Aging, just like eating, is something that is happening and we do everyday. As we age, our bodies can change as can our eating habits, preferences and ability to chew foods. One thing that may happen when we become seniors, are a senior or are caring for seniors (aka elderly) is the need or want to consume soft foods.
Being advised or caring for a senior who has had the suggestion to go on a soft food diet, can feel defeating, limiting and lonely at first. And I get it, soft foods tend to have a bad reputation as being boring, bland, unpleasant tasting pureed foods. But, feat not, soft foods can be full of flavor, fun and truly enjoyable for all, not just the person who has to be eating soft foods.
Trust me, as a registered dietitian with a focus on dental health, I’ve helped many people figure out a soft foods diet that they can get excited about that includes a ton of their favorite foods. So, hope you find this information helpful and feel free to jump right to what you’re looking for via the table of contents below!
PS. Appreciate you trusting me with providing you soft foods information! Feel free to get a sample soft foods for seniors meal plan plus recipes PDF delivered right to your inbox, please subscribe to Dental Meal Plans to receive it.
Why A Senior May Need To Go On A Soft Food Diet
As we age, our bodies change and this can impact our appetite, how much food we eat or don’t eat as well as our ability to chew and swallow foods. Why a senior may have difficulty chewing and swallowing or increase or reduced appetite can occur for a variety of reasons.
One reason can be due to oral issues. I’m sure you or someone you know who is older has had missing teeth, dental implants or dentures. Well, some oral issues that can create the need to go on a soft foods diet are things such as:
- Poor fitting dentures
- Missing teeth
- General difficulty chewing foods
- Dry mouth, also known as reduced saliva, can be treated by methods to increase saliva production. You can learn more about these methods in another blog post I wrote which you can access by clicking here.
- Head and neck cancer and treatments
Sometimes, due to a variety of factors like lifestyle, genetics and our environment as we age cognitive issues and conditions can arise that impact the ability to chew and swallow foods for older adults. A few examples of cognitive concerns that may call for a soft food diet are:
- Mild cognitive impairment
Another reason you, someone you care for and/or a loved one may need to have a low or no-chew diet can be because of neuromuscular issues that can occur due to natural ageing. Two neuromuscular concerns that could arise are:
A combination or one of these issues/conditions can lead to unintentional weight loss and/or malnutrition. We do need a little bit of cushion as we age to help protect our bones and organs as well as general functioning. Additionally, so many vitamins and minerals are crucial to our well-being, so having reduced nutrient intake can have a big impact on a senior’s health.
These are just some reasons why a senior may need to go on a soft foods diet. It’s not an inclusive list and sometimes people of any age just like to go on a soft food diet because they simply enjoy the foods and they happen to be soft. Of course, it is always best to follow your healthcare provider’s guidance as to if you need to go on a soft foods diet and the reasons why.
Is A Soft Food Diet Forever?
I’ve received this question a number of times and the answer to it varies and really just depends on you or the person you are caring for the unique situation. In some cases, a soft food diet may be temporary. Say, being on a soft food diet while you wait for dental work to heal or when getting dentures fixed.
On the contrary, a soft food diet may become the new normal if there’s trouble chewing or swallowing. Then, in other cases, there may be a need to be on a soft food diet, but the kind of soft food the person can eat may vary and progress to less chew-style soft food as the person improves their ability to eat and swallow.
Because the reasons a person goes on a soft food diet whether temporary or forever is unique to the specific situation and health status, always follow the care and guidance of the healthcare provider and team. For more information on reasons seniors may need to go on a soft food diet and for how long, please refer to the additional sources section.
What Exactly Are Soft Foods
Soft foods are foods that require little to no chewing and can be easily swallowed. Now, the level of soft foods a senior may be advised to consume can change or vary. Soft foods can include foods like chopped chicken softened in gravy and crushed pineapple to blended finely pureed soup with no spices.
There are varying kinds of soft food diets. Again, depending on your situation you may start on one kind of soft food diet and then progress to the next “chewier” kind, or you may stay on a specific one, each kind is described in a bit more detail in the next section.
Different Types Of Soft Foods Diets
A pureed soft diet is the softest of the three soft food diet types. With this kind of soft food diet, one should follow a diet consisting of foods that are smooth, likely with no nuts or seeds, of a pudding-like consistency with no lumps and require minimal to no chewing.
A few quick examples of pureed soft foods are mashed potatoes with gravy, chocolate pudding, pureed carrots, and pureed chicken.
This diet is a step towards more chewing than the pureed diet. With the mechanical soft diet, the foods can be moist and soft-textured with no chewy, dry particulates, nuts or seeds.
A few quick examples of mechanical soft foods are tender ground or finely diced meats, soft, cooked vegetables, soft ripe or canned fruit, and moistened cereals.
On a mechanical soft diet, one should try to steer clear of dry foods like bread, dry cake, and plain rice with no gravy or sauce.
Advanced Soft Foods
The advanced, chewy soft diet is basically just a notch below a regular diet. On this one, a person can have most regular foods except hard, sticky, and crunchy items. Foods to avoid would be things such as, hard to chew fruits and vegetables, corn skins, nuts, and seeds.
Some foods to enjoy would be vegetable soup, shredded lettuce with salad dressing, a sandwich with mayonnaise, bread, semi-soft chocolate chip cookie.
How To Prepare Foods To Make Them Soft
You may have already inferred that some of the quick examples mentioned above are not soft on their own yet can be combined with sauces or other foods to make them soft and easier to eat. There are so many ways from quick to a bit more time-consuming that can soften food up. Provided below are some ways to prep foods and soften them up.
Ways To Add Moisture To Soften Foods:
• Mix with milk
• Mix with gravy
• Mix with juice
• Mix with broth
• Mix with melted butter, softened or whipped margarine or olive oil
• Mix with sauces
Physically Soften or Puree Foods By:
• Finely chopping
Soft Food Prep Equipment
Some foods can be made soft manually simply with a fork, spoon, and knife. However, to really soften up most foods specific kitchen equipment can make the process easier and the food less lumpy and softer. The following kitchen equipment can help make whipping up tasty soft a breeze:
• Food processor
• Potato masher
• Immersion blender
Soft Food Examples
Every food group has soft food options plenty that can be nutrient-dense and tasty. Check out all the options per food group in the examples below.
These fruits can be had fresh, canned or frozen and they can be mashed, pureed, cubed, crushed or finely sliced depending on the need.
• Soft, peeled peaches
• Soft, peeled nectarines
• Soft, peeled kiwi
• Soft, peeled mangoes
• Soft, peeled cantaloupe
• Soft, peeled honeydew
• Watermelon without the seeds
• Soft, peeled apples
• Seedless cherries
Just like fruits, many of these vegetables can be prepared mashed, pureed, finely chopped, steamed, boiled, thrown into smoothies, or blended depending on need.
• Sweet potatoes
• Yukon, gold potatoes
• Yellow potatoes
• Mini potatoes
• Shredded lettuce
• Green beans
• Butternut squash
• Summer squash
There are so many grains that are naturally soft or can be easily softened through boiling, microwaving, or steaming. Of course, just like fruits and vegetables grains can be pureed, blended, or finely chopped depending on need.
• The following can be enjoyed if they are moistened with jelly, syrup, sauce, or butter
o Bread without seeds or nuts
o Muffins without seeds or nuts
• The following can be enjoyed when moistened with yogurt, milk or kefir dry cereal without nuts or seedsry oats
• Brown rice
Protein is a crucial nutrient when it comes to everyone, especially seniors as it helps to maintain muscle and support the functioning of various aspects of the body. Often, high-protein foods can be dry and chewy such as chicken, steak, and fish. So, it’s important to prepare these foods in a way that softens them. Just like the other food groups, many protein foods can be blended, moistened, pureed, and finely chopped.
• Blended, or moistened and finely chopped chicken
• Blended, slow-cooked, or moistened and finely chopped steak
• Softened fish
• Scrambled or blended eggs
• Canned chicken
• Canned salmon
• Canned tuna
• Ground meat such as turkey, chicken or beef
• Softened tofu
• Greek yogurt
• Cottage cheese
• Nut butters
• Softened cheese
• Protein powder
A lot of dairy foods are inherently soft of liquid, which makes a great choice for seniors soft food intake. On top of that, many dairy foods are packed with probiotics, protein and calcium, all important nutrients for gut and overall health.
• Greek yogurt
• Cottage cheese
• Ricotta cheese
• Ice cream
• Softened cheeses
• Frozen yogurt
• Sour cream
• Cream cheese
Soft Food Sample Meal Plan
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with shredded cheese and finely chopped vegetables mixed in
Snack: berry kale protein smoothie
Lunch: chicken soup with vegetable juice
Snack: Greek yogurt with pureed fruit
Dinner: pasta with shredded chicken and finely chopped vegetable tomato sauce
Snack: chocolate pudding with finely chopped pineapples and whipped cream
To receive a PDF of this sample meal plan along with a few recipes, subscribe here and get it delivered right to your inbox!
Soft Food Eating Tips
As mentioned, being on a soft food diet doesn’t need to be bland and boring. As we age, sometimes we do not have as big of an appetite as we used to. So, here are some soft food eating tips that will help spruce up the eating environment to increase intake and make eating soft food exciting:
• Level up by serving soft foods such as adding a garnish to ground, pressed softened beef.
• Create a calm, slow eating environment, so seniors don’t feel rushed and can truly relish in the tasting experience aspect of eating.
• Eat, small meals throughout the day.
• Take small bites.
• Serve food in a community setting, with people sitting and conversing around the table so no one feels isolated and alone while on a soft food diet.
I hope you found this article valuable and useful. The goal with Dental Meal Plans, particularly this post is to provide knowledge that empowers seniors or people caring for them to have a resource that makes soft food eating fun, and enjoyable and allows for optimal nutrient intake. Of course, provided in the additional sources section are even more valuable information.