Ten Tips for Cooking with a Disability or Injury

A grabbing tool for a home cook with limited movement.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Switching tasks. Chopping, peeling and stirring use different muscles and joints. 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.
  5. Switching positions. Arrange your work so you can sit, and make sure your workspace is at the correct height.
  6. Moving objects as little as possible. Work close to your cooking space. Keep a wheeled cart to transport things around the kitchen.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

More Tips on Cooking with Disabilties or Injuries

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:

Extreme Frugality: Twenty Memories of My Mother

Why You Should Finish Everything on Your Plate

Twenty Tips to Avoid Soup Powder or Canned Broth


  1. This is such a smart post. While I fortunately don’t have to worry about any of these myself, I’m sure it’ll be helpful for those that do need it.
    Another few things to add- some stores let you order by phone and make home deliveries- that can be really helpful to people with disabilities.
    Crock pot cooking also can help because it doesn’t entail standing over the stove and mixing. Most crockpot meals are “dump meals”.
    Also another point about cooking the same meals over and over- you learn to eyeball quantities, not to mention memorizing recipes, so you don’t have to get and wash and put away your cookbook and measuring tools.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  2. Excellent post, Hannah, thank you. Penny’s comments are also very useful.

  3. My tip for EVERYONE is to *sit* at the table or counter (if you have a taller chair) when you cut and peel vegetables. The position you stand in when you cut vegetables standing isn’t great for your back. Since most vegetables come in plastic bags, I spread one of them out next to the cutting board for peels and stems and other garbage, then I wrap up the bag, and put it in the trash. (I don’t have a garden, so no compost heap…)

  4. My mother had a host of issues, including a bad back and severe arthritis. She purchased a tall computer-type chair that was very adjustable and on wheels and used that for the kitchen. Also make sure that your faucet has a lever handle instead of knobs to turn.

    Kitchen utensils with thicker handles tend to be a bit easier on the hands. They don’t store very nicely in the drawer, but they are so worth it. Also to make sure to lift pans and other equipment with both hands. While you might have the strength to lift a full pot with one hand, it will definitely strain you.

    What I frequently do is stage all of my recipes in advance. I’ll make a list of all of the food I need to make, then put each recipe on the table with its ingredients and the pot/pan/blender I need to use for it. The staging takes minimal effort but makes the cooking much more streamlined and much easier because you don’t have to think too much and you don’t have to run around looking for everything. I usually stage the night before.

  5. Dianabell3 says

    Having some one come and pre–measure flour sugar salt etc because I always put 1 cup to many or not enough of something.

  6. Get a slow cooker with a timer. Buy or beg four freezer containers. Follow the slow cooker recipe, when done, eat one portion and freeze the other four. Thaw, nuke to serve when you want.



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