“Why aren’t there more healthy recipes on the Accessible Chef website?” is one of the most common emails I receive from Accessible Chef users. It’s a great question – people with disabilities often face healthcare and nutritional disparities, and teaching healthy cooking skills is a great way to promote overall wellness.

However, many recipes that use fresh ingredients like fruits, veggies, and meats require home chefs to prep the ingredients with sharp knives or other tools. Learning how to use a sharp blade safely is a major barrier to healthy cooking, especially for those who are just starting out. Convenience foods are often easier to make and don’t require as much prep work.

Today I’m going to be discussing five tips for adapting recipes that use sharp knives so that people with intellectual disabilities or new cooks can complete them more easily. These tips range from avoiding using knives at all to learning how to use sharp blades correctly. Have your own tips for adapting recipes? Leave them in the comments below!

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1. Avoid sharp knives by substituting pre-chopped ingredients

My first tip is to buy ingredients that are already chopped. Check out the refrigerated produce section to see what kinds of chopped fruits and vegetables are available. My local grocery store has fresh and frozen chopped onions, cut fruit, and tubes of fresh herbs. You can also buy fresh “steam in bag” vegetables that are already washed and cut. You don’t actually have to steam them – just open the bag and use as your recipe instructs.

If you’re buying meat, you may be able to ask the butcher at the counter to cut the meat in the way the recipe instructs, or you can buy meat that is already cut, such as stew meat. You can also find recipes that use ground beef, turkey, or chicken in place of larger cuts.

Here are some examples of how to substitute ingredients with pre-prepared ingredients.

Recipe calls for…Replace with
Whole onion
red onion
Pre-chopped onions from produce section
chopped red onions
Fresh garlic
whole garlic
Minced garlic from a jar
minced garlic
Fresh strawberries, stems removed
whole strawberries
Strawberry fruit cup
Sirloin steak, cut into strips
sirloin steak
Pre-cut steak strips
sirloin strips

Keep in mind that pre-chopped ingredients are often more expensive than preparing them yourself. If you’re on a budget, check out tips 3 through 5!

2. Have someone else transfer ingredients with difficult packaging into accessible storage containers

My brother Sam struggles to open packages that require scissors or another sharp blade to open. We transfer ingredients that he uses often, such as shredded cheese, into plastic storage containers that are more accessible to him.

You can test out different types of storage containers to see which are best for your particular needs. Sam likes OXO Good Grips POP containers. Unlike normal plastic storage containers that require you to seal around the lid with your fingers, POP containers open and close using a large button on the top of the lid.

3. Replace knives with alternative tools, such as peelers, choppers, graters, and kitchen shears

Many kitchen tasks that are usually performed with a knife can actually be performed using a different type of gadget. Look for tools that keep sharp blades away from the fingers or have plastic blades.

For example, instead of peeling fruits and vegetables with a paring knife, you can use a vegetable peeler. We’re huge fans of the OXO Good Grips line because they have chunky grips that are easier to grasp, but palm peelers are another great option. Kitchen shears or spring-loaded poultry shears can be used in place of knives for many applications, but keep in mind that you still need to avoid touching the blade. You can also find fruit slicers for basically every type of fruit in existence!

Here are some ideas for replacing sharp knives with other types of tools.

TaskIdeas for alternative tools
Peeling fruits and vegetablesVegetable peelers like the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler or Chef’n PalmPeeler
vegetable peelerpalm peeler
Chopping onionsHand-powered food chopper (make sure you find one with a plastic guard to cover the blades)
food chopper
Cutting pizza, quesadillas, or other flat foodsPlastic-bladed pizza cutter
pizza cutter
Chopping garlicGarlic press
garlic press
Shredding vegetablesBox grater or food processor with shredding blade
box graterfood processor
Opening bagsBag opener with hidden blade
bag opener

4. Replace sharp knives with safer knives, such as plastic lettuce knives

If you can’t buy pre-chopped ingredients or find a replacement tool, you can try using plastic knives in place of sharp blades. We love plastic lettuce knives, which are serrated and can be used to cut most fruits and veggies. You can find lettuce knives in a variety of shapes and sizes. Nylon knives designed for cutting in non-stick pans are another great option for cutting soft foods.

5. Practice knife skills before using sharp knives

Finally, if you want to learn how to use sharp knives, you can practice your knife skills with plastic-bladed knives before switching to sharp blades. You can practice cutting soft items, such as Play-Doh, and work hand-over-hand until you feel confident. You can also purchase specialized adaptive cutting boards that hold the food in place. This feature makes sure that your food doesn’t slip while cutting and allows you to keep your fingers away from the sharp blades. Lastly, try watching knife safety videos on YouTube. It’s a great source of information about safely developing your knife skills.

Did I miss anything? Leave your ideas in the comments! 😊