EF at Home: Cooking Up an EF-Friendly Meal

A family gathered around in the kitchen preparing a meal.

While cooking can be fun, it can also be a taxing task that relies heavily on executive function. Cooking is a great opportunity to get kids involved in household chores that build EF strategies.

Research shows that the benefits of chores at home are numerous. A new study(link opens in new tab/window)↗ published by researchers at La Trobe University demonstrated that children who engage regularly in age-appropriate chores showed a stronger ability to plan, self-regulate, switch between tasks, and remember instructions. Ready to get cooking in an EF-friendly kitchen?


Cooking a meal from scratch requires a lot of planning. First, encourage your children to think about what kind of meal they would like to make. Then, they can look for a recipe online and read through each of the ingredients and the steps. After all the ingredients have been gathered, it’s time to assemble the kitchen tools and supplies they will need. Lastly, it’s important to be sure that there is enough counter space to spread out comfortably.

Flexible Thinking

Expect the unexpected! Maintaining a flexible mindset and considering multiple solutions to a problem are essential for getting back on track after a setback.

When it comes to cooking, the chef must keep instructions and lists of ingredients in mind while moving from step to step. They also need to pivot and adapt when they run out of an ingredient or encounter other issues along the way. This can lead to a greater ability to think flexibly. Encourage your children to brainstorm ingredients they can substitute to achieve a similar flavor profile as the original set of ingredients.

Visual Supports

Visual EF supports can also be helpful. For example, consider posting a weekly meal planner document with space for all family members to fill in meals they would like to cook and enjoy. When an ingredient runs out or a pantry item needs to be replaced, start a central grocery shopping list that everyone can add to before they forget. You can also use sticky notes to label different ingredients, indicate when ingredients were opened, and remind chefs to turn certain appliances off. Timers that make time visible can be an excellent support in the kitchen to help children develop a more accurate sense of the passing of time.

It’s never too early to model EF strategies! Encouraging children to complete cooking chores is an excellent way to demonstrate the importance of sharing responsibilities at home and offers opportunities for embedding executive function strategies outside of school.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

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SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org