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Autistic Lens

Cooking tips for autistic adults

June 25th, 2024

Aly Laube

For Autistic Adults

Trigger warning: This blog mentions eating disorders including ARFID. 

Developing personalized approaches to cooking can make it more fun and less daunting, even for autistic adults who have a hard time with it in their daily lives. 

Common challenges autistic adults may face in the kitchen include executive functioning difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and more. They certainly don’t make the process feel easy, but these tips can help you cook for yourself and your loved ones more often. 

A person cooking alone in a dimly-lit room. (Cottonbro Studios/Pexels)
A person cooking alone in a dimly-lit room. (Cottonbro Studios/Pexels)

Sensory-friendly cooking:  

Turn off the big light (also known as overhead lighting), put on your PJs, and use earplugs, headphones, or whatever else helps you shut out unpleasant noise. My top choices are watching cartoons, listening to music, and enjoying the ambient sound of cooking.  

Cater to your other senses — like scent, temperature, and pleasure — however you find most calming. If you live with someone who can help you with the parts of cooking that prevent you from making food, ask them to do it for you.  

For example, my autistic friend and I were making soup in their home, and they didn’t want to cut the onion because it stung their eyes. I don’t like cutting onions for the same reason, but I’ve developed a system to minimize the amount of pain the process causes me (cut it quickly and carefully, rinse the knife and cutting block, and put the onions in a covered container). Ideally, someone who has no sensory sensitivities would be able to step in and do this for us, but it was just the two of us, so I used my system to get the onion-chopping out of the way. Once that was over, the rest felt easy. We made the soup, and it was a nice, productive evening.  

Many autistic people also experience Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), which often looks like only eating certain foods. This and similar conditions, such as food aversion, can also significantly impact diet. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, consider reaching out for professional help as you move towards recovery, and know you’re not alone. 

Using adaptive kitchen tools: 

Adaptive kitchen tools are utensils, appliances, and utensils designed to help people with disabilities perform tasks. They’re often designed to be more comfortable to use for extended periods and modified to suit people with motor skills challenges, sensory sensitivities, and similar experiences commonly faced by autistic adults. A veggie chopper can help with speed and get you out of the kitchen faster, and a jar opener can make it easier to adapt to muscle weakness. 

Meal planning and preparation:  

Batch cooking, meal prepping, and creating flexible meal plans is one helpful approach! Prepare quick, easy-to-digest snacks for when you don’t have the energy to cook. Try keeping a folder of recipes and a grocery list for shopping so you don’t forget anything essential while you’re there. It’ll also make it easier to assemble everything at home. Keeping staples on hand that you know work for you is another resourceful tip if you can afford it. 

Building confidence:  

Practice makes perfect when it comes to building new habits, including cooking. If you’re disappointed in a recipe, remember what you didn’t like and try adjusting it next time. When you land on something you like, stick with it, and keep going through that process until you have a dish that you’re happy with. Cooking techniques also take time to perfect, especially for people with other health conditions and motor skill impairments that can make hand movements difficult. Be as gentle and patient with yourself as you can while you’re learning and remember to appreciate yourself for committing time to self-care.  

Try low-barrier cooking techniques:

Search for instructional videos on YouTube, use cookbooks written by and for autistic people, and read articles on the basics of cooking. Following along with a video that shows you how to make things step-by-step can simplify your time in the kitchen.  So can using simple techniques like making one-pot or freezer-friendly meals in advance. 

Seeking support:

Burnouts, meltdowns, and shutdowns can make cooking impossible. In those moments, it makes sense to seek support. Whether that means ordering delivery or calling on a family member, friend, or roommate to help you make food is up to you. If you have a caregiver or support team already, consider reaching out to them for help if you’re struggling with eating. Use an augmented or alternative communication device to get in touch if you’re non-verbal. 

Celebrating achievements:

Acknowledge your progress in the kitchen by rewarding yourself for every achievement! If you have a favourite activity, food, or person, treat yourself by engaging with them after you’ve prepared or cooked a meal.  

What are your tips for cooking while autistic? Contact us! We want to hear from you. 

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