“13 Great Tasting Soft Foods for the Elderly” was written by Cole Theobald. Edited/reviewed by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Cole is a freelance writer and dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University.
Soft Foods for the Elderly
Those struggling with oral health issues often require soft foods. Before we dive into our list of 13 great-tasting soft foods for the elderly, let’s take a deep dive into why soft foods may be needed.
Oral Health and Soft Foods
Certain conditions become more common as we move from young adulthood into advanced age. Things like infections, sensory loss, and chronic pain are more common in seniors than in younger adults. Additionally, oral health issues are more common in the senior population.
Oral health conditions can make it harder to eat. This in turn negatively impacts quality of life. One workaround could be integrating soft and hydrating foods into the diet.
Oral Health Issues in the Elderly
Xerostomia and Dysphagia
One of the more common issues that an older adult might face is xerostomia. Xerostomia is a fancy word for dry mouth. Most often stemming from polypharmacy, xerostomia is associated with an increased risk of developing dysphagia – difficulty swallowing (1).
This is partially due to a lack of saliva in the mouth. Saliva plays many roles in the mouth related to the process of digestion. Saliva moisturizes and lubricates the oral cavity and the throat to allow for easy passage of food to the stomach.
Without salvia, swallowing things can be very difficult.
Difficulty swallowing foods can dissuade or prevent a senior from enjoying favorite foods. And it can impact their ability to eat specific textures of foods. This is the basis of a texture-modified diet or a soft food diet.
If you are having issues with swallowing, always talk to your doctor ASAP. You may require additional tests to find the best diet for you.
Oral Pain and Missing Teeth
Oral pain can come in many forms. Inflammation, sores, blisters, or dental issues like missing teeth are all common causes of oral pain. This pain can be aggravated by eating or drinking hot, cold, spicy, sour, or crunchy foods.
In turn, it can deter someone from eating just as much as dysphagia can.
Xerostomia and saliva both play a role here as well. If the mouth is too dry, it can be easier for a microbe to form a plaque and take over. This is because they aren’t being washed over with liquid.
Additionally, saliva contains antimicrobial compounds that help to prevent overgrowth in the mouth.
Without saliva there protecting the mouth, inflammation and bacterial overgrowth are likely to synergize. This may end up resulting in dental caries and loss of teeth.
The loss of a tooth can impact the ability of a senior to consume regular foods; the loss of many teeth may require dentures to allow a senior to consume a regular diet.
Many aspects of oral health in seniors hinge on the ability to generate saliva. For many seniors, polypharmacy is the cause of dry mouth. And can be tough to regain the saliva because they need to be on these medications.
Over-the-counter saliva substitutes, swishing water around the mouth, and moistening foods before eating them can help to mitigate the damages of dry mouth.
Maintaining an oral health routine can be a great way to reduce the likelihood of developing an oral health issue. This includes flossing, brushing, and using fluoridated rinses. They even make mouthwashes specifically for people with xerostomia.
Talk to your dentist and healthcare team about the best solutions for you.
Lastly, it is always wise to visit the dentist to get an expert opinion on oral health. Ideally, you should try to visit at least twice a year. But once a year is much better than never!
For more information on oral health in the older adult population, click here.
Impacts of Declining Oral Health
If a part of your body hurts, you are less likely to use it. The same holds true for the mouth. When dealing with oral health issues, it only makes sense that someone might feel a decrease in their appetite.
Aside from pain, oral health issues like dry mouth or infections can lead to a decreased sensation of taste. Or a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth which can make food less appealing to eat.
Keeping foods interesting, flavorful, and palatable is one of the key aspects of rebuilding a senior’s appetite. Additionally, forming meals around a routine, or including them in a social setting can boost appetite as well.
Risk for Malnutrition
When someone has a decreased appetite, among any number of oral health issues, it can make it difficult to get enough food during any given day.
This may result in protein/calorie malnutrition or any number of micronutrient deficiencies over a long enough period of time.
Preventing Unintended Weight Loss
Preventing unintended weight loss is important for older adults. Unintended weight loss is associated with a number of negative health outcomes in addition to those from oral health issues.
Increased fall risk, decreased mobility, and decreased ability be independent are all potential risks with weight loss.
For some more information on preventing weight loss and calorie-dense foods for weight gain, click here!
13 Great Tasting Soft Foods for the Elderly
Without further ado, here is our list of soft foods for the elderly. Keep in mind this list is just to get you started. You may find other delicious soft foods as well.
- Nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter are a good way to add flavor to soft foods. Or they can be eaten on their own.
- On top of their strong flavor profile, they have a pretty strong nutrient profile as well. Nut butters are generally high in healthy fats and proteins, as well as numerous vitamins, minerals, and calories.
- One potential issue with these kinds of foods is their thickness. Sometimes these foods might be too thick or sticky to eat for people with dry mouth. Or for those with difficulties maneuvering their tongues around.
- It may be wise to thin nut butters out somewhat so that they go down easier.
- Fruits are delicious, but unfortunately, many commonly enjoyed fruits like apples or oranges are difficult for adults with oral health issues to eat. This means that they may be missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and fiber that fruits have to offer.
- Pureeing fruits can be a great option to reincorporate them into an older adults’ diet.
- Things like applesauce and mashed banana are classic options. But virtually any fruit can be potentially pureed into an easily eatable form.
- Different flavors can also be mixed together. Strawberry kiwi is another classic flavor, but what about strawberry basil, or strawberry mint? Experiment, and find delicious combinations!
- Flaky fish are a healthy and delicious option for older adults who need to avoid chewing. The muscular proteins in fish are different from those in red meat and poultry. They come apart much easier than other animal proteins.
- Additionally, fish like salmon, trout, and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid.
- To pump up the flavor of fish, try experimenting with different marinades, herbs, spices, seasonings, and cooking techniques. Miso glazed salmon, lemon herbed trout, or a simple tuna salad are all excellent, flavorful options for fish.
Soups and stews
- When it comes to a soft food diet, soups and stews are versatile, tasty options for meals. As long as the soups don’t contain massive chunks of hard to chew food like stew beef or large chunks of pasta, they are easy to eat with oral health issues.
- Soups can also be a good way to incorporate more liquids into an older adult’s diet.
- There are so many possibilities for soups that it is almost impossible to list all of the available, flavorful varieties. You could try slow cooker or pressure cooker stews for an easy meal later in the day.
- You can opt for cream-based soups for increased calorie content. For some higher calorie soup options, click here!
- Some casseroles like shepherd’s pie, frittata, or pot pies are all potential soft food options that can serve as another kind of easy to cook meal.
- They are highly variable in their nutritional content. But generally these sorts of casseroles have some form of protein, some form of starch, and some nutrient dense vegetables. So they can serve as complete meals.
- Similar to soups and stews, because so many casseroles exist, it’s hard to recommend specific varieties.
- I will say that many casseroles that aren’t necessarily soft to begin with. However, they can be easily made into soft foods by how you prepare them.
- Chopping vegetables and proteins very fine, overcooking tough foods, and adding extra fluid to the casserole are all good options for changing the texture of the meal.
- Smoothies allow for all kinds of fruits and vegetables to be easily consumed by blending them up. Depending on the recipe you follow, smoothies can be a delicious and nutritious soft food option.
- If you want to boost the flavor of your smoothie, make it with yogurt or kefir instead of milk. Or with orange juice or a splash of lemon juice.
- If you’d like to boost the nutrient profile of the smoothie, try adding a tablespoon of chia seeds or a drizzle of flax oil. Additionally, leafy greens like spinach can usually be snuck into smoothies without creating any noticeable changes in flavor or texture.
- Click here for some great tasting, high protein smoothie options!
- Grains include foods like rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur wheat, and pastas.
- These foods, when normally prepared, are chewy and sometimes difficult for someone with oral health issues to effectively eat.
- Luckily, an easy fix for these grain foods is to overcook them (and add more liquids!). This will make them much softer than normal. And allow thosewith difficulty chewing an easier opportunity to eat these foods.
- Grains have a delicate flavor on their own, which can be difficult to taste. So it can be a good idea to flavor these foods with palatable flavors. Cheese flavor, tomato flavor, and onion/garlic flavor are all good options for pumping up the acceptability of these foods.
- Soft dairy products like cream cheese, cottage cheeses, and soft cheeses like brie can be somewhat bland on their own. They are, however, easy to dress up with other flavors from herbs and spices that can be added in without changing the texture.
- These soft products, in addition to milks and creams, are good ways to incorporate calcium, a highly important micronutrient for older adults, into a soft food diet.
- Cheeses can be mixed with flavorful herbs like dill, chives, or tarragon to make soft spreads that can be eaten over soft food items or just as is.
- Cottage cheese, in my opinion, only needs a little bit of salt and pepper to become a delicious snack or side dish.
Canned and preserved foods
- Canned and preserved foods, both from the store and at home, will have a changed texture. These foods often become softer and will not need to be chewed as much.
- Purchased canned or preserved foods are typically high in sodium and sugar, so take note of different options at the store before purchasing.
- With homemade preserved foods, you are better able to control the addition of sugar and salt. However, you may not be able to heat your preserves high enough to soften them like they could be industrially.
- Most canned produce, as well as frozen produce, that you can buy at the store is preserved at its peak ripeness and nutritional content.
- This means that this produce will taste a little more flavorful, depending on what it is, and it will contain some nutrients that would otherwise be lost with overripening.
- Eggs, when prepared in the right ways, can be a delicious option for a soft food breakfast.
- Avoid tougher, chewier methods like frying or hard boiling. Instead, opt for methods like poaching, scrambling, or used in a recipe like a quiche or a frittata.
- Eggs are a highly versatile food, and their general blandness allows them to soak up the flavors of whatever they are cooked with.
- Eggs also have one of the most complete nutritional profiles. Aside from vitamin C and fiber, whole eggs contain at least a little bit of every vitamin and mineral. They are also a complete protein, and the yolk of the egg provides healthy fats.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, squash, and peas are all great high-carb options generally speaking, but sometimes they need a few texture alterations to make them better able to be eaten by the elderly.
- These kinds of starches are best consumed after being steamed, boiled, or otherwise softened, and then mashed up with liquids.
- The empty canvas that is mashed potato can be flavored with cream and butter. The sweetness of mashed carrots can be enhanced by brown sugar. The grassiness of peas can be masked with the addition of mint.
- There are many ways that you can dress up these starches, making them great additions to meals as side dishes or as the main entrée itself.
- Soft desserts like flan, mousse, custard, Jell-o, and ice cream are all great tasting options for older adults with a sweet tooth.
- It should be obvious that these foods taste good, and they can be highly appetizing to someone who might not otherwise want to eat a whole lot.
- These dessert foods are pretty variable in their nutrient content, but across the board they are fairly high in sugars, and often in fats as well.
- They definitely have a place in every diet, but they should not be relied on to get all the calories that a senior needs in a day, because then they might not be getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and proteins that they need.
- While they might not be entirely desirable on their own, condiments like dressings, mustard, ketchup, relish, mayonnaise, and many others can all be used to bolster the flavor of otherwise bland soft foods.
- Usually, a condiment only needs to be used in small amounts to get a great boost of flavor, so you don’t have to worry a whole lot about sodium or sugar contents.
- If ketchup is getting too boring, try mixing it up with unique flavor combinations! Mayonnaise mixed with soy sauce can create a surprisingly tasty sauce for dipping or dressing, and many restaurants’ secret sauces (which is usually just thousand-island dressing) can be easily remade with ketchup, mayo, mustard, and relish.
Improving Soft Foods for the Elderly
How can you make soft foods for the elderly even better? Let’s look at texture, taste, and fortification.
Some textural modifications have already been mentioned throughout this article, like pureeing, mincing, moistening, and mashing. Some of these modifications can improve the acceptability of foods, but some might be too drastic of a change to be acceptable.
In these circumstances, it is usually necessary to improve the acceptability of a food in other ways.
Another way to modify foods is to make them taste better. It might seem self-explanatory, but if food tastes better, it makes someone more likely to want to eat it. Learning what tastes good to each specific person you’re making food for can help to increase the amounts of food eaten per meal.
Simple additions like sugar or salt can go a long way in increasing the acceptability of food, but these can be quickly taken too far and begin to encroach on nutrient acceptability.
One final modification that you can make to foods is fortification. Essentially, fortifying a food means that you are adding in nutrients that aren’t usually there. Industrially, food manufacturers often fortify foods by adding vitamins and minerals, like calcium and vitamin D to orange juice.
At home, there are ways that you can fortify foods as well. This fortification will come in the form of macronutrient additions that add calories to meals. For some examples of fortified foods, click here!
Soft Foods for the Eldery Conclusion
In all, soft foods for the elderly are often a necessity due to oral health issues like dysphagia or oral pain. Soft foods can be just as tasty as harder or crunchier foods, and some regular favorites can be easily transformed into great tasting soft foods.
For 75 more examples of soft foods for the elderly that you can incorporate into your diet, click here!
1: Marcott, S., Dewan, K., Kwan, M., Baik, F., Lee, Y. J., & Sirjani, D. (2020). Where Dysphagia Begins: Polypharmacy and Xerostomia. Federal practitioner : for the health care professionals of the VA, DoD, and PHS, 37(5), 234–241.