Life hacks – Eating at home and out and about
Being confident and in control
Eating out should be a fun, relaxing and social activity. However, being unable to read menus, navigate through tables or see what is on your plate can bring a layer of complication and anxiety. In London Vision’s Managing Sight Loss sessions, attendees told us how they make the best of eating out and have an enjoyable and social time. The tips and tricks described in the Managing Sight Loss session can be just as useful at home.
Your top tips
- Remember you have the same right to be in the restaurant or café as anyone else (especially important for Guide Dog users to remember).
- People aren’t watching you or even paying you any attention.
- Don’t worry about what others are thinking and try not to assume the worst.
- If you have a mishap or knock something over humour can often help.
- Waiting staff are usually happy to help
Eating skills and tips
One way to tell where food is on the plate, or the location of other dishes around the plate, is to use the clock reference system. Think of your plate as a clock face with 12:00 at the edge furthest from you and 6:00 at the edge closest to you. The right side would be 3:00 and the left side 9:00. Fellow diners can help you identify where items are situated by using a reference to time location. If a piece of chicken was at the edge of the plate nearest to you, for example, someone would tell you it is at 6:00.
- If you have low vision, use high-contrast place settings for help in identifying tableware and food. Examples: Use a dark place mat with a light plate and cup. If serving darker foods, use a light-coloured plate.
- A tray or place mat can help you navigate your dining area. Any shape tray or mat works. When you first sit down, find the edge of the placemat or tray and gently move your fingers around the edge and inside the edge. You are then aware of the eating area and the dishes and utensils within that space. By keeping your fingers low to the table, you won’t bump anything over.
- You can use a triangular napkin underneath the plate and set the water glass at the top of the triangle, silverware on the left and right, and the plate in the middle. Replacing items to their starting positions ensure you know where they are without asking someone.
- Use a fork and tip of the knife to check the location and arrangement of the food on your plate periodically. Push food items back toward the centre of the plate if they have gravitated outward toward the edges.
- The tip of the knife can also give you an indication of the size of the meat or other food item that requires cutting.
- The weight of the food on a fork or spoon can help indicate the size of the portion.
- Solid foods, such as bread or mashed potatoes, can serve as a “buffer” or barrier to help push food onto the fork. You can also use a knife as a buffer.
Cut meat in three steps
- Turn the plate so the meat is at the 6:00 position. Not reaching over other foods can make cutting easier.
- To cut meat, locate one edge of the meat with the knife and keep the knife there. Put the fork into the meat piece about a half inch from the knife edge and, starting at the edge, cut a small semicircle around the fork.
- Keep the knife at the edge of the meat while you eat the cut piece, and then repeat the process.
For spreading and serving:
- Glide the knife blade lightly across the top of butter to get an idea of where to cut into it.
- It is sometimes easier to use a spoon to spread, as in the case with peanut butter.
- When eating family style, ask what dish you are receiving, and when you pass it on, also tell the next person what the dish is. This will remind the people at the table to identify the dishes.
- When serving yourself, run fingertips around the top rim of the bowl to locate the serving spoon. If possible, place the serving dish on the table next to the plate. If not, hold the serving dish just above the plate and a bit to the side. This will make the transfer of food easier.
Salt, pepper and other seasonings
To help differentiate salt from pepper, take into account that the salt weighs more than the pepper, and they have different sounds when shaken. To control the flow of salt, shake some into your palm and explore the amount with a pinkie finger. You can also pour salt into the palm and pinch a small amount onto food.
Liquid pouring techniques
- Place an index finger over the rim of the cup or glass, extending the top portion of the finger into the cup or glass. Pour the liquid until you feel it contact the tip of your finger. Stop pouring as the liquid is about 1-inch from the rim. (Note: This technique is used with cold liquids only. For hot beverages, use a liquid level indicator — a device that makes noise when liquid touches it.)
- Before tipping a pitcher to pour, bring the pitcher spout up and touch it to the rim of the cup. Then tip the pitcher to pour.
- Listen for the sound of liquid as it enters, as well as for sound changes as the liquid reaches the rim.
- Wrap a hand around the cup or glass and feel for temperature changes as liquid level rises.
Choosing what you want to eat
If you have a friend or waiter reading to you, there may be areas of the menu you don’t need to know about if you have a rough idea of what you would like to eat. Googling the menu in advance can assist. Apps such as Seeing AI will read most menus depending on their text quality. Small task lights are available which will illuminate the menu and the table. Magnifiers with lights built in may bring benefits in restaurants as may small handheld video magnifiers.
You may wish to choose foods strategically in order to avoid bones or items that are difficult to cut – you may also ask that foods are separated onto different plates for example separating vegetable from the rest of the meal or chips in a bowl.
Controlling the environment
Asking for a window table or under a light may be beneficial as may asking the staff to not light candles and remove any unneeded glasses or utensils. Placing your glass where you know where it is can prevent you from knocking it over. You might like to take a small Dycem Mat on which to stand you glass to make it more visible and more difficult to knock over
Tell us more
If you have more tips that you think would be useful, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and we will do our best to share them with other blind and partially sighted people across London firstname.lastname@example.org
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Life hacks: kitchen
Check out this page for tips and tricks for the kitchen - including gadgets, contrast and lighting ideas and useful techniques.