I love all things to do with food. I love eating food, reading recipes, talking about food, cooking and baking. The thing about losing your vision is that preparing food becomes a bit tricky. I’ve had to learn to do things a bit differently in the kitchen recently and I thought I’d share a few things that I found useful. Whether you love it or hate it, we all have to eat and therefore we all have to cook. So here are a few tips that might help you in the kitchen if like me, you can’t see very well.
Band-its/ Elastic bands
Band-its are stretchy, tactile bands with raised shapes, which can be put around items that are in similar packaging to help identify them. You might put one with raised circles around your baked beans and one with raised squares around your tin of custard (because let’s face it, mixing these up could have a catastrophic effect on one’s sponge pudding!). You can buy Band-its from the RNIB shop. If there are only a couple of things in the same packaging you need to identify, an alternative is to use simple elastic bands. My light soy and dark soy sauces are in the same shaped bottles so I put an elastic band around one of them, so I can tell them apart.
Coloured chopping boards
Many people with low vision find contrasting colours easier to see, me included. I have a set of chopping boards in different colours which are meant to be used for different foods, for example green for vegetables, red for meat and blue for fish. However, I use the different coloured boards to create a high contrast background for whatever I am chopping. I chop broccoli on the white board and white fish on the red board. I wouldn’t be able to see a tomato on the red board, so I would choose the white or blue board. You get the idea. The boards I have are from Joseph and Joseph and can be found on Amazon or at department stores. If you are completely blind, these boards have raised pictures of different foods on them so if you want to use separate boards for different foods for hygiene reasons, these are suitable. I have also seen similar sets at different price points on Amazon. Mine were a present from my cousin and although he didn’t choose them with my vision in mind, I think they are a nice gift idea for asomeone who is visually impaired and likes cooking.
High contrast knives and utensils
Utensils and knives are often the same colour at the working end and the handle, which is problematic for someone with low vision. Grabbing the wrong end of a knife is not to be advised and to avoid this I choose knives with a different coloured handle to the blade. A sliver blade and a black handle is best for my vision. High contrast utensils are also helpful. Mine are from Joseph and Joseph have brightly coloured handles on black utensils. These are great as they also stand out on my light coloured worktops.
Liquid level indicator
This is a small piece of kit which makes a big difference! It’s little plastic square with two metal prongs which you hang on the side of your cup before pouring liquid into it. It beeps as the liquid reaches the level of the indicator. No more water overflowing on the worktops and boiling tea running down the sides of the cupboards. I would consider this little gem to be essential in my kitchen nowadays. The RNIB sell these and your local sight loss charity might supply or demo them too.
Accessible scales and measuring jugs
I love baking and so do my daughters (or maybe we just love cake). I believe a visual impairment should never stand between a person and their cake! There are a whole range of scales and jugs out there which are accessible to people with a visual impairment. If you have some useful vision, products with a bold and large display might be good options. For those with less or no vision, talking scales and jugs are the way forward. I have ssome electronic scales which displays HUGE light up numbers and this is manageable for me right now. They are not designed for people with a visual impairment but they work for me. I am currently on the look out for an accessible jug and think I will go down the route of a talking jug. Talking scales and jugs can be bought from the RNIB. I’d recommend talking to your local sigh loss charity as they may have some examples and can show you how they work before you decide which ones are right for you.
Choose your hob carefully
Opinions vary when it comes to accessible hobs. I personally prefer gas, mainly so I can hear when it is on, but I also find it easy to control the temperature while cooking. Gas hobs usually have fairly tactile controls like large round dials that click. Some people may find an open flame too dangerous and prefer an induction or electric hob. The problem with electric or induction hobs is that manufacturers seem to prefer a smooth touch screen control with no raised buttons or clear display. I know some visually impaired people choose an induction hob as the heat is contained in the pan and doesn’t spread to the surfaces around it, but they almost always have inaccessible controls which rules it out for me.
Yes, I realise I tend to harp on about high contrast, but if your vision is anything like mine, it’s a game changer. This one is simple. Light cups for dark teas and coffees, dark cups for milk. Light plates for bolognese and dark plates for carbonara. It gives us a fighting chance of seeing what we are eating and drinking. Another thing to consider is choosing crockery that contrasts with your table so less things are knocked over. Worktops are trickier, but if you use white plates more frequently, a darker tablecloth or placemats could be an inexpensive and simple adjustment that will make things a bit easier.
Chicken recipes often say ‘cook until the juices run clear’. Hmm… that is difficult when you can’t see the juices. But if you are unsure and don’t particularly wish to poison your family and friends, a talking thermometer is a good idea. You can find out the recommended temperature of cooked meats and just stick in the thermometer when you think it’s nearly there and listen out for the magic number. There are plenty of guides and charts available that give recommended internal temperatures for every kind of meat. Just choose one that you trust. Again, you can get talking food thermometers from the RNIB.
These little sticky circles have CHANGED MY LIFE! I stuck these to the dials on my hob and oven and to the controls on my washing machine and it has made navigating controls on these appliances so much easier! I can feel the bumps on the dials and know that if they are positioned at 12’o’clock, my appliances are off. I’ve stuck one at 180 degrees on the oven, which means no more temperature guessing and since those little orange dots have been on the washing machine dial, I have shrunk far less clothing! At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I think tactile markers have contributed to a happier home, with less burnt food and fewer teeny tiny jumpers.
These were some little tips and tricks that I use in my kitchen. This list will probably change as may vision changes and I will have to relearn everything again, but for now, this works for me. The main thing is, whether you love cooking, or you’re just hungry, you don’t need to let a visual impairment be a barrier between you and your kitchen. If your sight loss is a recent development, learning to cook again can seem like a mammoth task. It’ll take courage and lots of practice, but it is completely possible and even enjoyable.
I would love to hear your kitchen tips and tricks for partially sighted and blind people. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to make things a bit easier, so please do share in the comments.