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If you’re looking for a new way to teach cooking skills to individuals with intellectual disabilities, meal delivery kits like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Freshly may be a good option for you! I’ve tried a few different meal delivery services over the years, and more recently, my family has been ordering HelloFresh boxes instead of eating out at restaurants. Sam loves picking out and cooking HelloFresh meals and we love eating them!

Although HelloFresh is our go-to brand, there are over 30 meal delivery services on the market with different options for dietary needs and budgets. Meal and meal kit delivery services are known for their convenience and sustainability, but we think they’re a great option for people with intellectual disabilities, too!

So without further ado, here are five ways meal prep kits can support cooking skills in people with intellectual disabilities, whether you’re cooking at home with the family or in a life skills classroom.

1. Meal delivery services avoid cooking challenges caused by executive dysfunction while supporting independent meal choice.

Let’s face it, planning and cooking a meal isn’t just about cooking skills. To prepare a meal successfully, an individual must select a meal, scale ingredients to an appropriate number of servings, make an ingredient list, check the kitchen for items that need to be purchased, make a grocery list, travel to the grocery store, navigate within the grocery store to find items, communicate with grocery store employees, purchase the items while staying within budget, and more. For some individuals with intellectual disabilities, executive dysfunction may make planning and executing meals an insurmountable challenge. Others may lack reliable transportation to the grocery store or experience sensory overload once they arrive.

Meal delivery services avoid the challenges associated with meal planning and grocery shopping by delivering all of the necessary ingredients to your door. Kits like HelloFresh and Blue Apron often do require additional ingredients (olive oil, butter, salt and pepper, etc.), but for the most part, they require minimal planning and shopping. At the same time, selecting meals for the weekly delivery allows individuals to practice self-determination by choosing the meals they would like to eat. 

2. Different meal and meal kit delivery services provide “differentiated” levels of cooking instruction.

Meal and meal kit delivery services range from pre-made meals that are microwavable to gourmet meals with ingredients like duck and lobster. For example, Freshly offers fully-prepared meals with gluten-free, plant-based, and low calorie options that are reheated by microwaving for 3-4 minutes. Meals for the Tovala Smart Oven involve a bit more prep work but cook automatically with the scan of a barcode. On the other hand, some HelloFresh meals require extensive prep work and use advanced cooking techniques.

The large variety of meal and meal kit delivery services available ensures that you can find a meal delivery service at an appropriate level for every individual. If you want to try using HelloFresh, I would recommend starting with meals labeled “Easy Prep” and moving towards meals with longer prep times as you gain confidence. Some of the more complicated recipes involve a lot of chopping and other prep work that may be challenging for new cooks.

3. Meal delivery kits come with pre-made visual recipes.

Did you know that all HelloFresh and Blue Apron meals come with visual recipe cards? The text instructions are supplemented with photos of the recipe, much like the visual recipes on Accessible Chef. If you view Blue Apron recipes online, there are also short video tutorials for many of the cooking steps, such as chopping scallions and small dicing onions. You can find the playlist of Blue Apron video tutorials here.

I recommend saving the visual recipes in a binder so that you can make your favorites again and again!

Example of a visual recipe from HelloFresh. The recipes share similarities with task analysis visual recipes from Accessible Chef!

4. Exposure to new tastes, textures, and smells offers a fantastic sensory experience.

Many people with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorder have unique sensory needs. Meal delivery services offer recipes with a huge variety of ingredients and preparations that can help to expand the diet of selective eaters by offering new sensory experiences. Selective eaters may also be more motivated to try new foods when they have helped to select the menu. Sam loves picking our HelloFresh meals for the week and has tried many new foods, from tomato jam to couscous to harissa paste.  

5. Meal delivery kits teach transferrable cooking skills and techniques.

Lastly, because meal delivery kits come with all of the ingredients to prepare a meal, the primary focus is on learning how to cook! The recipes teach important skills that are transferrable between recipes, including mise en place and multitasking in the kitchen. Sam is now an expert at browning onions, which is a technique that we use all the time in HelloFresh recipes and beyond!

Want to try using a meal kit delivery service?

If you want to try using a service like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, I recommend purchasing a non-stick sauté pan with high sides. Non-stick pans make it more difficult to burn food and the high sides prevent spilling onto the stovetop. We love using this sauté pan because it has a “helper handle” so that one person can hold the pan while another stirs. It’s also oven safe and available with an induction base for use on a portable induction burner. If you’re using meal kit delivery services in the classroom, you could assign one step of the cooking process to each person and then allow everyone to try the final product.

Click here to get $110 off your HelloFresh subscription.

Have you tried using meal prep kits? Leave your tips in the comments!