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Webinar Recap: Celebrating the Holidays with Dysphagia

A group of people sits down to eat dinner with twinkling lights and holiday decorations in the background

The holidays can be a challenging time for those who have difficulty swallowing. During a recent webinar presented by the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD) and the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI),* Laura Michael, nutritionist and NFOSD treasurer, discussed ways to safely celebrate the holidays while living with dysphagia.

Gathering around the table to enjoy dishes like turkey and ham brings family and friends together. But for individuals with swallowing problems, Michael said holiday food traditions can cause anxiety and make them feel isolated. Fortunately, she has some ways to help those with dysphagia enjoy the season, including the following mindful eating tips for events:

  • Recognize your expectations and honor your limitations. It is OK to not clean your plate.
  • Reduce noisy distractions when you are eating.
  • Take small bites and eat slowly.
  • Eat a snack beforehand.
  • Bring adaptive eating tools with you if you use them.
  • Maintain daily oral care. Ill-fitting dentures and tooth pain can be a hazard.

Michael also stated the foods you choose to eat are like road maps, as there is more than one way to cook a recipe, and it can be fun to experiment during the holidays. She suggested changing traditional recipes to create dysphagia-friendly dishes and sharing them with friends and family. One tool Michael suggests having on hand is a mini food processor as well as an instant food thickener. You can check out the Thick-It® brand’s line of food and beverage thickeners here.

She provided a purée plan for safely modifying traditional holiday entrées and side dishes:

Green Bean Casserole

Yield: 1 serving

  1. In a mini food processor, purée a portion of well-cooked green beans and fried onions with broth.
  2. Add 1 scoop of instant food thickener such as Thick-It® Clear Advantage® Instant Food & Beverage Thickener and blend until smooth.
  3. Test consistency per IDDSI Testing Methods (refer to IDDSI.org for details) and serve.

Roasted Turkey/Beef/Ham/Brisket

Yield: 1 serving

  1. In a mini food processor, blend a 2-3 oz. portion of roasted meat of your choice (turkey, beef, ham, brisket). Blend until finely chopped.
  2. Add 2 Tbsp broth and blend again until finely chopped.
  3. Add 1 scoop of instant food thickener such as Thick-It® Clear Advantage® Instant Food & Beverage Thickener.
  4. Check consistency. Michael said the texture should be thick like mashed potatoes.
  5. Test using the Fork Drip Test and Spoon Tilt Test (refer to IDDSI.org for details).
  6. For visual appeal, Michael recommended piping the purée onto a plate (place the blended contents into the corner of a quart-size food storage bag and seal, cut corner with the meat, and pipe).

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Yield: 1 serving

  1. Blend mashed potatoes and gravy in mini food processor to remove any lumps.
  2. Test consistency per IDDSI Testing Methods (refer to IDDSI.org for details) and serve.

Cranberry Sauce

Yield: 1 serving 

  1. Use canned, smooth jellied cranberry sauce.
  2. Test consistency per IDDSI Testing Methods (refer to IDDSI.org for details) and serve.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Yield: 1 serving

  1. Remove skin from baked sweet potato and place in a bowl.
  2. Add 1 Tbsp butter.
  3. Mash in the bowl using a fork or potato masher to remove any lumps.
  4. Test consistency per IDDSI Testing Methods (refer to IDDSI.org for details) and serve.

If you are invited to a social event, Michael recommended letting the host know in advance of your dietary restrictions. You can also ask the host if you can bring kitchen tools and ingredients to cook a texture-modified appetizer or dessert. If you are short on time, you can bring something pre-made such as yogurt, polenta, tomato soup, hummus, or guacamole (to ensure these items are thickened to the appropriate consistency, follow the IDDSI Framework and testing methods at IDDSI.org.

With these tips, everyone can safely enjoy holiday mealtime together. Check out the full webinar here, and for more ideas for how to help your loved one with dysphagia safely enjoy the holiday season, check out the Thick-It® brand’s recipe library.

*Thick-It® brand is a gold sponsor of IDDSI. This article is NOT an official IDDSI resource, educational material, or education program, and it is NOT meant to replace materials and resources on https://iddsi.org/.

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

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