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Choosing Foods When It’s Hard to Swallow

Dysphagia (pronounced dis-FAY-juh) is a medical condition that makes it hard to swallow. It can affect anyone but it is common among people at the end of life. By choosing foods that are easy for your loved one to swallow, you can improve nutrition and minimize the risk of choking.

General tips:

  • Choose moist, soft, easy-to-chew foods. Sauces and gravies add moisture as well.
  • Avoid foods that are tough, crunchy, or dry.
  • Your loved one may prefer to eat smaller meals more frequently.
  • If you have questions, ask your loved one’s hospice care team for advice or assistance.

Beverages

Beverages to Offer

  • Consistency is important—and clear, thin liquids like water or tea may be more difficult to swallow than thicker fluids. Your loved one’s hospice nurse may recommend beverages that are thick, like nectar or honey, or pudding

Beverages to Avoid

  • Follow the care team’s recommendations

Meats, Eggs, and Other Proteins

Food to Offer

  • Stewed, finely diced or ground, moist meats or meatloaf
  • Shredded, sliced, minced meats with gravy or sauces
  • Chopped or finely sliced chicken, egg, or tuna salad (no bread or bun)
  • Cottage cheese or plain yogurt
  • Eggs, cooked any style

Food to Avoid

  • Any whole pieces of meat or poultry that are not cooked in a sauce or served with gravy
  • Fish served without a sauce, or any fish with bones
  • Hot dogs, bacon, sausage, or turkey links or patties
  • Peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
  • Cubed hard cold cheese

Breads, Cereal, and Other Starchy Foods

Food to Offer

  • Hot cereal or cold cereal flakes thoroughly softened with water
  • Pancakes moistened with syrup
  • Pasta thoroughly cooked or soft casseroles

Food to Avoid

  • Bread, toast, bagels, dinner rolls, crackers
  • French toast or waffles
  • Sandwiches (including those served on a bun)
  • Pizza
  • Rice
  • Cold cereal with nuts or raisins
  • Granola

Fruits and Vegetables

Food to Offer

  • Soft cooked or canned fruit without seeds or skin
  • Ripe bananas
  • Applesauce or other home-stewed fruits
  • Vegetables cooked until soft or fork-tender

Food to Avoid

  • Raw or dried fruits, including grapes, pineapple, apricots, raisins
  • Raw vegetables including lettuce
  • Fibrous or dense vegetables, including corn, peas, broccoli

Soups

Food to Offer

  • Thickened cream soups
  • Puréed soups (strained)

Food to Avoid

  • All thin or broth-based soups (if thin liquids are unsafe)

Desserts

Food to Offer

  • Puddings, custards, flan
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream*, Jell-O*
  • Cheesecake without crusts

Food to Avoid

  • Cake, cookies, pies
  • Hard candy, chewing gum
  • Chewy desserts
  • Nuts, seeds, dried fruits

*Ice cream and Jell-O can vary in consistency. Always check with the care team first.

For more information, download our free patient guide.