Blind Kids in the Kitchen
by Ronda Del Boccio
Lampe, Missouri

I have always had a vision impairment, and I remember wanting to learn to cook and how reluctant my mom was to show me. Now, I'm not blaming her. I know she didn't want me getting hurt and she didn't know how to show me the adaptations.

What will happen if you're a sighted parent with a blind child is that the child will work out his or her own adaptations if you allow for trial and error. If you're a blind parent of a sighted child, the same applies in reverse. You will do things your adapted way and the child will adjust to doing things the sighted way. If you and your child are both blind, you will show your child your way and over time your child will probably find alternative techniques and devise his or her own unique way of doing things.

What I'm going to discuss in this article are some ideas for making cooking a family affair as well as share a few things that blind kids can make independently. So, let's get cooking.

Grocery shopping and cooking offer so many opportunities for learning and experimentation. What is intuitive for you at this point will be new for your child. You will have to pay close attention to the steps necessary for preparing dishes and the time involved. Doing so will allow you to make instruction cards to help the children know exactly what to do when assisting with family meal preparation. Here are just a few examples.

Show your children how to select the best produce by smell and feel. Notice the difference in sound when shaking a can of beans versus a can of peas. Talk about the nutrients in various foods. As you prepare a salad, for example, point out that celery is a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium and promotes good heart health. This will encourage your children to be observant and help them to understand the health qualities of foods.

Never let blindness be an excuse for not helping out in the kitchen. Start younger children with tasks like stirring, combining and arranging foods in a pleasing manner. Don't we all enjoy a meal that is nicely presented? When children are a little older and can use the microwave and eventually the stove, show them how to use oven mitts and teach them how to be safe. For information about how to adapt the kitchen environment, see "Setting Up the Low Vision Kitchen," DIALOGUE, January-February 2006, which can be read online at . This will help make preparing food an enjoyable experience.

I have always loved textures. The hand-feel and the mouth-feel of a variety of textures have always meant fun for me. I love the feel of celery tops and broccoli trees. My parents taught me to be open to trying new foods even if I decided I didn't like them. As my friend, Andy LoRusso, The Singing Chef, says, happy meals make for a happy heart and a happy family. Preparing meals as a family can become an adventure in flavors or a study of balance and proportion. If you make cooking a total experience rather than simply a chore, you ignite curiosity and an interest in trying new foods. You will encourage your kids to eat a variety of foods, which is not only healthful, but practical. Plus you will raise children who want to try new tastes and textures. Someone I know allowed her boys to eat only the few foods they liked, which were almost exclusively hot dogs, chicken fingers and cereal.

When your child shows a desire to help, show him how. Anyone who is involved in preparing the food has a greater appreciation for all that goes into putting a meal on the table. Sure, some days you may be in a rush, but make it a point to involve the children in some of the meals each week.

Before I go into recipes, I want to mention a few kitchen tools I find extremely useful. Silicone oven mitts will keep heat away from little helping hands better than traditional oven mitts. Flexible cutting boards make a great surface for preparing food and transferring it into the pot or bowl. They also make cleanup easier when baking and I always put one on the counter where I am working. With kids the mess is likely to be greater, so I wanted to share this little tip. A double spatula is great to help kids with jobs such as flipping sandwiches.

One of my favorite kitchen tools is an hourglass-shaped nut chopper. It is very easy to use and it doesn't take that much strength. Kids will have fun cranking the chopper and adding nuts and seeds to recipes is a great way to enhance nutrition and texture to dishes.

Something I absolutely wouldn't do without is a mandolin slicer with a V-blade. I'm abysmal at cutting things evenly without a mandolin. Plus a mandolin comes with what I call "the hat" that looks like a sombrero and keeps fingers whole while making quick work of slicing vegetables. Think of how much easier it would be to prepare au gratin potatoes, large salads or bananas for the dehydrator. Naturally you will still need to supervise children, but they will be safer and more interested in helping with this labor-saving tool.

Now here are a few recipes kids of all ages can make independently.

One of my favorite breakfasts is easy, healthful and absolutely delicious. Empty a container of your favorite yogurt into a bowl. Sprinkle with a handful of ground pecans, a handful of raisins and one-half cup of Cheerios, Kashi GoLean or other preferred cereal. You may also add drained pineapple, mandarin oranges or berries. With its fun flavors and textures, this is not a tired old bowl of cold cereal. A young child can learn to make this breakfast with a minimal amount of assistance.

Once a youngster is able to operate the microwave, here is a twist on oatmeal. Make oatmeal by putting a packet of your favorite flavored instant oatmeal into a bowl with one-half cup of milk, a handful of raisins and/or a handful of ground nuts, if desired. Microwave on high for one minute, stir, and microwave for an additional 30 seconds. This is delicious and an opportunity to practice using the oven mitts.

Teach the art of sandwich making by having a variety of lunch meats, sliced veggies and cheeses on hand. The easiest way I've found to use condiments like mayonnaise or mustard is to use a one-half teaspoon measuring spoon. Dip the spoon into the condiment and scrape it even with your spreading knife, then scrape it from the spoon onto the bread.

If you're making grilled cheese, show your child how to safely operate the burners and do your best to supervise without hovering. Heat the pan while assembling the sandwich. This is an instance where writing down the timing on a card can be helpful. If you know from experience that it takes two minutes to grill one side of the sandwich before turning it over, write that down on a card. Show your child how to time it. Practice how to flip the sandwich safely and scrape the turner gently over the grilled side to hear and feel the difference in texture.

Will your child ever burn himself or cut herself? Certainly, you did, right? Teach a healthy respect of heat without making your child afraid to work with anything hot.

Remember that yogurt and cereal breakfast? On another day, using dessert cups, show the kids how to layer cereal, yogurt, fruit and a swish of whipped cream for a fun and healthful dessert.

Bottom line, get your children involved in all aspects of food selection and preparation and you teach them skills to last a lifetime.