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If a senior in your life needs a soft food diet, you’re far from alone. Fact is, medical conditions and frailty explain why millions of elderly people face issues swallowing their food. If you’re the head chef for a loved one, you may be challenged to prepare pureed foods that are safe, satisfying and nutritionally sound. But with a little preparation and the right recipes, you can puree nourishing foods that can properly be termed “gourmet meals.”

By following a few basic guidelines and learning the tools and ingredients to use, you can take any meal and make it work for just about anyone who must eat a diet of soft foods. Once understood, let your imagination fly and create beautiful meals that contribute to the happiness, health and longevity of your loved one.

What is Dysphagia and Why is it Common?

According to the National Institutes of Health, dysphagia combines the Greek words dis (difficulty) and phagia (to eat). Dysphagia describes the uncomfortable feeling that food is being held up on its journey from the mouth to the stomach.

Older people are prone to dysphagia as the result of living with multiple health problems — especially acid reflux disease and weight problems. And with so many of us living longer, the risks for developing swallowing problems are only increasing. Older adults have different nutritional needs, and need more protein, just when it it becomes harder to chew and digest.

Read: 8 Useful Nutritional Tips for Alzheimer's and Dementia

Tools of the Pureed Food Trade

The two most popular tools for people who require a pureed diet are a food processor and a blender. Some home chefs prefer the compact size of a mini-food processor, although a standard size unit can help you prepare larger portions for freezing. Blenders are especially handy if you’re making smoothies and need crushed ice, although they can double as food processors if you keep things simple.

Photo: eggplant, carrots, zuchinni

The Right Ingredients

Thickening agents are a central consideration for puree chefs. Traditionally, professional chefs often make vegetable purees that are fairly thick and use them as a garnish or condiment. For making soups, they are diluted with a liquid. Certain vegetables which are too watery to give a sufficiently thick puree are thickened with a binding agent like potato puree, cornstarch, potato starch or a thick bechamel sauce.

Additionally, there are instant, off the shelf thickeners that provide a honey or nectar thickened consistency by simply adding some water to the suggested amount of thickener. The ingredients of these products vary. Many are gluten and wheat free. These products have been formulated specifically for people who have dysphagia.

A large variety of vegetables lend themselves beautifully to purees. With various thickening agents at your fingertips, just about anything is fair game when it comes to being pureed.

These vegetables are easily pureed with minimal thickening:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Eggplant
  • Beets
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Endive
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini
  • Chicory
  • Spinach
  • Fava beans
  • Navy or kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Chestnuts
  • Split peas
  • Green peas
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin

Don’t Forget the Condiments

Flavorful condiments include pureed garlic, watercress, and tarragon. Purees of meat, game or fish are also prepared and traditionally mixed with a brown or white sauce and are classically used as fillings for vol-au-vent, bouchees, or barquettes, all are forms of puff pastry and pastry shells or as a stuffing for artichoke hearts or pancakes. Using this same method allows you to include your loved one in special family feasts.

In place of salt, try one of the many varieties of Mrs. Dash seasoning.

By simply taking a portion size of meat and placing it in the food processor with a small amount broth or stock and thickener of your liking, you can create a flavorful version of the main course. The key is to add only a small bit of liquid at a time, to keep a thick consistency (unless you are aiming for a soupy consistency).

Photo: pureed potato cream soup

Winning Plate Appeal for Pureed Entrees and Side Dishes

Plate your pureed foods like a pro with these three easy tips that make pureed food more appetizing.

  • Consistency. A consistent texture helps diners chew and swallow. But it also enhances the visual appeal of the meal. Go for a consistency that resembles pudding — free of lumps and bumps and never runny.
  • Spacing. Give each individual pureed portion a space of its own on the plate.
  • Molds and piping. Molds can be used to make the pureed food appear to be the original dish. Or pour your pureed food into a plastic piping bag and use a piping tip to create an eye-pleasing plate.

Ready to make the discomfort of dysphagia a bit easier to swallow? Follow the guidelines above. Then be sure to watch this video about preparing soups and smoothies. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a pureed food gourmet — and your loved one will thank you for it.


Dysphagia in the Elderly

Learn about Home Care Assistance's elderly, in home care by reading here.

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