Cooking is one of the many daily routines that parents miss when their child comes to stay at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. It is the everyday feeding and caring of their child that parents long for.
One of the ways we help parents feel part of the healing and recovery process is to host family cooking nights in the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) room. The ADL room is set up to work like an average living space, with a kitchen, an eating area and bathroom. In this room, our occupational, physical and recreational therapists work with patients to help them transition back into their everyday life.
Alex Gallardo, a therapeutic recreation specialist who organizes dinners for patients and their families, sees many benefits.
“Family dinners provide parents and children who are away from home with a sense of normalcy. Not only do families enjoy familiar smells and tastes, but they are able to listen to their favorite music and enjoy conversation and the camaraderie of their children and other families,” says Alex.
“There’s an educational component, too. When families sit down to share a meal with other families they learn a lot about different cultures,” Alex adds. “Families from Mexico, for example, often discover that the same meal is prepared differently in different regions of Mexico. Sharing these stories over the dinner table promotes cultural understanding and awareness.”
In reality, the family dinner activity begins long before the cooking begins. Parents and patients work together to create a menu. The patients are very excited to create a meal that helps make the hospital setting feel more like home. The meals can be as simple as making fresh tortillas, fresh beans, carne con chili, or tamales. Most of the meals are ones that the patient is very familiar with and hasn’t been able to enjoy in the hospital.
Once they have the menu, the patient goes grocery shopping with a recreational therapist to purchase the ingredients. The shopping experience helps the patient become accustomed to being outside of the hospital and helps prepare them for normal daily activities.
Once back at the hospital, patients and families work together — chopping, stirring, mixing — to to create a delicious and healthy meal.
It is a wonderful gathering that helps the patient and family feel very happy.