Having a child with dysphagia can be an all-consuming worry for parents, as regardless of how careful you may be or how watchful you are, there’s still the possibility that they may choke, which can lead to serious issues such as aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, and malnutrition.
There are three different levels of consistency required for dysphagia sufferers, depending on their level of difficulty in swallowing. If the dysphagia is only mild, then food can be predominantly solid but not tough or hard i.e., a knife should not be needed to eat the food; if it’s more severe, then food should be what’s deemed ‘mechanical soft’, which means that foods must be soft, well-cooked, or mashed, and only occasionally will food need to be pureed; at its most severe, all foods require pureeing in order for the sufferer to safely eat.
The task of getting your child to eat can be challenging, particularly if they’ve developed a fear of food as a result of their dysphagia, as this can make the whole process – from getting the food consistency right to persuading them to eat – much more stressful as a result. To help, we have compiled a list of 5 tips to help make mealtimes less stressful for both you and your child.
Nutritious AND Delicious
While it’s important to ensure that your child has a balanced, nutritious diet, encouraging them to eat also requires you to carefully consider the taste of the food you’re giving them. For example, mashed or pureed banana is healthy but can be bland, so why not consider mixing in some pureed mango and coconut milk/cream for a tastier, but equally healthy, option?
If choosing to feed them soups or broths, think about how you can include extra flavor in the dish via seasoning, herbs, and spices, stock, and vegetables that you include.
The Thicker, the Better
A general rule of thumb for dysphagia sufferers is, the thicker the food, the better. This is because thinner consistency foods and liquids can be easily aspirated, leading to aspiration pneumonia. Identifying which foods turn too liquid upon pureeing them can be time-consuming, however, so a good alternative to trial-and-error is to include products such as Simply Thick in your child’s food. It uses xanthan gum as opposed to starch, meaning that the flavor of the food remains largely unaffected.
Avoid Certain Textures
Foods that have a flaky, crusty, or crunchy texture should be avoided as, even when pureed, they tend to have remaining flakes and/or hard pieces that can be easily choked upon.
The Key is Chopping
All foods should be finely chopped prior to blending or pureeing, as this is more likely to result in a smooth consistency that can be easily swallowed, particularly the chunkier elements of a meal, such as any meat or potatoes in casseroles and stews. In addition, all skin should be removed and meats should be fully moistened with sauces prior to blending.
Foods to Avoid
Any foods that contain nuts, seeds, raisins, olives, sweetcorn, or large chunks/skins should be avoided as they are a considerable choking hazard for dysphagia sufferers.
While it may be difficult planning a diet for a child suffering from dysphagia, as you want them to eat and enjoy food, there are ways around this. It is possible for you to have stress-free mealtimes that are fun and enjoyable.
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