Eating is a social experience. We’ve done it all our lives!
A Common Pleasure
Think back to some of your favorite holidays. There is always a common theme that accompanies any celebration: food. Even in our fast pace culture, people still set aside time to enjoy eating together. Socializing over food has emotional health benefits as well as nutritional ones. It can help us feel a sense of belonging; give us something to look forward to; and, create a memorable bonding experience with friends and family.
As a speech language pathologist, I often heard from family members that their loved one, who once enjoyed socializing at mealtime, was now shying away from it. They no longer found joy in sharing this experience. During therapy sessions, I would provide some suggestions to help negate these challenges realizing the impact socializing can have on overall recovery.
If you’re thinking about taking someone who is on a restricted diet out to eat, review restaurant menus in advance to see if they have food items that would accommodate specific needs. For example, some people may require pureed food (IDDSI Level 4) for safety. You might find a menu item like custard, pudding, soup or mash potatoes that would fit this criteria. If this isn’t possible, don’t hesitate to bring your own food. The goal is for everyone to be present (and comfortable) at the event and enjoy socializing with one another.
Another option might be to arrange an informal get-together with other patients and their families who find themselves in similar situations. Encourage everyone around the table to enjoy conversation, develop camaraderie, and celebrate the experience rather than focusing on disabilities. Often support groups or clinician-lead presentations will help promote these types of gatherings.
I also encourage families not to be afraid to inform others how to include their loved one in an activity. Help friends and family explore ways to incorporate them in events, even if food is involved. Explain their current diet and what foods they can and cannot tolerate. It’s surprising how creative people can be in finding appropriate solutions that meet dietary needs and swallowing specifications.
Introducing the EAT Bar
When developing the concept of the EAT Bar, we considered the important role food plays in a person’s ability to socialize; for instance, when guests come to visit. It is commonplace to serve a refreshment and/or a cookie. With cookies and other treats, a person with dysphagia may hold the food in the mouth and seem unable to swallow or may be at risk of choking on texture. In this instance, you might serve the quick-melting EAT Bar instead. The delicious flavor and crunchy bite is a tasty and safer refreshment that everyone can enjoy.