Cooking with Low Vision: Holiday Tips and Tricks

Is reduced vision making you anxious about cooking the big holiday meal for your family? With a little preparation and a lot of practice, it doesn’t have to. Many members of the vision loss community are cooking up a storm, and we’ve got some tips and tricks to help you join them. Time to get that apron on!

Cooking with Low Vision: Holiday Tips and Tricks Image

Let’s Start with a Little Inspiration

The days of thinking that vision loss, or even blindness, means you have to step out of the kitchen are long gone. And on a national stage in the United States, Christine Ha proved that point to millions. Christine is legally blind, having gradually lost her vision from 1999 to 2007 from an autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis optica. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion for cooking.

In 2012, Christine competed on the cooking competition show “Master Chef,” where she beat out 30,000 home cooks across America to win the Master Chef title. While Ha had an assistant to guide her through the unfamiliar kitchen on set, she did all of the cooking herself, relying on her sense of touch and smell to guide her cooking. Pretty amazing, right? Christine dubs herself “The Blind Cook” and blogs about her experiences on her website.

Tapping into Your Inner Julia Child

Now that you’re inspired, it’s time to get started. And it all starts with preparation. Knowing your kitchen inside and out is essential. If you organise your kitchen, putting cooking utensils in the same place and clearly labelling ingredients with either visual or sensory tags, you’re off to a good start. Lighting can be helpful as well. Mounting lights under your kitchen cabinets, above appliances and even in drawers and cabinets can help make your cooking experience much easier.

And probably one of them most impactful ways to prepare is one of the simplest – buying a light and dark cutting board. Put your light food items on the dark board and your dark food items on the light board – this will give you better contrast, making it easier to see the ingredients you’re working with.

Relying On Your Senses

Following in the footsteps of Christine Char, rely on your senses beyond just vision. Christine touches, tastes and smells everything she cooks. Do you have your holiday meal recipes already? Try spending some time before you cook exploring your ingredients. If you know what the items going into your recipes taste, feel, and smell like, you’re more likely to know how to cook them. Even your sense of hearing is critical. Once you start cooking, chefs with vision impairments can actually listen to see if something is done. For example, is there a certain noise that a pot of water that has started to boil makes? What about a piece of chicken. Does it sizzle a certain way when it’s fully cooked? If you start to pay attention to the sounds in the kitchen, you can often create a system of your own that helps you determine when things are ready.

Getting a Safe Chopping System in Place

Perhaps the hardest part of cooking when you have reduced vision is the dreaded chopping of vegetables and other items, particularly the small ones. When you have trouble seeing, using a knife in general can be scary, but especially when it requires you to put your fingers in close proximity to the blade.

Buying contrasting cutting boards can certainly help you see the items you’re cutting better, but there are also some basic cutting techniques that can make the process safer. First off, what about trying a pizza cutter instead of a knife? The handle allows your hands to stay away from the blade, but the pizza wheel still enables you to cut most items. You can also buy knives with ergonomic handles that allow for easier cutting and better hand position. And lastly, try keeping your knuckle against the side of your knife as a guide. Not only does this help you avoid getting hurt, but it can also help you maintain consistent sizes of what you’re cutting.

Read Up!

Most organisations for the reduced vision community have great cooking tips on their website. The Royal National Institute for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, and even the BBC offer tips and tricks that can help you create a successful holiday meal this festive season.