Easy-to-Eat Holiday Cheer

Article Highlights:
  • Limited mobility and weak eating muscles can make it awkward to enjoy holiday feasts.
  • Adapted utensils and equipment, special food preparation and adapted swallowing techniques make eating easier.
  • Simple precautions lower the risk of choking.
  • Easy-to-swallow recipes and cookbooks provide delicious holiday fare.
by Christina Medvescek on October 1, 2009 - 3:29pm

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 4

During the holidays, eating is as much about friends and family as it is about food. But when muscle weakness makes it difficult or impossible to eat by mouth, some shy away from coming to the table.

Nonsense, say those who’ve learned how to work around — or ignore — the social discomfort. Life’s too short to miss out on the fun. Below are adapted dining tips from therapists and people with weak muscles, along with a few easy-to-swallow holiday recipes that all guests can enjoy.

Limited mobility

  • Have your food cut up in the kitchen before serving (restaurants will do this too).
  • Use adapted tableware such as utensils with thick and/or angled handles, a “rocker knife” that cuts without a sawing action, and plate guards that snap on the side of the plate and make it easy to load up the fork.
  • Many foods can be blended and enjoyed with a large-sized straw; water supply tubing can be cut to the exact length desired.
  • The Arm Thing by MTE helps get your hand to your mouth (www.mtedevices.com).

The Arm Thing

Weak swallow

  • “Glue” together dry or crumbly foods with applesauce, gravy, yogurt, pudding or pureed baby foods.
  • Lightly toasted bread can be easier to swallow than untoasted; alternate bites with sips of liquid.
  • Puree roast, steak, fowl or fish, then mix with mashed potatoes (not instant). Add half-and-half to desired consistency; reheat in microwave then add a couple pats of butter. Season to taste.
  • Puree ham with either peaches or sweet potatoes; use juice to thin.
  • Curry powder, Dijon mustard, garlic juice or garlic powder are excellent spices for canned, strained meats.
  • If milk causes excessive or thick mucus, use nondairy creamer.
  • Use adapted swallowing methods, such as tilting the chin down while swallowing. For more, consult your MDA clinic team, a speech-language pathologist, or MDA’s online cookbook Meals for Easy Swallowing.

Feeding tubes

  • An industrial-strength food processor, such as the Vita-Mix 5000 (www.vita-mix.com), can reduce any menu to a consistency fine enough to go through the tube without needing to be diluted with too much water. Some feeding tube users claim they can taste food eaten in this way.
  • The “taste-and-spit” method allows enjoyment of special treats without swallowing.

Avoid choking

  • Don’t talk while eating.
  • Take small bites and sips, and swallow several times with each bite.
  • If eating is tiring, a nap before a big meal may yield more energy and increase safety.
  • Unless prohibited by another medical condition or medication, alcohol isn’t harmful to most people with neuromuscular disease. But alcohol’s effects may magnify existing problems with movement, coordination and respiration, and can lead to choking. Drink in moderation and in a safe situation with others around.

Easy-Swallow Recipes


1-½ lbs. ground cooked ham
1 lb. ground pork
1 can (10-½ oz.) condensed onion soup
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 cup soft rye bread crumbs

LOAF: Mix thoroughly ¾ cup soup, ham, pork, bread crumbs and egg. In shallow baking dish (13x9x2”), shape firmly into ring (2-inches high with 4-inch opening). Bake at 350 F for 90 minutes.

GLAZE:  In small saucepan, combine remaining soup, brown sugar, vinegar, and mustard. Heat; stir occasionally. Brush loaf often with glaze while baking.


2 lbs. zucchini or summer squash
3 Tbsps. onion, chopped fine
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsps. parsley flakes
½ to 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice squash in ½-inch pieces. Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Boil 3 minutes or until tender. Drain well, add onion, eggs and seasoning. Mix until well blended. Butter a 1-quart casserole dish and add squash mixture. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes or until brown.


1 lb. can sweet potatoes (drained)
1 can crushed pineapple (8-¾ oz., drained)
1 egg
2 Tbsps. melted butter
½ tsp. salt
dash pepper
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup cranberry sauce

Whip together. Swirl in ½ cup cranberry sauce. Spoon into 8 greased ramekins. Top each with 1 Tbsp. cranberry sauce. Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes.


18 gingersnap cookies
12 oz. softened cream cheese
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup corn syrup

Place 18 baking cups in muffin tins. Put 1 gingersnap in each cup. Beat cream cheese, sugar, corn starch, and pumpkin pie spice with an electric mixer until well mixed.  Add eggs and blend well.  Add pumpkin and syrup and beat 1 minute. Pour filling into cups, dividing evenly. Bake in a preheated 325 F oven for 30-35 minutes until just set. Chill for 1 hour before serving. 

This recipe came from Debbie Button of Jarrettsville, Md., whose son, Joe, lived to adulthood with spinal muscular atrophy type 1. She is putting together a cookbook of easy-to-swallow recipes. Debbie can be reached at debbiebutton@verizon.net or by contacting Quest.

Note: The Glazed Ham Ring, Baked Squash Casserole and Sweet Potato Berried Treasure Puffs are from MDA's online cookbook, Meals for Easy Swallowing.

The I-Can’t-Chew Cookbook: Delicious Soft Diet Recipes for People with Chewing, Swallowing and Dry Mouth Disorders, by J. Randy Wilson, 2003, Hunter House.

Good Housekeeping Blend It! 150 Sensational Recipes to Make in Your Blender — Frappes, Smoothies, Soups, Pancakes, Frozen Cocktails and More, by Barbara Chernitz, 2003, Hearst.

The Dysphagia Cookbook, by Elayne Achilles, 2003, Cumberland House.

Easy-to-Swallow, Easy-to-Chew Cookbook: Over 150 Tasty and Nutritious Recipes for People Who Have Difficulty Swallowing, by Donna L. Weihofen, 2002, Wiley.

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