If you are having trouble chewing, then we've got some tips for you! Whether its loose dentures, sore gums or oral surgery, there may be a time when chowing down on our favorite foods is interrupted by a trip to the dentist or even something more serious! If you need a soft diet, have no fear – good nutrition and great flavor don't have to be thrown out like yesterday’s leftovers. Here’s how to eat soft and stay healthy.
When Might You Need a Soft Diet?
The following cases may require soft foods or even a more long-term prescribed soft diet:
- Tonsil removal
- Missing teeth or poor dental health
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Dysphagia (trouble swallowing) cause by illness such as stroke, Parkinson’s, or Multiple Sclerosis
- Some types of cancer (head, neck, stomach) and subsequent treatment such as radiation therapy
Make It Soft, Tasty and Nutritious
So you have a pesky toothache? Let's go beyond boring broth and Jell-O and explore 6 great tips and tricks for preparing nutritious soft foods.
1- Keep It Balanced
Our bodies require a variety of nutrients for optimal health. Aim to include protein, starch, vegetables and fruits at meals - even with a soft diet. Regular balanced meals help to support healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and immune health.
2- Chop, Cut, or Pulse It
Chop up foods to make them more manageable to eat. This takes the work out of chewing tough and fibrous foods like fruits and vegetables or tough meats.
Cool tip - cutting against the grain of meats can help soften tough cuts. This means cutting against the lines or muscle fibers seen on a cut of meat.
If you prefer not to use your knife skills, use a food processor to chop meats and produce the desired consistency. More serious dental/oral issues may require a finer texture similar to minced meats.
3- Cook It!
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but there are cooking methods that can efficiently soften tough foods like chicken, pork and beef. Braising (cooking covered with some liquid), roasting, simmering, stewing and steaming (e.g. pressure cooking) are all great ways to produce a soft, palatable consistency in most foods. Roasting and steaming foods can also help preserve the nutritional value. Beans, lentils and tofu provide protein that is soft and easy to chew, unlike most meats. These plant based proteins are usually well tolerated after they are cooked and are easily mashable.
4- Canned or Frozen? Pick Both!
Aside from cooking fruits and vegetables, low sodium canned vegetables and fruit packed in fruit juice are soft and nutritious alternatives to fresh, fibrous produce. And yes, canned fruits and vegetables are nutritious and retain much of their nutrients during the canning process!
Frozen fruits and vegetables are another good choice since they are picked at peak freshness and then frozen. The freezing process helps to soften the fibrous texture of fruits and vegetables. Cooking frozen fruits and vegetables leads to a pleasantly soft texture for sore gums.
5- Don’t Forget the Grains!
Grains are a healthy part of a balanced diet and luckily many grains, like hot cereals, are soft enough after cooking alone. Grains like cream of wheat, oats, farro, and grits can be sweet or savory and are an easy and delicious addition to any meal. Whole grain pasta noodles are another good choice. Avoid sticky or coarse grains if you are on a prescribed soft diet for dysphagia (trouble swallowing).
6- Sauce It Up
Adding gravies and sauces to a meal can add flavor and help to soften foods. Gravies and sauces are especially helpful for people experiencing dry mouth or have conditions or take medications that cause dry mouth for extended periods. Want a healthier gravy or sauce? Use low sodium broth and plenty of herbs and spices to add flavor.
Who said soft foods have to be bland and boring? That’s definitely not the case. Remember to keep balance in mind when eating a soft diet. Protein, vegetables, fruits and grains can all be enjoyed soft. If the softness makes the food less appealing, add some zest with plenty of herbs and spices, and make it saucy to make it more palatable. Try out the cooking methods discussed- if your food texture is still too tough or hard to chew and swallow, you can try pureeing the food, too! If this sounds like you or someone you know, please refer to IDDSI.org for more detailed information on prescribed soft diets.