[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Parent volunteer Kirti Singh is cooking up life skills for students at Morgan Autism Center. Every Tuesday she joins staff and students from Room 18 — including her son, pictured with her below — in the school’s fully equipped kitchen, where she leads 30-minute cooking sessions.
“Morgan Autism Center has done so much for my son. I wanted to contribute and I thought cooking with his class is something I could do comfortably,” Kirti explains of how the two-year partnership began. “I think fixing a healthy meal for oneself is not only a life skill but also an art that your taste buds can relish.”
Kirti kicks off each session by introducing a recipe that is easy to prepare and children can enjoy, regardless of diet. Many students in the class are on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, commonly known as GFCF, or have other dietary restrictions due to medical reasons or otherwise.
“Some of the most popular items that we have cooked are potato latkes, coconut macaroons, chocolate avocado ice cream, brown rice tortilla chips, curried lentils, sprouted mung bean salad, zucchini noodles, cauliflower tortilla, chicken nuggets,” Kirti says. “The list is endless.”
She dishes out the necessary ingredients (which she brings with her) and equipment needed to make the recipe, and goes through the directions. The students are grouped up and they are assigned a step or take turns with the help of their aides. Once the session is over, the students compare what they have created to a picture of the finished product before sinking their teeth into the creation. In addition, Room 18 teachers Kristin Schaefer and Hailey McConnell send home the recipes each week.
“They get to experiment with different textures, colors and new foods which they may have never been exposed to,” Kirti says.
Judi Campbell, Director of Student Services, sees many benefits to the classes.
“I think the thing that strikes me most, besides the happy noise coming from the kitchen, is that kids will try foods they have rejected in the past like curried cauliflower or roasted broccoli,” she says. “They seem to have a greater curiosity to taste it when they have participated in making it.”
Room 18 Teacher Kristin Schaefer says she has seen this ring true with many of her students.
“Kyle requests different kinds of food and healthier options, both at home and at school, and Stephen tries veggies or things that aren’t his preferred items,” she says.
There have also been other transferable benefits, which Kristin shares.
“Jack is better at waiting his turn during food preparation and following directions and written recipes, while Selah is able to sit still and may attend until finishing a product,” she says.
Kirti says she is looking forward to seeing the students continue to grow through her weekly cooking classes.
“Volunteering for cooking classes at Morgan Autism Center is very fulfilling for me,” she says. “I look forward to spending time with these kids every Tuesday. It has taught me a lot about acceptance and believing in their capabilities. I feel all of them are smart, but trapped in their challenging body. I am glad I can do something for them.
Kirti Singh is an honors graduate from Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. She has a master’s degree in Food and Nutrition and has also worked as a dietician. Her entire family, including her son, have greatly benefited from a hypoallergenic and nutrient dense diet. She enjoys using the holistic approach to help people achieve their goals.