Learning to cook is an absolutely vital skill, and charity United Response are aiming to get people with learning disabilities into the kitchen with their new CookABILITY series.

By Katie Campbell

Cooking is a vital skill that goes criminally underappreciated. Even knowing how to cook a basic but nutritional and filling meal gives you the skills to sustain yourself, promotes independence, and has the capacity to impress a potential significant other dependant on how badly you burn it!

For people living with a learning disability, maintaining a healthy weight can be a difficult task. While difficulties with eating and swallowing might result in being underweight, living with Down’s syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome can mean a higher risk of obesity. Helping someone with a learning disability to make healthier food choices using the NHS’s Eatwell Guide or using the websites A Picture of Health and Easyhealth can make a huge difference, but giving someone with a learning disability the tools to make the choices and perform the actions themselves is a much better decision when their independence is considered.

Enter CookABILITY, a new project from charity United Response launched late last year which aims to encourage people living with learning disabilities to learn how to cook healthy meals for themselves through their series of simple-to-follow YouTube videos. CookABILITY is just one of the ways the charity, which provides person-centred support to adults and young people across the UK who have learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical impairments.

Brilliant tips and advice from CookABILITYAt the moment, there are only a few CookABILITY videos, which teach viewers how to make healthy meals they will actually want to eat, like pizza and chicken korma, with a new video posted each week featuring people with disabilities making the food, subtitles and step-by-step instructions which explain every aspect of the video slowly and clearly without being condescending or patronising.

Alan Tilley, area manager for United Response ROC Wellbeing, said: “Obesity is a ticking time bomb which will hit people with learning disabilities particularly hard if we fail to take decisive intervention and don’t give people control over what they eat.

“In our experience, people with learning disabilities can struggle to eat a balanced diet. Often cooking a meal from scratch at home can seem daunting and so people end up instead eating ready meals or fast food high in fat, sugar and calories.

“In order to tackle this major health problem, we have to be bold and show people – through our online videos – how to cook with confidence. It’s crucial we empower people to make informed choices.”

A collative study by the University of Hertfordshire which examined the issue of obesity in people with learning disabilities showed that the prevalence of obesity is significantly higher in the learning disabled population. It noted that studies have shown that this can be contributed to the additional barriers faced by people with learning disabilities to access leisure facilities due to staffing shortages and limitations surrounding transport, all of which result in lower levels of physical activity. In fact, figures show that almost 80% of adults living with a learning disability don’t meet the minimal levels of physical activity recommended by medical professionals.

Snacking is also a huge issue, with diets filled with sugary foods, meat, and dairy, but low in fruit, vegetables and fibre contributing to the prevalence of obesity.

By creating their video series, United Response is combating this issue, providing simple but nutritionally rich recipes which include lots of vegetables, fresh produce and fibre, while still being delicious, flavourful and enjoyable meals.

United Response creates the video series at their ROC Wellbeing service in Devon, where people with learning disabilities are given the opportunity to learn new skills and gain accredited learning qualifications.

Stephen Jenkins, from Paignton in Devon, is one of the stars of the series, and is loving being part of CookABILITY.

He said: “The food tasted delicious and was very nice.

“It wasn’t really that hard to make. It was actually easy. Eating was my favourite part though!”

If you’d like to get involved with United Response and their CookABILITY series, visit their website at unitedresponse.org.uk, tweet them at @unitedresponse, or check out the videos on their YouTube channel: youtube.com/unitedresponse.

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