Cooking is something that makes me happy (although sometimes you’d never guess that when you hear the language coming from the kitchen!) Both Sheri and I have allergic reactions to certain ingredients in various types of food. These reactions occur because of our disabilities, not as a result of being picky eaters or going on fad diets. For us, having control over the ingredients in food is very helpful, plus we tend to eat healthier and it costs less.
Think about it, you are starting with a variety of ingredients and then you are putting them together in such a way that they will, hopefully, taste good. That gives you a sense of accomplishment — and you eat well too!
When you use a wheelchair, cooking can be challenging. You need to prepare ahead, or at least think ahead about what needs to be done.
First, is the shopping. Sheri and I usually talk about what we want to eat during the week and she buys the ingredients when she goes the grocery store on Thursday morning. That way, everything is available and I don’t have to run out to get items for a recipe. We take advantage of the farmer’s market and the herbs on our terrace (summer and early fall).
One of the most important aspects of cooking when you use a wheelchair is the ability to move around in the kitchen. While the sizes of kitchens vary greatly, in most cases, you will be able to figure out how to maneuver comfortably and possibly rearrange things to enhance access.
I can’t necessarily advise on what type of setup will work for you; I can only tell you what works for me. One thing that works for me is to make a surface that I can wheel under for cutting, mixing and doing other prepping of ingredients. I accomplish this by pulling open a drawer that I can roll under and laying a piece of plywood or a big cutting board across it to make it a prep surface. This works well for people who use wheelchairs and those who don’t but just need some extra prep surface. In my case, my wheelchair has a tray that I am able to put on and take off, so I have options on how I want to do my prep work. I tend to use the tray more often.
Another thing that has been indispensable to me is a reacher (as seen below). I made sure to get a heavy-duty one that can hold bottles securely without dropping them. This is also something that is useful for people who use wheelchairs and those who don’t. Who hasn’t needed something from an upper shelf that is impossible to reach?
Currently, we are in the process of rearranging the kitchen and putting the things that I regularly use on lower shelves. We are considering other options for access. Having lower cabinets with pullout shelves has also been a great asset for me. This is something that is helpful for keeping items organized for those with and without wheelchairs. Universal design is the name of the game.
Having the right utensils is also very important. A sharp knife is a must, but not so sharp that you wind up with cuts and lots of Band-Aids! Other utensils include the right kind of measuring cups, scoops, and bowls for mixing. I am afraid of dropping things, so I tend to rely on dishes and jars that are not glass. There are many options available and you just need to look for what works for you. It takes trial and error to find the right utensils.
Cooking is not for everyone and I realize that some types of cooking may be too difficult or dangerous in certain situations. But I have found that the process, while sometimes frustrating, of putting a meal or even a small dish together to share with my wife and others gives me a sense of satisfaction that is hard to replicate. I have broadened my horizons with respect to seasoning, marinades and I even enjoy looking for recipes. Trust me, I never envisioned that focusing on spices in a dish would be fun and challenging. Although eating takes a lot less time than the cooking, and especially cleaning up the mess, it is fun to enjoy the meal and make someone else happy (like my wife) in the process. And even if I’m not cooking every single part of the meal, warming up the leftovers in the microwave is enough to make me happy! So give cooking a try. There is a very good chance that you will enjoy the challenge and the result!