In their older age, many elderly people experience chewing and eating problems or have difficulty swallowing. Whether your senior still has a few of their original teeth or none left at all, they may be eating mostly soft foods. How do you puree nutritious foods for them?
To puree food for the elderly, you should have a food processor or a blender (you can also mix by hand). Add a liquid and the desired ingredients and then begin blending. Use a thickener to reduce the risk of choking if the consistency of the pureed food is too watery.
This guide to pureeing food for the elderly will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll explain in more detail how to puree food (including by hand), recommend the best foods to puree, and discuss which ones you should not put in a blender or food processor.
Table of Contents
Why Do The Elderly Eat Pureed Food?
As we touched on in the intro, older adults who eat a pureed food diet usually have oral health issues that make chewing or swallowing food a challenge.
Missing teeth and tooth loss caused by periodontal disease is one such problem, but it’s not the only one.
As a person ages, their throat and mouth muscles weaken. That makes it difficult to swallow solid foods, especially dry and/or hard ones.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s patients may lose their ability to safely swallow as well, as can people with Parkinson’s disease.
Some medical conditions, such as throat cancer and its treatments can make chewing and swallowing terribly painful – even on a liquid diet.
If you’re feeding your senior parent a pureed diet, the smooth consistency of that food is much better for them. They’ll usually drink pureed food like a beverage.
The whole point of pureeing food is to prevent the need for chewing, which is something that a senior likely also struggles with due to the aforementioned weakened muscles.
How Do You Make Soft Foods For The Elderly?
I know it’s heartbreaking to see the senior in your life struggle to eat the healthy foods and basic meals that they once took for granted.
To make mealtimes easier for them and ensure they’re getting the proper nutrition, you may need to puree their foods going forward.
Per the intro, here’s how it’s done.
Step 1 – Plan The Senior’s Meals
We’ll talk more about this later, but you can puree a surprising number of regular foods. When selecting which ones you’ll make soft, you want to take two factors into account.
First, the food should have nutritional value and provide essential nutrients, especially in conjunction with the rest of the senior’s diet. Also some seniors may need to eat more high calorie foods to keep from losing weight.
Second, the puréed foods should taste good, or your senior might refuse to eat them even if they can do so easily.
Be sure to keep the basic food groups in mind when choosing which foods you’ll puree.
You should also try to stick to the foods consistent with that particular meal time. For example, for breakfast, you might puree a mango banana smoothie using some yogurt, but you wouldn’t do that for dinner since your senior needs something more substantial.
Step 2 – Buy A Food Processor Or Blender
If you don’t already own a food processor or blender, then the next step is to purchase one.
Although you can buy these appliances at pretty low costs, we’d recommend that family caregivers purchase a higher-end one with a stainless steel blade, if it’s within the budget.
The reason is that a better blender or food processor will puree food to a consistent texture that requires less work each time you use it. You’re saving yourself time, and that’s priceless.
Step 3 – Add Your Main Ingredients Plus A Liquid
Now you’re ready to start blending. Select the ingredients needed to prepare the meal. Choose an accompanying liquid, as well.
For instance, you might use yogurt at breakfast, but a cup of skim milk or chicken brother at dinner, depending on what main dish you are pureeing.
You might also wish to use a thickening agent, too, such as arrowroot or flour. You can always keep the thickening agent on hand for later if need be.
Step 4 – Puree The Food
Run the food processor or blender. It will begin pulsing the ingredients.
You’ll want to keep blending until the pureed food has the right consistency. It should be a smooth texture that’s like pudding.
The food should not have any smaller pieces or stickiness. Any chewy, crunchy, and/or dry textures should have been blended out.
Step 5 – Increase Or Reduce Consistency As Needed
In some cases, the pureed food might come out too thick. This can be difficult for some elderly people or dysphagia patients to swallow, so you’ll want to thin out the consistency a bit.
Add a small amount of liquid such as fruit juices or a vegetable or chicken broth. Water is okay too, but it can take away the flavor of the food.
After applying a few drops of the liquid, see if the consistency is better. If it’s still too thick, keep adding a little bit more of the liquid until it’s the right texture.
We should note that a thin consistency is not runny. You do not want to offer runny pureed food to your senior parent or loved one. This can be too difficult for them to swallow and could cause them to choke.
If you want to make the pureed food thicker, then use a tablespoon of a thickening agent and blend with the food processor. A tablespoon should suffice, but you can always thicken further if necessary.
That said, you don’t want the food to be too thick. Remember, you’re going for a pudding-like consistency.
Step 6 – Strain
Pureed food should contain no seeds, pulp, chunks, or lumps. If it does, they can prevent an elderly person from easily swallowing it. You may have to use a sieve or a similar tool to strain the seeds, pulp, etc. from the pureed food.
How Do You Puree Food By Hand?
What do you do if your blender breaks down or you have a power outage and can’t use the food processor? Your senior still has to eat, so what are your options at that point?
You’ll have to puree the food by hand. This will be a more time-consuming process, but it’s doable. Here are your options.
Although bamboo skewers might seem like an unconventional choice, they can work to puree many foods.
First, you should have cut the food and boiled or cooked it a bit. Then you can poke at it and mash it with the bamboo skewer. Alternately, tongs or chopsticks work just as well.
Keep in mind you’re trying to puree the food, not stab it to death!
You likely have an assortment of spatulas in your kitchen, and now you can put them to good use as a pureeing tool.
You should again start with cut food. If cooking or boiling the food will make it softer, then do that first.
Then take a spatula and keep pressing it flat against the food, again and again, until you mash it.
If a bamboo skewer is a suitable tool for pureeing, then so too is a fork. You don’t need a long-tined fork or anything special; the standard fork in your cutlery collection will do.
You will need to have cooked and/or boiled the food before you begin mashing it with a fork, as the fork is not as powerful as tongs or a spatula.
Not only does a sharp chef’s knife come in handy for slicing food before pureeing it, but you can then turn the knife sideways so it’s flat-side down and use that to mash food as well.
We must caution you to always work carefully with a knife so you don’t cut yourself!
Nope, potato mashers are not solely for potatoes! Any food with a similar consistency is eligible for pureeing with this handy kitchen tool.
You use a potato masher like you would a spatula, pressing the flat side down against the food. Small holes or openings throughout will allow the ingredients to mash without making a mess.
A food mill requires manual effort in a different way than the other kitchen tools we’ve discussed so far. You have to turn a lever to feed the food through, and it then comes out in a softer consistency.
In a pot, add your food, and then pour water to boil the food. When the food is done boiling, allow it to simmer.
Next, carefully pour the liquid down the sink. Transfer the food to a bowl filled with cold water. Allow the food to sit for at least 10 minutes so it’s cool.
Then you can put it through the food mill. Most food mills include a variety of pureeing discs that are appropriate for mashing all sorts of food.
Mortar and Pestle
If you don’t mind putting some elbow grease in, you can use a mortar and pestle for pureeing food. This can be time-consuming, but it is a good option if all else fails.
What Are The Best Foods To Puree?
Going back to what we mentioned earlier, your senior needs a well-rounded diet of pureed foods just as they would consume if they could chew harder foods.
Here are the foods we recommend you puree:
- Ripe avocados
- Ripe bananas
- Canned fruits
- Cooked vegetables
- Ice cream
- Cottage cheese
- Cooked chicken
- Cooked fish
- Cooked meat
- Cooked hot cereal
- Cooked oatmeal
- Cooked rice
- Cooked pasta
What Foods Cannot Be Pureed?
The variety of foods that you can puree for your senior parent or loved one is extensive. That said, not all food is eligible for pureeing in a blender or food processor.
You could damage your appliances by pureeing some foods. Much more importantly, they’re difficult for the elderly to process. Here’s a list of foods that should not be part of a pureed dish.
From chicken skins to foods that contain tough skins such as grapes or peas, these foods don’t puree well. The skins will survive blending and prove far too much for your senior to ingest.
As the list above illustrates, you can cook cereal and blend it with no problem.
What you should not do is pour cereal straight from the box and into the blender. It’s too hard and crunchy. Plus, it will only make a dry powder. With a liquid in the blender, the dry cereal will become a liquid powder.
Should you want to puree a soft, fresh bread product, you can. Avoid any overly tough and hard parts of bread, such as stale crusts or dried bread that should be thrown away.
Raw fruits are usually okay for pureeing, but raw veggies are not, especially tubers like potatoes. Your senior will not be able to eat vegetables with a hard texture.
If you want to make a dish containing root vegetables or a potato puree, it’s a good idea to either cook them first and then puree, or use something like potato flakes.
Nuts and Seeds
A great way to break your food processor or blender is by pouring nuts and seeds into the chute. These hard foods don’t blend well, and the shards of shredded nuts in a puree can pose a serious hazard to the elderly.
The Grind Dining Program
A fairly new program being implemented in assisted living facilities (ALF) is called Grind Dining and it was developed by two chefs from Atlanta, Georgia – Sarah Gorham and Stone Morris.
Basically, the idea was to serve meals that looked appealing, tasted appealing but yet were “pureed”.
The technique they came up with, called “grind dining,” takes favorite foods and reinterprets them in an easier-to-digest, handheld form, while retaining familiar textures and flavors.washingtonian.com
They are doing a great job with this program so if you’re interested in reading more about it, click here. And if you or a senior loved one is living in an ALF, consider talking to them about this beautiful new way to present meals.
As a person ages, their ability to chew and swallow hard foods decreases. Pureeing food with a blender or food processor is common, but you can also blend by hand if you must.
Remember to avoid nuts and seeds, foods with tough skins, raw veggies, and dry food when selecting which foods to puree for the senior in your life.
With a little extra work, you can continue to make nutritious and delicious pureed meals for your loved one.