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Making Holiday Mealtime Dysphagia-Friendly

A family of six gathers around the dinner table to enjoy a holiday meal

Guest Author: Jessica Hilton, MS, RDN, CDN

The holidays are a time when many of us come together around the dinner table to enjoy delicious comfort food with our loved ones. But for people diagnosed with dysphagia and their caregivers, these gatherings can be stressful.

Many individuals with swallowing difficulties must follow a modified diet of thickened foods and liquids. The level of modification varies depending on the type and severity of a dysphagia diagnosis; however, these changes are often necessary to minimize the risk of negative outcomes such as aspiration.

Although modifying foods and beverages can make swallowing easier and safer, it can also cause embarrassment for patients, leading to social isolation, anxiety, and depression.i Fortunately, there are many things caregivers can do to help dysphagia patients successfully participate in holiday mealtime and enjoy a higher quality of life. Whether a gathering takes place in the home or a public space, consider the below tips:

  • Call ahead. Phone the host to explain the situation. This can prevent embarrassment and give caregivers and patients more time to enjoy the event. You can also determine if there are appropriate food options available for those with dysphagia or if you will need to bring your own.
  • Create a safe environment. Talking, chewing, and swallowing can be challenging for people with dysphagia. Remember to:
    • Bring all necessary adaptive eating tools such as utensils, cups, or plates. If the table is set, simply swap out the provided tableware with your own.
    • Minimize distractions while eating and drinking. When possible, patients should avoid talking during mealtime in order to prevent aspiration.
  • Choose the right food and drink options. If safe, serve foods that are provided at the event, or that are similar so those with dysphagia don’t feel like the odd one out.
    • Beverages: Thick-It® Original Food & Beverage Thickener Single Serve Packets are good to have on hand, as they can be used to safely thicken beverages, gravy, soup, and other liquid-based items to the desired consistency without altering flavor. Thick-It® Clear Advantage® Ready-to-Drink Beverages also provide a variety of convenient, flavorful options that can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, with no mixing required.
    • Main course: Patients who require their foods to be puréed may not be able to consume some traditional holiday fare; however, they can still enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal! If mashed potatoes are on the menu, bring Thick-It® Purées such as Beef in Barbeque Sauce and Sweet Corn to go with it. Prior to the event, prepare the chosen purées and store them in a sealed, insulated container. When it is time to eat, simply plate the purées (purée molds are ideal for presentation) on the tableware and enjoy.
  • Don’t forget dessert! Although your family member may have difficulty swallowing, remember that more than anything else, they want to feel loved and included. One great way to make them feel like a part of the celebration is to serve a delicious dessert the whole family can enjoy, such as the dysphagia-friendly recipe for Puréed Pumpkin Cake. For this and 10 other tasty recipes, download Variety Comes to the Table, a recipe book from the makers of the Thick-It® brand and a team of registered dietitians.

Jessica Hilton, MS, RDN, CDN, is a health professions educator resident at Logan University in Chesterfield, Missouri. She has experience working in both acute care and long-term care settings helping to manage projects focusing on food service, dietitian coverage, and patient care, among others. She received her bachelor’s degree in dietetics and her master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from the State University of New York College at Oneonta.

Jessica’s opinions and advice are her own. Jessica has been compensated by Kent Precision Foods Group, Inc., producers of the Thick-It® brand family of products, for her guest blog submission and industry insights.


Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have about the use of Thick-It® products. The information contained herein is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment in any manner.

i Lin, T. & Shune, S. (2020). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dysphagia: A synergistic review. Geriatrics, 5(3), 45.

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