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ARTICLES / General / A Medical Look at Dysphagia /

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How to Cook for a Loved One with Dysphagia

By Erin Embry MPA/MS CCC-SLP

The simple act of eating is anything but for those who experience dysphagia, the medical term for difficulties swallowing or eating. Millions of Americans have the condition, especially aging adults: The U.S. Department of Health suggests that about 15% of the elderly population experiences some form of dysphagia. And for those who care for elderly adults, it may be difficult to find equally nutritious and appetizing food that can be consumed.
Caregivers may feel alone or discouraged when it comes to finding and cooking dysphagia-friendly recipes. Often, they will find themselves resorting to feeding their loved ones soft, tasteless food because it is the only thing they can swallow.
But, this is not the case, and 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 supporting people with dysphagia: nutrition, texture and taste. Not only is this cookbook meant to be a resource, but also the catalyst to help start a larger conversation about changing the narrative of dysphagia. In fact, this cookbook all started with the NYU Steinhardt Iron Chef Dysphagia Challenge competition, during which contestants prepared food based on recipes that are easy-to-follow and easy-to-swallow. The cookbook is a result of the event and this year’s dishes include rosemary mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup and vegetarian squash chili, just to name a few.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when cooking for someone with dysphagia:

Find out their favorite recipes: Talk to your loved one and determine what their food preferences are so you can create a dysphagia-friendly version

  • Focus on diversity: Mix it up by including different ingredients and balancing tastes
  • Make it a family affair: If you are worried that someone will be embarrassed or left out because they are eating “different” foods unlike the rest of the family or group, 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
  • 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

It is important to remember that food should not only nourish the body, but also the soul. No one should ever assume they have to resort to simple, “mushy” food just because it is easily consumed. There are myriad options to create delicious recipes that your loved one will enjoy, and the cookbook is just one example of this.
If you would like to learn more about dysphagia, schedule an appointment with your loved one’s general practitioner. A speech-language pathologist will also be able to discuss the condition in greater detail.
To learn more about the “Dining with Dysphagia” cookbook visit
With a dual degree in both Communication Sciences and Disorders and Health Policy and Management, Erin Embry’s approach to teaching and leadership promotes interdisciplinary collaboration at all levels of academic, clinical and professional training. She is the Director of the Speech@NYU online MS program in Communicative Sciences and Disorders and the graduate student academic advisor.

Embry teaches courses related to the clinical process, swallowing disorders, and professional issues. She is actively involved in department and school-wide curriculum development with a focus on cultivating collaborative efforts of various disciplines in the educational and healthcare settings. With over 15 years of experience as a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, Embry has devoted her clinical and academic career to adults with acquired brain injuries and progressive neurological diseases.

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