5 Tips to Prevent Food Waste

Earlier this year, chefs Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, and Danny Bowien, appeared in a documentary called Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. According to the film, globally, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown out each year, a third of which never even makes it to people’s plates.

This is bad news for the earth, for the farmers and growers and pickers, for the animals, for the grocery stores and farmers’ markets, for the chefs and the restaurant staff, and for the people who could benefit from eating the food. Not only that, but food waste also takes a toll on our earth and on our environment.

Many cans of food on a shelf
One Third of All Food Produced Is Never Eaten | Photo by Wasted! Film

The issue of food waste is especially important for the disability community because wasted food is wasted energy, time, and money: three things that this community often lacks.

As stated by Food and Disability Studies scholar and DisabilityFEAST advisor, Elaine Gerber, “People with disabilities in the U.S. are over-represented in poor communities where food insecurity is common. This means there are more disabled people in areas where people struggle to get enough to eat, and to eat well, than there are in the general population. Disabled people are also more likely to experience additional access barriers to getting food. And, they are more likely to experience negative consequences of being food insecure–due both to pre-existing conditions and their marginalized status in society.”

The film, Wasted!, discusses creative solutions to food waste, such as feeding scraps to livestock, turning large events’ leftovers into delicious meals at soup kitchens, creating renewable energy at factories, and producing compost for school gardens.

There are also some smaller steps we can each take to cut down on food waste:

  1. Buy just what you need: Plan out what you will cook for the week and make a grocery list before you go to the store. When you go to the store, avoid impulse purchases. To avoid impulse purchases, don’t shop on an empty stomach.
  2. Compost your food scraps: Did you know that a single head of lettuce can take 25 years to decompose in a landfill? Many cities offer composting services, but if yours doesn’t, you can still compost at home. Here is a helpful website to get you started composting.
  3. Be mindful of portion sizes when eating out:
    • Buffets can be tricky for folks with disabilities, but they often offer a lot of food for a decent price. If you find yourself at a buffet, remember that you don’t have to fill your plate. Start with a small amount and add more as you go to avoid wasting food.
    • If you are eating at a non-buffet restaurant, understand that the portion you receive will probably be more than you can or should eat in one sitting. Take home your leftovers and eat them for dinner or lunch the next day.
  4. Get creative with your cooking:
    • Make stock: Vegetable scraps and bones you’ve picked clean can be boiled in water to make delicious stock to use as the base for soups and stews.
    • Freeze meals and produce: If you make one large batch of food like lasagna or stew, for example, you can freeze it in small portions that you can then take out of the freezer to warm up later in the week or the month. You can also freeze vegetables and fruits. Here is a help guide for freezing produce.
    • Can produce: Canned produce from the supermarket may have added chemicals, salt, and preservatives. If you can your produce at home, you’ll know exactly what’s in each can. Here’s a website to help you learn how to can produce.
    • Pickle vegetables: You can make pickled veggies taste a variety of ways just by altering the amount of sugar, vinegar, or spices you add to the mix. Here is an example recipe to get you started pickling your veggies.
  5. Eat ugly produce: The produce in grocery stores is held to very high aesthetic standards, but there are many ways you can purchase less perfect looking produce that would otherwise end up in landfills. Farmers’ markets are an opportunity to purchase imperfect produce, and there are several new businesses, such as Imperfect Produce, that deliver these imperfect fruits and veggies to your door at a reduced price.

For more ways to cut down your food waste, watch Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, available on iTunes and Amazon now.

A large heap of trash at a landfill with many, many birds flying overhead
A Head of Lettuce Can Take up to 25 Years to Decompose in a Landfill | Photo by Wasted! Film

Tips for Farmers’ Markets (and Fresh Produce)

Tabletop full of fruits and veggies, organized by color from orange carrots to purple eggplants
Collect produce from farmers’ markets, produce boxes, or community gardens. | Photo Courtesy of Jocelyn Hsu

Farmers’ markets are a fantastic way to get fresh produce, meet local farmers, and interact with your community. Sometimes these markets can seem daunting because of all the people and booths, but with these tips, you’ll become a seasoned farmers’ market shopper in no time:

  1. Know what’s in season: Understand that strawberries will be fresher (and probably cheaper) in the summer, while acorn squash will be fresher in the fall. To learn when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in-season, use this helpful link.
  2. Go early or go late: If you go early, you will get the best pick of the produce because it has been freshly laid out by the farmers and not yet handled by many fellow shoppers. If you go late, you will get the best deals because farmers don’t want to take leftover goods back to the farm with them.
  3. Bring big bags: Bring your own, reusable bags so you’ll have a place to hold all your produce. Otherwise, you will be stuck carrying several, small plastic bags that you gather from each booth.
  4. Bring small change: Farmers’ markets are usually “cash only” so bring lots of small bills and even coins. The farmers and staff will appreciate not having to break large bills and not having to spend extra time counting out change.
  5. Go with a weekly menu in mind: Plan what you want to eat for the week (write it down and bring the paper along with you) and then go shopping with this menu in mind. For example, if you want to cook a batch of Good Morning Muffins, make sure you visit the booth that sells green onions.
  6. Talk to the farmers: The farmers and other staff at the booths love to talk about their produce. You can ask them specific questions about their favorite way to prepare green beans or how to tell if a watermelon is ripe. If you build a relationship with the farmers each week, you’ll get better deals and great cooking tips.
  7. Compare prices (between booths): Don’t buy the first box of blueberries that you see. Check the other booths that also sell blueberries and see which one is priced the best. Travel around the entire farmers’ market once before you buy anything.
  8. Buy in bulk (for better prices): Often, there will be a better deal if you buy more of something because farmers don’t want to have leftovers at the end of the day. Either buy things that you can cook easily and then freeze or go to the farmers’ market with a friend and split everything you buy. (Don’t buy in bulk if you think you won’t be able to find a way to use it all.)
A closeup view of two hands, carefully slicing the stem of a rhubarb plant
Community gardens are another fresh produce option. Read more below. | Photo Courtesy of Jocelyn Hsu

A note about access:

Most of these sites are disability-friendly and eager to help customers. However, since this kind of venue isn’t in a permanent structure, the vendors may not realize that they are still required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to access of aisles and providing assistance. If you are blocked from reaching anywhere at the site or you are treated rudely for needing help, ask one of the vendors for contact information for the coordinator of the market. Call the coordinator and tell him/her that he/she needs to learn about the law, so that people of all abilities can enjoy the farmers’ market.
Alternate ways to buy fresh produce:

If your local farmers’ market isn’t accessible or you’re interested in finding fresh produce elsewhere, there are certainly other options:

  1. Produce Boxes: You can order a box of produce to be delivered to your front door or picked up in a pre-arranged location. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of “ugly produce” at 30% less than the grocery store price (the produce from one such box is pictured in the first image on this page). Search the Internet or ask your friends about companies like this in your area.
  2. Community Gardens: You can also make use of community gardens, in which you can volunteer for a few hours each week in return for some of the garden’s fresh produce. Good examples of this in the Bay Area are Phat Beets‘s community gardens and the UC Gill Tract Community Farm (pictured in the second image on this page). Again, use the Internet and your social network to find out if a neighborhood near you has one of these gardens.

Kitchen Tips for People with Mobility Impairments

Cooking with a physical disability can be challenging and time-consuming if your kitchen is not accessible. However, there are several strategies to make cooking easier.

The Cooking Process

  • Plan ahead. Decide what you want to cook and break it down.
  • Stay organized. Keeping your kitchen organized will save you time and energy. Make sure you know where you keep things. Storage of items at convenient heights and a de-cluttered kitchen will help make work in the kitchen much easier.
  • Work with small quantities, saving bulk cooking for days you have people to help you. Always have easy food on hand for days you don’t feel up to cooking.
  • Go to the refrigerator once to get what you need and make sure you have everything out that you need to cook with before you start to cook.
  • Rearrange, throw out, and organize food so that access is better.
  • Enjoy the process of cooking and learning new recipes. Appreciate the tactile experience and using your senses. Cooking can be therapeutic in and of itself, and the end product doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Rest if you need to. If you get fatigued, take frequent breaks and keep a chair or stool nearby in case you want to sit down.
A dark chair sits just outside the kitchen
Chairs make great spots to rest | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

The Kitchen

  • Have good lighting overhead in your kitchen.
  • Tools, seasonings, and pans can be set up to surround your work area. Leave them out so you don’t have to worry about getting them out of cabinets. Dry goods can go into canisters, vegetables into hanging wire baskets, spices on a spice rack, and pots and pans on a pegboard.
  • Ideally, a kitchen should have a 5×5 foot turning radius for wheelchair access. If there is limited space, the prep work can be done at a table outside the kitchen.
  • If you have the funds, raise the counters if you have a difficult time bending over; lower the cabinets if you can’t reach them. Use carousel trays, which make 360-degree turns to store a lot in one place. Check a hardware store or stores that sell RubberMaid items; their turntables often sell for about $10 online.
  • Cupboards that slide out and have pull-down baskets can be very useful.
  • A one-piece, stove top that allows pots and pans to slide off the stove instead of being lifted will allow easier and safer removal of hot items.
  • When shopping for an oven, look for easy roll-out shelves.
A young man with dark hair and a well-kept beard reaches over his wheelchair's joystick to turn on an electric stove burner
WID employee, Alex Ghenis, turns on the stove in an accessible kitchen | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • A side-by-side refrigerator is helpful. The items needed can be stored on the bottom shelves. Also, the narrow doors leave more room if you use a wheelchair.
  • From a wheelchair, it’s easiest to function in a kitchen with lowered cabinets and more knee space. An inexpensive way to have knee space is to remove cabinet doors below the sink and some cupboards. Under the sink, a plumber can move the hot water pipe out of the way of your legs or can insulate the pipe with foam rubber to prevent scalding.
  • A sink installed lower than usual and with no cabinet underneath will make it easier to slide up to use the water there. Longer faucet handles and a pot sprayer on the side of the sink are also helpful. It is easier to wash dishes if the sink is fairly shallow.
  • A faucet that is hands-free or electronic touch can be very helpful.
  • If you use a wheelchair, having linoleum or tile flooring is easier than carpeting because it’s easier to roll over.
  • Smooth surfaces throughout the kitchen also help with the cleaning process.
  • If using an oven or stove is too difficult, a toaster oven or microwave oven are good alternatives.
  • For wheelchair users, small appliances such as microwave ovens, toasters, and blenders should be on a low counter top or low open shelves.
A microwave with its door swung open invitingly
Microwaves cook food fast | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

The Tools (Also, check out more tools on our Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices list.)

  • Use creativity! Install a wall-mounted can opener at the appropriate height.
  • The Long Arm Grabber that is made by Norpro is very simple and can make a kitchen much more user-friendly. This extended tool has a clamp on one end that works from a handle on the other end. This equipment allows someone who uses a wheelchair to have access to items in higher cabinets. This equipment sells for under $10 in most stores.
  • You can put cylindrical foam on handles of utensils, which makes gripping easier and less stressful on your finger joints.
  • Single-handed cutting boards with spikes hold food in place for people who are only able to use one hand. Catalogs that carry daily living aids sell a wide variety of adaptive cookware. Also, some adaptive cooking utensils are available at larger cooking supply stores.
A woman uses a large knife on a green cutting board to chop a stalk of celery
Find tools that work for you when chopping veggies | Photo by Marsha Saxton
  • Having a small table on wheels as a working surface can be hugely helpful. A rolling utility cart allows you to move a heavy pot of water across the room or bring plates, glasses, and bowls to the table.
  • A tray with a bean bag base that can be held on your lap can also be handy. This tray allows you to steady it on your lap to transport plates, food, and glasses to the dinner table.
  • Hang a mirror above stove burners to help with cooking from a seated position.

If you’re interested in reading more, go to our impressive list of Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices or click on our resources listed below:

Accessible Food and Cooking Tips for Little People

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

A drawer full of silverware-forks, knives, spoons, soup spoons, chopsticks
Keep many different types of silverware | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • 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.
A package of multi-colored straws
Straws are a helpful tool for many different people with disabilities | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • 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

A crock pot sits alongside several carrots and a bowl of broccoli
Slow cookers make any food delicious and warm | Photo by Marsha Saxton
  • 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.
A small, rounded rice cooker with brightly colored buttons
Like a crock pot but faster | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • 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.

A colorful BMI chart with an "x" and the word "NO" written across it
It’s okay to say “no” to BMI charts

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:

*A big thanks to Lauren and Cecilie for their help and feedback on this article!

How to Make Your Event Useful and Accessible

The Department of Agriculture shows that people with disabilities are high-risk for “food insecurity,” meaning having high likelihood of poor nutrition. Studies have long shown this to be true for seniors as well. In response, many senior centers and disability community services now offer nutrition education. These efforts are welcomed steps to help participants learn how to improve their eating habits. However, we need to be cautious. Offering workshops or pamphlets that simply advise seniors and disabled people to “eat better” with a list of tips, may not address the many issues that block seniors and people with disabilities from better food choices. Nutrition educators need to understand the many barriers to good nutrition faced by seniors and younger adults with disabilities:

  • Those who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes
  • People with vision and hearing impairments
  • People with chronic illnesses such as Rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis
  • People with developmental or intellectual impairments

In order for these educational events to work for disabled participants, trainers must accommodate the specific learning and communication needs.

Barriers to better nutrition

  • Transportation: Inaccessible transportation, such as buses without lifts, makes getting to stores with healthier food difficult for people with mobility impairments.
  • Store layout: Stores may place food products in inaccessible locations. Some supermarkets have wide aisles, but many have narrow aisles, sometimes cluttered with displays. Often, junk food is placed in the easiest-to-reach locations.
Stacked up cases of food create a maze in a grocery store
Tricky displays cause navigation issues | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Preparing food: For the many people who live alone, obtaining needed assistance in the home costs money. Benefits programs for people with disabilities are underfunded.
  • Kitchen access: Many homes for wheelchair users may have poor access to their own cupboards, shelves, freezers, sinks, and counter space. Having to twist sideways while seated in the wheelchair to barely reach the sink is a common problem. Lowering counter tops is fine—for people who can afford the thousands of dollars in renovations. Landlords are not required to make these changes for disabled tenants.
  • Fast food: Thus, the microwave is often the extent of cooking. Of course, many people “make do” with fast and processed foods, which are already-made and require little clean-up. This “convenience” is, for many people with disabilities, what enables them to eat at all. Fast food chains also offer some service like opening containers and getting water and straws.
  • Reading labels: Nutrition informational labels are not accessible to visually-impaired people.
The nutrition facts in small writing on the back of a bag of quinoa
Nutrition labels are often hard to read | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Inactivity: People with mobility impairments don’t “burn” many calories due to their physical inactivity. That means that, to manage their weight, they must eat much less than non-disabled people eat and yet are advised to eat still less. To many, this seems unfair, when food is, for most of us, a dependable source of pleasure.
  • Eating as “work”: For many disabled people, “eating is work.” Often, they must focus all their attention while eating or must hire, schedule, and pay someone to help them eat. Eating takes a lot of time and effort. This can make the idea of meal planning, shopping, and cooking seem daunting or impossible.
  • Cost of “healthy” food: The “health food” movement often promotes pricey, organic, unfamiliar foods; difficult recipes with hard-to-find ingredients; and costly supplements and products, without seeing the barriers they present for people with disabilities, low incomes, or who need personal assistance.
  • Access to farmers’ markets: Some farmers’ markets are more expensive than grocery stores and are less than accessible or disability-friendly.
  • Food Stamps: Food Stamps (e.g. CalFresh) and other vouchers can be a problem. For example, they may pay for candy bars and chips but not protein bars.

Suggestions for Educators: Ways to Accommodate Senior and Disabled Participants

The nutrition education and access/accommodation needs of people vary, depending on their disabilities. It can be quite a challenge to make an event fully accessible and relevant to everyone. In this context, think of seniors and people with disabilities as overlapping constituencies: many seniors have mobility impairments and use walkers and wheelchairs, have hearing and vision impairments, and/or have chronic illness. Thus, education and training events need to accommodate their disabilities.

  • Introductions: Having everyone introduce themselves first can help identify people with hearing impairments or language barriers that can then be better accommodated in the session. Younger disabled adults may be more likely to identify as disabled and ask for accommodations, while seniors may not, though it always depends on the individual.
  • Assessing questions: Get a sense of the needs of participants by asking things like “How many people here are interested in ideas related to getting around your home or the store?” or “How many are interested in ideas related to vision?” Use plain language, depending on conversational cues offered in the group.
  • Ask for current habits: Get the group talking about what they love, even if it’s “bad.” Most people do feel bad about their eating habits and cravings. Voicing and sharing these “secrets” helps people rethink what they might do instead. Laughter helps ease the tension of a charged topic and helps people learn.
  • No blame approach: If participants reveal that their habits that include poor choices, avoid admonishing, which makes people shut down to suggestions. Instead, assume people are doing the best they can and express sympathy for the struggle by saying things like “I know how hard it is!” Then, ask, “What’s one healthy food you’d like to add this week? Let’s set a goal. How can you get some of this?”
Several shelves worth of sweet toppings like butterscotch and marshmallow cream in glass jars
Figure out and address good and bad habits | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Small steps: For these groups, as we know, small steps forward with nutrition can be significant. For example, for some people, frozen fruits and vegetables or frozen dinners can be great progress over sugary snacks or fried fast food. We need to take people on from where they are now. Praise people for their progress, even if it is small.
  • Person-specific exercise tips: When encouraging people to move or exercise, remember the access needs of your audience members. Exercise can be good for many disabled people, but they may have limited exercise options. Moving their bodies is a complex issue for this community. Don’t make jokes or offer general tips about everyone needing more exercise. Instead, speak individually to people about real options as they are available.
  • Tone: Be aware of tone of voice and attitude. Sometimes facilitators of senior events are used to using a familiar, affectionate tone of voice. This might seem friendly to some but be offensive to younger adults with disabilities who have been treated like children for much of their lives. Avoid “we,” or “our” as in: “Do we need our coat on?” Always ask first before helping someone. For instance, ask, “Do you need assistance?”
  • Inclusive handouts: Check that handouts are inclusive and culturally sensitive to the disability community. Don’t just assume that disabled participants should pick out the few tips that are relevant and ignore the rest that are not. This can be alienating for those who have had to do this for their entire lives with so many other issues.
  • Accessible handouts: Make handouts accessible to people with visual impairments via web access, on disc, or large print. Ask the visually-impaired people what formats work best for them.
A stack of colorful flyers, the one on top advertising Disability FEAST with a picture of tortillas
Specifically-tailored handouts | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

Note: This information is originally from a handout created by Marsha Saxton from WID on the topic of disability nutrition education for people with disabilities and seniors.

Kitchen Tips for People Who are Blind or Partially Sighted

If you are blind or partially sighted, cooking can seem like a difficult task. However, by adapting your kitchen and how you prepare food, you can still enjoy cooking!

  • Use color and contrast. If you have low vision, color and contrast can help you see when cooking.
  • It can help to use a colored bowl to hold food of a contrasting color.
  • It is easier to see light-colored food like white onions on a dark cutting board and darker food, like asparagus, on a light board.
Half of a dark red onion sits near a knife on a white cutting board
A light cutting board works great for dark produce | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • It is easier to see plugs and sockets if they are a different color than the walls and counters.
  • Have good central lighting, so you can make the most out of any sight you have.
  • Have lights under cupboards that shine onto areas where you usually work.
  • Use a clip-on spotlight.
  • Talking equipment can be really helpful. There are many options for this type of equipment, so check out our Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices list for some helpful links.
  • If you buy the same type of product often, write the directions on the package in large print or record them with a tape recorder.
  • If everything in your kitchen is always put back afterwards, this will help you find things. Make sure that everyone who uses your kitchen puts things back where they got them.
  • Have a system for identifying items. Put one rubber band on cans of corn and two rubber bands on cans of peas. Alternately, put Braille labels on items.
A can of black beans with two rubber bands wrapped around its middle
Perhaps, two rubber bands can signify black beans | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Put your flour and sugar in different sized containers.
  • Mark the controls on your oven with brightly colored marker, paint, or strips of Velcro so you can tell what temperature it is on.
  • Time things you cook, and they will turn out almost the same each time. You can use a raised line timer or a talking watch to determine how long something should be cooked.
  • Listen to the food you are cooking. If you pay close attention, you will find bacon sounds different as it is becoming fully cooked.
  • To avoid burning yourself on the oven or stove, use oven mitts that come further up your arm.
  • Keep handles of pans on the stove turned in the same direction, so that you avoid bumping them and burning yourself.
A pot with its handle facing inward as it warms on the stove
Turn handles inward | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

If you’re interested in reading more, go to our impressive list of Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices or click on our resources listed below:

Tips for Cooking with One Hand

Cooking with one hand can seem difficult, but there are strategies and kitchen equipment that can make it easier!

A set of tongs rests on a dark table
Tongs are a helpful tool | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Have a variety of proper utensils in your kitchen. Tongs are helpful to a one-handed cook, and they come in a variety of sizes and styles. Adapted tong forks are also available.
  • Use a cutting board with stainless steel nails to stabilize food for cutting. Cutting boards are available with raised borders to push against for stabilization.
  • Slide, rather than lift, when cleaning heavy pots and pans. It is helpful to have a buffet on wheels that is at the level of the counter and can be easily slid to and from the cart without lifting.
  • Use vegetable steamers and pot inserts to easily lift food without having to move pans.
  • Mechanical can openers are useful and can be mounted to a wall.
  • Use one hand to crack an egg. Hit the egg against the side of the bowl. Then, use your thumb and index finger to push the top half of the egg up, while using the ring finger and little finger to pull the bottom half down.
  • Clean fruits, vegetables, and dishes using scrub brushes secured with suction cups to the counter or sink. Store fresh clean vegetables to use later in the week.
  • Wash dishes, rinse them with a spray hose, and let them air dry.
Many wet dishes, sitting on a drying rack
Air drying dishes is the way to go | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

Adapted from The Disabled Gourmet, 1998.

8 Shopping Tips for Wheelchair Users

Shopping at grocery stores can be very tricky. Often times, navigating around shopping carts, harried parents with crying children, and oddly placed produce displays can take the joy out of collecting food to cook for the next couple days. Add a wheelchair to the chaos, and grocery shopping only gets trickier.

Here are eight tips that can make shopping easier for people who use wheelchairs:

An example shopping list on a legal notepad
Stick to your list | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  1. Make a shopping list: Keep a whiteboard or notepad in your house to keep track of what you need. Use this to make your shopping list. Group things like different vegetables or different types meat together on your list. This will help you to make sure you pick up the things you need from one section of the store before you move on to the next section.
  2. Find an accessible store: Find a wheelchair accessible store close to you. The store should have a ramp or a wheelchair accessible entrance and adequate space between aisles. Also, make sure the store has enough space for you to turn your wheelchair.
  3. Settle on a specific shopping time: Choose a time to shop when the store is almost empty, such as the morning. This will make it easier for you to maneuver your wheelchair, as well as to get assistance from the staff there. If you visit a store regularly and build a rapport with the staff, shopping will be easier for you.
  4. Use reachers: Carry your own reacher when you go shopping. It can help you retrieve a number of lightweight packages from the higher shelves.
  5. Use a hand-held mirror: A mirror will help you when products are kept in large bins that make it difficult for you to look inside.
  6. Check out the carts: Some stores have special wheelchair carts that can be attached to a wheelchair. Others have wheelchair carts that you can use inside the store. Ask the store manager if they have any available. If not, you can also use a regular cart. Push the cart to the end of an aisle and then wheel back and forth from the shelves to the cart and put things in it.
  7. Use home delivery services: Many grocery stores offer an option of home deliveries. You can either choose what you want from the store and have it delivered, or you can call the store to have it delivered. If you don’t feel up to cooking even with the grocery delivery option, there are apps like Seamless that deliver fresh meals to your doorstep.
  8. Don’t forget about online shopping: Online shopping can be a convenient way to shop if you are tired or don’t have time to go to the store. The San Francisco Bay Area particularly favors Instacart, AmazonFresh, and Google Shopping Express. Also, ePantry specializes in sustainable, affordable cleaning products and other household goods. Research options that deliver to your neighborhood.
The home page of Instacart, an online shopping site
Instacart is popular in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tips for a Gluten-Free Diet on a Budget

Several loaves of bread with price tag that read "Gluten Free"
Look for gluten-free signs at the grocery store | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

Gluten-sensitivity has skyrocketed the past couple years, giving rise to new creativity to avoid this popular ingredient. Here are some tips to help people who are trying to avoid gluten without breaking their banks:

  • Buy pantry items, such as beans, rice, gluten-free pasta, quinoa, canned tomatoes, and canned pumpkin, on sale. Stock up when you can and buy in bulk.
  • Eat more vegetarian and vegan meals to moderate your meat consumption.
  • Make your own snacks instead of buying prepackaged foods. For instance, making hummus is much cheaper than buying it from the store. We have an easy hummus recipe all ready for you.
  • Eat more potatoes. Try our Red Mashed Potatoes recipe.
  • Eat breakfast for dinner, as it is nutritious and easy.
  • Make soup. Check out our “Soups and Salads” tab.
  • Use a slow cooker and save on energy costs. Be sure to look at our slow cooker recipes, such as our Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal recipe and our Acorn Squash recipe.
  • Make your own broth. Heat a pot of water and add vegetables from your refrigerator, such as onions, carrots, and celery.
  • Use leftovers to make meals. Combine foods you have, such as rice and chicken, to make soup.

For more information, visit our resource listed below:
Gluten Free Goddess 

Healthy Food Habits Discussion Groups

Getting healthy food can be a difficult issue for some disabled people, but few disabled people have been asked to talk about this. Breaking the silence is often the first step toward a solution, so invite people to gather occasionally to talk about healthy food habits.

People in general learn new habits from friends, peers, and mentors that they already know and admire. Food habits are difficult to change for many reasons, so having support from friends and peers really helps.

Bring healthy snacks as part of the discussion. Brainstorm with the group about what they’d like for their healthy snacks.

Someone holds out half of a chiogga beet, pink and white circles radiating out from its center; a stack of carrots serve as the background
Discuss new recipes or fun produce like this chiogga beet | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

Here are some questions for discussion:

  • What do you usually eat for meals and snacks? How do you choose or decide what you eat and why?
  • What do you think of as “healthy food”? Where do you get your ideas about “healthy”? Do you read or learn about food on the web or from media, such as magazines or social media?
  • Do you need assistance for preparing or eating meals? If so, how is that going for you? What’s difficult, and what works?
  • What’s one reasonable goal you would be willing to make to improve your food choices? What would help you meet that goal? What might get in the way?
  • What’s one thing you would suggest to your friends to improve their healthy eating?
  • What difference would eating better make in your life or your health?