Finding Meaning in Cooking Class

By Jamie Leboe 

It’s Monday at 5:00 pm and Cooking Class is about to begin. Part of Jewish Community Services’ Meaningful Day Activities for Individuals with Varying Abilities, this class – along with others such as Book Club, Arts & Crafts, Job Club, and more – enriches the lives of individuals with chronic behavioral health challenges or developmental disability diagnoses.  

As an outsider looking in, it may seem as though these are activities that primarily promote fun, but they do so much more! They also promote learning and life readiness skills, including communication, socialization, preparedness, and decision making.   

In cooking class, individuals have the opportunity to learn every step of the process – from the beginning stages through enjoyment of the last bite – knowing they created  the meal. First, they help determine what to make, which increases decision making skills. Then they receive the recipe and learn to read it; this encourages planning and reading steps. Next, they may help to shop for ingredients. Shopping not only gives individuals the opportunity to search the store for the right ingredients, but it also may give them the chance to practice money skills if they take the items to the register and make the purchase.  

When it comes time to do the actual cooking, individuals must get out all the ingredients and appropriate kitchen tools. The class teaches measuring skills, appropriate use of kitchen tools, and how to safely turn on and use the oven and stove. While making the recipe with peers and staff, participants engage in conversation, and learn how and when to ask questions and the importance of taking turns speaking in a group.  

Finally, everyone cleans up and learns the importance of food-related hygiene.  

Just think of how many skills are learned in the hour or so of that one class! It could be that participants realize how much they love to cook and decide they want to work in food service. It may be that the skills learned in cooking are transferable to many other types of jobs and tasks in everyday life. Our meaningful day activities are just that, meaningful in so many ways! 

Jamie Leboe is a Career Coach with Jewish Community Services Economic Support Services. 

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200. 

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