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The No-Look Cook: Adaptive Cooking for People with Vision Loss

May 6, 2021 | Leave a Comment

by Cody Froeter, CVRT

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Kitchen tools organized before starting cooking include a tray, magnifier, oven glove, seasonings and the recipe.

Cooking is something every person will experience to some degree at some point in their life. Some people detest cooking. Others think of it as just another task that needs to be done. Some people view cooking as a hobby. Others make it a passion or profession. Regardless of the perspective, every person will, at some point, have to cook a meal in some capacity. For individuals with vision loss, cooking can be a source of anxiety because of safety concerns. And, also due to the visual nature in which cooking is often presented in recipes or cooking shows. As with any other daily living skill with vision loss, cooking has adaptations and safe methods that accomplish the same task. A person with vision loss just approaches the task from a different perspective.


Organization and Identification

One of the most important aspects of cooking with vision loss is kitchen organization. A well-organized kitchen allows for efficient location of ingredients. Your primary method of labeling — bump dots, large print labels or puff paint to label containers — will still be your primary method of identifying these items. It is also helpful to be familiar with each item in your pantry for a secondary method of identification. When organizing seasonings and other ingredients, you can:

  • Explore the way each spice and seasoning smells.
  • Compare the consistency of baking powder vs flour vs powdered sugar.
  • Learn the difference in feel and taste of granulated sugar and salt. (I have confused these two due to using unlabeled containers and not following my own advice about using secondary methods of identification!)
  • Feel the weight of your salt container vs your black pepper container when they are full. Salt is heavier than black pepper.

Take the time to become familiar with these aspects of your seasonings and ingredients. You are building a mental catalog of each item which can be used as your secondary method of identification when cooking. By being very familiar with each item, you will be able to use this secondary method of smell, tactile consistency and weight to confirm you have the correct item. Do not be afraid to get your hands a little messy when organizing!


Cooking Terminology

Another common issue are the recipes themselves. I use recipes that say, “bake until golden brown” or “cook onions until they are translucent.” These are commonly used terms in recipes that are visual in nature and do not offer any information for tactile feel, smell or temperature. My best advice is to build your knowledge base on non-visual methods to determine doneness. For instance, when a breaded chicken breast needs to be baked until golden brown, have someone assist you to determine when the chicken is golden brown and then investigate using non-visual methods. You can check the way the breading feels or sounds when you poke it with a fork. You can also:

  • Keep track of the exact time it took to cook the chicken.
  • Use a talking meat thermometer to make sure the chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Use your sense of smell to determine if the item smells cooked or burnt.

If having a person on hand to assist is not an option, Google is your friend. A recipe for chicken parmesan may only describe cooking the chicken to golden brown. In that case, try searching Google for another recipe for baked chicken that gives accurate timing or non-visual terminology for determining doneness. Remember, when you choose a recipe, you are not limited to following that recipe step by step. If one aspect of the recipe is not informative enough, search for another similar recipe that gives you the information you need. Google can also be useful for information regarding specific aspects of your recipe like temperature for meat doneness or cooking times for specific items.


One Step at a Time

It is important to gather your information and research your primary and alternate recipes before you begin cooking. This will make you better prepared and you’ll avoid hitting roadblocks midway through cooking. Working with clients in cooking lessons, I always place importance on prep work and getting all ingredients ready before starting a recipe. Another important point I stress with clients is to work on one thing at a time. Adding heat should be the final step. I recommend using the following process as much as possible.

  • Choose your recipe, any alternate recipes and information.
  • Read each recipe a few times to make sure you understand .
  • Gather ingredients in one area.
  • Prepare all ingredients (cut, slice and measure).
  • Follow the recipe and complete as many steps as possible that do not require heat (stove or oven).

Once the above is complete, then start the steps that require heat

Following this process may take longer, but focusing on one step at a time and introducing heat as the final step, will avoid mistakes and ensure safety. If you encounter a recipe that instructs you to do more than one thing at a time, break those steps up and complete the no-heat steps first.

Organization, safety and knowledge is the key to success when cooking with vision loss. Recipes may not always be presented in accessible terminology, but having an organized kitchen and a knowledge base about cooking can help avoid some frustrations. Building a cooking knowledge base can be a trial-and-error process, but continued practice and learning will improve your cooking skills and allow you to tackle any cooking challenge with ease.


Cody can provide individual lessons on this important topic.  Call or email Kathy Austin to discuss training options.

Cody is a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist at Second Sense

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