Whether you aspire to the freedom of independently preparing meals or wish to unleash your inner ‘Masterchef’ with greater freedom in the kitchen, we provide tips for safe kitchen practices, simple kitchen tweaks and low-cost, cooking-specific assistive technology.
When it comes to independence, being able to prepare your own meals is a worthy priority. Not only does having resources to match your capacities and limitations allow you the freedom to choose your own meals and provide flexibility, but being able to nourish your body with the nutrition it needs is an important and satisfying part of self-care. Whether you or someone in your care is working towards greater independence or wishes to pursue a passion for cooking as a leisure activity, here are some practical tips to get started.
- Configure your kitchen
For people with limited mobility, functional difficulties that affect use of regular kitchen equipment or low vision, kitchen configuration can either enable or prohibit successful and safe cooking. If you’re living alone or in a shared environment without ongoing assistance, this will likely be a key consideration during a home assessment by an occupational therapist, who may make recommendations for modifications and/or assistive technology to enable maximum independence in a safe environment. However, in many cases, major expensive modifications are not required. Inexpensive items such as mobile cutting benches and storage trolleys and height-adjustable wall-mount racks and shelves can greatly enhance accessibility and manoeuvrability around the kitchen. Low-cost cooking-specific assistive technology can also positively transform your experience of cooking and enable you to harness your capacities. Here are some ideas for setting up a kitchen that’s right for you (they’re rental property friendly):
- If standing at a kitchen bench is difficult or impossible, consider whether a stool would work for you. If you use a wheelchair, an adjustable-height bench or low bench on wheels may enable you to perform cooking tasks and move freely and safely around the kitchen.
- Ensure that everything you need is easy to access. This may mean keeping certain items on the bench, adding more lower shelves to a cupboard or pantry and using low surfaces such as the floor of cupboards.
- To save space and enable easy access to frequently used items, adhesive hooks at an appropriate height can be an easy and inexpensive solution. Kitchen storage racks (either upright on wheels or those that adhere to a wall at the appropriate height) can also be good options.
2. Plan meals and shopping
If your mobility is limited and shopping is difficult or requires the assistance of a carer or support worker, or you have groceries home delivered (with a delivery fee for each order), it makes sense to limit shopping trips. However, doing this while ensuring that you have everything you need requires planning and discipline. If you’re not used to following a structured meal planning and shopping regimen, it may take time and additional support to set up a workable structure. Here are some possibilities to consider:
- Creating a system may include bookmarking or printing out recipes you like on the Internet on your own or with a member of your support team, allocating them to meals you require for the week and creating a shopping list.
- If you have a regular helper for grocery shopping, it’s helpful to let them know what you’re doing and to involve them in establishing a process.
- If a recipe is ambitious for your level of confidence or practice, consider asking a support worker, family member or friend to attend the first time you try the recipe. This can lend extra reassurance and help you to grow your confidence.
- When considering recipes, make a point of checking the method, not just the ingredients, to realistically evaluate whether it’s feasible for you. (If a recipe calls for many ‘finely-chopped’ ingredients that aren’t available pre-cut and you have limited power in your dominant arm, wrist or hand, you may be better to look for a different recipe.)
3. Prioritise safety
The kitchen is full of potential hazards - for anyone - and avoiding accidents requires consistent attention to safety details (as we become more proficient in the kitchen, it can be easy to get complacent). Consider printing a list (using words and/or pictures) of key safety checks and sticking it on the fridge or in a prominent place on a kitchen wall as a reminder and make a habit of checking off each one every time you cook. Here are some items to put on your list:
- Wash hands with soap and water before preparing food and after handling raw meats.
- Use dedicated chopping boards and utensils for raw and cooked food and for meats and vegetables.
- Don’t leave food unattended on the stove while turned on.
- When cooking, wear clothing that is fitted or semi-fitted rather than loose, drapy clothing and take care not to let your clothing get too close to a heat source - especially a flame gas stovetop. Sleeves are a case in point.
- Use pan holders to prevent pans from tipping over on the stove (especially with a flame gas cooktop).
- Turn pot and pan handles towards the back of the stove to prevent inadvertently knocking them over.
4. Use your NDIS funding
If your goals for development towards greater independence include learning to cook or being able to independently execute daily living tasks at home, you may be able to purchase certain kitchen assistive technology using your NDIS funding. Expensive modifications such as moving benches or changing bench height aside, many kitchen-specific assistive technology items qualify for the low cost assistive technology category. This means that if your need for them is reasonable and necessary and you have funding for assistive technology in your NDIS plan, you should be able to purchase items up to a value of $1,500 without a quote. Similarly, you may be able to use your funding to enlist a support worker to help you learn how to plan, prepare and cook meals or an occupational therapist to help you to gain access to relevant assistive technology and develop physical attributes such as strength and coordination to enable you to achieve your independent cooking goals. Here are a few low-cost assistive technology items that can greatly enhance independence in the kitchen.
- Cutting devices (e.g. knife guards, angled knives and slicing guides)
- Custom cutting boards (e.g. boards with adjustable pegs to prevent movement while chopping or boards with high contrast for low vision) and non-slip mats
- Non-slip mats (very helpful for chopping and mixing).
- Adapted design peelers and utensils and jar, can and bottle openers
- Alerts and alarms for safety and to remind you when cooking is complete or needs checking (e.g. simple touch button timers and temperature alerts)
- Specially designed kettles and kettle tippers to prevent scalding
If your goals or those of someone in your care include cooking independently for the first time, improving your ability to fulfill your nutrition requirements independently or becoming more independent in executing daily living tasks at home, speak to your existing NDIS team or occupational therapist. If you or someone in your care isn’t currently engaged with an occupational therapist or is seeking an all-in-one multidisciplinary NDIS-registered provider with collaborative occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychology, speech pathology and dietetics services, please contact our dedicated community division on (03) 9013 5987. We’d be glad to help!