Adaptive Cooking Tools
Through a grant from DoSomething.Org, Your Special Chef was able to test out some cooking tools. Many tools available from national chain, department, or specialty kitchen stores may be adapted for use by those with special needs. Specifically, tools can be divided into tools that make the physical aspects of cooking easier, tools that are safer for those with special needs to operate, and tools that assist with the cognitive skills necessary for cooking.

Easier-to-Use Utensils
There are a variety of tools that make the physical movements necessary for cooking easier (and hence more accessible) but we'll start with implements that can be operated with one hand.

Tongs: These spring-loaded gadgets can assist those who struggleSam picking up a pea with melamine chopsticks with bilateral coordination. They come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and materials, and can be used to strengthen fine motor skills or to help flip pancakes over a hot griddle.                        
            

Silicone Pasta Tongs by Kitchen CollectionSome favorites were Turning Tongs by Copco, Silicone Pasta Tongs by Kitchen Collection, and Melamine chopsticks available at kitchen stores. Grading pressure can also be improved using these tools, because to pick up a soft object involves assessing how much strength is needed in order to hold the object without breaking it. Experimenting with different objects can yield exciting results- we used exploding cheerios and juicy tomatoes.

Sam flipping a pancake with Turning Tongs by Copco
Our tester loved picking up various objects with the tongs, as well as practicing flipping pre-cooked pancakes.

Non-Skid: Many cooking supplies are available with non-skid surfacesStirring with a Silicone Trivet as a Bowl Grip which prevent them from sliding around while you're cooking. We found a Be Cool Silicone Pot Holder/Trivet by Casabella that came in very handy when used as a grip surface for a bowl. No one would let go of its unique textured surface, so it could be used in sensory integration as well. There are mixing bowls available with non-slip bottoms (ours is by Oggi from a department store) as well as a Cutting Board with a non-skid bottom to keep it from sliding.

Functional Tools: These tools serve a specific purpose in the kitchen toUsing a jar opener hand-over-hand make common tasks easier. Jar openers are helpful for those with limited hand strength or coordination. We found a Can Drainer that is very convenient for easily draining canned goods. It works by snapping on to the top  of an opened can, avoiding the sharp edges of partially opened cans. We used it to drain canned crab for Draining a can with a snap-on strainerour crab dip recipe. Utensils are available with silicone handles and at different angles to promote ease of use.  Another handy gadget we found was a scoop with a flexible silicone back that enables you to easily get sticky foods (such as cookie dough) into neat portions.

These specialized tools can be used hand-over-hand until the individual is comfortable with using the device independently.


Safer-to-Use Tools
These implements allow individuals with special needs to complete aspects of cooking that may be dangerous with a greater degree of freedom. However, many still contain sharp blades or edges and must be used with caution and discretion.

Cutting: We found that plastic lettuce knives work great for most recipesCutting Carrots with a Lettuce Knife involving cutting. They have no sharp blade, cut most fruits and veggies, and are available in many styles. We used one to make fruit salad, dill carrots, and a baked potato. Be aware that cutting hard vegetables, such as carrots, can be difficult and requires a good deal of strength, but is possible with practice.

Plastic Pizza WheelAnother plastic-bladed cutter is this Pizza Wheel by Copco. Don't be fooled by it's name and appearance, though, because this pizza cutter can be safely used to cut a variety of foods, such as sandwiches, quesadillas, etc. We used it to slice our stromboli into portions.


Opening:
Opening packages and cans can be a major hindrance in teaching those with special needs to cook. Aside from offering easier to open jars, cans, etc. there are some tools available to assist in the process. To open cans without leaving a sharp edge, we used this Smooth Edge Opener by OXO. It did leave a nice smooth edge, but was a bit difficult to use simply because of the strength required to open a can. It is certainly safer than a traditional can opener, but should be reserved for more advanced individuals, so as to not lose interest in the cooking process.

Another tool we found was this Bag Opener by Copco. The nifty device's blade is only exposed when it is fully closed over a bag, so there is no chance of cutting oneself. It does require bilateral coordination, though, and can be tricky to squeeze the button with one hand and hold the bag with the other. Like the can opener, it is great in terms of safety, but on the more advanced scale in terms of use.

Specialized Tools: There are a few other tools that make our list for safety. This PalmPeeler by Chef'n is a safer alternative to using a traditional vegetable peeler. It slides on to one finger, while the other hand holds the object to be peeled. It has an exposed blade, however, and should be used with extreme caution and only with individuals who can understand the danger of the sharp blade.

Grating without an Exposed BladeWe had fun testing out a chop and grate set on onions.  This set is a great solution for slicing and chopping
fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese, herbs, etc. The blades spin with each push, and we had great results and finely chopped onions. The foods must first be cut to fit inside the 3" base, but overall it seemed to work Chopping Onions with No Exposed Blade
very well. The grater has multiple blades and grates cheese (and probably other foods as well) by spinning the domed top. One aspect that could be challenging is pushing down sufficiently on the lid while spinning, but aside from that, the grater is quite easy to use.


Easier-to-Understand Tools
These tools assist with the cognitive aspects involved in cooking. Aspects like measuring can be difficult, but are made easier by big labels or color-coded measuring cups.


We found these collapsible measuring cups by Chef'n to be exceptionallyMeasuring Cups by Chef'n easy to read.
Plus, they fold flat, and would be perfect for a compact kitchen space. They come in measuring spoons, too.The large numbers in the base of the cups can be matched to the numbers on the recipe, with no math or fraction skills needed. As Holly Smith, occupational therapist, recommends here, such measuring skills can be practiced using water or dry beans.

Practicing Measuring with Prep Bowls and RiceThese nesting prep bowls have cup measures in the bottom, can be differentiated by color, and are useful in sorting out materials in preparation for beginning a recipe. We filled the bowls with different colored rice, and instructed our
tester to spoon one Practicing Measuring with Prep Bowls and Ricetablespoon brown rice into the pink bowl or three teaspoons of white rice into the yellow bowl. He enjoyed mixing the rice together, probably reminiscent of rice tables of preschool, while learning to distinguish between the measuring spoons. These bowls could probably fill a variety of needs in the kitchen.

Finally, this liquid measure by OXO is angled and has measurements thatOXO Angled Measuring Cup can be viewed from above, making it relatively easy to read. It has a sturdy handle with a grip, and can be used to practice measuring and pouring specific amounts. The labels are not particularly large, and could be marked with tape for measuring practice, depending on the individual.


Adaptive Cooking Tools
Most any kitchen or cooking tool need can be made more accessible to those with special needs with some creativity and research. Remember most of all to practice safe cooking techniques, and to have fun! Cooking is most enjoyable when independence is gained, and adaptive tools are just one step in the right direction.

Sam balancing a tomato on a spoon