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  • Writer's pictureLisa Vaughton

Dysphagia at Christmas time. Remembering and helping those with swallowing difficulties🎄🎅

Updated: May 25, 2020

Swallowing is something we all take for granted. In the US, an estimated 9 million Americans have a swallow problem (dysphagia). In Australia, the figure estimated is close to 1 million Australians. That's a lot of people that are going to have difficulties eating their christmas meals.


Christmas is a sociable time of year. Our days revolve around eating, drinking and socialising. In fact, eating and drinking is one of the biggest social events we experience in our lifetimes. So what happens if we have a difficulty with eating and drinking? What would happen to our christmas if we couldn't eat and drink at all (as happens to some people)? How would you feel if you couldn't eat at christmas time?


Swallowing is not just about the muscles in our throat. It's also about looking at the food, smelling the food and tasting the food. For someone on a puree diet, or blended food diet, how does their food look? How does their food taste? Is it visually appealing? Is it seasoned well? Or is it just a blob on a plate? Let's not forget that dysphagia could involve drinks as well. Imagine having to thicken up your favourite christmas tipple, just so you can get it down 'safely'!


Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can choose the one which would be most suitable for a minced and moist diet?!



Making Christmas special for those with dysphagia

Christmas is particularly a high risk time for choking so make sure you are aware of what your loved one can and cannot eat. And remember, anyone with dysphagia should have already been assessed by a Speech Pathologist or Speech Therapist, so before altering any food consistencies, make sure that you are following those specific recommendations.


Here are some ways you can help make Christmas meals special, for those with dysphagia:


✨Try to make the meals colourful - use lots of different coloured vegetables, such as peas, carrots, beetroot and potatoes (be careful with peas as they have skins on and skins can be a choking hazard - try mushy peas as a safer alternative). All of these vegetables can be minced or pureed if required

✨ Ensure that food is well seasoned and tasty. Seasoning like chicken salt can add extra flavour to blended foods, which tends to lose flavour once it's been blended. Before you serve it, try it yourself and adjust the seasoning as you would like for yourself

✨If your loved one requires blended food, try blending the turkey with a little bit of thick gravy to give it a touch more flavour and texture. Blending can break down the flavour so adding a tad more extra gravy, will go a long way to making the food more palatable (don't forget to serve gravy on the side and make sure it's not too runny if the person requires thick fluids)

✨Try using specialty moulds for the foods. This can help the food look like normal food. There are several moulds you can buy. Try your local cooking shop, or these moulds from Flavour Creations may do the trick (although they are a tad expensive).

That way, a pea can look like a pea, rather than a blob, and a carrot can look like a carrot.


We also found some cute vegetable food moulds and vegetable cookie cutters (below) on Etsy that were cheaper and could also do the trick.

For more information on how to use moulds with puree food, try pureefoodmolds. They are a great resource for how to style puree food using moulds, as is Unilever foods, which has a great page for modifying diets for christmas meals


✨You could also try some edible glitter, to brighten up deserts and drinks for your loved ones with dysphagia


A quick recall of the modified diets

Before we finish up with our post on how to make great modified christmas meals, lets take a quick peek at the most common modified levels, to ensure that we prepare the correct food at christmas time:

  • Level 7 - Normal food textures and easy chew textures (avoid crackling, nuts, popcorn, chewy sweets, corn chips and crisps/potato chips on the easy chew level)

  • Level 6 - Soft and bite sized (pieces of soft food no bigger than 1.5cm x 1.5cm, no dry biscuits, no lettuce or cucumber or 'juicy' foods such as watermelon)

  • Level 5 - minced and moist (food no bigger than 4mm, which is the width between fork prongs, so make sure the food can be squashed by a fork)

  • Level 4 - pureed food (food blended and not runny)

Thickened fluids

  • Level 0 - thin/normal fluids

  • Level 1 - mildly thick

  • Level 2 - moderately thick

  • Level 3 - extremely thick (we rarely use this level, due to excessive residue)

And don't forget to be aware of mixed consistencies. For example, soup with vegetables floating in it is classified as a mixed consistency and may not be allowed on some levels of diet modification. For any other help with these consistencies, check the IDDSI website direct or ask your Speech Pathologist or Speech Therapist for more information.


Most of all, enjoy christmas with your loved ones and remember how precious the taste, smell and presentation of food can be, to those with dysphagia 🎅🎄💖






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