The New Year is a good time to start eating healthier—and never stop! It’s also a great time to get busy in the kitchen to the extent you want to. That emphasis comes from Amy Wurf, the Council’s Education and Vision Services Director. “No matter what level of vision that you have, there are ways to access nutritious food, get back to cooking again, and make some good meals for yourself,” Amy says.
Kitchen work depends on the individual. Some among us have been cooking for 60 years and, well, don’t want to cook anymore. Others may be intimidated by chopping and a kitchen’s shiny surfaces. To start the New Year, Amy did some research both in her own kitchen and in grocery stores. She’s come up with some insight and tips about how to keep a well-rounded, healthy plate of food on the table, starting with a sensible approach to shopping.
Many stores offer personalized shopping assistants, staff members who can accompany a patron up and down the aisles. It’s a good idea to call the service desk about this assistance before heading to the store. This way you can not only confirm that the service is offered but also learn when an assistant is available. With or without an assistant, Amy says it’s always a good idea to map out specific needs prior to heading to the grocery store. “Make menus ahead of time so that can cut down on anxiety at the store,” Amy suggests.
Take advantage of other senses while food shopping. “Use your nose to see if produce smells right,” Amy says. “Feel the outside of the orange to check the thickness. Thump a melon.” You can also gently squeeze apples, cucumbers, peppers and other produce to check for firmness and detect soft spots.
The frozen foods aisle also contains many nutritious items. “The frozen food section sometimes gets a bad rap, but there are healthy options to be found there,” Amy says. “Precut vegetables and fruits keep their nutrients when they’re frozen. There are lots of good options for frozen meat and chicken too.” she adds. It’s a good idea to check for sodium levels on frozen package labels. You’re in charge of those levels when you bring fresh food into your kitchen. Not so with packaged, frozen items that are pre-salted and, in some cases, over-salted.
Canned veggies can also be a nutritious choice, but Amy recommends rinsing off canned veggies to wash away added sodium. Canned fruit, on the other hand, may contain fewer vitamins than fresh. Canned fruit also often has added sugar, as do many cartons of juice that do not state on the label that they are natural and free of additives.
Some other quick shopping tips:
- Find a product you like with the best health benefits—and buy it again.
- Get a miniature flashlight for your keychain or a lighted handheld magnifier to shine on labels. This can help you find expiration dates and ingredient lists.
- Once home, write preparation instructions in large print or braille on an index card and attach it to the box or packaging.
Technology can be the shopper’s friend:
- Google Lookout is an assisted vision app that will identify an item that you point your phone’s camera at.
- Seeing AI is an iPhone app that can see and read price tags and product labels out loud.
- Be My Eyes is a free service that provides volunteers to take your phone call and, seeing through your phone camera, help you find that specific soup can in the aisle where there are 40 varieties.
- Aira is another live, visual interpreting service that connects you to people who describe your visual surroundings via a phone call and your phone camera.
Not everyone has online access, but for those who do, shopping and finding low vision cooking instruction on the internet can also be productive:
- Instacart is a local service that will fill your store order for pick-up or deliver groceries to your residence at a requested time.
- Shipt is another food delivery / grocery shopping online service.
- Uber Eats will shop for you and also does well with Access Technology.
- Hadley has a wonderful series of online workshops on cooking with low vision.
No online capability? No worry. Call your local grocery store to see if they take orders over the phone. Many do, especially since COVID. You can also reach out to your Aging and Disability Resource Center to see if there’s a volunteer who can help you with shopping.
The Council can help you keep cooking safely and efficiently. Here’s just a few of the kitchen items available in the Sharper Vision Store:
- The PalmPeeler protects your fingers while you effortlessly peel fruits and veggies.
- High contrast cutting boards are white on one side and black on the other allowing you to find the best contrast for your cutting needs. For example, carrots on the white side, onions on the dark.
- Braille and large print timers make sure that cake comes out of the oven at the perfect time.
Amy has more suggestions for working safely in the kitchen. Tactile labels on the stove can help you set oven temperatures. Label food packaging with whatever system that works best for you so it’s readily identifiable when it’s time for preparation.
Whether you’re chopping veggies or stirring a soup, lighting is key. Amy says that most kitchen overhead light is either not bright enough or produces glare. Under-cabinet lighting can be helpful, as can a focused gooseneck light that you can shine directly on your work. And remember, a member of the Council’s Vision Services team can help with all of these adjustments and many more.
Finally, Amy reminds you that when it comes to making the best nutritional sources for yourself and your family, knowledge is power. “Always talk with your doctor about nutritional health needs and ask for a referral for a nutritionist if you have additional concerns,” she says.