Why is meal planning important for people with a disability?

September 15, 2022
Compared to the general population, people living with disabilities can be at a greater risk of developing certain diet-related health conditions. They have a greater risk of being overweight or obese, with a 72% chance versus 55% in people without disabilities. At the same time, living with disabilities can make an individual susceptible to being underweight—which is also a health risk.

Bad eating habits can also cause chronic conditions aside from weight issues. Globally, adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) are two to three times more likely to develop diabetes than neurotypical people. An unhealthy, unbalanced diet can also lead to coronary heart disease.

People living with a physical disability come up against healthy eating challenges due to the limit in exercise able to be performed. The Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association recommends that if you’re living with a physical disability, “you need to pay extra close attention to your nutrient intake,” because “ultimately it is about balance.”

Clearly healthy eating and meal management are especially important for maintaining good health when you’re living with a disability.

What are some other benefits of meal planning

A 2015 study out of Johns Hopkins University found that cooking dinner frequently at home, among  adults, was associated with eating a healthier diet, measured by how much sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules were consumed. Another study, out of the University of Cambridge, concluded that UK adults that “have better home food preparation skills and more frequent use of these skills” ate fewer processed foods and therefore had healthier diets. Though not surprising, it's important to keep in mind when ordering take-away or ready-made meals, which often contain processed and low-quality ingredients.

This becomes particularly relevant for people living with a disability, who often have focused health requirements or careful diet protocols, like gluten- and dairy-free. It's easier to avoid problem foods and to incorporate ingredients that support your specific health goals when you’re across your meal schedule. It also gives you the opportunity to include much more variety into your home cooking, if this is something you’d like to work towards. 

The benefits are there for you and for your family’s health. However, involving children in meal prepping can instil long-term healthy habits in younger family members. A Canadian study of Grade 5ers found that the more children helped prepare and cook meals at home, the more likely they were to not only prefer fruit and vegetables but be more prone to choosing and eating healthy foods in general. These carry-on effects are particularly influential when involving children aged from late teens to mid-twenties, who tend to take these healthier eating habits with them as they get further into adulthood.

Save money with meal planning

But healthier eating isn’t the only benefit that comes from meal planning, it also helps save money. Eating out or getting take away is clearly more expensive than home cooking. A study done by Forbes in the US showed that “on average, it is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home.” This extra cost starts to add up very quickly if you order take away regularly.

Furthermore, knowing exactly what’s on the home menu can save multiple trips to the grocery store if you know what you’re cooking for the week when you make your shopping list. It takes the stress out of decision making and relieves the decision fatigue associated with having to organise the family meal every evening, especially for working parents. Alongside streamlining grocery shopping, successful planning minimises food wastage.

Food wastage is an issue beyond home economics, impacting the environment and society as a whole. Food Bank Australia says: “Here in Australia, 7.3 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year. And while a large proportion of this food is still perfectly edible, around 5 million Australians are going hungry.” As the venerable Sir David Attenborough says, “the one thing we can all do is to stop waste. Don’t waste food.”

Save time with meal planning

The issue that comes up around meal planning is the amount of time it takes. But another perspective is that the time you invest upfront pays off in spades down the line. Meal planning should only take 30 minutes and sets the tone for easy kitchen management for the rest of the week. You simply jot down a menu for every day of the upcoming week, choosing what recipes you want to make, then using the ingredients lists you build a shopping list for all the ingredients you need to make those meals.

Keeping an inventory of what you have in the fridge and the kitchen cupboards helps you stay on top of the ingredients you have in stock and ready to use. It also makes it easier to build your shopping list—the inventory lets you know either what you have available or what you need to buy in your next shop. Knowing there’s some mince frozen in the freezer and half a head of lettuce in the back of the veggie drawer minimises the risk of items going off and being wasted.

1 Million Women, a global environmentalist movement, puts it succinctly: “Taking a bit of time to plan your meals and your shopping trips is one of the most effective ways to avoid waste and save money. Menu planning also means fewer trips to the supermarket and less impulse spending. You can use leftovers more efficiently and it is easier to stockpile the freezer with your bulk buys.”

Better health goals, less money spent and minimised food wastage all add up to a good plan. It pays to stay ahead of your schedule. If you haven’t been able to plan for the week, on busy days it makes sense to plan quick, simple meals that are easy to prepare while still being tasty and healthy. When you have more time up your sleeve you can get creative and try more complicated recipes. If you’re realistic about your time and energy you can avoid situations where you find yourself sitting down to dubious fast-food meals and compromising on you and your family’s health.

Our assistive technology, aKin home not only helps to manage your home but also helps with meal planning. The aKin Home meal planner includes tons of healthy and easy to make recipes. Customise your meal plan based on your family's diet, eating habits, preferences or dietary requirements. Read more about aKin Home.

Read more about meal planning

Eating well: supporting adults with learning disabilities

Autism MEAL Plan

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating from the National Health and Medical Research Council


Disabled Kitchen: 11 Tips For Making Meal Prep Easier to Save Spoons


How to Meal Plan Like a Real Person, Not an Influencer