Holiday Meals for Swallowing Difficulties: Tips and Strategies

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Swallowing Difficulties and Holiday Meals

Does someone in your household or extended family have difficulty swallowing or chewing?

If so, part of planning your holiday dinner should be a few moments to consider avoiding a choking incident at the table for this diner.

First, think about the menu for dinner.

Does it include soft, moist foods easily chewed and swallowed? Avoid crumbly, crisp, or hard bread, crusts, or other foods that require lots of chewing.

Suggestions: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, bite-size white meat pieces of turkey, macaroni, boiled carrots, broccoli or cauliflower in small slices, pudding, jello, custard, pumpkin filling, cream fillings.

Would someone have difficulty slicing the food or using a fork?

Suggestions: It is possible to serve the foods already cut in small bite-size sizes or to have knives available to cut the foods after serving. Assistance in slicing the foods may be necessary.

Use spoons with small serving sizes to control the size of liquid foods and soft foods. Using a Spork, a combination of fork and spoon utensils can be helpful to some diners who need more coordination.

Does a diner have difficulty swallowing?

Suggestions: Often, people who have had a stroke or who have Parkinson’s have problems swallowing. Such people should have access to a glass of water so they can sip between bites of food.

Depending on other conditions the person may have, it might be best to limit caffeine in coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Sip, swallow, small bite, sip, swallow is the routine that should be followed.

Does a diner have coordination difficulties when eating?

Suggestions: Some diners may need to be neater when eating. Of course, a caregiver should ensure that the restaurant is wearing his dentures and is ready to do his best at eating in front of others.

Rather than embarrassing the adult diner with a bib or a pile of napkins by the plate, why not suggest they wear a garment which could disguise spills and drops?

A dark print apron over her blouse could be easily changed for ladies. For gentlemen or ladies, a vest over the shirt or blouse could provide cover for spills and be easily changed after dinner.

Does the diner experience hearing impairment, distractability, or confusion?

Suggestions: Some persons may need help concentrating on eating in a dining room crowded with noisy relatives, a blaring TV, or other distractions.

Let the person who has swallowing difficulty have extra time to eat, with supervision as needed. Let him eat with adults who will not safely interrupt his concentration on chewing and swallowing.

That person could start eating before the crowd arrives, then spend time chatting with others while they eat.

For more suggestions about eating, swallowing, and chewing, view/print this free publication, “Mealtime and Swallowing,” provided by the National Parkinson Foundation.

Though the advice is mainly for Parkinson’s patients, the information can be helpful to many people.

Finally, learn the Heimlich Maneuver, the best first-aid emergency method for treating choking. You can find the steps online in videos and be trained by the American Heart Association online and in person.

Plan ahead to make holiday meals enjoyable and safe for every diner!

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