Written by: University of Illinois at Chicago Occupational Therapy Students Justyna Falat, Emily Betz, and Kaily Nagel 

It’s been an exciting year at GiGi’s Cooking Club! When we volunteered to lead the group, we never could have anticipated all of the changes that would take place in 2020, but we have had such a great time working together with the teens, GiGi’s staff, and volunteers to continue participating in cooking club on a virtual platform.

A screen capture of one of the earliest virtual GiGi’s Cooking Club groups.

GiGi’s cooking club is one of the first experiences that we had leading a group. We took over in January 2020 and had 2-3 months to get to know the participants in person and follow the traditional cooking club group model until the stay at home order was implemented in Chicago and throughout the country. As we transitioned to a virtual format, we worked closely with several mentors, volunteers, and staff at GiGi’s to brainstorm ideas on how to remodel the format of cooking club to be safe and accessible for all teens in a virtual format. We implemented new strategies and used resources including Kahoot, Go To Meeting, PowerPoint, and Google docs (via shared screen) to keep cooking club exciting. In order to promote engagement and prevent virtual fatigue for participants, we offered different options for cooking club format including cook-and-tell featuring individual teens’ recipes, leader cooking presentations, group cooking, Kahoot cooking games, recipe writing, and more.

One of the highlights of cooking club was having participants star as guest chefs during cook-and-tell. We enjoyed watching Quincy make tostadas, Lucas make guacamole, and Emily make salad. Their confidence and excitement about cooking something important to them was awesome to see! Some of the other highlights included a kitchen scavenger hunt, GiGi’s restaurant mad libs, creating recipes, making sandwiches and playing Kahoot.

Guest chef Lucas with his homemade guacamole.    

Guest chef Emily with her delicious salad.

Cooking club through a virtual format presented challenges such as coordinating guest chefs, logistics of everyone cooking together virtually at the same time, and planning for the next week without knowing how many participants would be in the cooking club, and which attendees were returning and which were new. These challenges taught us to be flexible and creative. We also learned the importance of collaboration, gathering input from the participants, and the value of checking in. However, the virtual format presented opportunities as well. For example, new participants joined virtually, and we feel lucky that the circumstances allowed us to get to know teens that were not able to attend in-person cooking club previously.

Throughout GiGi’s cooking club in-person and virtually we have loved getting to know all the participants and their excitement about food and cooking! We’ve learned so much through this experience about planning and leading groups both in person and virtually. We will really miss seeing everyone every other week for cooking club! Hopefully, once GiGi’s can occur in person again we can stop in and say hi to all the participants that have made our GiGi’s experience so memorable for us! We hope everyone enjoys a safe holiday season and can try out cooking some of the GiGi’s Cooking Club recipes we’ve linked below.

Screen capture of one of the last GiGi’s Cooking Club groups when everyone made personal pizzas.


Holiday Recipes

Banana Santas


Celery Reindeer


Snowman Hot Chocolate


Shortbread Cookies


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