Through a grant from DoSomething.Org, Accessible Chef was able to test out adaptive cooking tools. Many tools available from national chain, department, or specialty kitchen stores can be adapted for use by those with disabilities. Resources are divided into tools that make the physical aspects of cooking easier, tools that are safer for those with disabilities to operate, and tools that assist with the cognitive skills necessary for cooking.
There are a variety of tools that make the physical movements necessary for cooking easier and more accessible, but we’ll start with implements that can be operated with one hand.
Tongs: These spring-loaded gadgets can assist those who struggle with bilateral coordination. They come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and materials, and can be used to strengthen fine motor skills or to help flip pancakes over a hot griddle.
Some favorites were Turning Tongs by Copco, Silicone Locking Tongs, and Melamine chopsticks available at kitchen stores. Grading pressure can also be improved using these tools, because to pick up a soft object involves assessing how much strength is needed to hold the object without breaking it. Experimenting with different objects can yield exciting results- we used exploding cheerios and juicy tomatoes.
Non-Slip: Many cooking supplies are available with non-slip surfaces, which prevent them from sliding around while you’re cooking. We found a Be Cool Silicone Pot Holder/Trivet by Casabella that came in handy when used as a grip surface for a bowl. There are mixing bowls available with non-slip bottoms (ours is by Oggi) as well as a Cutting Board with a non-slip bottom to keep it from sliding.
Functional Tools: These tools serve a specific purpose in the kitchen and can make common tasks easier. Jar openers are helpful for those with limited hand strength or coordination. We found a Can Drainer that is convenient for easily draining canned products. Utensils are available with silicone handles and at different angles to promote ease of use. Another handy gadget we found was a scoop with a flexible silicone back that enables you to portion sticky foods like cookie dough easily.
These specialized tools can be used hand-over-hand until the individual is comfortable with using the device independently.
New Tech: Smart devices like the Liftware Level can help individuals with limited arm mobility eat more easily. If you think that a Liftware product may be helpful, you can try out the utensils at a local clinic.
These implements allow individuals with disabilities to complete aspects of cooking that may be dangerous with a greater degree of freedom. However, many still contain sharp blades or edges and must be used with caution and discretion.
Cutting: We found that plastic lettuce knives work great for most recipes involving cutting. They have no sharp blade, cut most fruits and veggies, and are available in many styles. We used one to make fruit salad, dill carrots, and a baked potato. Be aware that cutting hard vegetables, such as carrots, can be difficult, but is possible with practice.
Another plastic-bladed cutter is this Pizza Wheel by Copco. Don’t be fooled by its name and appearance, though, because this pizza cutter can be used to cut a variety of foods, such as sandwiches and quesadillas. We used it to slice our stromboli into individual portions.
Opening: Opening packages and cans can be a major hindrance in teaching those with disabilities to cook. Aside from offering easier to open jars and cans, there are some tools available to assist in the process. To open cans without leaving a sharp edge, we used this Smooth Edge Opener by OXO. It did leave a nice smooth edge, but was a bit difficult to use simply because of the strength required to open a can.
Another tool we found was this Bag Opener by Copco. The device’s blade is only exposed when it is fully closed over a bag, so there is no chance of cutting yourself. It does require bilateral coordination and can be tricky to squeeze the button with one hand and hold the bag with the other.
If particular types of packaging offer specific challenges, you can transfer these foods into containers that are easier to open. For example, shredded cheese could be transferred from a resealable storage bag to an airtight food storage (Tupperware) container.
Specialized Tools: There are a few other tools that make our list for safety. This PalmPeeler by Chef’n is a safer alternative to using a traditional vegetable peeler.
We had fun testing out a food chopper on onions. This set is a great solution for slicing and chopping fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese, and herbs. The blades spin with each push, and we successfully chopped onions very finely.
These tools assist with the cognitive aspects involved in cooking. Mathematical tasks like measuring can be difficult, but are made easier by big labels or color-coded measuring cups.
Nesting prep bowls have cup measures in the bottom, can be differentiated by color, and are useful in sorting out materials in preparation for beginning a recipe. We filled the bowls with different colored rice, and instructed our tester to spoon one tablespoon brown rice into the pink bowl or three teaspoons of white rice into the yellow bowl. He enjoyed mixing the rice together while learning to distinguish between the measuring spoons.
This liquid measure by OXO is angled and has measurements that can be viewed from above, making it relatively easy to read. It has a sturdy handle with a grip and can be used to practice measuring specific amounts. The labels are not particularly large and could be marked with tape for measuring practice.
If a recipe requires multitasking, consider setting a kitchen timer for each task. This multi-event timer has four alarms and a whiteboard to keep track of which alarm is associated with each task.
Adaptive Cooking Tools
Most any cooking challenge can be made more accessible to those with disabilities with some creativity and research. Remember to practice safe cooking techniques and to have fun!