Having to be hand-fed can be embarrassing, even when it’s close family or a professional carer doing the feeding. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I eventually learned to design meals that don’t always need a fork or knife. That way, if your hands are cramping so badly that you risk flinging your cutlery everywhere, or you’re feeling too weak to wield the stabby things, you can pick your food up with your fingers instead.
Of course, even finger foods don’t solve every problem. Some days, your hands just refuse to work at all, or you poke yourself in the nose with a carrot baton because your hand-eye co-ordination is off the charts bad. That’s when you resort to fluttering your eyelashes and asking nicely for someone else to feed you.
There are other ways to work around painful or weak hands, too. Here are 7 tips for avoiding a big old mess while eating with bad hands.
1. Use your fingers
If you’re having a salad, pick foods like cherry tomatoes and button mushrooms instead of the larger varieties so you can just pick them up with your fingers, pop them in your mouth, and chew.
This has the added benefit that, if you’re doing the meal prep yourself, you don’t have to wave a knife around at said tomatoes and mushrooms. You can just leave them whole or, if need be, chop them in half.
2. Abandon the spaghetti
One of the first anecdotes I heard about ME was from my Occupational Therapist, who also suffered from it. She’d taken a girl who struggled with her hands out for a pub meal, and the girl had chosen spaghetti. They were both covered in sauce by the end of the meal because the OT had to feed her.
Spaghetti’s a messy business already, so do yourself and your carers a favour: swap out the spaghetti for twists or shells on pasta night so you don’t have to fight your dinner for supremacy (fork still required).
3. Make batons
Slice your cucumber and carrots into finger-style batons so you can eat them like toy soldiers (complete with dip if you so choose).
Batons are easier to nibble slowly than slices. (You can also buy them ready-batonned at most grocery stores. It’s more expensive, but your energy levels will thank you even if your wallet won’t.)
4. Soup in a mug
Toss the spoon back in the drawer and drink your soup out of a mug.
This works better with liquid soups like plain tomato than with chunky soups like veg, but there are quite a few that will let you dispense with the awkward slurping. I find that lifting a mug, though heavy and exhausting in itself, is far less tricky than hovering over a bowl and slopping soup everywhere — especially if you’re stuck in bed while you eat.
Make sure you get a mug that’s not too heavy and has a good handle, though. Proper soup mugs are probably too big, but dainty tea cups have stupid handles that will hurt your fingers more. You don’t want to risk dropping your mug because of a cramp, or spilling your soup because the cup dangles awkwardly.
5. Cut it up
Get someone else to cut up your food for you.
Don’t be embarrassed that you have to pass your pub meal to your dad first, and don’t feel bad if you have to hand your dinner back to your carers because they left the sausages intact. It’s better to take that extra minute and ask someone else to make everything bite-sized than it is to spend your entire meal in Mortal Kombat with the potatoes.
6. Use a bowl
Counter to the soup mug, put other meals in a bowl if it will help you spend more time actually eating and less time chasing food around the plate.
This won’t work for some meals or if you prefer to keep different types of food in their own war zones on your plate, but it will save you a tremendous amount of energy and hand cramps otherwise. Pasta twists, especially, are like little Houdinis on a plate so hem those little buggers into an environment they can’t escape.
7. Wear an apron
I know. I get it. “Aprons are for kids and cooks.” (Or kooks?) There’s something inherently evil about needing to wear one as an adult.
But your clothes will thank you. Your bedding will thank you. Your bank will thank you when you save money on electricity and laundry detergent from not having to wash every single item in your wardrobe every single day.
Eating in bed is a messy business even if you’re not stuck there. Trying to slurp food in at a reclined angle is bound to spill something somewhere. Let’s not even talk about what happens when your muscles spasm and your hands cramp while you’re holding a spoon full of yummy whatever. And disability and chronic illness already comes with a price tag, so get over it and buy some aprons.
Even a tea towel would do the trick (assuming you can get the damned things to stay in place).
How do you avoid the mess?
So now you know how much effort it is for me to eat a regular meal. Fun, right? But hey, it’s a good excuse to eat nothing but pizza and sausage rolls on those days where my hands think they belong to someone else!
Do you have any other tips to share with the class? I still haven’t figured out how not to get crumbs everywhere!