Using Recipes to Improve Attention and Executive Functioning

Enrichment Therapies

November 28, 2022

Adult helping two with recipe

By: Olivia Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP

Cooking is a great way to help your child improve their attention and executive functioning. Recipes contain multiple steps that your child must follow in order. They also provide a variety of directions (e.g. mix, pour, measure) that can help your child increase their vocabulary. For more information about what executive functioning is, check out our website. Below are four of our favorite kid-friendly recipes.

Trail Mix

This is a great recipe for anyone starting out or little helpers, as it is heat and knife free. It also allows for many opportunities to repeat new vocabulary such as names of ingredients, tools in the kitchen (i.e. bowl, spoon, etc), and directions to mix. 

Additionally, this recipe is great for little language learners that are learning the concept of sequencing. One phrase you may want to say is “First, ____. Then ____” as you sequence the ingredients you want to add.

  • Ingredients: 
    • Any of your favorite ingredients (i.e., cereals, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate candies, etc.)
  • Directions: 
    • In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients. For older children or those learning to count, measure out the ingredients to add more opportunity for counting.
    • Mix together.
    • Enjoy!

Pizza Bagels

Pizza bagels are another fun recipe, as they can be a snack or meal where the child can feel true ownership over what they made. This recipe is a bit more involved and the use of an oven at the end makes it one that is best for older children with help from an adult. This recipe is great for practicing sequencing in a specific order as changing the order of the recipe can change the end result. 

Have fun with it and let your child experiment with what order they want to put the ingredients together; this will spark further conversation about the importance of following directions.

  • Ingredients: 
    • Bagels
    • Pizza Sauce
    • Cheese (any kind you prefer)
    • Toppings (anything your child likes: pepperoni, chicken, onion, mushrooms, spinach, sausage, etc.)
  • Directions: 
    • Split the bagel in half
    • Using a spoon, scoop pizza sauce onto each bagel half (approximately 2 Tbsp.).
    • Layer with cheese and toppings.
    • Place in the microwave or oven. Once cool, enjoy!
      • Microwave for 30-60 seconds or until the cheese is melted.
      • Oven: place on a baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

Banana Sushi

This is a favorite recipe for young, but active helpers. The use of a butter knife or the back of a spoon lets your child help in all stages of prep for this recipe without any compromise to safety. The vocabulary you may use during this recipe includes but is not limited to: banana, sushi, sprinkle, chocolate, roll, large, small, cut, slice, coconut, knife, graham crackers, crumble, and eat.

  • Ingredients: 
    • 2 large bananas
    • Any toppings you enjoy (nuts, sprinkles, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, cereal, graham crackers, etc.)
    • Butter knife or the end of a spoon (so your child can cut the banana with you)
  • Directions: 
    • Slice the banana into 1-inch pieces.
    • Place toppings into a bowl or rimmed plate. Crumble any large toppings before placing in a bowl.
    • Roll the banana in the desired topping(s).
    • Eat!

Berry Yogurt Popsicles

This recipe is a fun and healthy way to get your child thinking. While you (or your older child) are reading the recipe, have your child practice using the different amounts to measure each ingredient. This recipe can result in a very different outcome if the directions are not followed in order or the amounts are changed. 

Allow for experimentation and explain to your child why the recipe didn’t work or the purpose they make two batches to see how their suggestion might change the results.

  • Ingredients: 
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen fruit (any your child prefers; we like cherries or strawberries)
    • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blackberries (can also substitute other preferred fruit here as well)
    • 1 Tbsp. Honey
    • 24 oz Vanilla Greek Yogurt
    • 13 (3 oz) paper cups (or reusable mold) and 12 popsicle sticks
  • Directions: 
  1. In a small mixing bowl, mash the fruit. Add honey and mix together.
  2. In paper cups, alternate layering the greek yogurt and fruit mixture until full. You can also swirl it to give a fun design.
  3. Place a popsicle stick in each cup and freeze.
  4. When ready to serve, simply tear off the paper cup and enjoy!
  • Note: if you do not have popsicle sticks, plastic spoons will work as well.

Cooking with kid-friendly recipes can be fun and healthy to help your child learn new vocabulary, the importance of sequencing, and many other executive functions. These skills can later help them to follow directions in school, sequence events within their day, and so much more! For more information on executive functions or if you have concerns about your child’s executive functioning, you can contact us for more information.

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