something to offer to his or her peers. This gives opportunities to practice communication skills such as asking and offering as he/she assists with snack time. Preparing food to share also gives the child an opportunity to do something for others, an experience not always available to the severely disabled child.

What about hygiene?

An issue for some parents and teachers related to cooking is the issue of hygiene. Children who have problems controlling saliva or who tend to mouth things may not need to be preparing food for other humans to consume. One way to deal with this issue is have the student prepare something just for himself. Another way around that concern is to make food that is meant for pets to eat.

Cooking With Assistive Technology

Switch-activated blenders

Cooking is also a great activity for kids who need to have opportunities to learn to use switches or to expand the variety of routines in which they are able to participate. Students who have significant motor impairments and are not able to independently pour, stir, shake or hold tools needed in cooking can be active participants using simple assistive technology. Many teachers and parents are familiar with using battery operated toys with switches to give students with motor impairments recreation and leisure time activities which they can do independently or in a turn taking setting with a peer. It is just as easy to use the same or similar switches with a special power transformer called the PowerLink from Ablenet, Inc.

To adapt an activity using an electrical appliance for a switch user, prepare the setting in advance by placing the electrical appliance in a place that is easy to see and within reach of the participating student. Plug the appliance into the PowerLink; then plug the PowerLink into the electrical outlet on the wall. Plug a switch into the switch jack that corresponds to the power outlet the appliance is plugged into, then turn the appliance power switch to the on position. When the switch is activated, the appliance will run.

Using a blender with a switch is an easy way to make snacks and drinks for students. The blender running makes lots of noise and vibration, and the liquid inside swirls around. It's a high sensory load, which can be especially desirable for a student with multiple sensory impairments. The noise and vibration can be dampened down a bit by setting the blender on a placemat or other padding if it is too startling for the student. It's also a relatively safe appliance since there are no exposed blades or beaters. Even items that are normally stirred using a mixer can sometimes be mixed with a blender to reduce the mess and safety risks. The blender is a good way to make drinks, smoothies, puddings and ice cream shakes that are easy to consume for students who have difficulty chewing or have problems tolerating texture in their food. Drinks like frozen juices or chocolate milk, or soft foods like jello and pudding which only need stirring with a spoon can be mixed with a blender to give students who cannot independently hold a spoon or stir a chance to participate.

Switch-activated stand-mounted mixers

Stand mounted electric mixers such as those made by Kitchen Aid are also great for using with switches, because they are stable and do not require being held. Liquids and solid ingredients can be added to the bowl, and the mixer activated with a switch and PowerLink. A mixer is a good appliance for making cakes and cookies, even if they are from a mix. Whipped cream can also be made this way.

Setting up a classroom kitchen

If you are a classroom teacher with just an ordinary classroom set up and no kitchen appliances, I would recommend that you start by buying a toaster oven that is as big and as good a quality as you can afford.

Microwaves are good for some things, but for cooking baked goods, they are almost universally dismal failures. Baking cupcakes or cookies is an activity that can be done at school, even if you do not have an oven in your classroom. There are a lot of good recipes you can make by dividing the recipe in half and making it in a toaster oven.

You should also invest in a blender. It doesn't have to be big or even really good quality. If you have students who are tube fed, you should already have a small refrigerator provided by the school district to store the student's food in, and you can use this for your cooking ingredients. If you have a choice, get one large enough to have some freezer space so you can make Popsicles and store ice cream.

With these appliances and a PowerLink with switches you can make a variety of foods and snacks. If you need money to purchase this equipment, try selling popcorn, dog biscuits or cookies to teachers and students in the school to generate funds for your classroom needs. You might be able to get a family member, school staff member or your PTO/PTA to donate kitchen items. Garage sales, thrift stores, or "wholesale clubs" such as Sam's or Price Club often have deals for limited pocket books.

Recipes for Success

Dining Alone

There are any number of good, simple recipes that can be made for one individual. Here are two or our favorites.

"Aggression Cookies"

1 cup oatmeal,

3/4 cup flour,

1/2 cup brown sugar,

1/2 stick margarine,

1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix all ingredients by hand. Form into a ball and then flatten with your hands by patting on it. Fold dough over and repeat several times. Then divide into 3 or 4 balls and flatten each one on to an ungreased cookie sheet by patting. Bake at 350 until they're done (about 10 minutes). This is a nice recipe because it makes just enough for one, so the cook eats what he/she makes. It also involves a lot of banging with your hands, which is a nice way to take turns and work out your frustrations at the same time.

"Princess Sandwich"

Slice of bread or bagel

Whipped cream cheese

Fruit Jelly

Toast bread or bagel in a toaster oven. Put softened whipped cream cheese and jelly in separate cake decorating tubes and let the child help squeeze on cream cheese and jelly designs. Cut into strips or triangles and serve.

Animal Snackers

There are a variety of recipes for how to make treats for all types of animals that can be found in books and on websites. One very nice website for some of these recipes is the Recipe Goldmine, which can be found at Here are several great recipes and some ideas for how to include them in cooking activities at home or school.

"Basic Dog Treats" (from Recipe Goldmine)

1 3/4 C. whole wheat flour

1 1/4 C. oatmeal

1 1/2 T. vegetable oil

1 C. warm water

Options: 1/3 C. finely grated cheese,1/4 C. peanut butter

Mix the dry ingredients together. Then mix the wet ingredients together. Blend both mixtures until a firm dough is achieved. Shape dough into an oblong roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Lightly grease sheet pan. Slice roll into 1/4-inch slices, place on sheet pan and bake for about 1 hour or until treats are done, checking after 45 minutes, and then every 5 minutes thereafter. Let them cool before giving to your best friend.

"Horsey Cookies" (from Recipe Goldmine)

1 C. uncooked oats

1 C. flour

1 C. shredded carrots

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. granulated sugar

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1/4 C. molasses

Mix ingredients in bowl as listed. Make little balls and place on cookie sheet which has been sprayed with oil or Pam. Bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Take several along to your next hippotherapy session or share them with the local feed store as a give away for their customers buying horse feed.

"Bird Bread" (from Recipe Goldmine - Source: Bird Watcher's Digest)

2 C. melted peanut butter, bacon grease, meat grease or other fat

2 C. cornmeal or stale dry cereal blended into crumbs

Warm water

2 to 3 C. wild birdseed

Raisins, nutmeats or chopped peanuts

Slowly melt peanut butter, grease or fat over low heat. Add cornmeal or stale cereal crumbs. Slowly add enough warm water to make a stiff dough, then add birdseed and raisins, nut meats or chopped peanuts. Pack mixture into small foil pans or a large flat pan and refrigerate overnight. Cut into pieces for tying onto tree branches. Spend time watching the different birds that come to feed and learning about the life cycle of birds.

Blender Delights


12 oz can tomato juice or V8

1 Zucchini

1 Green bell pepper - small

1 Onion - small (optional)

1 Cucumber

1 Tomato - large

1 Garlic clove (optional)

1/4 Teaspoon chili powder

4 Tablespoons olive oil

You can prepare in advance by cutting ingredients into large pieces, so students can eat some or taste small bits while they prepare the gazpacho. Pour tomato juice in blender. Add about half of the vegetables. Blend. Add the other half, blend more. Add all remaining ingredients. This is traditionally served as a soup, but I would serve it in a cup for students to drink. This is a nice recipe for kids to make to serve mom and dad at home.

"Yogurt Popsicles"

8 oz plain yogurt

8 oz any kind of fruit juice or

8 oz frozen fruit

Put all ingredients in a blender. Blend well. Pour or ladle into Popsicle molds or paper cups with spoons Popsicle sticks inserted in the middle. Freeze till firm. Sell at an outdoor stand or simply eat them up.

"Fruit Smoothie"

1 medium banana, sliced and frozen

6 strawberries, frozen

2 Tbs. frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup milk (may be soy milk or yogurt)

In blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. Serve in margarita glasses with umbrellas and straws.

"Berry Shake"

1/2 cup yogurt or rice milk

1 tsp. sugar or honey

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 generous cup of chopped strawberries, blueberries, or mixed berries (you may use frozen fruit)

Blend all ingredients in blender. Serve in soda fountain glasses and garnish with a strawberry.

"Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake"

1 cup chocolate milk, (nondairy "milks" such as soy or rice milk may be used)

1 small banana, sliced and frozen

2 Tbs. smooth peanut butter

In blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth. The kind of treat to make Elvis take notice.

Tasty Resources

There are so many things that can be taught through cooking activities. Cooking activities are also a natural activity for families to do together or for kids to do with their peers. Check out some of the simpler recipes available in children's cookbooks that can be found at any book store, your local library or on the internet. Then, get out in the kitchen and start rattling those pots and pans.

Recipe Resources

There are some really helpful books for teachers and parents that can give you some good ideas of cooking activities and recipes to do with students. Some of these have easy to make recipes, some have foods that are especially appealing to students with special needs.

Feed Me! I'm Yours, 1974, Vicki Lansky, Meadowbrook press.
This is mainly a cookbook for baby food, but look toward the back for seasonal snacks, edible playdoughs, Popsicles and juices
Sugar Free Toddlers: Over 100 Recipes, 1991, Susan Watson, Williamson Publishing.
Mainly a cookbook for toddler food, not always simple recipes with only a few ingredients, but it does include some great snacks made from fruit, fruit juice, smoothies, gelatin snacks, puddings and spreads.
Super Snacks, 1992, Jean Warren from Totline, a division of Frank Schaeffer.
Seasonal recipes with fresh and cooked fruits and vegetables, no sugar added. Many recipes for muffins, pancakes, punch, pudding, and Popsicles.
Book Cooks: Literature-Based Classroom Cooking, 1991, Janet Bruno, Creative Teaching Press.
Recipes and other classroom activities to accompany teaching thematic units based on children's literature. Some of these recipes are pretty visual, but the general ideas can be a good launching point for food and cooking activities with students of all levels.

Switch Resources


Adaptivation Incorporated

Don Johnston

Enabling Devices