How to Take on Dysphagia in the Kitchen

-A +A

Erin Embry

Millions of Americans experience dysphagia – the medical term for difficulties swallowing or eating – and aging adults are more likely to be affected. The U.S. Department of Health suggests that about 15 percent of the elderly population experiences some form of dysphagia. Needless to say, the simple act of eating is anything but for this population. And for those who care for elderly adults, whether it is a parent or in an assisted living home, it may be difficult to find equally nutritious and appetizing food that can be consumed. 

The dysphagia population and caregivers may feel alone or discouraged when it comes to identifying and cooking recipes that can be eaten. Often, they find themselves opting for soft, tasteless food because it is the only thing that can be swallowed. 

However, there are opportunities to create delicious and nutritious dysphagia-friendly recipes, and the 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 suffering or supporting people with dysphagia: nutrition, texture and taste. Not only is the cookbook meant to be a resource for all, but it is also a launching point to begin a larger conversation about changing the narrative of dysphagia. In fact, the cookbook was a result of the annual NYU Steinhardt Iron Chef Dysphagia Challenge competition, during which contestants – specifically students – prepared food based on recipes that are easy-to-follow and easy-to-swallow. This year’s dishes are featured in the cookbook, which include rosemary mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup and vegetarian squash chili, just to name a few. 

When it comes to cooking recipes yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t shy away from favored dishes. Challenge yourself and create dysphagia-friendly versions of your favorite dishes.
  • Make it a family affair. 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. 
  • Embrace diversity. Balance tastes by including different ingredients in your recipes.
  • 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.

No one should ever assume they have to choose simple, “mushy” food just because it is easily consumed. There are myriad options to create delicious recipes that anyone will love, and the cookbook is just one example of this. It is important to always remember that food should not only nourish the body, but also the soul. 

If you would like to hear more about dysphagia, reach out to your general practitioner or a speech-language pathologist, both of whom will be able to discuss the condition in greater detail. 

Click here to learn more about the “Dining with Dysphagia” cookbook.