Teaching Cooking & Kitchen Safety: Special Education Lesson

functional life skills how to teach life skills special education teachers transition Feb 07, 2022
Kitchen Safety Lesson Resource
Importance of Kitchen Safety

The kitchen is now the heart of the home. So, your students are likely in and out of their family kitchen multiple times a day, to grab a quick snack, to talk to a sibling or family member while they cook or clean, eat a meal, or get a drink of water. However, the kitchen CAN have many hazards that could put students at risk of getting hurt or sick. Therefore, students should understand how to be safe in the kitchen.


Regardless of a student's cooking and/or independent living goal, safety is a valuable functional skill for all younger and older students.  In my humble opinion, all students, especially those with developmental disabilities and who are receiving special education services, should learn cooking and kitchen skills.  It's the difference between putting a hand on a hot pan of brownies vs knowing to back up when someone opens the oven to take out the hot pan of brownies because both the oven AND the pan is hot.  Exposure is the first step to learning, especially for a special needs learner, and thankfully, getting in the kitchen and observing is a fun way to introduce and reinforce key safety skills.  


Kitchen and cooking safety is a perfect way to ease into cooking, especially for those who have trepidation or disinterest in learning to cook.  Having the knowledge and skills to be safe while cooking will increase confidence and make prepping even the simplest of snacks and meals more approachable.  



Top 5 Kitchen Safety Cooking Life Skills 

The following are five top tips for kitchen, cooking, and food safety. Safety rules are important life skills for students who cook and consume food.  

1. Safely using a knife and microwave

The most commonly addressed of the safety hazards, knife and microwave use.  Knife safety is important because it is not only important for students who are cutting ingredients as part of the food prep process, but for those who will scrounge around a drawer to find their preferred utensil without regard to the sharp edges of knives that lay in the drawer.  

Knives aren't the only sharp edge in the kitchen.  Keep in mind that Keurig machines, vegetable choppers, and even the ends of aluminum foil can be sharp! 

Keeping one's eyes on their hands when using a knife is very important and requires fine motor skills.  For students who may not feel comfortable using a knife to cut becuase of weak fine motor skills, it's also important to keep eyes to the sink when fishing out the next thing to clean or put in the dishwasher as other dishes or bubbles may block one's ability to see sharp knife edges and blades.  ​

Safe microwave use is also important.  What comes out is hot and one should use gloves.  Not everything can be put in the microwave, like styrofoam plates, silverware, cans, and aluminum foil.  And, the hard-to-nail-down skill of how long to cook something for, especially when reheating leftovers.  Cooking for too long may cause a fire, and not cooking long enough leaves it cold.  


2. Using gloves when using hot appliances (oven/microwave)

There are some kitchen and cooking skills students can learn as they complete worksheets (as in when to use gloves when cooking), while others require that hands-on approach.  Putting on gloves and handling plates, bowls, pans, paper boxes, and containers adds a whole other feel to otherwise simple steps.  While understanding why one should wear gloves when handling hot things, it's the skill of knowing how the feeling of gloves changes how to handle and hold a hot surface.  


3. Touching raw food

It's the invisible bacterial risk that comes with touching raw meat that makes it such a safety concern.  Just as important as knowing to wash hands after touching raw food is understanding how NOT washing hands or just a 'quick rinse' can lead to transferring bacteria and illness, spreading germs to other food and surfaces in the kitchen.  Students should also learn to wash their hands after they store food in the fridge or freezer, as raw meat liquid may be present on the packaging.  


4. Purpose of soap and keeping hands clean- Water safety is important!  

Quality hand washing falls mainly in the 'personal hygiene' category, but it is also a key safety skill in the kitchen.  Going hand in hand with touching raw meat, washing hands reduces the risk of spreading and consuming bacteria and aids in safely handling food and utensils in general.  Clean, dry hands make holding, carrying, and using other utensils and appliances easier and safer.  

Not to mention, using soap and washing hands is a functional life skill that is used in all environments, including vocational education. For a specific hand-washing week-long lesson unit, check out my Hand washing and bathrooming lesson.  


5. Keeping electrical appliances away from water

Spill some water, clean it up.  Spill some soup, clean it up.  Want to use the toaster, be sure it's away from those spills!  This is a key part of the cooking process.  However, knowing not to use appliances that are near or in water creates a safe working environment.  Water ends up on the counter from washing dishes and cleaning hands, from spilled cups of water, and from overflowing bowls.  Cleaning it up is more than just a chore, it's safety related. 



Unpopular Opinion:

It is totally okay to buy pre-cut, pre-cooked, and pre-portioned food.  In fact, it should be encouraged more!  

The overall cost will be slightly higher at check-out, but purchasing done-for-you food will also greatly decrease safety risks and greatly increase healthy eating.   As a meal-delivery customer for years and years and years (thank you, Hello Fresh), I know that when healthy food is easily accessible, I'm more likely to eat it.  

For example, if an individual can eat pre-cooked and pre-sliced chicken strips safely, then they may be able to prepare more meals for themselves and rely less on unhealthy convenience foods.  Let's not even in add in the delivery fees for restaurant meals!  

There are several safety risks related to cooking raw chicken strips, including handling raw meat, safely storing raw meat, cleaning after handling raw meat, using a heat source, and cooking meat until it meets an internal temperature. While the cost of a pre-cut, pre-cooked option may be slightly higher than a raw option, it will also be more likely to be cooked and eaten and less likely to be wasted and thrown in the garbage, which will be much cheaper than a meal at a restaurant.  


Why Focus On These Skills

Safety is top of mind for all families, and while they want their students to be safe, they also likely want them to be independent in getting a drink of water or preparing a simple meal or snack. Students don’t need to be capable of staying home by themselves to learn kitchen safety. They can learn how to safely handle themselves in the kitchen regardless of their level of independence in meal preparation.


When To Teach

If possible, try to pair this lesson with advocacy or problem-solving in the event that the student does encounter an issue. Try to teach kitchen safety BEFORE lessons on preparing a meal so the basics are already addressed.

If you are already in the middle of the school year, you haven't missed the boat completely...

List of Tips for Addressing Kitchen Safety Anytime the Year

1.  Point and Click Homework

If all of your students have smartphones with cameras, you can have students take pictures of their kitchen at home where there may be a safety risk.  Having students email 5 pictures is also a great way to incorporate technology into cooking skills!  If there is a room with a kitchen nearby, this is also a great idea for independent work for those early finishers or an idea for centers or activities for small groups or for students who may not have cell phones or if you/the student doesn't feel comfortable taking pictures of their home setting.  

2.  When a Lesson Runs Short

For those few minutes when class ends early, having students walk into a kitchen and touch things that could be a safety risk is a great way to meaningfully end class.  No prep necessary, the simple prompt of, 'Go touch something that could be a safety risk in the ktichen' can be a great opportunity to see what students see as obvious risks and those that aren't yet on their radar.  And, if you don't have a kitchen next door, a simple picture from a Google Search works great too! 

3. Prepare the Visual Recipe with Visual Reminders

For students who use visual recipes when cooking, taking a red marker/pen/crayon/colored pencil and circling parts of the recipe pictures or text when there is a potential safety hazard before students start cooking can help to increase awareness and provide visual reminders while cooking.  

For Cooking Class resources and strategies that will definintely make your lessons better, check out my list of 10 Special Education Teacher Cooking Class Tips for Secondary Students


Looking for ready-made lesson plans?  This comprehensive resource comes with a complete lesson unit of materials for teaching this topic. The pdf file materials are comprehensive (5 full lessons) and most appropriate for life skill lessons for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and transition level students. Below are some lesson unit highlights of this must-have resource!

Students will identify sharp edges and how to be safe when using them.

Students will identify ways to prevent fires and burns in the kitchen.

Students will identify how to stop the spread of germs through handwashing.



Lesson Vocabulary

burn, fire, knife, prevent, microwave safe, mitts, oven, oven mitts, safe, sharp, soap



Kitchen Safety Lesson Resource

  • Pre and Post assessment
  • 1 page narrative explaining the skill with and without visual text supports (to incorporate functional reading)
  • 5 skill practice activities to learn and/or reinforce the focus skills
  • Game for students to practice their skills (because learning is fun)
  • Boom Cards for practice or assessment (with automatic correct response feedback and grading)

  • Student learning reflection worksheet (thumbs up or down)
  • Encouraging on-topic quotes (use as a classroom poster or starter for each class period)
  • 5 strategies for success (tips for being successful with the focus skills)
  • Coloring page with on-topic graphics
  • Skill mastery certificate for positive recognition and reinforcement
  • Data collection sheet on specific focus skills
  • Homework sheet to encourage students to practice the skill outside of the school setting
  • Word search of key vocabulary terms
  • Visuals for focus skills with age appropriate colors and graphics
  • Answer keys


Ultimate Goal

Knives, microwaves, and ovens are the top safety issues when students are in a kitchen. Teaching them how to handle or keep away from these tools and appliances properly should be the main goal of the lesson.


What to try part of this kitchen safety lesson unit for free?


Additional Essential Life Skills 

Looking to increase functional reading skills?  The Cooking and Kitchen Safety Workbook includes recipe comprehension cooking passages!  


Want more kitchen-related cooking units?  Check out the Following a Recipe and Food Storage Lesson Units


Kitchen Safety Life Skills Lesson Unit







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