Eating With Your Eyes

Welcome to the Essential Puree System.

I like to think that running a puree kitchen is a fun adventure. Cooking is creative. Yet it must be admitted that one encounters a problem with the dysphagia patient, (one with swallowing difficulties).

The pureed entree, as a friend of mine said, looks like a bowl of oatmeal. The look of the diet could be boring over time.

How to get around this problem was my first big challenge in preparing meals for my mom. She was a great cook herself and she was a discriminating diner, used to eating great food. She was a food critic in her own way, if the truth be told.

I am an Asian scholar, and I have long been a student of meditation. I realized something. Healing begins in the mind. So does pleasure in food. The solution: We eat with our eyes.

To solve the problem, I engaged my mother’s sense of smell and her sense of sight. I used the faculties she had to make up for the ability she lost through the dementia (which caused the swallowing problems).

I involved my mother in the process of shopping when she was still able to go out. I took her with me to the farmers’ market and let her help select the fruits and vegetables. She felt involved. When we returned home, I cooked the dish and the smells filled the house.

I had an herb garden on the deck, and I let her smell the fresh basil and parsley, rosemary and tarragon, that were going into the dish.

When the dish was cool enough, I brought it to her so she could see it and smell it. A bowl of pea soup. A plate of pasta with meatballs. A piece of fish with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Barbecued pork and cole slaw. Chicken pot pie.

When the puree came, she ate with enthusiasm and pleasure, even though she ate slowly with swallows of water in between mouthfuls.

When my mother became bedridden, I brought the new fruits and vegetables for her to see them, either in her green chair in the family room or in her bedroom.

It was a good system. She often smiled with pleasure and bent her head forward to get the full aroma of the food. She smiled and my memory of her smile will always remain with me. My mother enjoyed her food. Quality of life ruled supreme.

Note: Caregivers in an institutional setting could use images of the ingredients on a tablet, laptop or flat screen. They could also photograph the cooked dish and show the photo on screen. This is the way to engage the patient’s mind. Even with dementia, my mother liked seeing and smelling delicious food. This is being creative and it works.