Last week, TGB reader, Elizabeth Archerd contacted me with a topic suggestion for Time Goes By:
”...can we talk about how to manage home cooking as we age?
“...My eating habits are great, according to every medical person I know, but whole natural foods do take a certain amount of cooking time. I've been looking for ways to simplify the process to save my damaged hands from pain, which I feel after every holiday meal and increasingly from daily kitchen work.
“I'm curious about how elders are managing food, not just those with my own preferences. What can we preserve, what will we have to expect to give up?”
“Duh,” said I, slapping my forehead while reading Elizabeth's email. More than a dozen years at this blog and it had never crossed my mind that cooking could become difficult as we get older either from waning stamina and strength or something more specific like arthritis.
This fact escaped me even though a few months ago, I bought a mechanical apple peeler to use when I make my monthly batch of apple sauce to freeze because my hand had recently begun cramping from holding the paring knife in one position for too long.
My first thoughts were practical in a general sense: most old people probably shouldn't be climbing onto chairs or ladders so it would be important to move all food, tableware and cooking equipment to shelves that are reachable without a kitchen ladder.
Sometimes food preparation, particularly for special occasions that Elizabeth mentions, can takes longer than feet or legs are willing to hold up. Here is an “angled perching stool” I found at Elder Store that takes the weight off your feet and also supports your back.
It turns out there are dozens and dozens of kitchen aids and gadgets for people who are old, disabled or recovering from surgery or accidents. A few of my favorites:
This one-handed vegetable brush, also available at Elder Store, makes perfect sense. Why didn't I think of that.
Here is what they call a rocking T knife - also known as a mezzaluna to most cooks - that makes it easy to cut fruit, vegetables, herbs or anything else with one hand. It is available at Active Forever and other online stores.
I really like this pan holder that you can find at many shops for elders. It makes stirring with one hand easy and accommodates different sized pots and pans. You can find this at several stores including RehabMart.
I love this. I don't have arthritic hands (yet) but tearing off plastic wrap from the roll is always a war between me and the box. At $9, this is expensive but maybe it's worth it. It's available at Elder Store.
There are a gazillion kinds of gadgets to help open cans and bottles but one caught my attention because it works with pill bottles too. You can find it at the Elder Store where it is called the easy open pill extractor.
Many of these items and others seem to me to be more expensive that they ought to be and I recommend checking for similar ones around the web at such places as Amazon, Google Shopping, Walmart, etc. in addition to the specialty stores I've linked above.
For those of you not in the United States, I came across Arthritis Solutions (don't take all these name too literally) in Australia and Living Made Easy in the United Kingdom. I'm sure there are more.
A couple of other ideas:
Most supermarkets carry already-chopped garlic and onions, fruits and vegetables, varieties of ready-to-use salad greens, etc. Personally, I am leery of packaged fresh produce; although it's been many years ago now, I recall an outbreak of E. coli caused from packaged spinach.
The meat and fish departments of supermarkets where I live are increasingly providing dishes that are dressed, flavored and ready to cook – stuffed peppers, for example, marinated steak, Asian chicken breasts, stuffed salmon, shish- and fish-kebobs, and so on.
To cut down on the amount of cooking, you can also supplement with meal services. My next door neighbor, during the years he cared for his invalid wife, used the local Meals on Wheels program not because he couldn't afford to cook but because it took too much time and effort away from caring for his wife.
Nowadays, there are growing numbers of gourmet home cooking food delivery services with all the fresh or frozen ingredients and instructions for making delicious meals without a lot of effort.
I have no idea if these services are useful or affordable; I haven't tried them. They appear to be expensive but that may not be so when compared to what you spend on food shopping now and whatever value you place on less time in the kitchen.
If, like me, you enjoy cooking but you have to cut back for physical or other reasons, you could combine sometimes cooking with delivery services or meeting friends for lunch or dinner. All of this, of course, depends on what is affordable.
And don't forget cooking ahead. When you have the energy, set aside a morning or afternoon to cook and freeze ready-to-eat meals. I do this most frequently with soup in the winter. I really like seeing the rows of two-cup containers of home-made pea soup, tomato soup, squash soup and others lined up in the freezer. All I do is keep one in the refrigerator defrosting for when I'm too lazy or busy to cook.
Which brings me to you, dear readers. This is the perfect story for crowd-sourcing.
What kitchen gadgets and supplies do you find most helpful nowadays?
What changes in preparation and techniques are you making as you grow older?
What have you given up doing in the kitchen and what have you maintained?
Have there been accidents or other incidents that compelled you to change how you work in the kitchen?
And so on. Give us you best advice on this subject – and thank you Elizabeth Archerd for a terrific idea.