Interview with Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher ~ Cooking with Kids – Author of The Kitchen Classroom

Interview with Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher ~ Cooking with Kids – Author of The Kitchen Classroom
Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher author of  The Kitchen Classroom: 32 GFCF Recipes to Boost Developmental Skills was our guest on The Coffee Klatch a few times. Gabrielle is a freelance writer, educator, cooking instructor based in Philadelphia. She is the Philadelphia cooking Examiner. She is also the author of several nonfiction books for adults, including Insulin Pump Therapy Demystified, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planner, and The Creative Jewish Wedding Book. Gabriellle is now conducting workshops for parents, parents and kids together, teachers and therapists about how to use cooking to connect, communicate and learn together! Her cooking with kids also includes sessions with  teens.

Hope you enjoy our Tweetchat interview between Pierrette d’Entemont and Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer with its 140 character limitations. A few of the questions and comments that were pertinent to this post come from others who joined us. We wish to thank Gabrielle and all who dropped by for an absolutely, cool session on the benefits of cooking with kids.

Benefits of Cooking with Kids

The Kitchen Classroom is a special project for you. Can you explain a bit about this book?

*>> Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher >>”The Kitchen Classroom” is a gluten-free casein-free GFCF cookbook for kids but is also a guide for parents/teachers about connection and communication. I started writing it about four years ago when I started cooking with my son, George, who has autism. He was 4 years old then. My son is about to turn 8 and my daughter is 5. For both kids, cooking together has been a way that we connect. Cooking was one of the best ways that I found for us to enjoy time together and to work on communicating together.
I started creating recipes that he would like that are GFCF because my son is on a GFCF diet. Cooking together has been very grounding for us. For my son, cooking is very organizing and he looks forward to our cooking time. During the week, when we are all busy, we might do something simple, like he will help me chop up fruit for a fruit salad for dinner.

What did you find as you applied this with your son? I believe cooking is indeed a large part of your professional life as well?

>> Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher >>Yes, I teach cooking to teenagers and work with kids with various disabilities–autism, down syndrome, intellectual disabilities. I discovered that my son felt really competent being in the kitchen with me. It was easy to engage him. We got to work on developmental skills while getting dinner made!

*What do you mean: “Parents don’t need to be “perfect chefs” or have special cooking background–everyone can cook”

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>Absolutely! We live in a “celebrity chef” culture so some people are intimidated to cook. My recipes are very basic with good, fresh ingredients. It is not just for kids with special needs. My neurotypical daughter is 5 and has been cooking with me since 18 mos. With the teens, whom I teach, many don’t know any basic cooking skills like chopping. Everyone needs to know these skills to prepare healthy food for themselves and it’s better if kids are taught as they’re growing up. If people don’t learn to cook, they may rely on fast foods more. Cooking together and sharing meals together should be a vital part of home life! Clearly there is a connection between the rise of obesity and people not spending time in their home kitchens.

What do you have to say about ingredients to parents? I live in a rural area but can still find basic healthy items.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>That’s great…look for fruits and veggies at farmer’s market. If you can’t find GF flours, order at Amazon. Good prices!
How has cooking helped with Sensory issues?
Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>I have an extensive section in the book about cooking and sensory issues because my son is a sensory seeker. Simple things like tearing lettuce leaves, breaking celery or pounding pizza dough give him the input that he’s seeking.

Do you have any tips or tricks for parents with kids that find cooking hard? How would one start?

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>Start with basics and keep in mind your child may have a short attention span and that’s okay. In the book, I have my recipes labeled “easy” to “hardest” so you can pick an easy one to start out. Maybe your first cooking experience is just washing some fruit or veggies together. Maybe the next day you wash and then peel. The next day you wash, peel and pull grapes off the stem and pluck them into a bowl. Within a week you’re making a beautiful fruit salad!

*Any tips on engaging a tween? Our 11 old daughter seems to like feeling in charge. She has special “spices” for her carrot “recipe”.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>Cool! Yes, that feeling in charge feeling is so important at that age.
  • He/she can help you make the grocery list.
  • For engaging a tween, you want the child to feel like he/she has an important role.
  • Give him/her some choices: if you’re making cookies, let him/her compare the smell of different spices and choose what he/she likes.
  • He/she can help you find the ingredients at the store or if you’re ordering at Amazon can help you search for the items.
  • Learning to cook can be both nutritionally beneficial in keeping away from fast foods. And at the same time good family fun.
  • Cooking together and sharing meals together should be a vital part of home life!
  • Cooking also incorporates reading, math, science, and sometimes social studies and writing.

In your book, can all kids, readers and nonreaders, follow along?

  • It includes a book for parents and teachers with 32 quick and tasty gluten-free (GF) and casein-free (CF) recipes.
  • It has specific teaching tips and a color photo of each finished dish.
  • Oh yes! The book comes with a CD-Rom with all 32 recipes with step by step instructions for the kids.
  • CD has 500 color photos illustrating the process of each recipe in detail.
  • You can use the photos on a laptop, print them out, put them in a binder, whatever you prefer!

Can you speak a bit about your website, ? I see it ties well with the book. I see there are lots or interactions possible. Even recipe of the week 🙂

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>I set up my website to create a place for ongoing conversation like this one. Visit me at , share your stories and pictures, and ask me any questions!  Yes, a recipe of the week and you can sign up for my monthly e-news with more tips and ideas.

Teaching teens must have its’ challenges. What lessons have you learned that transfer to all settings?

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>On my web site, I have a link to a podcast of one of my teen cooking classes–check it out! There’s some “immediate gratification” for TEENS too! I have always cooked with my kids. They each pick a menu and shop for and prepare it each week. Easier on Mom, too! Oh yes, teens love to taste what they’ve cooked! It translates well into my work with developmentally disabled adults. The confidence boost is awesome!

Any GFCF tips you’d like to share for parents feeling a bit nervous?

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>Sure, I include extensive resources in the book, like links to the taca plan for removing gluten/casein over 14 weeks. That’s how we did it. One of the best things is to slowly introduce GF foods as you begin to remove gluten-based foods. GFCF Tip: think outside the box, literally. Real food like fruits and veggies are GFCF and are cheap.

*You follow the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) model for autism – tell us about it.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>We’ve been doing RDI for about 4 years. It teaches parents how to work with their kids to work on developmental milestones. RDI is about “framing” experiences for success. That means as a parent I am thinking about setting up an activity for optimal success. I discovered that when I clear my kitchen counters, there was no visual distraction for my son and he could focus on cooking. RDI is all about that kind of thought–it’s very common sense, which I love.
I write extensively about framing in the book (which includes a long intro for parents).  Spending time doing enjoyable Experience Sharing activities like cooking would be it. Yes! Experience sharing is one of RDI’s foundations. When we cook together, I often take pictures so we can go back and remember the experience together.
You do workshops, can you speak about that?
Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher>>Yes! I love doing workshops for parents or parents/kids and can come to your community. I do a demo focusing on everything we talked about this morning–how to begin, framing, roles for kids, following recipes. Just email me if you want more info on a workshop. I live in Philly and will post local events here; I’m happy to come to your communities.
Once again The Coffee Klatch has been instrumental in introducing you to another great resource. Now your family can have the satisfaction and fun of making meals together and building healthy eating habits for life.
We are delighted Gabrielle Kaplan-Maher shared her book The Kitchen Classroom (Woodbine House).
Gabrielle  does a lot of workshops to talk about cooking with kids for parents and all these workshops can be found on her site.
You can read about Gabrielle at the following:
*The Kitchen Classroom at
Buy The Kitchen Classroom: 32 GFCF Recipes to Boost Developmental Skills or at

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.