The Lunch Bunch

Guest Authored By Sophia P L, OTR/L

Cooking with your child is a fun, functional, and developmentally appropriate way to work on a variety of skills. Maklunch together to address visual-motor, executive functioning, safety awareness, and self-care skills!  

Developmental Sequence for Meal Preparation 

2 yearsCopies parents’ domestic activities
3 yearsCarries things without dropping them, Dries dishes with help, Wipes up spills
4 yearsFixes dry cereal and snacks
5 yearsMakes a sandwich
6 yearsCleans sink, Washes dishes with help
7-9 yearsBegins to cook simple meals
10-12 yearsCooks simple meals with supervision, Sets table, Washes dishes
13-14 yearsCooks meals independently

Selecting a Recipe 

When selecting a recipe, there are so many ways to support your child!  

  • Choice – Let your child select between 2-3 recipes to foster their sense of autonomy! 
  • Complexity – Following directions is a great way to work on executive functioning skills such as sustained attention, sequencing, and direction following. Set your child up for success! Select recipes that only require 2-3 step directions to begin. Additionally, make sure the language is age-appropriate.  
  • Font size and contrast – To start, select recipes with larger font size and high contrast (e.g. black and white). If they appear overwhelmed, cover up the page so that only one direction is showing at a time.  
  • Pictures – Children are multi-modal learners! This means that they learn from reading, looking, listening, and physically experimenting. Pairing your written directions with pictures may help with comprehension and generalization of skills.  

Cooking Together 

Once you get started, try out some of the following: 

  • Set Up – Make a list of the materials you need with your child! Then, have them go on a scavenger hunt around the kitchen to find everything! This is great for visual scanning and executive functioning skills! 
  • Direction Following – Read each step together! On the first attempt, explain new cooking terminology and model how to do it! Slowly ween off the supports. Let your child problem solve through different steps and encourage them to advocate for help only when needed. 
  • Safety awareness – Discuss safety awareness in the kitchen and model safe practices such as washing your hands, rinsing produce, and using a step stool to grab items among others. Start with recipes that do not require the use of a stove, oven, toaster, blender, or microwave. Developmentally, children begin to prepare hot meals in younger adolescence (12-15 years) with supervision. They are typically independent with safety awareness using complex kitchen equipment in older adolescence (16-21 years). 

Here is a list of easy lunch recipes that are fun and nutritious for the whole family! 

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly 
  • Quesadillas 
  • Ham/Turkey Roll-Ups 
  • Pizza Bagels 
  • Ants on a Log 


Moffett Boyd, M. E., Garbarini, J. G., Kahn D’Angelo, L., O’Sullivan, S. B., & Fleming-Castaldy, R. P. (2017). Human Development Across the Lifespan. In R. P. Fleming-Castaldy (Author), National occupational therapy certification exam: Review & study guide (8th ed., p. 130). Evanston, IL, IL: TherapyEd. 

Dunn, L., Coster W., J, Orsmond, G. I., & Cohn, E. S. (2009). Household task participation of children with and without attentional problems. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 29(3), 234-251; Bloorview Life Skills Institute. (2007). Growing up ready timetable & checklists. Retrieved July 1, 2020, from:;Rodger, S. (2006). I can do it: Developing, promoting, and managing children’s self-care needs. In S. Rodger, & J. Ziviani (Eds), Occupational therapy with children (pp. 200-221). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.