Pureed Foods for Elderly: A Registered Dietitian’s Advice

When you mention pureed food for elderly it typically elicits a not so pleasant reaction from people.  Many times in my professional experience when I talk to family members about pureed foods for their loved ones, they call it baby food or mush.

I always stop this kind of talk because someone who needs to eat pureed foods shouldn’t feel bad about what they’re eating.  Some people need pureed foods to simply survive because they can’t tolerate regular foods anymore.

As a Dietitian who has extensive experience working with people who eat pureed foods and a passionate advocate for improving it, let me educate you.  Eating pureed foods can be the beginning of a very healthy and appetizing diet.

pureed carrot soup on a blue tablecloth with parsley in the soup.

Why Would Someone Need Pureed Food?

There are two reasons someone needs pureed foods for either a physical swallowing issue or a medical problem.

Physical Issues include dental problems, ill-fitting dentures, refusal to wear dentures and missing teeth.

One of the biggest medical problems that requires pureed foods is Dysphagia.  It’s the medical term for difficulty swallowing.  This can occur anywhere from the opening of your throat down to your oesophagus.  

As we age our throat muscles become weaker over time and this can be a cause of difficulty swallowing.  Unfortunately there isn’t a cure for this, and it does progressively impact swallowing more as someone ages if they have dysphagia.

Other medical problems that may lead to a need for pureed foods are Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, Cerebrovascular Accident, Head, neck or throat cancer and other conditions affecting the brain.

Getting Help With Swallowing Issues

If you or a loved one notices that a loved one is having difficulty with swallowing, there are some health experts that you can reach out to.

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is an expert in assessing swallowing problems. They will be your first resource in figuring out whether a pureed diet is necessary. Once a pureed diet is prescribed, a Registered Dietitian (RD) can help make sure that a pureed texture diet is meeting all the nutritional needs.

Are Soft Foods the Same as Pureed Foods?

No, soft foods and pureed foods are not the same thing. Soft foods are typically not mechanically altered to meet certain texture requirements. They are usually simply soft and easy to chew foods naturally. Or some foods may be steamed, boiled, or cooked in a way that makes their texture soft.

Pureed foods for the most part are mechanically altered with a blender, food processor, or hand mixer to achieve a smooth pudding like texture. Pureed foods are meant for people that cannot manage to chew or swallow regular texture, even soft foods.

pureed mango fruit in a cup with chia. seed pudding in a clear glass. Sprinkled with sugar on top and leaves in it.

Examples of Soft Foods

Some foods that are soft and easy to chew are:

Bananas
Avocados
Melons
Cooked potatoes
Peas
Cauliflower
Cooked meats with liquid
Rice
Eggs
Ground meat
Yogurt
Cheese
Pasta

If you want more soft food ideas, read 50 Nutritious Soft Food Ideas for Seniors!

Making Pureed Foods at Home

In most long term care homes, they have large machines that will physically alter foods to make them into a pureed texture. But you can still make good, quality pureed food at home without all the machinery!

All you need is:

A food processor or strong blender
A vegetable or food chopper
Food
Liquids (Broths, sauces, juice, water, milk)

Each type of recipe will require different liquids to make a food the right texture for pureed, so the type of liquid will depend on what you’re hoping to make.

Foods That Are Best to Puree

Most foods can be made into pureed textures, but when it comes to vegetables it’s best to puree them once they’re cooked. This can be done through steaming, baking, or boiling. If you don’t cook them first it can be difficult to get them to the right texture.

The same thing obviously goes for meat, as you will never puree meats that haven’t been cooked first. The process of pureeing food requires the food be cooked before you puree, not after.

Fruits are similar to the vegetables. The tough skin on most fruits doesn’t breakdown well unless it is cooked first. You can stew the vegetables, steam or bake them to get them softened before you puree them.

Foods to PureeHow to Make Pureed Texture
in the Food Processor
Chicken
Beef
Fish
Pork
Use chicken or beef broth, sauces and gravies to thin it out.
Can use cheese sauces.
Vegetables
Excluding: String beans, wax beans.
Can use fresh, frozen or canned.
Steam, boil, parboil, bake, roast and add vegetable broth.
FruitsBake to soften tough skin fruits.
Can remove the skin and bake them as well.
Canned fruits can be used as is.
Frozen fruits can be thawed and used.
Add fruit juice.
Can use fruit for a lower sugar option.
Cakes
Pies
Sweet Baked Goods
Can use fruit juice or milk depending on the base of the cake.
Savoury Baked GoodsCan use vegetable broths, creams, milk.

Foods That Are Naturally Pureed Texture

There are a few foods that can be served ‘as is’ based on the way that they come, they are already in acceptable pureed texture form.

These include:

Whipped Cottage cheese (Note: this is not regular cottage cheese, it is pureed)
Yogurt (Greek is best)
Pudding
Applesauce
Cream of wheat
Mashed potatoes
Sour cream
Refried beans
Custards

mashed potatoes with gravy on a blue plate with gravy and leaves in the middle.

I will caution you as many people think because ice cream and jello seems to be a pureed texture they are acceptable on a pureed diet. This unfortunately is not true, especially if someone has Dysphagia.

Ice cream and jello turn liquid when they go down your throat, this changes them to a thin liquid texture. Most people that need pureed texture need foods that go slowly down their throat. A pureed food is slow down the throat, giving it more time to prevent it from going into the lungs.

If a thin liquid goes down the throat, the muscles may not have time to push it down the right pipe, leaving a risk of pneumonia. So it’s of extra importance that if you or a loved one needs pureed foods that you know what qualifies as the right texture.

What Foods Should Not Be Pureed?

There are some foods that simply don’t puree very well, this includes vegetables with stringy skin, seeds, hard cheeses, nuts, some cereals. When pureed they tend to gelatinize and turn into hard clumps. They may come out as pureed texture initially, but within a few minutes change.

Pasta is also a difficult food to puree. It purees in a food processor, but it balls up or congeals quite quickly. If you are planning to serve pasta pureed, use a milk or cream sauce, and serve immediately.

I don’t recommend pureeing these foods for the most part as I have yet to find a very successful at home recipe to try for these.

What Equipment Do You Need?

If you know that you will be pureeing a lot of food daily, I would recommend picking up a food processor. These are heavy duty and are meant for this type of work.

If you will only be pureeing a few foods here and there, a strong blender will work fine for the purposes.

Dos and Don’ts of Presenting Pureed Foods

Visual appeal is the second most important thing at meal times, next to the actual nutrition value of the foods being given. We eat with our eyes before our stomach, so if you are presenting pureed foods that look very unappealing, the person eating it will likely not want it.

Here are a few Dos of presenting pureed foods:

  1. Do try to make the food look like its natural form with food moulds.
  2. Do be creative even if you don’t have food moulds, try to make foods indifferent shapes or forms using spoons to shape it.
  3. Do place sauces, gravies and pureed soups on the side to give someone the option of using them.
  4. Do invest in a quality food processor if you will be pureeing most, if not all meals.
  5. Do make regular meals that you are going to be eating yourself as well, then adjust the pureed foods to the right texture.
  6. Do use sauces, gravies and broths to make the taste of food more appealing.
  7. Do serve meals on contrasting colour plates with napkins with nice cutlery to make it feel like a regular meal.

Here are a few Don’ts of presenting pureed foods:

  1. Don’t add the sauces onto the food without asking the individual if they want sauce on it.
  2. Don’t mix all the pureed foods together.
  3. Don’t simply place three ice scream foods of pureed foods onto a plate.
  4. Don’t blend all of the pureed foods together to make one item.
  5. Don’t talk poorly about the appearance of the pureed food.

How to Puree Foods for Elderly

A misconception about making pureed foods is that you need to make a separate pureed foods meal. This is not true! You can make one meal and puree items so that you have a regular meal and a pureed texture meal. There is no need to make multiple meals.

Here is a rundown on how to make pureed foods properly and how to test them to make sure that they are safe and appetizing!

1. Cook Foods First

Cook your meats, vegetables, and starches before starting the pureeing process. This will help them to puree to a great pureed texture. You will cook them according to your regular recipe as if you were preparing them for a regular meal.

Add herbs, spices, and salt to add extra flavour to all dishes. Pureed meals should be made very flavourful to increase the appeal. It helps to remove the skins of fruits and vegetables before putting them into the food processor or blender. The skins don’t typically breakdown very easily.

2. Food Processor or Blender

Cut the foods into large chunks, this will help the food break down better and faster in the processor or blender.

If you are pureeing meats, I recommend using either gravies, sauces or meat broths to puree it. Most meats won’t be moist enough on their own to puree properly, so you will want to add some type of liquid in the food processor.

I would recommend avoiding adding water with it, this doesn’t impart any flavour and can actually dilute any flavour that is in the dish.

3. Appropriate Texture

Pureed food texture should be like pudding. It should hold its form when scooped onto a plate, not be spilling over onto other foods. But it should also be able to push through the prongs of a fork when you push down on it.

4. How to Make the Food Smoother

If you are finding that the pureed foods is dry, tough, and not smooth, you may consider adding more liquids into the food processor. Or consider if the food that you made had items that were on my not recommended list earlier in the article.

There are simply some foods that don’t puree properly to give a smooth texture. So go through the list, if it isn’t on the list then trying to add more liquid or keeping it in the food processor for a longer time may help.

Making Pureed Foods More Nutritious

Making pureed foods more nutritious is similar to making regular food more nutritious. But it’s important to add extra nutrition because individuals on pureed foods are at higher risk of malnutrition

You can make food higher in calories and protein to make it more nutritious by adding:

Whole milk
Skim milk powder
Cheese
Cottage cheese
Protein powder
Peanut butter
Peanut butter powder
Greek yogurts
Smoothies
Sour cream
Oral nutritional supplement drinks
Syrups

Sample Pureed Texture Meal Day

Breakfast:

2 Scrambled Eggs with hollandaise sauce
2 Slices of Pureed Whole Wheat Toast
Applesauce

Lunch:

Pureed Tomato Soup
Pureed Chicken with Gravy
Pureed White Dinner Role
Pureed Mixed Vegetables

Dinner:

Pureed Pot Roast with Gravy
Pureed Mashed Potatoes
Pureed Carrots

Snacks:

Pureed Chocolate Cake made with milk.

Now you’re ready to start your pureed food journey!

Michelle saari dietitian
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Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.

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