For many, Christmas is a special time of year where friends and families come together to celebrate the festive season, which often involves lots of delicious and indulgent food! This Christmas in particular may provide a window for families to finally get together and enjoy quality time safely around the dinner table.
However, for people with chewing or swallowing difficulties, otherwise known as dysphagia, this time of year can cause extra anxiety and stress, especially in social eating occasions and during mealtimes. Those with difficulties eating may feel as though they can no longer enjoy eating food with their loved ones, and as if they are missing out on foods they once could enjoy.
Extra assistance and additional preparation may be needed during mealtimes, which can lead to people experiencing feelings of embarrassment and a perception that they are a burden to their loved ones. This can cause some people to be reluctant to eat socially, which is a key part of celebrating the Christmas season. However, there are plenty of ways to adapt Christmas meals and festive favourites to be suitable for individual needs irrespective of severity of dysphagia, allowing everyone to feel at ease around the dinner table and enjoy the Christmas spirit!
How can Christmas foods be adapted for those with swallowing and chewing difficulties?
Soft or texture modified foods are often used to help manage swallowing and chewing difficulties, and many classic Christmas foods can be adapted by using a household food processer or hand-held blender. The appearance of food is also important, as nicely presented meals tend to be more appetising. Pureed or texture modified foods may be less visually attractive, but moulds are available which can be used to imitate specific shapes of foods, such as a slice of meat, rosette of mashed potato or a portion of vegetables. Also, including foods of a variety of colours will not only help to improve appearance and appeal, but also increase the variety of nutrients within a meal too.
With planning, a few modifications and some creative thinking, it is still possible to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner despite chewing and swallowing difficulties. For example, cooked turkey breast, roasted ham or beef can be chopped and blended with gravy, stock and even some cranberry sauce, providing a moist, smooth texture, making chewing easier. Well cooked vegetables and potatoes can be modified by mashing or pureeing with milk, cream or stock and be seasoned with herbs, spices or smooth mustard. For example, blended cauliflower cheese or mashed swede, carrots, parsnips and potato can all be delicious and nutritious festive meal accompaniments. However, it is best to avoid trying to modify stringy vegetables such as green beans, asparagus and Brussels sprouts yourself, as well as crispy roast potatoes, nuts and stuffing, as these are harder to achieve a consistent smooth texture with.
A smoked salmon or mackerel pate, or a duck or chicken liver parfait without lumps, are excellent ready-made festive starters. Soups, including flavours such as spiced parsnip and ham, butternut squash or broccoli and stilton, can also be consumed as a meal at lunchtime or as a starter, and can be a nice way to use up leftovers. However, you should opt for soups which have a thick but smooth consistency, avoiding soups with chunks or mixtures of textures.
Sweet treats and puddings are also easily adaptable, especially when mixed with custard, cream or ice cream. For example, trifle can be made more suitable by breaking up soft sponge and mixing with jelly, but also by cooking down berries and using a sieve to remove seeds and instead of using whole fruit. Custard, whipped cream and cocoa powder can then be used to decorate! For an unusual twist, semolina could be boiled with milk and flavoured with cinnamon, orange or other warming Christmas spices of your choice to make a creamy pudding. These flavourings could work well with rice pudding or stewed pureed apple too.
Mousses are also easy to swallow, so why not try making a dark chocolate mousse with a white chocolate centre, for an added festive surprise! The classic Christmas pudding could be blitzed with double cream or custard, but be careful to ensure that no chewy fruit remains within the sponge. Also look out for festive flavoured ice creams, including Christmas pudding and mince pie, available in shops and supermarkets- though, as always, watch out for chunks.
A ready-made alternative
To take the work out of providing delicious food for people with mild chewing and swallowing difficulties, we’ve developed our IDDSI 7 Easy-to-Chew Birds Eye Soft Meals. These delicious meals are perfect year-round, but can be especially helpful at Christmas, when you want to spend more time enjoying food with loved ones and less time prepping. They can also easily be modified to IDDSI levels 4, 5 and 6.
We currently have 8 meals in the range, one of which is vegetarian, and all have been created from pureed food timbales which allow us to present our texture-modified food in the format of the original unpureed food, making the meal as appealing as possible. After all, especially at Christmas, we eat with our eyes! For a classic festive main course, our Veal & Carrot Timbales with Red Wine Sauce and Mashed Potato is a classic and indulgent meal, while our Beef & Cauliflower Timbales with Onion Sauce and Mashed Potato is another winter warming favourite.
For an alternative Christmas dinner, our two fish options would also fit the bill- whether our light and herby Cod & Pea Timbales with Dill Sauce and Mashed Potato, or creamy and indulgent Salmon & Pea Timbales with Mustard Sauce and Mashed Potato. For extra convenience this Christmas, our delivery service is quick and simple to use, and will allow you to stock up your freezer with these delicious meals ready for the entire festive season.