Book Review – Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook

SpecialDayCookingI loved this book. I like the recipes, the layout and simplicity.

It is one thing to read a book and another to try to put it into practice. So when I had the opportunity to review Beverly Worth Palomba recipe book: Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook, I knew that I was going to get my 19 year old autistic son and 12 year old NT son to select some of the recipes to do on their own.

What I liked about the book is the layout into simple categories of breakfast, lunch and diner, soups and salads, drinks and snacks., and of course desserts  The book has pictures and large print that appealed to the boys.

The 60 recipes are North American which may pose a small problem for those who live elsewhere. It isn’t so much the imperial measurements that are an issue but many of the recipes call for items that are not commonly available in Europe. So the boys picked a couple of recipes that we couldn’t do with ease.

I also purchased a number of items to put in the fridge so that they would have lots of options open to them. Funny how they just assume that the food would automatically appear in the house. Learning how to shop, stack up and remember what is available is clearly another lesson. Once we got past that, things ran a little more smoothly.

I had to explain to the boys that using a plastic knife in their case was not necessary and mentioned to them that the book was meant to be used by anyone with challenges.

I worked closely with them to make sure they understood what to do and follow the directions specifically. That meant getting all the ingredients out first as well as the utensils needed.  Easier said than done but after the first time they got the hang of it.

I let them do their first recipe together to build confidence in my autistic son… the little one was all keen to go. Their selection: Chick-a-Dee Quesadilla

They split the tasks. The NT got out the ingredients and the older one did the recipe… only asking his brother for assistance when he ran into some questions. I hung around in the next room in case they needed some help but they managed quite well.  Measuring out ingredients seemed to be the biggest challenge. This was especially difficult as the ingredients had to be multiplied by four to make a meal for the whole family.

Also, suggesting a size of plate would be helpful. Both boys go for the smallest cooking pot and plate to serve things on.

Taking things literally is another issue. I had bought pre-cooked and cut breast of chicken. The recipe called for chicken tenders and instructed them to cut the chicken in pieces so of course that’s is what they wanted to do. It took me three separate times to tell them that the chicken was already cut up into the right sizes.

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The second time, my autistic son was all on his own. He choose Chili Cheese Dogs. I am not sure if it was because it look the easiest but there was one snag that caused him a great deal of anxiety. Hot dog buns in Europe are not pre-cut. So he had to slice along the middle himself and to be honest, his slicing was not all the equal on his first two attempts. To his credit, he went ahead and didn’t ask for any help.  Afterward we had to take the time to reassured him it wasn’t an issue and we weren’t going to pick them up to eat them with our fingers.

Again the literal. He measured out he exact amount of chili and cheddar to put on each hot dog. Once on the dining room table, I went and go the chill and cheese and said, “Hey I am sure we all want a little more on them… don’t you think?” Everyone was on agreement. I wasn’t about to encourage experiments at this time, but did try to convey that sometimes adding a little extra “garnishing” is fine.

To make things fair, I had my NT do one on his own as well. He chose Breakfast Egg McMuffin because he loves making breakfast (always eggs) for us on the weekends. No problems except he made them one at a time. So we didn’t eat them together at the table or they would have got cold.

Comment from my boys after all their hard work:

“Recipes are really simple.”

Yeah – sure… but stressful none the less.

Personally, I found the end results a little bland and not too exciting. But given that I hadn’t prepared them, I was quite happy with the outcomes. After the very first effort, the book was already covered with food smudges.  This is a good thing…. right?

Oh yeah, it isn’t just for cooking skills either. I am convinced that with continued use, and yes, they will be using the cookbook again that with practice comes skill and comfort.  Special Day Cooking goes beyond cooking skills to teach life skills including:

Knowledge to promote independent living
Working together and fostering teamwork
Self-confidence and building self-esteem
Bonding with family and friends in the kitchen
Strengthens motor skills

About the Author:

In her 11 years of experience working with special education students, Beverly Worth Palomba has found that developmentally-challenged individuals require certain teaching strategies. After developing a culinary arts class for her special needs students, she found there wasn’t a cookbook on the market that enforced these critical teaching methods. As a result, Palomba decided to fill that void and created Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook.

Palomba says,

 “Whether a person is living at home, in a group home or have their own apartment, cooking is a very important life skill and one that’s needed every day. We want our children to be as independent as they can be, and sharing a recipe with family or friends makes you feel great. Up goes your self-esteem and self-confidence!”