Soft foods for seniors can be an essential part of a diet if they are not able to safely handle and swallow regular foods.
A soft food diet may be ordered for dental problems, swallowing issues or dysphagia, oral health issues, dementia, and more.
Soft food for seniors doesn’t have to mean bland or pureed foods. You can make delicious soft foods that will increase food intake and still look visually appealing.
What are Soft Foods?
Soft foods are easy to chew foods. It can also go by the name mechanical soft diet in long term care homes. If your facility follows the IDDSI diet this will be the soft & bite sized diet.
I don’t at this time recommend long term care homes adopt the IDDSI diet, if you want to know why, you can read here.
Older adults go through many changes as they age including weakened throat muscles making it difficult to swallow.
Typically this leads to the diagnosis of Dysphagia. I have seen this condition incredibly common amongst those diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
It is a manageable condition and a soft diet is a great way to improve quality of life.
When Should Soft Foods Be Considered?
There are a variety of things to look out for when considering a soft food diet. It is highly unlikely an elderly person will tell you they want it, so look for these warning signs:
Missing teeth and difficulty chewing
Pushing meals away before even trying a bite
Unintentional weight loss
Coughing frequently during meals
Grimacing after taking a bite
Pushes away hard pieces of foods
Noted calorie intake decrease
Preferring fluids or drinks instead of eating
Noted muscle mass decrease
These are just a few things to look out for, but the good news is that many of these can be dealt with through a delicious soft food diet.
Is a Soft Food Diet Ever Temporary?
There are certain health conditions that can temporarily impair an older adult’s ability to safely manage regular food.
If they have an infection that is impairing their cognitive function such as a urinary tract infection, they may need a soft diet to reduce their choking risk.
Once the infection clears up though, they are likely safe to resume a regular diet.
Dental problems and oral health issues can also impair a person’s ability to safely manage regular foods.
If a person is having teeth extracted, it will be highly likely that they will need a temporary soft consistency diet while they recover.
In order to create a healthy diet of soft foods you need to make sure it is appealing to the person eating it. Thankfully you can fit every food group into the diet.
Creativity is a must when making soft foods, think creamy casseroles, high protein smoothies, soft breads, and even potato cakes.
A healthy well balanced diet that includes all the nutritious foods of a regular diet is the key focus of soft food diet. So let’s explore a list of options.
List of Soft Foods
It’s a misconception that if elderly people are on a soft diet they can’t have fresh fruit. Nothing could be further from the truth, but creativity with cooking them is essential.
While some fruits may be quite crunchy to chew, there are ways you can make them softer. Apples are a great example, most people would think applesauce is a great solution.
But I’ve got news for you, not everyone likes applesauce.
Instead, apples can be cut up and baked in a little bit of oil and cinnamon and they are incredibly soft.
Or they can be stewed in either water (to keep sugar content down) or in juice to really soften them up.
Try to think of ways to prepare a fruit to make it soft, without pureeing everything.
- Bananas: Bananas are naturally soft and easy to chew, making them an excellent choice for soft diets.
- Avocado: Avocados have a creamy texture and can be mashed or blended into smoothies or spreads.
- Melons: Varieties like cantaloupe and honeydew melons have soft flesh that can be easily consumed.
- Peaches: Ripe peaches have a soft and juicy texture that makes them enjoyable for elderly individuals.
- Mangos: Mangos have a sweet, tropical flavor and a soft, fiberless flesh that is easy to eat.
- Pears: Choose ripe pears that are soft to the touch and have a smooth texture, making them gentle on the teeth.
- Kiwi: Kiwi fruits have a soft, edible skin and a juicy interior, making them easy to eat when sliced or pureed.
- Berries: Soft berries like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries can be enjoyed by the elderly, and they can be mashed or blended for easier consumption.
- Baked Apples: While fresh apples may be challenging to chew, baked or stewed apples offers a soft and easily digestible alternative.
- Grapes: Seedless grapes can be a suitable option for the elderly, as they are small, soft, and can be cut into smaller pieces for easier consumption.
We’re fortunate with vegetables that most can be steamed to be made a soft texture. This not only softens them but it can also really enhance the flavour and nutrients in them.
You can also add a creamy sauce on top of steamed vegetables for some incredible flavours.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes have a soft and creamy texture when cooked, making them easy to eat.
- Carrots: Cooked carrots become soft and tender, making them a suitable choice for those with chewing difficulties.
- Butternut Squash: When roasted or cooked, butternut squash develops a soft and smooth texture that is easy to consume.
- Spinach: Cooked spinach becomes tender and can be easily mashed or pureed for those with swallowing difficulties.
- Zucchini: Zucchini has a soft texture when cooked and can be sliced or grated for easy consumption.
- Green Beans: When cooked until tender, green beans become soft and can be easily cut into smaller pieces.
- Peas: Peas have a soft and delicate texture, and can be cooked until soft or mashed for easier eating.
- Cauliflower: Cooked cauliflower can be mashed or pureed to create a soft and creamy texture.
- Beets: When cooked, beets become soft and can be easily sliced or pureed for added convenience.
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms have a naturally soft texture and can be cooked in various ways for added flavor.
Grains and starches are typically quite soft to chew when cooked. I recommend adding in some herbs and spices to mix up the flavour profile.
If you’re looking to increase the protein or calories, add in butters, full fat milks, creams, and protein powders.
- Oatmeal: Cooked oatmeal has a soft and creamy texture that is easy to chew and swallow. It can be flavoured with various ingredients such as fruits, nuts, or honey for added taste.
- Quinoa: When cooked, quinoa has a soft texture with a slight crunch. It can be cooked until tender or pureed for easier consumption.
- Rice: Both white and brown rice can be cooked until soft and fluffy. They can be enjoyed on their own or used as a base for various dishes.
- Couscous: Couscous is a small pasta made from semolina. It cooks quickly and has a soft, fluffy texture.
- Polenta: Polenta is a dish made from cornmeal and water or milk. It can be cooked until soft and creamy, and it can be flavoured with herbs, cheese, or other ingredients.
- Grits: Grits are a popular Southern dish made from ground corn. They have a creamy texture when cooked and can be flavoured with butter or cheese.
- Farina: Farina, also known as cream of wheat, is a finely ground wheat cereal. When cooked, it becomes smooth and soft, making it easy to eat.
- Barley: Barley can be cooked until tender and added to soups or stews to provide a soft and chewy texture.
- Millet: Millet is a small grain that can be cooked until soft and fluffy. It can be used as a substitute for rice or added to porridge.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat can be cooked until soft and used in dishes such as porridge or as a substitute for rice.
Soft Protein Foods
It is important when preparing protein foods that they are not left a dry consistency when served. This can create a choking hazard as dry foods can be difficulty to swallow.
Protein foods can benefit from gravies, sauces, broths, and other high moisture content items.
- Soft-Boiled Eggs: Soft-boiled eggs have a tender texture and are easier to chew than fully cooked hard-boiled eggs. They are a good source of protein.
- Flaky Fish: Certain types of fish, such as salmon or tilapia, can be cooked until they are soft and flaky.
These fish options are gentle on the teeth and provide important omega-3 fatty acids.
- Ground Meat: Ground beef, turkey, or chicken can be cooked until they are well-done and finely ground, making them easier to chew and swallow.
- Tofu: Silken or soft tofu has a delicate and smooth texture that can be easily incorporated into various dishes. It provides a vegetarian source of protein.
- Cottage Cheese: Cottage cheese is soft and can be easily consumed by elderly individuals. It is a good source of protein and can be enjoyed on its own or added to other soft foods.
- Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is thick and creamy, providing a good amount of protein. It can be flavored with fruits or honey for added taste.
- Lentils: Cooked lentils can be mashed or pureed to create a soft and easily digestible protein option. They are also rich in fiber.
- Nut Butters: Smooth nut butters, such as peanut butter or almond butter, provide a soft and spreadable source of protein. They can be added to toast or blended into smoothies.
- Soft Cheeses: Certain soft cheeses, like ricotta or cream cheese, can be incorporated into meals for added protein. They can be spread on crackers or used in recipes.
- Protein Smoothies: Protein powders can be added to smoothies made with soft fruits, yogurt, or milk to boost protein content. This is a convenient and easily consumed protein option.
Soft Dairy Products
Dairy products are a great way to increase the amount of protein and calories into various dishes. Most are by nature very soft in texture, which makes them a great addition to a soft texture diet.
- Yogurt: Choose smooth and creamy yogurt without fruit chunks or seeds. You can also opt for Greek yogurt for added protein.
- Cottage cheese: Soft and easily digestible, cottage cheese can be enjoyed plain or with a little bit of honey or fruit puree.
- Pudding: Smooth and creamy pudding is a great choice for a soft dairy dessert. Consider flavors like vanilla, chocolate, or butterscotch.
- Milkshakes: Blend together milk, ice cream, and your favorite flavorings to create a delicious and creamy milkshake. You can also add protein powder for an extra nutritional boost.
- Cream soups: Cream-based soups, like tomato bisque or potato soup, can be pureed to a smooth consistency and enjoyed as a soft and comforting meal.
- Ricotta cheese: Ricotta is a soft cheese that can be used in a variety of dishes. It can be spread on toast, mixed with herbs as a dip, or incorporated into casseroles.
- Mashed potatoes with cheese: Prepare mashed potatoes and add a soft and mild cheese, such as cheddar or mozzarella, for added flavor and creaminess.
- Smoothies with yogurt: Blend together yogurt, milk, and your favorite fruits to create a nutritious and refreshing smoothie. You can also add a scoop of protein powder if desired.
- Macaroni and cheese: Cook soft pasta and mix it with a creamy cheese sauce. This classic dish can be easily enjoyed by seniors on a soft food diet.
- Soft scrambled eggs with cheese: Scramble eggs until they are soft and creamy, then mix in some grated cheese. This provides a protein-rich and easy-to-eat breakfast option.
Now it’s time for you to get creative with the soft foods for seniors!
If you work in long term care try to incorporate some new soft food recipes and get the patients involved in the planning process!
Do you have any other soft food ideas that have been hits? Let me know below!