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Adapting the way you cook to work for you

If you are currently experiencing some MS symptoms which are affecting your ability to cook or prepare meals, it can be frustrating and hard to know how to adapt. Read on for some suggestions and ideas you could try.

There are plenty of ways to adapt both your kitchen environment and habits in the kitchen to help you to keep enjoying cooking. 

Challenges in the kitchen can occur when experiencing fatigue, cognitive symptoms, reduced mobility or other physical symptoms.

It is really important to remember that there are ways to adapt and that if cooking is something you enjoy, there is no reason to stop, you may just have to find new ways to help you cook up a tasty meal. OMS friendly meals don't need to be overly-complicated.

Please share your own experiences and solutions in the comments below. 

Strategies to try:  

  • Plan ahead:  

While planning saves time, money and hassle for all home cooks, it can make a big difference for those with MS.symptoms. Making shopping lists and planning which meals to eat when will enable you to keep to a cooking schedule. Work with small quantities, saving bulk cooking for days when you might have help and another pair of hands in the kitchen. It is a good idea to keep food on hand for days you don’t feel up to cooking. If possible, try online food shopping which can be delivered straight to your kitchen.  

  • Break it down: 

Take a look at recipes for what you would like to cook and break it down. For example, plan to visit the fridge once instead of 10 times throughout the process of making a dish. Have all your ingredients and everything you need out before you start cooking. Streamline the number of ingredients you are using too. 

  • De-clutter:  

Storing too many things together makes it physically difficult to get to what you need, especially if the items are heavy. Having a de-cluttered kitchen will help make work in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable. Rearrange, throw-out and organize food in cupboards to help make this possible. Some people choose to have a trolley that makes items easily accessible. 

  • Rest when needed:  

Fatigue can be an issue for anyone with MS, so take frequent breaks and if you don’t use a wheelchair, keep a stool or chair nearby in case you need to sit down. You could also use a high stool to perch on while cooking, ideally located somewhere where you can reach everything without having to get off.  

  • Switching tasks: 

Chopping, peeling and stirring use different muscles and joints, While it may be more efficient to peel all the vegetables at once, even a small movement repeated over and over again can lead to strain. Try and alternate frequently between tasks.  

  • Appreciate the process:  

Cooking food can be therapy for the soul. If you have limited motor skills, the chopping of your onion may not be perfect, but enjoy the tactile experience and use your senses, this is just as important as the end result.

  • Make your ingredients work for you:

You can get pre-cut fruit and vegetables frozen or chilled, tinned food or pouches and frozen goods in supermarkets to simpify cooking. Using straight to wok noodles is easier than boiling up noodles before stir frying, for example. Chili flakes might be easier to use than chopping fresh chili. Pre-mixed fajita spices could shorten the time taken to make a curry. Some ready meals may even be OMS friendly. you don't have to make everything by yourself from scratch!

This can be more costly, but it can be worth it if it saves on chopping, clearing up time - particularly for bulky vegetables and fruits like buternut squash, mangos. Brown rice in a packet means less time watching a pan on the stove.Watch out for any added ingredients that might make things less healthy. 

Wholefoods are important but not essential - have them as much as you can but the most important thing is to make adopting the OMS diet a sustainable part of your lifestyle. 

  • Pick your recipes carefully: 

Try and find simple recipes, with fewer ingredients and steps. There is no harm in regularly repeating recipes either. There are some great one-pan bakes or to reduce washing up and time in the kitchen. Pasta and tomato sauce, baked fish with vegetables, tofu and noodles, beans on toast, hummus and pita bread are all examples of simple OMS friendly meals. We aim to have a range of recipes on the OMS website, with adaptations to make things simpler. 

Kitchen design:  

  • Countertop height: 

If you are a wheelchair user, lowering countertops can be a massive help. However, this is not possible for everyone, an adaptation is to use a small table on wheels to use as a work surface. This means that you can still prepare food at a more suitable height. 

  • Appliances:  

Appliances with lighting around buttons and knobs can be easier to use, as well as smooth, rounded corners for easy grip. When looking to buy appliances, try and find ones that have easy to grip handles and doors that are easy to use and open.  

It can also help to keep regularly used appliances in a convenient drawer or on a shelf at arm's length.  

Kitchen tools:  

  • Adaptive equipment:  

You may not even know about the range of adaptive tools that exist. For example, there are chopping boards with a spear that help you secure the food you are chopping as well as items such as electric can openers. It can be a good option to talk to an occupational therapist about these options.  

  • Food processors  

Food processors and blenders can be an excellent addition to your kitchen as they can help with processes such as chopping, slicing and pureeing. Again, keep them somewhere that is in easy reach to use often.  

  • Chopping boards:  

If you are a wheelchair user, you will know all too well that it is near impossible to get up close enough to the typical counter because your feet will be blocked by the cupboards below. An option around this can be using a chopping board on your lap, perhaps with a cushion or tray under the board or using an overchair table.  

  • Pastry cutters: 

These can be a secret weapon for those who maybe find that their hands are too weak to use a conventional knife. Using a pastry cutter for this purpose, which may not be as sharp as a knife, it makes up for better leverage.  

Advice for family members and friends:  

  • Respect:  

It can be easy to see someone struggling in the kitchen and to jump in and take over as a way of trying to be helpful. However, this can be frustrating for whoever is cooking as they can feel like they have failed. It is better to think about the tasks that are less easy and offer help in specific ways. 

Think of practical things you can do to help, like picking up ingredients when you go to the shop or offering a lift.  

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Melanie Guy (not verified)

Brilliant timing - just expressed the difficulties of cooking on our What'sAp this week. Thanks.