two senior women eating lunch togetherCooking can be a surprisingly complex task, especially for someone with a permanent or temporary disability. A disability or injury can effect a person’s ability to grab a glass, reach an ingredient, carry a plate, etc. These challenges vary by person, and they often require creativity to overcome. However, to help make the process a little simpler, here are a few tips for cooking with a disability or helping someone with limited mobility.

1. Search for tools

Many tools have been designed to make common cooking tasks easier. Grabbing tools make it simple to get ingredients from high places. An electric can opener can reduce hand strain while opening a can. And rubber jar openers, single-handed cutting boards, and rocker knives can make preparing foods more comfortable. If you have a specific need, search online, visit a medical supply store, or talk with an occupational therapist for recommendations. You may be surprised how many adaptive tools are available for your need. However, if you can’t find a tool that meets your need, get creative, try a few different tools, or make your own.

2. Plan ahead

Before you go shopping, plan what you will need for every recipe so you won’t have to make a return trip, and pull out all of your ingredients at once when you begin to cook. It is much easier to go to the cupboard once while you’re preparing a meal than to go seven times.

3. Keep things close

Work close to your cooking space to avoid carrying things and consider getting a wheeled kitchen cart to help you transfer items from one area of the kitchen to another. Keep what you need in a central area close to where you plan to work. Having everything on hand will make it easier to work with minimal trips around the kitchen.

4. Simplify your meals

For everyday meals, you may want to consider simple and quick recipes that require less ingredients in order to save time and limit muscle or joint tension. It’s a good idea to have frozen meals or pre-prepared meals ready to pull out on days when cooking would create too much of a strain.

5. Use the same equipment

Try and plan meals that use the same equipment. This will keep you from needing to pull out new appliances and utensils, and will allow you to focus your energy on the meal.

6. Don’t cook in bulk

While cooking in bulk may be more time effective, it is not generally recommendable for someone with a disability or injury, unless there is someone to help. Cooking only one or two meals at a time can cut down on stress and time.

7. Know your limits

It’s alright to take a break to rest or lie down. No meal is worth straining or setting back your condition. It may be helpful to keep a chair or stool nearby in case you need to sit for a moment. Also, if you find that repeating a motion is causing strain, change it up with other tasks (e.g. chop vegetables for a few minutes and then starting the sauce, etc.). Changing motions can give your muscles a needed break.

 

Each person with a disability has her or his own difficulties to overcome when it comes to cooking. But if you’re helping someone with a permanent or temporary disability, remember to respect that person’s autonomy and ability to problem solve solutions. Empower them to participate in cooking and to take pleasure in the task even if the end result isn’t always perfect. Whether you have a disability or not, respect what your body is telling you as you cook and don’t over exert yourself. Take the time to figure out which methods work best for you or your loved one, and enjoy the unique tactile experience of creating a meal.