Confidence in the kitchen is essential for independent living, but it can be difficult in such a high risk area where some of the most serious household accidents occur.* Whether you live alone or are seeking advice about a friend or relative who lives alone, we've put together these tips for staying safe in the kitchen.
We believe the key to staying independent in the kitchen is effective meal planning, having the right equipment to help, and knowing the most common kitchen hazards (as well as how to avoid them.)
For additional peace of mind, you may wish to consider a personal alarm. A personal alarm is a small, lightweight device that can be worn around the wrist or neck and has a button which can be pressed in case of emergency such as after a fall. The device connects within seconds to the emergency response centre who will assess the situation and contact either a nominated keyholder or if more serious, the emergency services.
Quick and easy meal ideas
Cooking can make a great hobby, and many enjoy making exquisite meals and treats well into later life with a great deal of skill and precision. However, it’s always good to have some easy go-to ideas on your meal plan for those days when you’re not feeling up to cooking, to ensure you are still getting a nutritious meal.
One of the easiest breakfasts to make is cereal and milk, perhaps with some fresh fruit added. Even if you prefer a warm breakfast in the morning it’s a good idea to have a box of cereal in the cupboard for days when you want something easier.
Soft fruits, such as bananas or plums, as well as berries and other smaller fruits are a great choice for a quick breakfast because no preparation is necessary, simply grab and go!
Porridge is a great source of long-lasting energy and can be flavoured with fruit, honey, or syrup. Whether it is heated in a pan, microwave, or slow cooker it can retain heat for a long time, so we recommend setting an egg timer for 1-2 minutes after you have cooked your porridge to allow it to cool before eating.
If you own a microwave you can make either scrambled or poached eggs in a mug within a couple of minutes. Not only is this quicker than doing it on the hob, there is no hot oil and the microwave will time out by itself if you leave the kitchen. There are some helpful video tutorials available online for this, here’s one for poached eggs and one for scrambled.
Canned soup lasts for a very long time and is inexpensive so it’s a great thing to have in the cupboards for a rainy day. It is also very quick to prepare which means less chance of needing to leave it unattended. Fresh soup can be frozen, so if you make a big batch yourself you can easily freeze the rest for another time.
Cold cuts and salad:
You can make a varied picnic style dish with salad, cheese, and cold cuts of meat straight from the fridge with no cooking involved. It can also be tailored to what you like and varied each day. If you like to do meal planning in advance, you could cook some boiled eggs and new potatoes at the start of the week to keep in the fridge and add to lunches each day.
Boil in the bag omelette:
Sounds strange but it really does work as a great way to make an omelette with no oil, no mess, and no need to stand over the pan or flip the eggs! Simply set a pan of water to boil, break 2 eggs into a heavy-duty resealable freezer or sandwich bag, add toppings such as tomatoes, cheese, onion and ham, and squeeze as much air as you can out of the bag before resealing. Shake the bag and drop into the boiling water for 13 minutes. Carefully use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the bag from the pan and tip the omelette onto your plate.
For meal planners, the stew is a staple dish as it can be made in any quantity and frozen or refrigerated for another day. Choose an easy one-pot recipe as your go-to and you can easily whip up a batch and freeze any you don’t eat straight away. There are too many recipes available to recommend just one but we love classics like Sausage and Bean Casserole or Beef Stew.
Dried pasta and tinned tomatoes or a jar of sauce will keep for a long time in the cupboard, making it a great safety option for when you need something quick and easy. Pre-prepared sauces are very reasonably priced in all supermarkets and are much easier to prepare than making your own sauce, but there’s nothing stopping you making one from scratch.
Sausage and veggie tray:
For a dinner with almost no clean up we recommend this easy Sausage and Veggie tray meal. Simply chop sausages and vegetables of your choice and bake on a tinfoil lined tray. You can then eat the dish on its own, or bulk it out with rice.
Kitchen gadgets that help to prevent accidents
There are plenty of products on the market which can make a surprising difference to safety in the kitchen without breaking the bank. Here’s a small selection of products that could make all the difference to your independence and safety whilst cooking.
Miniature fire extinguisher and fire blanket
The kitchen is one of the most common places for a fire to start so something that should be a staple for any kitchen is a miniature fire extinguisher and fire blanket (for oil pan fires). These could allow you to handle a small blaze before it catches and grows too big.
Both small fire extinguishers and fire blankets can be found easily online or at high street retailers such as Argos.
Easy pour kettle
An easy pour kettle is perfect if you drink a lot of hot drinks. Some models do not require lifting at all (except for when filling) and rotate on a hinge to safely pour hot water into a cup. You can also find Kettle Tippers which fit onto most standard kettles and take some of the weight of the kettle whilst you pour. These are much cheaper than easy pour kettles but can be less effective as there is still some lifting involved.
If you have a lot of kitchen storage which is above head height, you could be at risk of things falling whilst you are getting them down. If you can’t rearrange your storage so that the items you need most often are at a lower level, you may wish to invest in pull down shelves such as these. They allow you to easily lower the shelves by pulling a handle, and push them back up just as easily.
Whether or not you have a table in the kitchen it’s a good idea to keep a stool in there so that you can sit down and rest if you feel faint at any point during cooking. A high stool which is easy to get on and off is ideal so that you can sit down whist watching a pot on the hob. Another benefit of having a stool in the kitchen is that you are less likely to leave the room if you need to rest your feet.
A good, loud, egg timer is essential for ensuring food is cooked correctly, especially if there are different timings involved in the recipe. If this is the case, keep a pad of post-it notes next to your egg timer so you can make a note of what the alarm means (eg: Put Broccoli on to boil), and how long it needs to be set for when you reset it.
Slow cookers are a great investment if you enjoy eating stews, soups, and casseroles, and can be bought on the high street for less than £20. They cook food on a low heat for 4-8 hours, so you can prepare the ingredients at the beginning of the day, go out, and return home to a delicious meal. They are safer than cooking on the hob and can be left alone for hours. Higher end models also have timers which will make the unit automatically turn off after a certain amount of time, so you can’t overcook your food.
Common accidents in the kitchen and how to avoid them
The kitchen is where some of the most serious home accidents occur, but these accidents aren’t an inevitable part of cooking if you prepare for them.
Below is a list of some of the most common kitchen accidents, along with preventative measures you can take to avoid them when cooking alone.
Burns from unexpected fires
How to avoid:
Always stay with a pan of food that is cooking, and when frying use oils with a high smoking point such as coconut, olive and ghee (clarified butter), as these can withstand higher temperatures before setting alight. If you see black smoke begin to appear, remove your pan from the heat immediately and leave it to cool. It’s also wise to have your oven and stovetop regularly cleaned to prevent build ups of highly flammable grease.
Burns from normal cooking
How to avoid:
Turn panhandles away from you so they can’t get caught on clothing and always use the rear hot plates on the hob. Never try and remove something from the oven without oven gloves and use an oil guard when frying.
Items falling from high shelves
How to avoid:
Plan your storage areas carefully so that heavy items are not kept on high shelves, and things you use regularly are within easy reach. Consider investing in pull down shelves (see above section on Smart Shelving) if you are having to access high shelves a lot.
How to avoid:
Although it might seem like it would be the opposite, keeping your knives sharper actually helps to prevent cuts. This is because a sharper knife is less likely to slip when you are using it. Use thick marigolds when washing up, especially when washing knives, glass and china.
How to avoid:
Keep pan handles turned in when on the hob. Use a kettle that is cordless, or better yet an easy pour kettle (see above) or a kettle with a tipper. A tray to carry tea into another room is good not only for preventing scalds but also spills on furniture,
How to avoid:
Wear sensible, well fitted shoes or slippers in the kitchen, and keep the floor clear of rugs or mats. Make sure to clear up spills diligently and consider placing a stool in the kitchen so that you have somewhere to sit down if you feel faint.
Of course, it’s impossible to prepare for every risk. That’s why many of our customers and their loved ones trust Age UK Personal Alarms to give them the peace of mind that when cooking alone, help is available at the press of a button away if it is needed. The alarms have a range of up to 150 meters from the base unit, which is more than enough to reach every corner of your home. With a personal alarm you can keep your independence without your loved ones worrying about your safety.