How to Adjust to Cooking as a New Wheelchair User

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The transition to life in a wheelchair, no matter how predictable, is a major adjustment. Familiar and enjoyable tasks and activities can become unfamiliar, stressful, and seemingly impossible. Cooking is often identified by new wheelchair users as one of those previously-enjoyed-but-now-dreaded activities. This article outlines actions you can take today, tomorrow and going forward to bring the joy back to cooking.

If you haven’t already, one of the first things you should do as a new wheelchair user is have an occupational therapy (OT) home assessment.

OT Home Assessment

An OT home assessment determines the degree of fit between you, your home, and the activities you want or need to do. An occupational therapist visits your home and assesses how your environment helps or hinders your activities. Based on their assessment, they provide recommendations about environmental modifications (rearranging furniture, rooms etc.), assistive devices, and home renovations/adaptations; and offer education and advice regarding their recommendations and any activities of daily living that you identify as problematic. Not surprisingly, cooking often tops the list of problematic activities during OT home assessments. So, what can you do?

Today

There are plenty of ways to make cooking easier and more enjoyable with little to no formal intervention. One thing you can do right now, is rearrange your kitchen. Move the things you use most (ingredients, utensils, pots and pans and dishware) to lower shelves. Rearrange your fridge so that heavy items are on lower shelves. Use your dining table as a food prep station. These suggestions may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people hesitate to stray from their pre-wheelchair set up (milk on the top shelf, plates and mugs in overhead cupboards, rarely used roasting pans and baking sheets in prime lower level spots). We are creatures of habit. Don’t be afraid to arrange your kitchen in an unconventional way.

Tomorrow

Now that your kitchen is rearranged it’s time to get cooking. Exclusive use of the front 2 burners on your stovetop minimizes your need to reach and stretch. However, it might be helpful to set up a cooking workstation. A standard kitchen cart can be transformed into an accessible workstation by removing the casters (lowering the height and making it stationary) and adding a hotplate or table top cooker like the Ninja Foodi. You can also store cooking utensils, pots/pans and even ingredients on the lower racks. The workstation can be used for active cooking (sautéing, frying, grilling etc.) reserving the stove top for passive cooking (boiling water, slow cooking etc.). While the cooking workstation can also be used for food prep, the addition of a large wooden cutting board allows for a convenient and mobile lap top food prep area. You might also consider investing in smaller hand tools to replace larger less convenient appliances. An immersion blender reduces the number of times you need to lift and pour hot pots, making wheelchair cooking safer. Regardless of how you choose to cook, you should have an array of reachers of varying lengths to ensure you can get into all the nooks and crannies of your kitchen. The Housolution Reach and Grab Tool can help kick start your kitchen reacher collection. There are new devices and tools hitting the market everyday, so let your cooking set-up evolve naturally.

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32″ Foldable Pickup Tool, Lightweight Aluminum Reaching Aid with Rotating Rubber Gripper, Long Arm Extender

 

Going forward

If minor modifications aren’t cutting it, there are a number of adaptive kitchen renos that can increase your kitchen’s accessibility. With the right budget you can do just about anything; lower your counter height, install fold down counter tops, move outlets from on top to inside lower cabinets, relocate knobs from the back to the front of your stove, replace your standard fridge with a more accessible side by side, or your oven with one that opens to the side. Enlisting the help of an interior designer specializing in accessible design can ensure your reno is not only functional but looks amazing.

Regardless of the space you create, relearning how best to cook will take a healthy dose of trial and error but don’t feel like you need to completely reinvent the wheel. There are many online resources available to help you adjust to cooking from a wheelchair. One resource, highly recommended among wheelchair users, is Wheels2Walking. He makes a ton of entertaining and educational content for new wheelchair users including a number of wheelchair cooking tutorials.

Like cooking itself, there is no one way to adjust to cooking from a wheelchair. Others will share their recipes for success with you, and over time you will make them your own. With perseverance, flexibility, and a dash of creativity, you will, once again, enjoy cooking with confidence.

How can evika help you?

evika is an educational platform. We don’t sell anything!

We provide information that can help people with disabilities make decisions about what technology can help with their specific needs.

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