Cooking with support
These are tips for accessible cooking/ cooking with support – tips from a workshop which resulted in this co created cookbook.
These are tips for disabled people who would have support to help in cooking, for example, personal assistants or friends/family. We keep in mind that often, we still need to make do for ourselves and many of us do not have many hours of support, we include tips and advice on kitchen set up to survive when you re home alone as well. These are the tips suggested in the Cooking with Support workshop.
- Avoid clutter / kitchen set up
Remember if you have people working with you, it needs to be quite clear where things go – or it can be frustrating when you can’t find your tin opener, for example. Sometimes kitchen utensils can be placed in strangest places by well meaning PAs. A bit like a library where indexing can be useful. This is the case if you have a few helpers. And for disabled people who are also neuro diverse, it can help prevent some frustration when you do not remember where the gravy boat is placed. So have knife blocks, utensil holders by the hob. Pot /pan stand is easier to access than if they are in a drawer. Having closed kitchen units might look neat but no good if you cannot access or see what’s in them. Better to have open shelves – have some hooks so you can get strainers, tongs so that you get them if you need with your grabber. Or point them out to your PA. Very often, they will ask where something is and those will be the times when brain fog or fatigue and we cannot recall. I know some people have specially designed /customised kitchens but not many of us can afford it.
Stand-alone shelves are good in a kitchen. They can be categorised – tea, spices, tinned food, pulses, cookbooks etc. Mini trolleys are also good. They are good for sorting fruits and vegetables, onions, garlic, potatoes and the like. Also good for sauces.
- Kitchen equipment
Microwaves and air fryers are very useful equipment for everybody – especially in these days when energy prices are going up. There’s also the convenience and safety factors for disabled people. They cut down cooking time, useful if you have limited care hours.
Microwaves are often used to defrost or reheat food. But they can be used for cooking rice, steaming vegetables and fish as well.
On a different spectrum, there is the thermomix, expensive but it does many things, eliminating complications and simplifying steps by integrating such steps like having to use weighing machines.
There are also gadgets on the market to assist such as electric tin openers, help to open bottles etc. For those with mobility issues, there is also melamine tableware – lightweight and unbreakable. Not many are microwave compatible even if dishwasher safe. Great for shaky hands – no fear of breakages if dropped. They are many which have good designs these days.
Food tongs (get long and short ones) are good, handy to turn food over, pick toasts out of toasters and noodles out of a pan etc. Chopsticks, if you use them, do the same tasks. We suggest to stay away from using knives, but sharp knives are safest if you have to use them. So, keep them sharp.
This is where it gets different from other cooking recipes – cooking as a disabled person, and with support, requires different survival tactics/techniques. Have whatever you need to save time and energy. If you have only PA limited support (timewise), or if they are not familiar with your cooking methods, use shortcuts like pre cut or frozen vegetables, tinned food like chickpeas or lentils, fish, prepared pastry etc. and even instant noodles.
Safety is very important. A wheelchair user should be careful with transferring hot items, whether it is a saucepan or hot dish. Its too easy to have hot food tipped on a lap. Also, to be careful if cooking at eye level, not to have hot oil spit on you. For blind people, it might be better to use scissors to cut rather than to handle knives. Equally important, to follow food hygiene. Not all PAs are cognizant with food hygiene – for example, how to store raw meat away carefully covered in the fridge away from other food items, how to heat food correctly to prevent food poisoning. Use separate coloured chopping boards.
Writing down meal plans or having common recipes you use is helpful, for people with memory issues or are neurodivergent. Some personal assistants do not have English as their first language either, so instructions need to be as clear/simple as possible. It was pointed out that it might be useful to check out cooking techniques and recipes on online videos while preparing food with personal assistants and helpers to help understanding and gain confidence. Another tip is to use smartphone for live streams to follow the food preparation away from the kitchen – for example, if you have energy issues, and have to stay in bed to rest while food is being made ready.
Dietary restrictions need to be specific. Having timers are also useful as reminders for when the food is ready.