Travel Tips for the Dysphagia Patient

How to Eat in an Airport or on a Flight

For the patient with swallowing disorders, taking a flight requires planning ahead. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has rules, but it is not that difficult to bring food to the airport.

In the common areas of an airport, it might be difficult to get pureed food in a restaurant. If you are in the common areas or even in a restaurant, you may eat a take-along pureed meal. Most restaurants would not object to a person with special dietary needs bringing food. One could buy a beverage, and use Instant Thickeners to thicken the purchased beverage.

The take-along meal may be prepared especially for the trip or may be one of the meals on hand in the fridge or freezer. Food that will be consumed in the common areas in the airport may be in any size container. Probably, it would be wise to carry in a cooler for food safety. Most restaurants would allow a dish to be heated in the restaurant microwave for 30 seconds at 50 percent power.

Take-along meals include thickened soups and even thickened meatloaf and mashed potatoes. See the Guidebooks for recipes. One could also bring yogurt-based smoothies with fruit, but the fruit should be of proper texture (i.e. put through a nutrition extractor until liquefied). Add Instant Thickener to the fruit and yogurt shake. It will then have a pudding consistency safe for the swallow. The travel shake should be prepared according to the standard method for creating any dish in the dysphagia kitchen. It should be of the appropriate thickness. The shake must not contain skins, seeds or fiber. If necessary, put the fruit through a mesh sieve with a silicone spatula.

In order to check in for a flight, the rules set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allow 3 containers of fluids of less than 3.4 ounces. This is called the 3-3-1 Rule. The 3 containers must fit into a one-quart zip bag. This means that your ordinary one-cup serving of an entrée is divided in three allowing you to have one meal on the plane. This is obviously better than starving until you get to your destination on flights that no longer serve meals.

Thickened shakes and soups easily fall within the approved foods. Even pureed protein and a side dish would qualify as a soup, since it is in liquid form. Hummus and tuna, with a base of pureed bulgur wheat or quinoa, kasha pureed with chicken, a pureed fish taco that uses polenta instead of a tortilla and whitefish with salsa are all great ways to get protein and a satisfying carb for the flight.

TSA Approved Foods

  • Creamy Dips and Spreads
  • Gravy
  • Jam and Jelly
  • Maple Syrup
  • Oils and Vinegars
  • Pies and Cakes
  • Salad Dressing
  • Salsa and Sauces
  • Soups
  • Yogurt

Foods pureed for the dysphagia diet fit the general description of these categories. Most of the meals and snacks discussed above would make use of and have the same consistency as the foods mentioned in the TSA list. It might not be a bad idea to call the airline at the time of booking when the question of the traveler having special needs comes up. This will be noted on your ticket, and the TSA agent will be able to view it. For the sake of clarity, I would travel with a note from a health care provider stating the reason for carrying pureed foods. I also recommend clearly labeling the food containers.

It’s also a good idea to have a kit in your purse with a zip container holding individual serving packets of Instant Thickener, for use on the road. Even if you could get clearance to bring your own NutriBullet on a flight, I doubt if airline regulations would permit the stewards on board to buzz your shakes on the airline. In this day and age, they would probably only do it in their own blenders. The kind of blenders that they have in the bar. Those bar blenders are not high-speed enough to render a shake suitable for the patient with swallowing difficulties, so don’t even go there. Perhaps at your destination, you will have arranged in advance to have a NutriBullet waiting for you. You may have discussed having this appliance at the destination hotel or the place where you will be a guest.

You might also want to travel with individual packets of protein powder. If you have a good high-speed blender or nutritional extractor waiting for you, individual packets of smooth, nut butters will add protein to a shake. Knowing you have control over your diet makes for stress-free travel. If you are planning a stay of months, say, a summer at the lake, then send your kitchen appliance ahead, so it is waiting for you when you arrive. The double kitchen is a strategy that I employed to excellent advantage when traveling with my mom — a kitchen at home and a kitchen at the destination. This cuts down on lugging. I have also lugged kitchen appliances in rolling duffle bags, but that was for car travel.

For Flying

Plan ahead. Call the TSA. Sometimes even approved foods will be subjected to screening. If the container is sealed, and the container is in a zip bag or wrapped in plastic wrap, additional screening, meaning a fast x-ray, should not be a problem. Perhaps some of the best meals to take along in a pureed state, in an insulated lunch bag, might be salads with grains and protein. These can be prepared ahead and pureed with a nutrition extractor, such as a Nutribullet.

Take a look at this link for a slideshow of recipes for whole grain salads. I recommend preparing the greens in the nutrition extractor with the salad dressing and a small amount of water to make sure that the greens and any other raw vegetables are thoroughly liquefied. Pass them through a mesh sieve with a silicone spatula if necessary. Make sure to prepare the grains in an electric pressure cooker or a rice cooker to make sure that the husk is softened for the puree. If adding dried fruit, such as cranberry, make sure the fruit is hydrated for ten minutes in warm water before adding to the rice cooker or pressure cooker to cook with the grain.

For the Puree

Allow the grain to cool. Use the nutrition extractor to liquefy the vegetables and the protein. When the grain has cooled, add a half cup or a cup to the small cup of the nutrition extractor and puree to a smooth texture. Add the salad dressing and the liquefied greens and protein. The grain will thicken the puree. Add a pump or a scoop of Instant Thickener to bind the salad dressing into the puree. Remember, if you are flying, the big secret is to be prepared! Don’t stay home!

Swirl Ahead!


Featured photo credit: MoneyforCoffee via Pixabay, cc