Cooking has become a popular pastime since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many people staying at home have more time on their hands but limited access to resources like restaurants in their community. They have found enjoyment in trying out new recipes or maybe even recipes that have been in their family but they have never tried to make on their own. Even in regular times, cooking can be healthier and less expensive than ordering food from a restaurant, making it an important but overlooked skill for people with disabilities to possess.
If you find yourself cooking more these days, are new to cooking and want to give it a try, or just want to freshen up your current cooking routine, we’ve asked some in our Spina Bifida community what tips and tricks they have for cooking. They shared a wealth of information.
There are many people with disabilities who cook, and YouTube is a great place to start to learn logistical tips and modifications they’ve made in the kitchen. Just search something like “wheelchair users cooking,” and you’ll come up with lots of results. While not all of them will feature someone with a similar physical function as you, many will. We like Day in the Life: Kitchen Mobility – Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and Wheelchair Cooking in a Non-Adapted Kitchen! as great places to start.
If you’re new to cooking, most people find recipes to be important, at least at first. There are lots of recipes out there on the internet. Just search for what you like, and you’ll find lots of options. Some of the adults with Spina Bifida who shared their cooking suggestions said they have searched for recipes in the Food Network, SuperCook Recipe by Ingredient, Pinterest, or searched for microwave cooking recipes. Just type in the search bar what ingredients you have at home already, and it will bring up recipe options. If you have a home assistant like an Amazon Echo, you can even ask it to find recipes for you.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the amount of recipes you find. Just pick one, and if you don’t like it, give yourself a pat on the back for trying. Then choose another recipe next time, or tweak the one you have if something like switching out an ingredient is what bothers you.
Frozen vegetables are a common time and money saver. They keep you from taking the time to chop everything up. They’re also helpful because if you’re only planning to make one recipe with them, they just go right back in the freezer to use in the future. One the other hand, if you use fresh vegetables but don’t use them before they go bad and you have to throw them away, you’ll feel bad about having wasted food and money. If you are planning to use everything in a short amount of time, you can buy fresh cut-up vegetables.
Members of the Spina Bifida community who shared their tips and tricks said they also found it helpful to use a fresh meal kit delivery service (one of our respondents likes Schwann’s) for healthy dishes that you microwave or cook in the oven. They have a variety of foods that are delivered right to your house.
There’s also a whole slew of cooking devices out there on the market with more being released every day. One of our responders loves her multi-cooker (she uses an Instant Pot®) because she finds it easy to use. She said that it cooks meats perfectly – even directly from the freezer, meaning there is no need to thaw – so there is no pressure to decide in advance what you want to have for dinner.
Toaster ovens are also a great option. As a wheelchair user, using a big oven and having to reach over the door to put something in is a little bit of a hassle if I am only cooking a small portion. My toaster oven handles one or two servings of anything and is logistically much easier to use than a regular size oven. Toaster ovens are placed on a counter, and – especially for someone with weaker core muscles – I don’t have to dangerously reach over my body and an oven door with a potentially heavy, hot pan.
From air fryers to panini grills to kitchen gadgets and more, other devices might be worth exploring to make your cooking experience easier.
One of the adults with Spina Bifida in our communities adapted her kitchen with this adjustable bathroom mirror installed over the stove. It’s a game-changing fix that lets you see how things are going inside your pots and pans!
Depending on what you want to eat, cooking sometimes can take a little time; time that you might not have on a weekday after work or other daily obligations. To tackle this, several of our responders mentioned setting aside some time one day a week to cook multiple meals for the rest of the week, and put them in the refrigerator or freezer. That way, it’s nice to have something ready that just needs to be heated.
Cooking is a journey. Some things turn out great, and some things…well, they’re an experience you’ll only do once. It’s worth the effort! It’s all about figuring out what works for you.
By Amy Saffell, Executive Director of ABLE Youth, a nonprofit that teaches children with physical disabilities how to be independent through adaptive sports. She also serves in SBA’s Adult Advisory Council.