Help my dad enjoy eating again
January 5, 2008 1:41 PM   Subscribe

My father is several years on from surgery to remove a lymphoma in his neck (between his trachea and his esophagus I think). He has recovered wonderfully except for some scarring that has affected his voice (minor) and ability to eat much solid food. I want to help him find new ways to enjoy eating again.

He eats lots of soup, thin oatmeal, and other foods of similar consistency and even then with some problems. It takes some time, with lots of throat clearing - I think that food randomly gets hung up in some scar tissue pocket in his esophagus. He also blends many regular meals straightaway, only adding boiling water. Perhaps nutritious, but not a satisfying experience - think thanksgiving dinner through a blender – it’s all in there, but…

He has dealt with this grace and good cheer, as he is happy to be alive and content with sacrifice generally. However, in recent months I can tell this is beginning to wear on him. I’m concerned about adequate nutrition and his enjoyment from eating. He does use nutrition shakes (ensure) while traveling and is in touch regularly with his doctors.

So, I’m hoping to find some ideas that will help us deal with this in a new way:
- Ideas for meals prepared via the blender
- Implements to use beyond a blender
- Books that might to help him with simple “blender cooking”
- Exercises to improve his ability to swallow easily
- Anecdotes from similar experiences would be most welcome

Thanks folks. I know this is wide open - hoping our diverse perspectives can really make a difference for him…
posted by jethrographic to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had jaw surgery about 3 years ago, so had to eat through a straw for about a month (and then soft foods only for a few months thereafter), so I really feel for your dad.

The nutritional content of soups -- heck, just about anything, really -- can be boosted by blending in soft tofu. I found it worked especially well with hearty vegetable cream soups (butternut squash, roasted red pepper, corn chowder, etc.), but also would blend into chunkier soups (lentil, clam chowder, etc.) pretty well, too. If he's not already using an immersion blender for this purpose, definitely get one -- it makes the process much easier and efficient.

I also ate a lot of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, thinned out with milk and seasoned with broth, butter, etc. He could also blend in other cooked/roasted vegetables for different flavors and textures.

Smoothies and milkshakes, blended with lots of fruit (and calorie boosted with cream and/or chocolate syrup), were also a big staple. I would also frequently blend in a packet of Carnation instant breakfast for additional nutrients.

I had a couple of soft food cookbooks at the time, but I found I didn't really use them much -- I had a rough recovery from my surgery, so didn't have the energy to do anything much more complicated beyond what I mentioned above (especially since I knew it wasn't going to be a longterm situation). I don't think I have them anymore, but will be happy to let you know if I find them (I moved recently, and seem to recall puttiing them in one of the boxes of stuff I donated).
posted by scody at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2008

Can he eat hummus? Homemade is a lot better than store-bought, and it's better hot, not cold. How about foul medammes (blended, not whole beans)?

How about Greek yogurt? The best stuff is Fage, everything else is a pale imitation. It's widely available in US grocery stores. That stuff is so great with some lavender honey or thyme honey in it, or some sour cherry syrup. There's a Greek spoon-sweet called "vissino" made from sour cherries. He probably can't eat the solid parts (the cherries), but it has plenty of that delicious cherry syrup for pouring on Fage. There's really nothing like it. You can find it at Greek grocery stores, including online (which is how I buy mine).

He can find plenty of joy eating only things that have that texture!
posted by evariste at 2:16 PM on January 5, 2008

Here's the vissino I like. Seriously, the intense, concentrated burst cherry flavor in vissino spoon-sweets has to be tasted to be believed. It's intoxicatingly good.

Whole Foods sells the Fage yogurt, as do lots of other US grocery stores. And here's some thyme honey.

The vissino is awesome on ice cream, too-I imagine he can eat that?
posted by evariste at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2008

Your dad sounds worthy of some Heston Blumenthal-style tools for special meals: turn sauces, reductions, purees into froths or foams with some lecithin, try making melt-in-the mouth bubbles. It sounds very ostentatious, and I wouldn't expect him to go all Ferran Adrià, but holiday meals and special occasions are worth the effort, and anything to change up the texture is going to help.
posted by holgate at 2:57 PM on January 5, 2008

Did your dad ever enter into therapy with a speech-language pathologist? An SLP would have expertise in swallowing disorders and could suggest exercises, foods, and stuff like that. She might even be able to rehabilitate your dad to the point where he could eat soft foods. At the very least she could help him minimize the throat clearing and other trouble he has now. They could even do a video swallow study where they'd watch your dad swallow on x-ray to see exactly where the food is getting hung up.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2008

oh, i feel his pain. i had to go through a very restricted diet for a while to help diagnose some stomach problems. whenever people around me were eating something i couldn't, i would always smell it.

maybe if he could blend some heavy cream or butter into some of his purees--he would get calories, and hey, butter and cream are mighty delicious. also, i would imagine that lots of herbs and spices would help give him something to look forward if he can't vary the texture.

also, this might seems sort of gross, but would he be amenable to chewing a few bites and spitting it out? a lot of pleasure with food is the texture. the spitting might counteract the pleasure of the chewing, but it might be worth a shot, as long as he doesn't accidentally swallow it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:44 PM on January 5, 2008

Seconding all the above ideas - especially the immersion blender. You might see it called a stick blender also.

As a former chef, I can't help thinking that his food would taste much better if he blended each dish separately (rather than together as you mentioned for his Thanksgiving meal). The immersion blender will make this much easier as it can be easily cleaned between dishes by simply immersing it in hot water and running it for a couple of seconds.

Nearly any stew or simmer-based dish should make a nice puree for him. Another thought is baby food. I taste the food I feed my baby son, and the fruits especially are delicious. I make some of my own baby food starting with IQF (individually quick frozen) fruits, berries, and veggies. They are far tastier than the canned versions.

He could also try adding fresh, finely chopped herbs at the end of the blending process for a nice bit of flavor.
posted by AuntLisa at 6:51 PM on January 5, 2008

Does he have good dentition? Perhaps taking a long time to chew each bite and having it with a drink will help. Something like take a small bite of toast chew, and take some soup in the same mouthful. Maybe some soups from other cultures? I have an african peanut soup that I love to death.

I feel your pain, when people get g-tubed it seems that their enjoyment of life goes down the drain.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:02 PM on January 5, 2008

Has he been checked for simple stricture post surgery? My husbands developed one about 18 months post surgery and treatment. He had the same kinds of problems for about three months before he checked with his surgeon. A simple strecthing procedure almost totally corrected his problem.
posted by bjgeiger at 4:36 PM on January 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks folks - MIA for a bit. I really appreciate the help. Will definitely try to immersion blender (he had one at some point and lost it) and do more research into the doc recommendations. I'll also sum the menu/food suggestions and get them up to him soon. Again, thanks!
posted by jethrographic at 5:11 PM on January 14, 2008

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