What is forkability? How can a slow cooker change my life? Read this article and find out!
Accessible Food Guidelines And Accessible Cooking Tips
By Lauren Choi Steinberg and Cecilie McCaughrin Rose
Nothing defines a culture more than food. This article was written to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and tasty, easy to prepare, health foods. This article gives concrete suggestions for accessible foods, guidelines for restaurants for how to serve people with disabilities, and a tips for how people with disabilities can prepare their own food.
Food accessibility is determined by a number of factors including ingredients used in preparation (due to allergies), food shape, size, consistency, and the containers or materials used in packaging. I do not have personal experience with food allergy access, or access issues for people with chewing/swallowing difficulties. Therefore, I will offer perspectives on food access that are based on my gastronomic experience as a small person (with a proportionately small appetitive) who has limited manual dexterity.
- Structural integrity of sandwiches and finger foods
o Large and/or floppy sandwiches with loosely packed ingredients are very difficult to pick up and hold for people with limited dexterity and/or or small hands. (ie PB&J or a grilled cheese sandwich are more accessible options than a turkey sandwich on a large roll with all the fixings)
o Compactly built hummus/veggie wraps or small pita sandwiches are very accessible and don’t sacrifice accessibility for creativity with ingredients. In both cases the outer bread layer fully contains the inner ingredients. This prevents the ingredients from falling out if an individual cannot grip a sandwich well.
o IDEALLY consider selling a “bento box” snack pack with pita triangles, crackers, or bagel quarters and hummus, veggies etc. This way the eater can construct the food in a way that is most accessible to their needs and preferences.
o Toasted bread makes sandwiches sturdier and easier to hold.
o Try to limit the use of wet ingredients like tomatoes in premade sandwiches or wraps because it makes them soggy, floppy and hard to pick up. This would be another benefit to the “bento box”. Ingredients and bread are separated so sogginess does not occur.
o Utilizing a “glue” (ie hummus, melted cheese or peanut butter) can help contain ingredients, also making a sandwich easier to hold and less likely to fall apart.
o Consider making it a policy to cut all sandwiches into quarters before packaging or serving. Smaller items are easier to eat and hold.
o Finger foods like veggie sticks and dip or cheese and crackers are excellent accessible food items because they are easy to pick up, require no cutting by the eater, and don’t have a lot of moving parts that can fall apart
o Dips with a thicker consistency can be more accessible than runny dips that drip a lot i.e. carrots and hummus are more accessible than carrots and ranch plus they are more nutritious!
§ A note on food shapes: foods that cause frustration to manipulate or eat are far less enjoyable despite how tasty the ingredients may be.
- Forkability of hot foods
o Limit the amount of cutting that foods require. Knives are difficult to use for people with limited dexterity or hand strength i.e. a chicken stir fry is more accessible to eat than a whole chicken-breast.
o Serve foods that stay on a fork easily i.e. tortellini or tube shaped pastas are more accessible than angel hair pasta or spaghetti noodles because they can be retrieved with one stab, stay on the fork long enough to get to the eaters mouth, and do not dangle sauce everywhere
§ A note on sauce: thick sauces (pesto or thick tomato) that stick well to noodles are easier to eat than watery or runny sauces that drip a lot.
o Foods such as rice, peas, corn, cereal, or whole beans are difficult to keep on a fork because of the way each grain or bean moves independently. Keeping spoons readily available helps the issue, but the best solution is to serve a glue with each food like this i.e. serve mashed potatoes next to corn and peas, refried beans next to rice, or yogurt with cereal (I do not recommend mixing them ahead of time, different eaters will have different mixing preferences.)
o Soup is not very accessible due to the drippiness factor; the liquid consistency makes it very difficult to keep on a spoon without spilling. If it’s decided that soup must be an integral part of a menu thicker soups like split pea or thick chili are more accessible options. BUT if you just want cold weather options for the winter time mashed potatoes or mac and cheese are great alternatives to warm you up. Hot chocolate, coffee or teas are also great accessible cold day options because they can be enjoyed hands free with a straw!
§ Word of warning: chicken noodle soup is the LEAST accessible soup option. It causes the double frustration of attempting to contain slippery, dangly noodles and drippy broth on a spoon.
o Have a variety of differently sized and shaped cutlery for people to use. I prefer plastic utensils because they are small, light weight and easy to pick up. But different people with different hands will have other preferences.
- Beverage accessibility
o Straws, straws, and more straws. Having straws of different lengths and sizes available will solve any beverage access barrier.
o Cups with lids and straws are usually the easiest containers to serve drinks in. Light weight cups are best but some people prefer mugs with handles so I’d have both available.
o Beverages in both cans and bottles should be available to purchase. They are both notoriously difficult to open (staff should be prepared to assist if asked) but people may have preferences for one over the other. Bottled drinks can be resealed, for example, and are more suitable for people with smaller appetites.
o Packaging should be relatively easy to open and re-sealable to enable small eaters to save food for later consumption. (for a good example of accessible packaging see sushi vendors that use a box with a loosely fitted lid and a rubber band to secure it).
o Avoid using tape to seal containers. Removing tape requires fine motor skills and can be very difficult for people with limited dexterity. Also, there is no way to re-seal a package that had been sealed in tape.
o Metal foils can ad structural integrity to sandwiches, wraps, and burritos making them easier to hold.
o Staff should assist patrons to open packaging if requested
- Fair pricing for small eaters
o Food pricing should be based on consistent net prices based on weight. Some food vendors offer a discounted net price for larger serving sizes. These policies inadvertently penalize small eaters by making them pay higher prices for smaller serving sizes that match their appetites and caloric needs.
§ For example, if potato salad costs 50 cents an ounce, a two ounce serving should cost $1 and a 4 ounce serving should cost $2. You should not get a 10 cent/ounce discount on the 4 ounce serving.
o Combo deals create similar unintended penalties for small eaters. We should not have to pay more for a sandwich simply because we do not have the appetite to also eat the large fries and coke that come with a discounted combo meal.
o A fair alternative would be to offer weekly specials on the net price of foods or single food items, i.e. on Tuesdays tuna sandwiches are $2 off or on Thursdays potato salad is only 30 cents an ounce instead of 50 cents an ounce.
o Consider offering "small eater portions" on all menu items including beverages. Smaller portions should reflect proportionate reductions in pricing. For example, half a sandwich should cost half as much as a whole sandwich, and a small plate of pasta that is 2/3 the size of a conventional plate of pasta should only cost 2/3 the amount of the conventional plates price.
o Some establishment offer nominal discounts to smaller portions which still result in a lower net prices for larger serving sizes. Case in point, a bowl of soup costs $4 but a cup of soup (which is half the volume, and more appropriately portioned to a small eaters appetite) only reflects a 30 cent discount. Practices such as these should be avoided at all costs.
o Where feasible (i.e., pasta, salads etc) foods should be sold by the ounce. This will allow eaters of different sizes to choose portions that are appropriate to their needs, and will enable people to pay in accordance with the quantity of food they wish to consume. Displaying sample to-go containers with volumes marked off (similar to a measuring cup) may assist patrons in determining how much they want to eat.
o NEVER charge a fee for two or more people to share a plate of food.
Accessible Foods and Accessible Cookware go hand in hand. The following cookies strategies and equipment can help a person with limited manual dexterity cook their own foods.
Why cook your own food?
Cooking your own food is less expensive and healthier than eating out because you control the ingredients and salt and fat levels. Nothing defines a culture more than food an eating. Cooking your own food not only improves health, but also increases your community and well being.
The following is a basic introduction to accessible cooking. One could easily fill an entire cookbook with the wealth of resources here. We encourage you to contact the authors, do your own research, and talk to other people with disabilities to find the adaptive foods, cooking methods, and gadgets that suit you.
1) The slow cooker.
The slow cookers are an accessibility miracle. You put ingredients in it, turn it on, and a few hours later you have dinner! Stews, meats, and curries are easy to make. You can also make chicken, bakes potatoes, and other foods.
A morning attendant can set up the slow cooker, and the evening attendant can package it in single-service freezer safe containers. Slow cookers use very little electricity. Most recipes consist of putting everything in the slow cooker and turning it on. Consequently, there is much less clean-up required than for conventional stove-top cooking.
Slow cookers can be adapted with an on/off switch attaches to an plug (you can get this in a hardware store).
- Stephanie 0’Deas slow cooker page: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/
- On/off switch: http://www.amazon.com/Woods-59418-3-Outlet-Extension-Lighting/dp/B002TVT1DK
2) Rice Cooker
A rice cooker can be used in the same way as a slow cooker. A rice cookers is inexpensive, and easy to use. A person with no cooking skills can make perfect rice! You can other dishes such as pilaf and steamed veggies and use it as a quick slow cooker.
3) Accessible Kitchen Gadgets
- Wall mounted electric can openers can assist in opening cans.
- Jar openers work like electric can openers to allow someone with limited mobility to open a can.
- Rocking knives have blades but are curved, and easier for people with limited dexterity to use.
- Nail board - People who only have the use of one hand can use a nail board to hold the vegetables when they cut them.
- Bowl holders and will hold the bowl still while you mix ingredients.
- Choppers - if you don’t want to buy pre-cut vegetables, you can get aids to help you cook.
- Funnel - if you have trouble pouring, try using a funnel.
- Dowels attached to knobs make it possible to twist something even if you hand cannot make a twisting motion.
- If you cannot feed yourself, the mealtime partner was designed to allow people with disabilities feed themselves. Their website had products and instructional videos on how use them: http://www.mealtimepartners.com/index.html
4) Accessible Ingredients
- Buy pre-cut packaged vegetables will not only save you time in preparation and clean-up, but also help people with limited dexterity safely
- Frozen vegetables are also convenient
- The Salad Bar is another source of pre-cut vegetables. This allows the person with a disability to chose exactly which vegetables to have.
Partially prepared foods
- Buy partially prepped food: pre-peeled garlic, pre grated ginger and garlic, frozen ginger, frozen onions.
- Buy eggbeaters instead of eggs
Prepare what you want and freeze it
- Prepare what you need ahead of time and stock your freezer. For example, you can make your own delicious vegetable or chicken stock in a slow cooker and freeze it for later use. It is important to label foods in the freezer. A cluttered freezer is harder to use effectively. A well organized freezer increases efficiency and minimized waster food.
Pre-cut chicken such as Trader Joe’s chicken tenders saved a lot of work, time, and cutes down on the risk of contamination. Butchers will cut up meat for you in any shape. To reduce the risk of food contamination, you can ask to not have butcher paper, and that the bag is tied with a twist-tie. This makes it easier to dump the meat into the slow cooker or pan and minimize opportunities for cross-contamination.
5) Accessible kitchens
Kitchens can be modified to fit a person with a disability. One can adjust the height counters, install stove burners on a low counter, have side opening doors on ovens, install a sliding shelf on a refrigerator, and store food in lower cabinets. This is not financially feasible for every person.
If you cannot remodel your kitchen, you can plan ahead and make due with the resources you have. A rice cooker or a slow cooker can go on any countertop! You can have an attendant help prep and do a lot of cooking in one day, then package your meals into individual portions. Asking around will give you a lot of resources.
For example, the senior community has developed many excellent products such as good grips, ogygrip.
This article was written to whet your appetite for accessible cooking. Please let us know what worked for you!
We hope that this paper has just wetted your appetite for more accessible cooking options! There is a wealth of information on the internet. We look forward to hearing your success stories!
Christopher Reeve Cookbooks and Cooking for people with Disabilities: http://www.christopherreeve.org/atf/cf/%7B3d83418f-b967-4c18-8ada-adc2e5355071%7D/Cookbooks%20and%20Cooking%20For%20PWD%207-08.PDF
The Christopher Reeve Foundation loans out cookbooks.