By Rachel Noia M.S., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Gaylord Specialty Healthcare
When life gives you proverbial lemons, we’re told to make lemonade.
But what do we do when a change in a loved one’s health and swallowing status necessitates suddenly requires a diet consisting solely of pureed foods?
Often, this news comes at a time when families are already stretched to their emotional max. The challenge of simultaneously learning what to make, how to make it, and how to keep their loved one satisfied while swallowing safely can be overwhelming.
But with a few helpful hints and tricks and a little experience, managing a puree diet can be considerably easier than you might think.
Where to begin:
Pureed foods are smooth with no texture and should resemble the consistency of applesauce or pudding.
A general rule to achieving the proper pureed consistency is to use a high-powered blender or a food processor to blend small pieces of food with a moisture source.
Moisture sources can include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Sauces (barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, cream sauce, cheese sauce, hollandaise, ketchup, smooth mustard, steak sauce, maple or pancake syrups, even chocolate syrup!)
- Butter and oils
- Fruit sauces
- Sour cream
- Broths or stocks
- Milk or cream
- Fruit and vegetable juices
- Nutritional shakes
When it comes to pureeing meats and proteins, consider using moisture sources such as stocks and sauces that would traditionally accompany that food item. Pureeing a batch of turkey? Don’t forget to add some gravy or even some jellied cranberry sauce!
It’s important to note that starches do tend to become very thick when pureed. Adding extra moisture sources is usually necessary to maintain the proper applesauce- or pudding-like consistency.
Helpful tips and tricks:
Making pureed foods can be time-consuming. The following tips, tools, and strategies are aimed to make the process easier, more efficient, and enjoyable!
If you are preparing pureed meat, make a big batch! Store in individual portion sizes in the freezer, labeled with the date.
- Think of foods that are naturally or are already prepared the way you want them to be for ease of preparation.
If you are in the freezer aisle at the grocery store, look for pureed squash or turnips. Certain bisque-style soups can also meet requirements for a pureed texture.
- Maximize efficiency
Soups, stews, and smoothies are a great way to make mealtime efficient from both a swallowing and preparation standpoint.
- Invest in an immersion blender
When preparing foods in bulk, immersion blenders are great tools. You can break down food items to whatever texture you need them to be right inside the pot you cooked them in. Less clean-up required!
Stimulate your senses:
Enjoying a meal is a sensory experience. We stimulate our appetites by smelling, tasting, feeling, and looking at food. When we are denied the opportunity to participate in the textural experience of eating, it is critical to amplifying what our other senses are experiencing.
Add herbs, seasonings, fruit zest, and spices to food items and change it up often! For example, add cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice or vanilla bean to applesauce. Curry powder, nutmeg, black pepper, or brown sugar are excellent additions to pureed carrots. Mix and match and have fun experimenting.
Consider a cold, blended soup such as gazpacho for a change. Instead of cold or room-temperature applesauce, try warming it up for a different experience.
Can you mimic the flavors in your favorite dishes? If you are craving pizza, for example, can you add tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, and garlic to blended vegetables?
You eat with your eyes first so it’s always important to consider your food presentation. Add color and color contrast to your plate and rotate menu items often. Don’t fall into a food rut!
Maximize your social eating experience:
A puree diet is no reason to stop living your life!
It’s easy to underestimate the importance that food plays in our lives. Most of life’s celebrations involve certain foods or special meals surrounded by family and friends.
Although going out to restaurants can seem intimidating to someone who is on a puree diet, it is certainly doable! Here are some tips that can make social dining an easy and pleasurable experience.
- Discover diners.
Diners have TONS on their menus and all three meals are available all day!
- Do your homework.
Before going to a restaurant, preview their menu online so you can figure out what works for you and what appeals to you.
It never hurts to call ahead to ask if the chef can prepare a dish with some minor or simple adjustments to make it work for your needs. Be specific with your request and make sure to explain why you’re requesting it.
- Timing helps.
Going to restaurants during lower volume times can make special requests easier on staff.
When life hands you lemons, don’t settle for just the lemonade.
A puree diet does not have to dampen the food experience. Start with mealtime favorites and make them work for you! Look for ways to save time in the kitchen. Simple strategies can help you continue to participate in food-related experiences like going to restaurants or get-togethers with family and friends. Creative, easy-to-do measures can optimize satisfaction, nutrition, and safety.
Most importantly, don’t forget to access available resources. A speech and language pathologist is a key professional who will help you navigate a puree diet. Do not hesitate to reach out to them with questions, concerns, and ideas.