Life hacks: in the kitchen
London Vision’s life hacks in the kitchen explores tips and tricks for making drinks, snacks, and meals when you are blind or partially sighted. Below you will find a range of suggestions and strategies discussed within our sessions.
Sources of support
The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) helpline is a source of information and support and can be reached on 0303 1239999 or email@example.com
You can also by a range of gadgets and equipment from the RNIB shop. Grants can be obtained to support the purchase of specialist kitchen equipment, visit the RNIB website for more information or visit Turn2us.
Your local sensory team will be able to advise you on how to manage in the kitchen when you are blind or partially sighted. They may also be able to supply you with small pieces of equipment that make kitchen tasks a little easier.
You can use the RNIB’s sightline directory to find your local sensory team.
A clutter free, organised workspace really helps in the kitchen. The saying ‘everything in its place and a place for everything’ really holds true, and knowing where things should be means that you can find them when you need. Try and avoid searching for utensils or ingredients mid-way through a task – get out everything you need before your start and have it all in one place.
Lighting plays a crucial role in maximising low vision. Most people who have sight loss need significant amounts of extra lighting on the tasks that they are to complete, however, many people are severely impacted by glare or reflected light. Under cupboard lights in a kitchen or task lamps can be used to bring extra light onto kitchen activities. Local sensory teams can advise on task lighting and may in certain circumstances be able to provide task lamps.
Glare can be prevented by careful positioning of lights and ensuring that surfaces are not reflective. This can be as simple as using a tablecloth or large chopping board. Consider the ‘warmth’ of the light when choosing bulbs. Warmer tones may feel more comfortable and produce less glare but may not produce the crispness of vision of colder tones. Try to avoid creating shadows. Lighting is very personal – experiment to find what works best for you.
For comprehensive advice on lighting your home look at the Thomas Pocklington Trust lighting guide.
A white onion on a white chopping board is difficult to see as it merges into the board. The same onion on a bright red board becomes easier to see. Orange dots fixed to a cooker control can allow you to set temperatures.
Colour contrast can be incorporated into the design of your kitchen – contrasts don’t have to be garish and can be created subtly by use of tone. For example, if brown is the primary colour in your kitchen, walls and large areas could be very pale brown, cupboards and work surfaces a darker shade with handles very dark brown. Visit this page for more about adapting your kitchen.
Making hot drinks
Making hot drinks can bring challenges when you can’t see how much liquid you’ve poured into a cup or even if the liquid is going into the cup.
Group members have told us about ways of making this everyday task simpler to complete. Many of the suggestions about organising your kitchen, using contrasting colours and improving your lighting work well when applied to other activities such as making snacks. Suggestions from the group:
- Make the best possible use of lighting. The closer the light source is to the task, the lighter it will be. Avoid using surfaces or utensils that reflect light or create glare.
- Take a moment to think how you are going to make your drink and gather everything you need to complete the task together.
- Making drinks in the sink area allows any spills to be dealt with later.
- Placing everything you need on a lipped tray and on a non-slip mat will allow you to locate what you need easily. Any spillages will be captured by the tray and can be poured away when you have finished making the drink.
- Place the cup you are pouring into on a flat surface. Avoid holding the cup in the air as you pour as you might pour hot liquids onto your hand.
- Ensure the lip of the container you are pouring from is against the rim of the container you are pouring into.
- Contrasting colours can help you see different objects more easily. Black coffee in a white mug may enable you to see the liquid rising or a dark mug may let you see a tea bag floating upward.
- You can use a liquid level indicator to alert you with an audible or vibrating alert when your cup is full.
- Use the smallest available bottle or carton of milk, or a milk jug. Powdered milk or catering sachets can be useful methods of adding milk to a hot drink.
- Placing coffee in a dish, rather than a jar, can make it easier to use a spoon. Catering sachets provide measured amounts of coffee, although you might need scissors to open.
- Keep the coffee dish as close as possible to the cup to minimise any spillage from the spoon.
- You can make hot drinks in a microwave which removes the need for pouring hot liquids. You can buy insulated cups which do not become hot.
- Talking microwaves are available or use orange bumps to highlight settings on cheap dial microwaves.
Here are a few suggestions based on our discussion and e-mail enquiries with blind and partially sighted colleagues at London Vision.
- Ensure you are familiar with the controls of the toaster
- Make sure the toaster is accessible to you and you are not reaching over or through kitchen utensils to place toast in the toaster
- Where possible choose slices of bread which fill the slot and well on your toaster and are not small enough to fall inside
- On most toasters gently lifting the toast lever will allow the cooked toast to stand proud of the toaster particularly if you’ve chosen the best sized slice to suit
- Most people explore the top or the toaster with their fingers to lift toast from the toaster
- Plastic tongs or a heat resistant plastic spatula may be implements that can assist
- If you are making toast on a grill pan line up bread with handle so you don’t have to search whole pan pull pan out of grill before trying turn using spatula or fish slice
- Organise all utensils and ingredients.
- Ensure spread is soft.
- Use contrasting plate to bread.
- Bridge slice of bread with finger and thumb.
- Work spread from thumb tip to fingertip.
- Mover finger bridge along slice to ensure coverage.
- Using a spoon may be simpler to get spreads out of pots and containers.
Useful apps that help identify products and read instructions
The are many apps that allow you to quickly and easily identify products or items in your kitchen.
- Be My Eyes: uses volunteers to read
- Seeing AI: – uses artificial intelligence to read printed materials and recognise products.
- Envision: Uses AI to read text and identify products
- Google lookout: uses AI to read texts and identify products
- The Amazon show and tell skill will identify products. To make the best use of this skill you need to have the top of the range ‘show device’ as it has a higher spec camera.
For details of other apps which assist blind and partially sighted people with daily living visit VitalTech.
Items can be identified by:
- Marking with felt tip pen.
- Using a rubber band system such as: one band for baked beans two for sweetcorn.
- By use of tactile band from RNIB.
- Braille labelling or other tactile labels.
- Use of a penfriend.
- Attaching laminated large print or tactile labels .
Chopping and peeling
There’s no shame in buying pre-prepared vegetables and fruits either frozen or fresh. If you are not used to using sharp knives you might want to start by practising on soft fruits such as a banana, progressing to cucumber.
You will need a sharp knife. Keeping your fingertips curled out of the way you can use your non chopping knuckle as a guide. Food processors can be a useful way of chopping ingredients, but many do have sharp blades to clean.
It is very much personal choice as to which vegetable peeler you use. placing potatoes in salty water allows you to feel any unpeeled areas. Try this video produced by Washington School for the Blind, it’s one of many which explore completing kitchen tasks when you are blind or partially sighted.
Choosing a cooker
Using the hob
- Familiarise yourself with the hob when it’s cold and free of cooking utensils.
- Ensure you know which dial relates to which burner.
- Use bump ons or hi marks to denote off position or key settings.
- Know which of your pans fits which ring to ensure you can centre the pot quickly and easily.
- You may wish to slide a wooden spoon around the pot you have placed on the cooker to ensure it is centred.
- Ensure no pan handles extend over the front of the stove.
- Consider which ring you are to use if you are likely to be bending over the stove getting close to use your residual vision – getting too close may mean singeing your clothes.
- Avoid pots with glass lids as you may try and push your spoon through the lid.
- Vegetable baskets inserted into pans make draining vegetables simple and safer no need to carry boiling water across the kitchen.
- A spatter guard keeps fat in the pan.
- Familiarise yourself with your oven whilst it is cold.
- Check the layout of controls.
- Make controls accessible by application of tactile markings as required or learn position of dials which correspond to which temperatures, for example twenty past equals 180ºC.
- Learn how to open the oven door.
- Adjust height of oven to suit if possible.
- Identify position and number of oven shelves.
- Minimise number of shelves to avoid accidental touching of hot shelves.
- Consider using oven guard – strips of heat resistant silicone which prevent burning from the leading edge of the oven shelf.
- Use oven gloves that protect the forearm.
Weighing and measuring
- Use recipes that utilise cup or spoon measures.
- Nests of measuring spoons are a useful tool.
- Choosing weighing scales with, clear easy to see display, that talk or whose balance you can feel.
- Talking measuring jugs can assist with liquids, or marks can be added to cheap plastic measuring jugs.
Judging when food is cooked
Use knowledge of time expected to cook. Set timers on mobile phones or smart speakers or utilise a tactile clockwork timer. Food should smell cooked and the change of texture either with finger or fork will indicate how cooked food is. Talking thermometers can allow you to assess the core temperature of what you are cooking ensuring it is safe to eat
Smart speakers (hey Google, Alexa, Siri)
Allow quick and easy access to recipes and cooking instructions along with a quick and simple method of setting timers.
Check out YouTube
YouTube contains hundreds if not thousands of videos illustrating techniques that support blind and partially sighted people in the kitchen, not least the Henshaw’s knowledge hub.
Want more resources? Go back to the Managing Sight Loss course resources page.