How to cook for a child with dysphagia

It has been reported that about 25 to 45 percent of children demonstrate some sort of swallowing or eating problem, known as dysphagia, which can occur at any age. There are a wide variety of symptoms, such as refusing food or liquid and stiffening of the body during feeding to long feeding times and refusal of different textured foods. As a result of dysphagia, children could be at risk for dehydration, poor nutrition and social isolation during eating situations.

For children who experience dysphagia, the simple act of eating is anything but. And for the parents, they struggle with how to help their child not only feel better, but also to ensure that proper nutrition is being met. Sometimes parents also feel alone or discouraged because they think they can only resort to feeding their child soft, tasteless food because it is the only thing that can be swallowed.

But, this is not the case, and the students and faculty at Speech@NYU, the online master’s in speech pathology from NYU Steinhardt, wanted to change this mindset and provide parents with the tools they need to take dysphagia head on in the kitchen with “Dining with Dysphagia: A Cookbook.”

This cookbook includes eight recipes that elevate pureed or “mushy” food to a higher standard and focus on all the values – nutrition, texture, and taste – that are important to parents with a child with dysphagia. Not only is this cookbook meant to be a resource, but also the catalyst to help start a larger conversation about changing the narrative of dysphagia. The cookbook includes unique and delicious recipes such as chocolate chia pudding and Asian chicken meatballs that take “dining with dysphagia” to a new level.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cooking for a child with dysphagia:

Take note of your child’s favorite recipes: Identify the foods that your child loves and recreate dysphagia-friendly recipes; it just takes a little bit of patience and experimentation in the kitchen

Focus on diversity: Mix it up by including different ingredients and balancing tastes

Make it a family affair: If you are worried your child will be embarrassed or left out because they are eating “different” foods compared to the rest of the family, try recipes that everyone can enjoy to make the meal experience inclusive

Swap recipes with other parents: Know anyone else whose child has dysphagia? Consider doing a recipe “swap” so you can switch it up

Talk to your child: If your child is old enough to talk about the dysphagia, do not be afraid to be candid with him or her; you must show how supportive and understanding you are of his or her condition

It is important to remember that food should not only nourish the body, but also the soul. Parents should never assume they have to resort to simple, “mushy” food just because it is the only thing that is available for their child. There are countless opportunities to create delicious recipes that your child will love.

If you are unsure if your child has eating difficulties, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician as they will be able to address medical issues. A speech-language pathologist who specializes in treating children will also be able to discuss the condition in greater detail.