Are you looking for a free and functional therapy tool? How about a take-out menu? Menus are practical, full of language concepts and can be used for a variety of speech and language goals. Many young adults on my caseload have limited literacy skills and often find themselves dependent on others to order for them in dining situations. If they can’t read the menu accurately they won’t know all of their choices unless someone reads it to them.
What’s more functional than being able to read a menu and make a choice for themselves? Some menus have pictures, but most do not. Even menus with images and words are tricky if you’re not familiar with all of the dishes.
When using a menu as a treatment tool, I ask my clients, “What are your favorite places to eat?” Many times they don’t know names of restaurants, but can describe the type of food they prefer (e.g. Mexican, pizza, Italian). This is also an ideal opportunity to connect with family members by getting details about restaurants they visit and food they order.
When I ask a client, “How do you know what to order?” many of them respond by saying: “I just get the pizza/chicken/hamburger,” or: “My parents order for me,” or: “I ask the waitress for the food I want.” All of these answers work when dining out, but none give clients the ability to .take charge of their preferences.
Here are 10 speech and language goals I target when using menus in treatment:
- Literacy: Work on learning to read menu-related key words like appetizer, salads, sandwiches, chicken or fish. Create a bingo game with new words, so your client becomes fluent. Review the same menu over several sessions so your client familiarizes themselves with it.
- Categorization: What food group is broccoli in? How about chicken? I like to work on this goal of food groups with a game called Healthy Helpings My Plate Game. Try grouping foods by cost depending on your client’s budget or by healthy versus not healthy foods.
- Requesting: Practice requesting by asking your client to tell you what they would want from that particular menu, such as: “I want the sesame chicken with brown rice.”
- Pragmatics: Work on role playing by pretending you are the waitress and your client is the customer. Reverse roles and practice greetings, turn-taking, being polite, and more.
- Describing/Commenting: Review different foods and ask your client to describe specific For example, “What is the difference between thin crust pizza and thick crust pizza?” or, “Describe what crispy chicken tastes like.” If your clients can describe their preferences in detail, the better they’ll get at ordering.
- Answering “wh” questions: As you review the menu, ask “wh” questions like: “What is your favorite item on the menu?”, “Why do you like chicken nuggets?”,
- Expanding vocabulary: Using varied menus exposes clients to new and unfamiliar vocabulary. I even learn new terms when reading a menu from a restaurant I’ve never visited. (Recently I participated in a cooking class and learned several new words.) Review new vocabulary and discuss its meaning. An ideal way for your consumer to comprehend food-related words is to show your client an image. Using Google Images is an easy way to do this.
- Money Concepts: Work on the language of money concepts with your consumer. Present a budget and figure out what they can order within it. Ask “What happens if you go over budget?” or other money-related questions.
- Problem Solving: Discuss possible situations that your client might have to solve using a menu. For example, what happens if they run out of your favorite item? What do you do if you have an allergy? What do you tell the waitress if you don’t like your food?
- Sequencing: Discuss the order of how you’re going to order food and drink items. For example, you normally order drinks first, appetizers next, entrée and then dessert. Reviewing the menu can be carried over to other activities related to sequencing.
Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.