Many people with disabilities find eating to be “work.” Food can be hot, slippery, or just plain messy. The Center for Independent Living, Inc. realizes this. As a result, they offer an easy-to-read article called “An Introduction to Accessible Foods and Accessible Cooking,” which gives tips specifically about eating and cooking as a little person with a proportionately small appetite and limited manual dexterity.
With the permission of the authors, Lauren Choi Steinberg and Cecilie McCaughrin Rose, we’ve pulled out some of the most important pieces of advice to create a short and sweet tip sheet that you can easily print out or email to your friends.
For clarification’s sake, we understand that not all little people have limited dexterity, and not all people who have limited dexterity are also little people. Some of the following tips are more relevant to little people; and some to people with limited dexterity, so proceed with that in mind. We also understand that “little people” may not be everyone’s term of preference.
Here are some tips about accessible food and cooking for little people, people with small appetites, and/or people with limited dexterity:
Accessible Food Tips
- Forkability of hot foods: Limit the amount of cutting needed and serve foods that stay on a fork easily; keep many different shapes and sizes of cutlery available.
- Fair pricing for small eaters: Food pricing should be based on consistent net prices based on weight, not discounted net price for larger servings to penalize small eaters, sell food by the ounce when feasible, never charge fees for splitting a plate of food.
- Beverage accessibility: Use light-weight cups with lids and straws; be aware that cans and bottles can be tough to open.
- Structural integrity of sandwiches and finger foods: stay away from large or floppy sandwiches; choose compactly built wraps or pita sandwiches with “glue” (like hummus or melted cheese) instead.
- Packaging: Stick to relatively easy to open and re-seal packaging; avoid tape-to-seal containers
Accessible Cooking Tips
- The slow cooker: Use this accessibility miracle to make stews, meats, and curries or chicken, potatoes, and other foods. A friend or attendant can help you set it up in the morning and then package the finished meal in containers to refrigerate or freeze for later. To learn more, read our Slow Cooker post or look for our recipes that specify “Crock-Pot Recipe.”
- Accessible Ingredients: Look for pre-cut vegetables or frozen vegetables, partially prepared foods (like pre-peeled garlic), and pre-cut meat (like pre-cut chicken tenders). You can also prepare what you need ahead of time and store it in your freezer.
- Accessible kitchen gadgets: Some examples include wall-mounted electric can openers or jar openers, rocking knives, nail boards, bowl holders, choppers (aids to help you cook), funnels, and dowels (to help twist things). Read more on our Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices post.
- The rice cooker: This is much like a slow cooker, only faster! Inexpensive and easy to use, you can make perfect rice or pilaf and steamed vegges.
- Accessible kitchens: Adjust the height of counters, install stove burners on low counters, have side opening doors on ovens, install a sliding shelf in the refrigerator, and store food in lower cabinets. If these remodeling options are too expensive, you can plan ahead, ask friends and attendants for help, and ask around to find more resources.
A Note on BMI
Body Mass Index or BMI measures your weight in relation to your height, landing you somewhere on a colorful chart that reads: “underweight,” “healthy,” “overweight,” “obese,” or “extremely/clinically obese.” For people with disabilities, this common way of measurement doesn’t always make sense. In fact, for many people without disabilities, this chart is often more critical than helpful.
Maintaining a healthy weight is very important for all little people but particularly important for those with dwarfism. For example, keeping excess weight off helps lessen back aches and joint problems that are common in people with dwarfism. There are over 200 different conditions that can cause dwarfism, and people with dwarfism have differently proportioned bodies than average-sized people. While it is key for little people of all diagnoses to be fit and a healthy weight, it not easy to determine what that ideal weight should be.
Cecilie McCaughrin Rose, a person with dwarfism and a biostatistician, states that BMI is not an appropriate measure to determine if a person with dwarfism is overweight. Any valid determination of being overweight should be based on body fat measurements, overall physical condition, and common sense. Height and weight charts designed for average-sized people are irrelevant to people with dwarfism. In addition, it can be damaging to hold people with dwarfism to a weight that is impossible to achieve. While Cecilie speaks about people with dwarfism specifically, her statement rings true for the disability community as a whole.
Be sure to check out the entire Center for Independent Living article here.
If you’re interested in learning more, peruse our resources below:
- Little People of America’s website
- Little People of America’s letter against BMI used in “wellness programs”
- 10 Reasons the BMI Is Bogus
- Do You Believe in Fairies, Unicorns, or the BMI?
*A big thanks to Lauren and Cecilie for their help and feedback on this article!