Posts Tagged ‘cooking therapy’

As I continue to lead cooking groups during my first summer of Level II OT fieldwork, I find that I am becoming more adventurous in my own personal exploration of recipes that call for fresh foods, vibrant colors, and delicious flavors.  Thus, this creation caught my eye as I was searching through recipes online:
Green Bean and Tomato Salad

Here’s the recipe I used for 8 people (it varies a bit from the original, which you can find here with a picture):

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  1. Place beans in a saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Chop into small pieces. Place in a large bowl; add onion and celery.
  2. Place tomatoes in another bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, water, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetables in each bowl; toss to coat.
  4. Mix together both bowls and enjoy!

What worked well:

-Because our cooking group is about 90 minutes, and because this recipe required a lot of chopping and cutting, we were able to easily fill the time. Chopping is a good task for many of the clients who have hemiplegia because they can use a rocker knife and it often works better than the regular butter knives that the other clients use. The original recipe calls for the green beans to remain whole, but because some of the clients have mild difficulty chewing and swallowing, we chopped them into the smallest pieces possible so that they would be easier to eat.

-Our clients wear gloves when they participate in cooking group, so whenever a recipe calls for ingredients to be mixed together, I try to have them mix with their hands (if appropriate). I do that because it offers an additional sensory experience to the cooking group and it allows the clients to interact more with the food that they are about to eat. I have learned in OT school that many senior adults struggle with malnutrition for many different reasons, some of which (but not all) include a decline in the sense of smell and a decrease in their involvement with the food preparation process (i.e., food is prepared for them and given to them, often whether they like it or not, and they sometimes eat less because of it). This was a great recipe for hand mixing. The dressing needed to be mixed in with the separate bowls so that all the ingredients could be thoroughly coated, and then the two bowls needed to be mixed into one. The hands were great tools for that. During the mixing process, I encouraged the clients to smell the different flavors (the dressing smelled good!) and talk about the different textures and temperatures they were feeling. They each took a handful of veggies, mixed them in, and then passed the bowl around the table until everything was well mixed.

-We refrigerated the salad for about 15-20 minutes and this allowed us to talk about the different ingredients that the clients just used, both the types of foods used and their nutritional value. It is important to help older adults know the nutritional value of the foods they are eating so that we can encourage them to engage in healthy eating habits and make wise nutritional choices as a means of sustaining or improving their health as much as possible so that they can continue to engage in their daily occupations. This is a great example of using occupation as both a “means” and an “ends”. Cooking group takes cooking as an occupation and uses it to improve physical functioning and to facilitate discussion and education of good nutritional choices (thus, cooking is the vehicle for improved physical function and discussion/education of nutrition). It also helps these senior adults to actually engage in the occupation of cooking, an occupation which so many of them surrendered long ago to their spouse/child/caregiver (thus, engaging in cooking is the end goal).

What I would change:

-We could have used a bit more dressing, and the dressing could have had a little more flavor, especially considering the decline in people’s ability to smell and taste as they age. I would suggest a bit more olive oil (to increase the volume of dressing), lemon, and pepper. I personally would add more salt if I was making it for myself, but not for the clients because some have hypertension. I’m not a dressing expert, so I’m not really sure what other ingredient(s) I would add to give this dressing more tang, but I’m sure you could experiment for yourself to see what you like.


I think this was an appropriate recipe to use with these clients, and I would recommend finding ways to make the taste stand out so that they can enjoy it even more!


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This summer, I am completing 12 weeks of Level II fieldwork as part of the requirement for my master’s degree in occupational therapy. I am actually completing my fieldwork at two different sites, where I follow an OT who works part-time at both of them. One of the sites is an adult day health center for older adults, most of whom have some form of dementia or who have suffered from a stroke in the recent past. The other site is a day program for adults with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, seizure disorder, etc.

At the former site, I have become responsible for planning and leading a cooking therapy group. I love it. After having learned about task analysis, motor learning, geriatrics, and the use of adaptive kitchen equipment in some of my first year OT classes, it’s fun to finally be able to put those skills to use!

Throughout the summer, I will try to post the recipes that I use for my cooking groups as well as any helpful comments or insights gained. I hope that it can serve as both a storage space for my experience, as well as a source of ideas and information for others.

The first recipe that I used was for

Fruit Pizza.

Ingredients (Serves 12-15):

1 roll or package sugar cookie dough

8oz. whipped cream cheese

8oz. Cool Whip

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 can crushed pineapple in its own juice, well drained (save juice for bananas)

1 basket strawberries

3 bananas

3 kiwis

1. Press cookie dough evenly on a pizza pan to form pizza crust.

2. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes (or until golden brown).  Cool completely.

3. Slice strawberries, bananas, and kiwis.

4. Dip sliced bananas in pineapple juice (this will prevent bananas from turning brown).

5. Mix together cream cheese, Cool Whip, and vanilla until well blended.

6. Spread the mixture evenly on the cooled cookie crust.

7. Spread pineapple evenly over cream cheese mixture.

8. Finally, top with sliced strawberries, bananas, and kiwi.

The clients LOVED this recipe! They were even talking about it the following week (and remember, most of them have dementia…that’s saying something!).

Here are some comments:

-This recipe encouraged teamwork and group participation. Each client broke off a piece of cookie dough and helped smash their piece onto the large pizza pan, combining it with everyone else’s pieces until it became one giant cookie. Although they were a little confused at first about why they would put cookie dough onto a pizza pan, they eventually came to understand what we were doing and gladly joined in. There were also plenty of toppings to slice and sprinkle onto the fruit pizza, which again encouraged group participation and teamwork for getting the toppings on the pizza and making sure that they were evenly distributed.

-This recipe engaged the clients in a fantastic sensory experience. The smell of the baking cookie dough wafted through the halls while they chopped fresh fruits and it was absolutely delectable. Additionally, the textures, temperatures, smells, and tastes of all the ingredients varied so much that it provided the clients with a very fresh and diverse experience.

-This recipe took just the right amount of time. The clients have about 90 minutes for cooking group, and although my second group of the week completed their fruit pizza more quickly than the first, both groups were sufficiently able to engage in this occupation for the majority of that alloted time frame. I was also able to add in some trivia about fruit (particularly bananas) during the time where we needed to wait for the cookie dough to cool off in the refrigerator for just a bit longer. My clinical instructor (CI) is always encouraging me to talk about the origins of food – where it comes from, where it’s grown, why it’s good for you – so that the clients can become more informed about their own nutritional choices, which becomes exceptionally important as they age.

-Lastly, this recipe allowed for modifications. If I wanted it to have less sugar, then we could have made sugarless cookie dough from scratch. If I wanted the clients to engage with an actual pineapple rather than crushed pineapple in a can, then I could have brought in a whole pineapple for them to cut. And whether clients were sitting in a wheelchair, using only one hand, or speaking only Spanish, they were able to engage fully with all of the ingredients included in the recipe.

All in all, this fruit pizza recipe was a great one to start with, and I only regret that it was so successful because it will be a hard recipe to follow in the coming week!

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