This post was featured in an article in The Kitchn with experts on cooking, kitchen design, and disability. You can read my complete interview here.
When I was 12 years old, my mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Painful, stiff and swollen joints forced her to limit her movements and rest frequently. My mother depended on me, as the only child living at home, to help her in the kitchen and around the house. I saw how she managed to cook despite her limited mobility. As we worked, she often explained why she did things a certain way. That is how this blog ultimately came about.
The elderly and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities need to be especially careful about their movements to avoid accidents or strain. But many of the adjustments I’ll describe below can work for any home cook. Temporary conditions, like pregnancy or injury, also require accommodation.
Because everyone’s disability is slightly different, you’ll need to adjust your tasks to fit your situation, or the person you are helping.
Here are a few of the methods she used to get the cooking done.
- Accessibility. Place what you need on the counter or in a convenient drawer or shelf at arm’s reach. My mother kept appliances that she used frequently, like the food processor, on the counter.
- Tools. Among my mother’s favorites were a grabbing tool, food processor, electric can opener, and rubber jar opener. Yet she preferred to wash dishes by hand, rather than bending down to empty the dishwasher.
- Time management. My mother truly excelled at this skill. She didn’t want to waste any motions on unnecessary tasks. So she spaced her tasks throughout the day, resting frequently in between. Even if we are completely healthy, we work better when we take breaks. She also organized her time according to when she knew I would be available to help.
- Switching tasks. Chopping, peeling and stirring use different muscles and joint. While it may be more efficient to peel all the vegetables at once, even a small movement repeated again and again can lead to strain. Alternate frequently among tasks.
- Switching positions. Arrange your work so you can sit, and make sure your workspace is at the correct height.
- Moving objects as little as possible. Work close to your cooking space. Keep a wheeled cart to transport things around the kitchen.
- Limited quantities. Bulk cooking can be efficient, but is not recommended for people with disabilities unless they have help. Better to cook one or two simple meals at a time.
- Limited repertoire. If you have a few basic menus, you’ll use the same ingredients and equipment over and over, and you’ll be able keep those things accessible. For instance, choose one pan and use it for all of your cakes. Give away what you don’t need. A limited menu makes shopping easier. You can always vary it as your situation allows.
- Shopping. For people who are chronically ill or disabled, getting out to the store can be a major challenge. Keeping a running shopping list is essential.
- Knowing your limitations. My mother stopped at the first signs of strain. If you need to lie down and rest, do so. No meal is worth a setback in your condition.
Whether or not you have an injury or disability, always pay attention to your body’s signals. Cooking shouldn’t feel like a marathon.
Have you had to adjust your cooking technique because of an accident or illness? Or do you have a family member with cooking challenges? Please share your tips and tools in the comments.
You may also enjoy: