For most of us, cooking is just gathering some ingredients, stirring them together, and then pouring the mixture into a hot pan. But for people with ASD, these steps aren't quite so straightforward.
Cooking can be challenging for many reasons: sensory issues, anxiety about what's going on in the kitchen, or simply not knowing how to do it.
Cooking is both an essential part of daily living and an enjoyable hobby for everyone, but it's especially important for young adults who want to maintain their health and well-being. Adults who live with autism face unique difficulties when they cook for themselves. Whether you face challenges with sensory processing, find it difficult to follow instructions, or suffer from fine and gross motor difficulties, you can overcome them and no longer feel that cooking is hard—all it takes is time, effort, support, and there is plenty of easy to learn recipes available for you to give a go.
Benefits and challenges of cooking with autism
Much research has focused on childhood, but studies show that autism may continue to affect eating behavior into adulthood. That's why it's especially important for adults with autism who want to stay healthy to eat well.
Adults who have autism often face challenges when it comes to eating and cooking due to their sensory issues, extreme sensitivity to changes, and a strong desire for a narrow range of ingredients. Research has shown that people with autism tend to prefer processed foods and carbs.
This can cause poor nutritional habits and may increase your chances of gaining weight. That is why it is so important to help people with autism explore new, healthier ingredients. Adult education programs for people with autism are an easy way to learn important culinary techniques and gain new insights into nutrition.
Building accessible kitchen experiences means making sure that all members of the family can participate in cooking and enjoy food. It also means providing opportunities for socialization while learning skills like measuring, cutting, and mixing.
If you're looking for ways to help your child or loved one cook easier, here are some tips that might work for you too.
- Start Small.
If you have someone who struggles with food preparation, start small. Maybe they like to eat cereal for breakfast but don't know how to make oatmeal. Or maybe they love pasta but struggle with boiling water? Start by helping them prepare something simple, like scrambled eggs or toast. Then, as their skills improve, gradually add more complex recipes.
- Make It Fun.
When your child or loved one has trouble preparing meals, try making it fun. You could ask them to choose an ingredient from a list (like "choose any kind of meat") and then let them pick out the rest of the ingredients themselves. Or if they enjoy playing games, play a game while you're cooking. This will give them a chance to practice their social skills and learn new things at the same time.
- Use the Match Cooking Prep System.
The Match Cooking Prep System is designed specifically for people with autism. It helps children and adults with autism identify colors, shapes, numbers, and letters, which makes it much easier to match items together. The system includes a set of color-coded containers, a matching tray, and a recipe book.
The Match Cooking Prep system encourages adults with autism to prepare their own meals by gathering, measuring, and mixing ingredients together using an integrated set of tools. There are four measuring cups made from ergonomically designed handles that measure up to basic culinary measures: a red pentagon represents one full tablespoon, a yellow square represents half a tablespoon, a green triangle represents three tablespoons, and a blue circle represents one teaspoon.
The shape of the cup lines up with the corresponding shape on the base so that when the user clicks down, the cup pops out from the base. It looks like a board game for children. A third wooden board has three prep bowls of different sizes that can be used to mix various types of foods.
Learn more about nutrition
Nutrition is another area where people with autism often need extra support. If you want to help your loved one get better nutrition, consider these suggestions:
- Help them understand what healthy eating really means. Many people with autism have sensory issues, such as problems distinguishing between tastes and textures. They may not realize that certain foods are good for them because they don’t feel anything when they eat them.
- Help them read labels. Labels on packaged foods should include information about calories, fat content, sugar content, sodium content, and other nutrients.
- Encourage them to try new foods. Some people with autism have very limited diets, and others have very specific preferences. Try introducing new flavors and textures to see what they think of them.
- Give them choices. When you’re shopping for groceries, offer your loved one some options. For example, instead of just buying a bag of chips, buy two bags of chips—one plain and one flavored with cheese. Let them decide which flavor they prefer.
Cooking when you have autism can be challenging, but there are ways to make it easier. Use the tips above to help your loved one cook healthier food and find joy in the process.
Photo credit: Unsplash.