For some, preparing a tasty and nutritious meal seems as easy as pie, but for others the very thought of it feels like pie in the sky. Our connection to food goes well beyond basic survival and nutritional needs, with the colours, textures, flavours and satisfaction of a well-cooked meal nourishing our souls as well as our bodies.
But making a meal can be complicated. Even after the ingredients have been purchased and prepared, following a recipe, timing things right and remembering to carry out key tasks uses the very abilities that are so often impacted by brain injury. This can lead to a range of difficulties and frustrations, making cooking seem impossible or even causing a hazard in the kitchen.
It was this challenge and seeing the enormous potential of incorporating cooking into clients’ rehab programmes that inspired Sonia de Blaquiere, Service Development Manager at Headway Swindon, to set to work on an innovative cookbook that is designed by brain injury survivors, for brain injury survivors.
We spoke to Sonia and some of the clients who were involved in creating the Brain Injury Cookbook...
“I took inspiration from a client, Debi, who once told me of her frustrations when cooking and discovering she had missed out vital ingredients,” said Sonia.
“We worked together to develop a strategy where she would prepare all the ingredients by placing them in order of use.
“Once they had been added to the dish, Debi would put them away in the cupboard. This strategy ensured she had remembered all the ingredients, avoided the frustration and kept her motivation to continue to cook.
“We realised that having a check list to mark off when each ingredient is used in the dish would reinforce the memory that it has been included, so we wanted to incorporate this into a new cookbook for people with brain injury.
The cookbook has a variety of recipes for all abilities and encourages everyone to try something they can enjoy. I have also added Headway hints to each recipe to encourage people to experiment with the recipes and try something different.
For Debi, one of the biggest losses she felt after her brain injury was losing the ability to cook.
She said: “I loved cooking and was good at it. However, after my injury I blew up microwaves as I would not know what to avoid putting in them, for instance metal. I would get upset because I wouldn’t remember the measure of ingredients and put too much in, or forget if they’d been added or not.
“Last week I made a curry at Headway using our own brain injury cookbook. It has clear instructions, large print and it was nice to participate and be involved. You can work out quick and easy meals for the week.
Being able to cook again has made me feel confident and worth something, a bit like the old me. I can cook for my family and the book has helped that to happen.
Marco Gambi was no stranger to cooking before his injury, having worked in catering for 20 years before being hit by a mini-van while riding his motorbike in 2016. The resulting severe brain injury left him with a wide range of effects, from memory problems and fatigue, to reduced concentration span and difficulty with processing information.
“I wasn’t able to cook for the first six months after leaving hospital,” said Marco. “Then I could only cook one item at a time after months of practice.
“Now I’m able to help clients improve their skills and help them to cook dishes from the cookbook with confidence. I have an understanding and empathy of their issues.”
Since its launch, many Headway Swindon members have found the cookbook invaluable in boosting their confidence and helping them to feed themselves and family.
Joe, who was assaulted 11 years ago and still experiences memory issues, says cooking is “a little victory, which makes me feel proud and good about myself”, while Don, who sustained a brain injury 35 years ago in a motorcycle accident and had never cooked before, says it “makes me confident and braver to try new things”.
Finally, Marco offers some sage advice to those who are inspired to give cooking a try after brain injury: “If you’re going to Headway, you’re already a fighter. Have a look at the book and just take small steps, do the easiest one first and then go from there.
Trust me, it will get better.
To find out more and order the Brain Injury Cookbook for £22 + P&P, email email@example.com.
If you’re keen to get back to cooking but worry that the effects of your brain injury might make it difficult or put you at risk, always make sure you get support before you head to the kitchen. You might ask a family member or friend to help you, or for more complex issues an occupational therapist or social worker may be able to discuss your ability to prepare a meal and give you advice and aids to help.
Remember, as with any rehab it can take time and patience, so don’t turn on the cooker unless you’re confident (and safe!) to do so.
Contact the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk things through.
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