This article is part of a series; for the rest of the series, visit Food and MS.
The first step after you decide not to let the MS monster keep you from preparing a meal for yourself or your family again is to get the kitchen ready. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, but these are things to keep in mind. Today I am talking about basic kitchen design and major appliances. I am hoping others contribute ideas, also.
Your kitchen and your major kitchen appliances should allow you to prepare a large variety of dishes and meals, and all while being safe. Many MSers do not need special equipment to prepare meals, but we may find some things work better for us than others. Stay with your comfort level, but do not be afraid to try new things. Perhaps the best extra part of a complete kitchen for someone with MS is a friend or helper. This can be full time, part time, or even incidental, depending on the need. Besides the idea of a helper, here is a list of what you might like in your kitchen: Work Spaces
Kitchen counters are very important when preparing or cooking a meal. They can make preparation easier or harder. MS, however, may take away some of that space because of inability to reach or lack of balance that may make cutting, measuring, and mixing even more difficult.
A stool, or even a stool with wheels, as Nancy D. talked about in her comment, allows more steady workmanship. If a stool is still too awkward for someone with balance problems, the kitchen table and a kitchen chair usually provide all the workspace needed. The table is made for seated height, so take advantage of it. When sitting in a Wheelchair, normal cabinet height is too tall for dicing and stirring. I do most of my work - dicing vegetables, measuring ingredients, stirring finished dishes, scooping out servings - at the most convenient workspace of all, my lap.
Another possibility for people who sit most or all of the time are a few remodeling changes to the kitchen, specifically for the person with a disability. For example, an area of the cabinets and counters can be lowered for use at a seated height. The sink can be lowered and designed for a wheelchair to fit under it. Of course, if all the counters are lowered, people who are standing would be at a disadvantage. My kitchen is small, but almost every inch is accessible. Other kitchen remodeling can be done to make a kitchen more accessible and comfortable. In my lower cabinets, I have shallow drawers that can be pulled out allowing access to items from the front to the very back. In the pantry, I have low-height lazy susans to organize the stored food. When I told the handy man to fit the lazy susans to my pantry, he was afraid I was reducing the amount of space; however, the space changed very little and the pantry is quite accessible. The upper cabinets as well as the upper section of the pantry is used for storage of items that can be reached by my helpful friend.
Be aware of the hardware on your cabinets. Do the drawer pulls catch on clothing or wheelchairs? There are styles that are smooth and just as easy to use. Some changes can be tax deductible, and it’s worth looking into. Refrigerator Sometimes a person with a disability has a problem reaching into a refrigerator, the same way it is often difficult to reach into a cabinet. There are cabinet tools, usually white basket drawers or shelves, that can be used in a refrigerator/freezer to help make it more accessible. I have found the side-by-side design easiest to use instead of the freezer on top or bottom. Also, the doors with roomy door shelves are useful for storing items that must be reached often.
Many meals can be prepared without a conventional oven. Use one only if you are comfortable reaching in or if you have a helper. If your balance is not steady, reaching in to remove a hot casserole may result in a fall and bad burns. A wall oven is the best for reaching because there is no leaning down involved, but it may be expensive and take more space and construction. The range top may be a good height for cooking, but remember your eyes are at a lower level now and closer to the burners. Also, boiling pots could be pulled over, burning your lap and legs.
If you have been cooking and baking a long time, it is easy to forget how dangerous the oven is when MS is a factor. When deciding whether or not or how much you should use your oven or stove top, think about what you would say to a child with similar strength and ability. Limiting your use of the oven and/or stove does not mean you can no longer prepare your favorite dishes. It means your MS is telling you to try another way. Microwave Oven
The simplest microwave can prepare a variety of recipes because cooking time is the only setting you really need. Many microwaves have all kinds of settings for power, time, and specific-use buttons used for many types of preparation. Some even cook automatically. For example, baked potatoes in my microwave require one button and it automatically senses when the potatoes are done. Surprisingly, most things you can prepare in a conventional oven or a stove can also be prepared in a microwave. It may take practice and adjustment, but most often it can be done. Dishwasher
I think a dishwasher is wonderful. Try different designs to see which seems to be best for your reach and accessibility.
Energy efficient appliances are eligible for tax credits as well as savings on your utility bills. This is true for people with MS and everyone else, too. Nothing wrong with that Next time I will cover counter tops appliances and utensils. Any suggestions?
Notes and Links: