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What’s for Dinner?

Man inventorying food in cabinet. Cans are labeled with large print labels

What’s for dinner is a question we often dread. It is usually followed with something like this, “that again!” As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I am often asked how people with vision loss can plan meals. In this post I will detail how meal planning can be accomplished in an exciting, healthy, and economical way.

I have included ideas for equipment and techniques used by people who are blind or visually impaired as well as general resources for healthy and frugal living. This is not an inclusive list of products, techniques, and resources available, nor is it an endorsement of products.

Steps to Follow When Meal Planning

  1. Take inventory of what you have in stock and compare that with what you should haves in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Items for your pantry include pastas, rice, legumes, nut butters, and dried and canned goods. Freezers should contain breads, meats, vegetables, fruits, and even milk. Warning: be sure to check the labels on frozen foods, as they may contain ingredients which do not promote good health. Refrigerators should contain fresh foods like fruits and vegetables and dairy products such as milk, cheese, and juice.
  2. Use this inventory as the starting point for creating a meal plan. Make a list of everything you currently have on hand.
  3. As you review the list, start a second list detailing possible menu item for the next two weeks. Example: I have rice in my pantry, cheese in my refrigerator, and frozen chicken in the freezer, I can have chicken and rice casserole one night.
  4. After you have your two-week meal plan started, use it to create your grocery list. Example: If I want to make that chicken and rice casserole, I still need…Do the same with each item on your meal plan. 
  5. Think about dietary needs such as diabetic, gluten free, or heart healthy? Do you have a picky eater in your family? See resources below for ideas.
  6. Consult your calendar for special events such as birthdays, potlucks, parties? Do you need to prepare sack lunches? Are you and your family going to be at home the entire two weeks? Will you be getting home late any night a quick meal? Will you have guests? Consider these variables when preparing a two-week meal plan.

Oh no! All the steps outlined above require vision. Or do they? There are many ways using old and new techniques, and low tech and high-tech solutions for performing all the above tasks. For example, a wide range of braille and large print calendars are available as well as the calendar on your computer or iPhone.

Techniques to Use in Creating an Inventory

  1. Ask a sighted friend or family member to help you go through your pantry and make braille or  large print labels for each item or use a voice labeling system such as the PenFriend.
  2. Apps such as Be My Eyes can be downloaded on your iPhone. Through these apps sighted assistance is provided to read labels, and directions, etc.
  3. Meal plans and grocery lists can be written using large print or braille, or a computer, tablet, or iPhone. Using a computer would require software such as JAWS or NVDA for speech access, and if you want to use large print, you can use ZoomText or Fusion. If you have an iPhone, voice over and large print are already built in. 
  4. Smart speakers can also be used to create lists and to make recommendations for substitutions. Alexa can be a good resource to find food during this time of sparsely stocked shelves in the grocery store.
  5. You can use websites for reading directions and the contents of food item such as Directions for Me.
  6. You can hand write a large print list is by using the following, fun technique: Take a clean sheet of paper. Locate the bottom of the page and fold it up about one inch. Use a bold line pen to write an item you need from the store, such as bread, on the part that you folded up. Now fold it up one more time, then write another needed item, such as milk. Continue the process about five or six more times. Unfold the paper and you have a grocery list. The item you put at the bottom of the page is now at the top.  

Budget Restrictions

Are you on a limited budget? Groceries can be expensive; within the last few months we have seen them skyrocket as the pandemic has affected our food supply.

Each community has state and local agencies, restaurants, and philanthropic groups helping with food during COVID-19. You can start by calling 211 for assistance.

You may want to order in occasionally and many restaurants are still offering some free food or discounts. Pay attention to pseudo-holidays such as National Doughnuts Day. In celebration Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts offer specials. For example, National Doughnut Day is June 4th and National Hamburger day is July 28th. If you want to know more pseudo-holiday dates, ask Alexa.

Conclusion

Even in the best of times it is challenging to plan meals in advance. Now with COVID-19 it is even harder. I hope these suggestions serve as a spring board to get you started on a meal planning adventure. If you are new to vision loss and need help with cooking and other everyday living skills, check out my post, the Road to Independence. Bon Appetit!

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