How to Cook for a Loved One with Dysphagia

Aspiration pneumonia (AP) can occur when people inhale liquids or food and have trouble immediately coughing them up. Aspiration pneumonia is hard to treat because it isn’t “caused” by a bacteria or a virus. Proper accommodations for feeding are critical in avoiding AP….

The simple act of eating is anything but for those who experience dysphagia, the medical term for difficulties swallowing or eating. Millions of Americans have the condition, especially aging adults: The U.S. Department of Health suggests that about 15% of the elderly population experiences some form of dysphagia. And for those who care for elderly adults, it may be difficult to find equally nutritious and appetizing food that can be consumed.

Caregivers may feel alone or discouraged when it comes to finding and cooking dysphagia-friendly recipes. Often, they will find themselves resorting to feeding their loved ones soft, tasteless food because it is the only thing they can swallow.

But, this is not the case, and students and faculty at Speech@NYU, the online master’s in speech pathology from NYU Steinhardt, wanted to change this mindset and provide tools so everyone can take dysphagia head on in the kitchen with “Dining with Dysphagia: A Cookbook.”

The cookbook, which includes eight recipes that elevate pureed or “mushy” food to a higher standard, focuses on all of the values that are important to those who are supporting people with dysphagia: nutrition, texture and taste. Not only is this cookbook meant to be a resource, but also the catalyst to help start a larger conversation about changing the narrative of dysphagia. In fact, this cookbook all started with the NYU Steinhardt Iron Chef Dysphagia Challenge competition, during which contestants prepared food based on recipes that are easy-to-follow and easy-to-swallow. The cookbook is a result of the event and this year’s dishes include rosemary mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup and vegetarian squash chili, just to name a few.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when cooking for someone with dysphagia:

  • Find out their favorite recipes: Talk to your loved one and determine what their food preferences are so you can create a dysphagia-friendly version
  • Focus on diversity: Mix it up by including different ingredients and balancing tastes
  • Make it a family affair: If you are worried that someone will be embarrassed or left out because they are eating “different” foods unlike the rest of the family or group, try recipes that everyone can enjoy to make the meal experience more inclusive
  • Get creative: Need more inspiration for new recipes? Consider doing recipe “swaps” with other friends or colleagues, or experiment on your own
  • Have a candid conversation: Do not be afraid to talk openly about dysphagia; Showing your support and how understanding you are of their condition is critical

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