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Cooking Program Fosters Independence, Confidence in Kitchen

Image of Connor Thompson, wearing a gray pullover and black pants, standing at one of the cooking stations holding a bowl in the student kitchen.

At the end of every cooking class, students file out of the teaching kitchen with a sense of satisfaction and eager smiles—ready to eat the meal they just prepared for themselves. After following recipes that suit their palates—ranging from pasta alfredo and broccoli, to turkey burgers—they leave feeling accomplished for having created a meal on their own. As recent Two Year Transition Program graduate Andrea says, “I feel proud about my cooking...I’ve learned to cook all by myself.” Being able to cook is a crucial skill for independence—one that our Life Skills curriculum develops by increasing students’ ability to understand and implement meal preparation, healthy eating, and kitchen safety.

Image of Jen Barrett, Ilyse Ross, Andrew Gaudioso, and Michael Gumbardo posing in the student kitchen with their kebabs.

Over the course of the semester, individuals in the cooking program split class time between theoretical and practical learning. Each class begins with a lesson on nutrition and kitchen safety. As Cooking Teacher Leigh Daniels and Life Skills Assistant Connor Sheriden write, the “lessons are a fun, interactive way to learn the details of macronutrients and inform the students of everything they are putting into their body.” Using the food pyramid and the five food groups, the nutrition portion of the class promotes healthy snacking, appropriate portions, and balanced meals. In the second half of class, students apply their earlier learning to make healthy recipes that are customized to their preferences. Exemplifying this concept, recent graduate Andrew says, “I make my own protein shakes, and make healthy choices, so that I get stronger.”

Cooking at BHMA is made easier by assistive technology that allows individuals with disabilities to better navigate the kitchen and execute recipes on their own. Integrated into our program over the past five years, assistive technology has changed the way students learn and practice cooking skills. As Life Skills Teacher Karen Morison explains, all cooking classes utilize an application called Pictello, which allows students to receive both a verbal and visual instruction for each individual step of the cooking process. Throughout the semester, recipes are repeated to further mastery of basic cooking techniques, and the length and level of difficulty are increased as students work toward the goal of creating a variety of full, balanced meals.

Picture of Heather Silva, wearing a black leather jacket and pink scarf, using a can opener at her cooking station in the student kitchen.

The Bernon Music Center’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen has also revolutionized the cooking program at BHMA. Opened in Fall 2017, it features six independent cooking stations that mirror apartment-style living, each with its own set of tools. Our teaching kitchen employs the use of adaptive cutting boards, can openers, egg crackers, large kitchen timers, and rocking knives, allowing students to be safe as they manage more of the cooking process independently. The innovative set-up gives students the space to experience all elements of the meal creation process on their own—from preparation to clean up, and it fosters accountability for how their recipe turns out. “This independence is a huge confidence builder for our students,” states Morison.


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