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Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing.
Chewing breaks food into smaller particles and mixes it with saliva to form a bolus or ball of food that can be easily swallowed.
Although chewing should be a painless process, some people may need soft foods that can easily be chewed to avoid pain or discomfort.
Fortunately, most everyday foods can be prepared in a way that makes them softer and easier to eat.
This article provides a list of soft foods and includes a sample soft foods diet menu.
What is a soft foods diet and who needs one?
A soft foods diet includes foods that are soft and easy to eat.
Soft foods should be able to easily be broken apart with the side of a fork or spoon (1).
The food should also remain squashed and not regain its shape after being pressed by a fork.
A soft foods diet may be needed due to:
- Teeth problems. Infected, broken, or missing teeth can cause chewing difficulties and pain.
- Ill-fitting dentures. Dentures that are too big or too small can make chewing uncomfortable and decrease bite force capacity.
- Oral procedures and surgeries. New braces or dentures, wisdom tooth removal, or tooth extraction, can make chewing difficult or painful.
- Weight loss surgery. Soft foods are commonly used as a stepping stone to a normal diet after gastric bypass or other types of weight-loss surgeries.
- Certain conditions. Conditions like TMJ and myasthenia gravis can make chewing painful or tiring.
A soft foods diet is usually only necessary for a short time until the pain or discomfort with chewing is resolved.
For others, however, the underlying reason for the chewing difficulties or pain may not be resolvable, in which case a soft foods diet may be needed long-term.
Although soft foods can make swallowing easier and less painful, a soft foods diet is only intended for people with difficulties chewing, not swallowing.
Difficulty with swallowing is known as dysphagia.
There are several levels to a dysphagia diet in which the texture of beverages, foods, or both, are modified to promote safe and efficient swallowing.
A pureed diet is one example of a dysphagia diet level.
Soft foods to eat
Most everyday foods are naturally soft or can be softened with cooking and moistening.
Here are a few tips for following a soft foods diet:
- cook foods in liquids like broth or water until soft
- use butter, gravies, and sauces to add moisture and calories
- most canned foods tend to already be soft
Soft foods to eat include:
- Fruits: applesauce and other pureed fruits, ripe avocado, bananas, peaches, and pears, and canned apricots, cherries, and mandarin oranges
- Vegetables: well-cooked or canned beans, broccoli and cauliflower florets, carrots, mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, peas, and green beans
- Grains: grits, oatmeal, pasta, rice, and well-moistened breads, breakfast cereals, crackers, and pancakes
- Dairy: butter, cottage cheese, cream, custard, ice cream, pudding, soft cheeses, and yogurt
- Poultry: eggs and skinless ground or shredded chicken and turkey
- Meats: meatballs, meatloaf, pulled pork, roast, shredded or ground beef, and soft tofu
- Seafood: catfish, crab meat, haddock, halibut, herring, lobster, mackerel, pollock, salmon, sea bass, and tuna
- Others: almond or peanut butter, casseroles, hummus, soups, and stews
Foods to avoid
When following a soft foods diet, avoid foods that are:
- Dry and crumbly, like crackers, pie crust, biscuits, and bread
- Hard, like candies, nuts, and seeds
- Tough or chewy, like well-cooked meats, bacon, and dried fruit
- Crispy or crunchy, like fried foods, pastries, and apples
- Stringy or fibrous, like asparagus, celery, and pineapple
- Sticky, like fruit snacks, licorice, and marshmallows
3-day sample soft foods diet menu
Here’s a 3-day sample soft foods diet menu rich in protein:
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs, Kodiac protein pancakes, and canned pears
- Lunch: salmon, white rice, and well-cooked broccoli florets
- Snack: Greek yogurt and applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon
- Dinner: pot roast with potatoes and carrots
Day 2 (vegetarian)
- Breakfast: tofu scramble and oatmeal topped with banana slices
- Lunch: vegan lentil soup with bread for dipping
- Snack: vegan protein shake and mandarin oranges
- Dinner: soft tofu broccoli pasta
- Breakfast: spinach omelet and oatmeal topped with banana slices
- Lunch: beef and vegetable stew with bread for dipping
- Snack: cottage cheese topped with canned peaches
- Dinner: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and canned green beans
The bottom line
Soft foods are soft, tender, and easy to chew.
You may need a soft foods diet if you have teeth problems, ill-fitting dentures, certain conditions like TMJ or myasthenia gravis, or after a procedure or surgery.
Most people only need to follow a soft foods diet for a short period, but others may rely on the diet long-term if the underlying reason for chewing difficulties or pain cannot be adequately treated.
The good news is that most everyday foods are naturally soft or can be made soft to make chewing easier and less painful.