Has cooking become a challenge for your older adult? The ability to prepare meals for oneself is a critical activity of daily living (ADL). You can take the following assessment online at https://wellmedcharitablefoundation.dailylivingadvice.com/Group/Assessments/preparing-meals and receive a free, customized report which can be shared via email; or review these questions regarding preparing meals, followed by suggestions and tips for making this ADL easier for your loved one
- Can your loved one get out all items needed for cooking?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to locate and select utensils from his or her drawers and cabinets?
- Can your loved one get out all items needed for cooking?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to reach items in his or her cupboards or the refrigerator?
- Can your loved one get out all items needed for cooking?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to hold steady, lift, or move pots and casseroles?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to use, hold, or grasp kitchen utensils, food, or other items?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to cut, slice, peel, or grate food?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to hold measuring utensils steady?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to set a kitchen timer?
- Do vision problems ever make it hard for your loved one to cook?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to see items in the refrigerator or freezer?
- Is it ever hard for your loved one to read recipes and labels in the kitchen?
- Is it ever tiring for your loved to cook?
Suggestions to make preparing meals easier
Cooking is much easier if your loved one can easily find all the needed items in his or her cabinets and drawers. Here are some helpful tools and tips.
Rearrange the drawers and cabinets
Storing too many things in one place can make it very difficult for your loved one to see and grasp what he or she needs. To reorganize the kitchen, your loved one can:
- Place items that are used together in the same location. For example, store measuring cups and spoons in the same place.
- Remove seldom used items stored in each drawer and cabinet. This will make it easier to see what is there.
- Install vertical dividers in cabinets. Store pans, pot lids, cookie sheets, and trays upright. This will make it easy for your loved one to see and grab what is needed.
Label drawers and other storage places
- Labels on drawers and other storage places can help your loved one easily find what they need.
- Consider taking a picture of the contents of the drawer or cupboard. Then tape the photo to the outside or inside to easily see what is there.
Adding light can make it easier to find needed items in cabinets and drawers. If there is not enough light to see, your loved one can:
- Use a flashlight to read labels, see items, or highlight dark corners.
- Add or change overhead or under cabinet lighting to provide enough light.
Use a label reading system
If your loved one has poor vision, he or she can set up and use a label reading system. It helps to identify objects. Your loved one:
- Attach a barcode label to the item.
- Uses the device to record the name of the item connected to the label.
- Scans the label with the device. The system reads the label out loud so he or she can hear what was recorded.
For easy reach, your loved one can:
- Place the most used refrigerator, cabinet, and drawer items at waist height. Other items should be stored between knee and shoulder height. The heaviest items should always be stored close to waist level.
- Keep frequently used items out on the countertop.
- Store the most used items towards the front of a drawer or shelf. A piece of wood can be placed on the shelf to the back of upper cabinets to help keep items in reach near the front edge.
Add shelving and drawers
Simply adding a shelf or a drawer can make it easier for your loved one to reach items. If there is room, add space-saver shelving under existing cupboards. Put frequently used items on this shelf to keep them within easy reach. Install pull-out drawers in lower kitchen cabinets. The shelf can then be pulled out for easier access to items stored low.
Add a Lazy Susan (turntable)
Place a Lazy Susan in a cabinet, on a shelf, or in the refrigerator. Just turn the Lazy Susan to bring needed items to the front edge, where they will be easy to reach.
Use a pegboard and hooks
A pegboard and hooks can be used to hang items like pots, small utensils, spices and mugs. This will keep these items at an easy reach height. It is very helpful when counter space is limited.
Use Reaching & Lifting Devices
If your loved one cannot bend down, he or she can use a reaching device for very light, non-breakable items that are stored just out of reach (like a tea towel in a lower drawer).
These tips can help your loved one limit having to lift and move heavy pots and casseroles:
- Avoid nesting heavy items such as pots and pans. So they don’t have to move multiple items to get to what is needed. Having to move unneeded items wastes energy. It can also tire your loved one’s muscles.
- Keep the most often used pot or pan handy. Either hang it, or leave it on the counter or cooktop.
- Use lightweight, easy grip cookware. Replace heavier cookware and other cooking equipment with lightweight options. A less forceful grip is needed to hold the cookware and less arm strength is needed to lift these items. Purchase cookware with easy grip handles on two sides. This lets them lift the item with half the weight in each hand, rather than all the weight in one hand.
To decrease the grip force needed when lifting:
- Place at least one hand, palm open, under or around the item. This will help support its weight. Use pot holders or oven mitts as needed.
- Use a tipper device. This device supports the weight of a kettle, pot, or bowl as it is poured.
Slide Heavy Items
Slide heavy pots and pans of liquid, mixing bowls, or hot casseroles along the counter, rather than lifting them. For example, place a pot on the counter or burner to fill it, rather than placing it under the faucet. Fill the pot with a measuring cup or sink hose attachment. If the filled pot is on the counter, it can be slid to the burner rather than lifting it. If there is a gap between their stove and countertop, place a heat resistant gap filler strip in the space. This lets pots be easily slid between the cooktop and the countertop.
Deactivate Some Stove Burners
If your loved one has a four-burner cooktop, they can deactivate two burners. Then, a wood or heat resistant cutting board or oven baking sheet/pan can be placed on the deactivated burners. This will let your loved one slide hot items to cool right at the cooking surface.
If your loved one has a weak or painful grasp, it can be hard to hold kitchen utensils. Here are some tools and tips to make this task easier.
- Use utensils and gadgets with built-up handles –
Utensils and gadgets with built-up handles require less grip force when holding the handle. They provide a secure hold for comfortable and safe cutting, peeling and slicing. Built-up handles are available on most kitchen utensils. This includes measuring cups, vegetable peelers, knives, cheese slicers, spatulas, roller knives and more.
- Avoid holding a utensil with your fingers – Your loved one can avoid having to hold a kitchen utensil in his or her fingers when cleaning vegetables. Instead, they can use:
- A scrubber with a suction cup attached to the sink. Your loved one would move the vegetable over the scrubber to clean the vegetable. This works very well for one-handed use.
- A palm-held scrubber. Some scrubbers have a ring that slips over the finger to make it easier to hold the device in place.
Unsteady Hands / Trouble Holding Food
If your loved one’s hands are not steady, or if he or she has the use of only one hand, it can be very difficult to hold food while preparing it. Here are some simple techniques and tools to make it easier.
- Buy pre-cut groceries (fruit, vegetables, and meat) to avoid having to do any cutting.
- Use a cutting board with suction feet and spikes. Impale the food on the upright, stainless steel spikes. The spikes hold the food in place while your loved one is cutting or peeling.
- Wear special gloves
- Wear textured rubber gloves to clean vegetables. This gives him or her extra traction on the vegetable for a firmer hold.
- Wear cut-resistant gloves to protect his or her fingers while holding food when cutting.
- Steady the arm.
Your loved one should keep their upper arm and elbow against their side when measuring. This will help keep the lower arm and hand steady.
- Change the grip.
Rather than holding the measuring spoon with the fingertips, hold it in a closed fist. This can help to keep it steady if his or her fingers are shaky.
- Use flat-bottomed measuring utensils.
Your loved one does not need to hold a flat-bottomed measuring cup or spoon when filling it. Just rest it on the counter and pour the ingredients into it. Save cleanup time by placing these utensils on a cutting board, plate, or paper towel to collect any overflow as he or she measures.
- Use an automatic dispenser.
An automatic dispenser releases a preset measured amount with the push of a button.
Keeping Bowls Steady
- Make the bowl non-slip while stirring
- Place a wet washcloth between the countertop and the mixing bowl to help steady it.
- Place a piece of non-slip matting under the bowl to hold it in place.
- Use a bowl with a non-slip bottom or suction base attached to the counter to hold it in place.
- Use a bowl holder.
- It will hold the bowl steady. It can also tip to allow easy emptying of the bowl’s contents.
- Use a pan handle holder.
- A pot/pan handle holder is a device that is attached to a cooktop with suction cups. It holds the pot or pan handle steady. As the contents are stirred, the holder prevents the pot or pan from moving.
Simplify Food Prep
If your loved one doesn’t have the personal energy, strength or skill needed for food preparation, he or she can::
- Wash but not peel vegetables whenever possible.
- Buy items that have already been prepped. Purchase food that is already pre-cut in either the fresh or frozen produce aisles.
- Buy prepared cheese that has already been grated or shredded.
- Use a food processor or electric chopper to save time and energy.
- Change the grater or peeler –
- Peeler options include:
- Large-handled peelers. These require less grip force to hold.
- Palm-held peelers. These do not need to be gripped with the fingers.
- Y-shaped peelers. These keep the hand and forearm in a straight line when using. This can improve your loved one’s comfort, if he or she has pain in the hand or wrist.
- Grater options include:
- Pyramid graters with non-slip bottoms. The grater can also be placed on a slip-resistant mat. Less grip force will be needed to hold the grater steady.
- Rotary graters with a turn crank.
- These can be handheld or rest on rubber feet on the counter.
- Right-angle handle graters. These keep the hand and arm in a straight line when using; this can improve your comfort if you have pain in your hand or wrist.
- Use a food processor to grate food.
- Peeler options include:
Cutting and Slicing Food
Cutting and slicing food can be a challenge if your loved one has a weak or painful grasp. Here are some tips and tools to make this task easier.
- Use a slicing guide
- Use a curved tong with space for a knife to slice. It will steady round fruits and vegetables while being cut.
- Use a knife with an attached slicing guide. It will help steady the knife for slicing and will also control portion size.
- Use finger guards to hold the food in place.
- Use a built-up handle knife. Built up handle knives do not require as tight of a grip to hold.
- Use the right knife
- Use a knife with the handle at a right angle to the blade. This will allow him or her to use the larger and stronger arm muscles while cutting with a sawing motion.
- Use an electric knife. It cuts through food, while he or she just holds it in a cutting position.
- Use a rocker knife if he or she only has the use of one hand. It has a rounded edge blade that is rocked back and forth to cut through food. Your loved one does not have to use a fork to hold the food in place, as is needed when sawing back and forth with a regular knife.
- Use a chopper
- Your loved one can use a manual or electric chopper to cut food into small pieces without having to use a knife.
**Safety Alert** Protect The Fingers!
If your loved one is unsteady, he or she should wear cut-resistant gloves for safer cutting and slicing.
If your loved one has poor vision, it can be hard to do kitchen work. For your loved one to read food labels and recipes when cooking, he or she should wear any needed glasses.
- Add lighting –
As a first step, increase lighting in the kitchen. If needed, he or she can shine a flashlight or gooseneck lamp on the label or recipe being read to make it easier to see.recipe being read.
- Talk to the doctor –
If your loved one is still having a hard time reading food labels and recipes even after lighting is increased, he or she should let his or heer doctor and eye doctor know. It may be possible to treat some eye conditions that are making his or her vision worse.
- Use a magnifier –
Your loved one can choose a basic hand-held magnifier. Or, if needed, a large screen reader that magnifies written material as much as 25 times the original size. Magnifier options include added lighting and/or a smaller viewing area that provides even more magnification. For hands free magnifier use, your loved one can use a magnifier on a stand.This frees his or her hands to hold food labels or recipes under the magnifier. Allows for two-handed tasks while viewing work through the magnifier.
- Use online recipes –
To enlarge the text size; have it read aloud to him or her. Use the computer or tablet’s ease of use features to change the contrast between the text and background to make it easier to read.
- Control glare
- Choose glare free lighting. Shielding bulbs can help.
- Cover windows with shades, blinds, sheers, or curtains. Then your loved one can use these coverings when window light causes glare. He or she should not face sunny windows while working.
- Use glare-free countertop surfaces and flooring material.
- Add contrast to edges
- To keep from bumping into the edges of objects, as he or she moves about the kitchen.
- Your loved one can add contrast to the edges of tables, rolling carts, and counters to make them easier to see.
- Add contrast by painting or staining the edge, or by putting tape on the edges. This will help them avoid spills. By seeing the edge, he or she will not miss the surface when setting down objects.
- Create contrast between objects
- To make objects easier to see.
- Place light and dark color strips on the backsplash.
- Hold light-colored items in front of a dark strip, or dark-colored items in front of a light strip.
- Pour light liquids into dark cups/containers. Pour dark liquids into light cups/containers.
- Use a kitchen cutting board that contrasts in color with the underlying counter. Or, place a contrasting color mat under the cutting board.
- Change drawer and cabinet pulls and refrigerator handles so the color stands out from the background. The increased contrast makes them easier for your loved one to see and grab.
Dials & Timers
If it is hard to see dials and timers:
- Provide enough light to easily see and read the timer settings. Shine a lamp or a flashlight on the dial to see it better.
- Use a timer with a built-in back light.
- Use a magnifying glass to enlarge the dial for easier reading.
- Use a timer with very large numbers or one with raised numbers.
- Use a voice activated timer that sets itself when he or she tells it for how long to be set.
If it is hard to hear the ring of a timer:
- Choose a timer with a very loud tone.
- Choose one that rings or beeps for a long time or until turned off.
- Use a portable timer. The timer can be kept nearby if they need to walk away from the work area. This way, the timer will be where he or she can still hear it.
If it is hard to turn the dial:
- Use a digital timer that is set with just the push of a button.
- Use a timer that can be set by speaking to the timer.
- Use a liquid level indicator.
When the liquid reaches the top of the container, a liquid level indicator makes an audible tone. This will keep your loved one from overfilling the container.
- Use a talking meat thermometer.
If your loved one cannot see when meat is done, they can use a talking meat thermometer to check for doneness. It will tell them the temperature of the meat to ensure it is properly cooked.
- Use a talking scale or measuring cup.
Use a talking kitchen scale with a small bowl attached that speaks out loud the amount of food placed in it. A talking measuring cup will tell your loved one how much liquid or dry ingredients have been measured into it.
- Use brightly colored utensils.
Brightly colored measuring utensils may be easier for your loved one to see. Use brightly colored utensils that are a sharp color contrast to the food items that are being measured. For example, use a red tablespoon to measure white ingredients such as flour or sugar.
- Use cups and measuring spoons that have each size a different color. Color coding may help your loved one recognize the utensil size more easily.
Keeping Food Fresh
Vision loss and poor lighting can make it hard to identify food items and their expiration dates. Here are some tips your loved one can use to keep food fresh.
- Use a magnifier.
Magnifiers can make it easier for your loved one to see food and ‘use by’ dates. Choose one that enlarges enough to meet their needs.
- Know what is stored.
It should be quick and easy for your loved one to keep track of what he or she has.
- Use clear containers to make the food easier to identify.
- Use food storage labels written with large, easy-to-see dates. Note on the container the date of purchase.
- For leftovers, note the date prepared.
- Consider using a digital voice labeler system to tag containers with a special label. Use the device to record what is in the container, and when it was stored. Then, use the device to scan the label to hear what was recorded.
- Add light.
Replace the bulb in the refrigerator or freezer when it burns out. Use a flashlight to shine extra light into the refrigerator or freeze to see contents better.
Store Food Safely
- Throw away food that is not used in a reasonable time frame.
- Avoid overstocking shelves. Unused cans can leak. Even unopened packages can become stale if stored too long.
- Keep the refrigerator temperature between 35º and 38ºF.
- Dates on meat, poultry, pre-packaged, perishable, and ready-to-eat foods such as sandwiches and salads must be taken seriously.These foods can grow bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses. Store these foods near the front of the refrigerator shelf.
- Food should be marked with the use by date and thrown out when expired.
- “Sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates stamped on some foods are not warning dates of when food goes bad. They are dates that reflect peak taste.
Energy, Strength, and Stamina Issues
If your loved one tires easily, try these tips:
- Sit when doing meal prep –
Do food prep while sitting at the kitchen table. This works well for tasks like cutting, paring, and chopping.
- Sit when cooking –
on a bar height stool with a back and arms for support when prepping food at the kitchen counter. Sit while stirring food on the cooktop,
- Take rest breaks
Rest before, during, and after cooking. Plan to take a break before getting tired. This will help reduce the amount of time it takes to recover his or her energy.
- Lighten the load
- Replace heavy items such as ceramic plates, glass mixing bowls or heavy pans with lighter-weight kitchenware. The new cookware will take less energy to get out, use, clean up and put away.
- Avoid stacking pots and pans. Keep the most often used pot and/or pan on the cooktop. This lets him or her easily grab the needed item without having to move other items.
- Use a kitchen pot and pan rack at an easy-to-reach height so they will not have to bend down to get pots out or put them away.
- Install an appliance lift so they will not have to lift a heavy appliance to and from the countertop.
- Work smarter
- Get out all cooking ingredients at the same time and set them where the food will be prepped. Then, put everything away at the same time so your loved one will not waste energy walking back and forth to get ingredients or utensils.
- Save steps by storing items near each other that are often used at the same time. For example, cooking utensils should be stored close to the cooktop. Or oven mitts should be stored close to the oven and the microwave.
- Slide items on the counter instead of lifting them.
- Use a rolling cart – Carrying items uses more energy than pushing them where they need to go. Your loved one can put ingredients on the cart, then transport them to the prepping area. He or she can put prepped food on the cart, then deliver it to where it will be cooked.
Source: The WellMed Charitable Foundation offers a variety of programs for older persons and family caregivers at no cost with a special emphasis on wellness, prevention and living with chronic illness. Please visit www.wellmedcharitablefoundation.org to learn more.
NOTE: The preceding content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, consultation, treatment, or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider such as an Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist, with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition, physical and/or mental limitation, or products that are appropriate for you or your loved one’s particular needs. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in any of the Content.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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