All mentors should start by considering the limitations of the person you’re working with. These might not be only physical, but also if they are elderly, they could be forgetful; they may struggle with English or even reading. They may be in pain, which has its own consequences. Some of the common physical disabilites our participants have are Fibromyalgia, ME, the effects of strokes, arthritis and osteoarthritis. Diabetes can lead to amputations and even eyesight can be affected.
Like a good scout, it pays to be prepared. Read the recipe through at least once and understand what is required of you. Is it achievable? Is there anything that poses an insurmountable obstacle? Do you have all the equipment and ingredients required?
One of the consequences of chronic pain is the unpredictability of the symptoms. People often have “good” days and “bad” days – several bad days may happen in a row, so how long and when a person will be “shut down” for is difficult to predict and can lead to food wastage and a fear to start cooking if you might never finish. It may be difficult to hold knives or to chop. One participant told me that she has put something in the oven and then found herself unable to get up to take it out, so she doesn’t like to bake any more, as the cake burned.
- When you’ve read the recipe, divide it up into achievable blocks of tasks. For example, can you wash and chop the veg the day before? Most chopped veg will keep a few days and many can be frozen – for example chopped onions, which you can use straight from frozen.
- Food will usually keep for 5 days in an adequately cold fridge, from the day it’s cooked. Doing things in stages is fine, for example, you can chop onions, and keep them in the fridge for a few days before using them – or the freezer . Then after frying them, you still have another 5 days to use them in another dish; that new dish you’ve cooked with them will also last another 5 days. Most people do not realise that the cooking part of recipes can be done in stages – you can do one part, and the recipe continued on with the next day or even several days later.
- Try to plan to do some of the prep work ahead –try to get stuff done on the “good” days
- Gather things together you’ll need for your recipe in advance. Try keeping a drawer of the fridge for recipe ingredients and as you come across them or prepare them during the day, put everything into that drawer so when it comes to cooking later, all you have to do is just take the whole drawer out.
- Chop sitting down at your kitchen table. – see separate section for further advice if there are difficulties chopping
- If you are chopping on your kitchen table, buy 4 or 5 identical light mid sized bowls that nest (e.g. plastic or stainless steel) and will not take up too much storage space. Put them on your kitchen table so that you can do all your chopping at once without having to get up or balance chopped items on the edge of your board. Use one of them for waste, so you don’t have to keep getting up to go to the bin, and the others for chopped items.
- Get everything weighed out and measured in advance, so the cooking process is smooth and easy
- Think about planning some batch cooking – can you make stuff in advance and freeze to heat up easily in the microwave on the “bad” days. Buy suitable plastic containers for freezing.
- See below for strategies on inability to stand for long
Inability to stand for long/lose track of time
If your recipe takes a while, you may find that the repeated stirring is difficult to maintain, if you have to simmer or fry things on low heat for a while. Chronic pain can cause you to “zone out” and lose track of time.
- Use the microwave more. Microwaves turn off after a set time so if you’re unable to proceed with the next stage of the recipe, nothing gets burned. We have cooked the pasta sauce completely in the microwave and it’s excellent and easier than on the hob, and will be working on more instructions for this going forward.
- Can you get a tall stool in the kitchen? Ikea do a good folding one with a footrest and it’s really stable https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/p/franklin-bar-stool-with-backrest-foldable-black-black-60406785/
- Move the pan to the smallest hob and put it on low. Unless you’re told to leave the recipe uncovered, cover the pan so it will continue simmering and won’t dry out. This will make it less likely to burn on the bottom.
- Use a timer – there’s one on your phone. This is incredibly useful even for professional chefs. Set it for 5 or 10 minutes. That way you can leave the room (take it with you, or make sure you can hear it!) to sit somewhere else if needed. Don’t forget to reset it again after the next time you stir. You can buy a kitchen timer or use your phone. Use your smart home device if you have one, they can run multiple timers/alarms at once and you can tell it what they are for, for example you can tell it to remind you to take your pills every day at 10am, or turn off the hob in 15 minutes.
Stroke survivor/ difficulties chopping
People who have suffered strokes may have lost the use of one arm, or have significant weakness. Upper body strength can be an issue with some conditions which can make it hard to put enough pressure on the knife to chop.
- In many recipes, reasonably thinly sliced onions would be just as good as finely chopped, it will just look difference but saves some extra cuts.
- If chopping is a problem, then when friends come round, rather than have them sitting there chatting, get them to chop veg for you whilst chatting!! Keen cooks won’t mind at all and they can prepare veg which will be really useful during the week. Chopped onions can be frozen and used straight from frozen.
- Frozen veg is cheap, convenient, excellent quality as it’s frozen at the peak of freshness, and also, ready chopped! In many cases it’s cheaper than the unchopped veg, bought fresh. Onions however are up to 4x more expensive, but if chopping onions yourself is a problem, then they are still well worth buying.
You can also buy minced ginger and garlic (individually or mixed together) in “ice cube” sized blocks from ethnic shops and some large supermarkets – the Asian brands are usually better value than the supermarket own brands. These are incredibly convenient and good value.
- A mid sized electric chopper may be a good investment for chopping veg like onions.
- There are specialist chopping boards with spikes that hold items in place so you can chop with one hand, and clamps to hold vegetables in place so you can peel them.
This is a useful video to see the challenges and equipment available: https://youtu.be/qzZ8MmY7h9Y
- Large broad knives on which you can exert pressure with 2 hands may help with chopping, rather than a typical pointed chefs knife, like a cleaver, or the one below.
- There are certain types of knives that make it much easier to cut large dense items like cabbages – they have grooves on the side of the blade, like this one
- Don’t forget that grating veg is always an alternative to fine chopping and some graters come with attached boxes which you can put between your knees when sitting, for better traction.
- MENTORS: We have a “no chop list” which has recipes that involve minimal to no chopping, or simply into large chunks. This is available on the facebook group and can be arranged to send via WhatsApp if required, after they have completed the course. Please contact your coordinator for more details.