Cooking Safely: Kitchen Tips from OT’s
Did you know that March is Nutrition month? All month long, we are celebrating the importance of healthy eating. We are also focusing on developing the knowledge, skills, and ability to be able to eat healthy for not only ourselves but alongside our family and friends.
Cooking and eating are such integral parts of our daily lives and these activities can take different forms depending on our routines, values, and preferences. Some of us may lead busy lives with little time for cooking, which requires us to order food or eat pre-prepared meals on most days. Others may be preparing elaborate meals everyday for multiple family members, and some may need complete assistance with preparation of and eating their meals. Others may lack the accessibility and resources to engage in these activities altogether. Cooking and eating can also be deeply rooted in our cultural values and norms, and may have social significance. As you can see, these activities can look very different and have varied significance depending on the individual!
As occupational therapists (OTs), our main focus is to support our clients in being able to do the activities that they need to do, want to do, or are required to do. Eating (including preparation and cooking) are all activities that individuals need, want, or are required to do every single day. And so, it is often an integral part of our work with clients. Depending on the challenges they are experiencing and if it is out of our scope of practice, we may also refer our clients to dietitians or nutritionists to be a part of the interdisciplinary team.
At NCCO, we are working with clients that are experiencing a number of different challenges, symptoms, and changes due to their injuries. Clients may need to adjust the way they perform and engage in current daily activities based on physical impairments such as limb loss, pain, vision changes, and/or neck/back/head injuries. They might also be experiencing cognitive impairments from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) such as concussions. Some common symptoms of TBIs include headaches, difficulties with memory, concentration, speech, coordination, and reduced energy levels. Given these injuries and symptoms, it’s of no surprise that our client’s experience challenges with cooking. Meal preparation is one the most significant activities affected by TBIs, even 10 years post-trauma (Dubuc et al, 2019). According to Dubuc et al. (2019), the most prevalent difficulties experienced include fatigue and energy levels influencing motivation, amount of equipment needed, task complexity, and safety concerns.
Given the importance of cooking in many of our daily routines and the prevalent challenges commonly experienced by our clients, we thought we would share some common interventions and strategies that assist our clients to prepare foods safely in the kitchen. Please note that individual recommendations are always made after a formal assessment. If you think any of the strategies below could be helpful for you or a loved one, please talk to your OT or reach out to us at NCCO for a referral!
Safety Assessment in the Kitchen. Safety is our number one priority when it comes to eating and cooking. Our first step would be to determine how our client’s injuries and associated symptoms might be impacting their ability to safely prepare meals. Physical, cognitive, and psycho-emotional challenges will be considered. A formal assessment of the cooking environment is also performed to determine if changes are needed for safety and optimization. Some key components we always look for include, remembering to turn the stove on/off, remembering when food is cooking, and handling hot dishes/appliances.
Knife Safety. Knife injuries are one of the most common injuries in the kitchen. This can be prevented by using proper knife skills. With clients, we will often discuss some of the following important techniques:
When cutting, remember to form “a claw” with your fingers and curl them back and away from the knife in order to protect yourself from injury.
Grip your knife steadily and closer to the blade of the knife. This will allow for better control and balance.
Secure your cutting board. You can do this by placing a wet towel underneath the cutting board, this will prevent it from sliding and moving when cutting.
Keep your knives clean and sharp. It might seem counterintuitive, but a dull blade can actually be more dangerous than a sharp one. With dull blades, you have to apply greater force, which can increase risk of injury.
Other Safety Aids. There are a number of safety aids and techniques that can be recommended for food preparation depending on the type and level of challenge our client is experiencing. Some common aids include:
Stove Guards - these can be installed on your stove, and will automatically turn the stove off given certain conditions i.e. if no movement is detected for a certain amount of time.
Finger Guards - these can be used when cutting and preparing ingredients to reduce the risk of injury.
Talking timers and thermometers - these can make sure you stay on track with your meal preparation and cooking.
Adaptive Aids. There are a number of adaptive devices that can make cooking and eating easier. Here are some examples:
Dycem Mat - these non-slip mats can be used under mixing bowls, graters, and cutting boards to keep them secure when in use. They allow you the ability to use only one hand, since the other hand isn’t required for stabilization.
Automatic Jar Openers - significantly reduces the energy and strength required to open jars.
Swedish Cutting Board - this is an adaptable cutting board that allows you to slice, grate food items that are safely secured to the board. It is designed for one-handed use or individuals who require additional stability while preparing foods.
T-Handle Rocker Knife - this knife has an ergonomic T-shaped handle that is easy to grasp and requires less pressure to cut foods. It is designed for use by individuals who have limited dexterity and hand strength.
Dubuc, E., Gagnon‐Roy, M., Couture, M., Bier, N., Giroux, S., & Bottari, C. (2019). Perceived needs and difficulties in meal preparation of people living with traumatic brain injury in a chronic phase: Supporting long‐term services and interventions. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 66(6), 720–730. https://doi.org/10.1111/1440-1630.12611