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12 Alternatives to Popcorn Friday for People with Dysphagia

It's fun to watch the Friday treat cart stroll the halls of a facility, bringing smiles to everyone... staff, patients, visitors. It's a ray of sunshine at the end of the week. But then it breaks my heart when people who have dysphagia are passed over.

Popcorn is cheap and easy to make and is usually what is stocked on these treat carts. However, it is notoriously one of the most difficult things to swallow safely. In this fiber-optic endoscopic swallow study, it's easy to see how the residue gets stuck in the vallecula.

Denying a special treat to someone because of their medical condition seems a bit in bad taste, so to speak. With dysphagia affecting up to 68% of elderly nursing home residents, up to 30% of elderly admitted to the hospital, and up to 64% of patients after stroke (Sura et al, 2012), it's time that we offer a special selection of treats specifically chosen for people who have dysphagia.

There are a variety of reasons why having a dysphagia snack cart is valuable for a facility:

  • Bringing awareness to the patient, the patient's family, and staff about the importance of diet modifications to reduce the risk of aspiration.
  • Including all patients/residents in activities, regardless of medical diagnosis or ability to participate.
  • Valuing the individual needs of each patient.

Below are 12 food items that would fall within the level 2 or level 3 national dysphagia diet standards. I have included nutritional information to compare with popcorn as well as links to purchase in order to compare costs.

The traditional snack: Popcorn

Alternative snacks for people with dysphagia

1. Pirate’s Booty

Pirate's Booty has no artificial colors, flavors, or ingredients. It is gluten free and has 0g trans fat per serving. It's a crunchy, tasty snack that melts in the mouth.

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2. Annie's Organic White Cheddar Bunny Tail Baked Corn Puffs

Organic, baked (not fried), gluten-free, and 8 grams of whole grains per serving. A crunchy meltable.

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3. Veggie Straws

Another great salty, crunchy, meltable snack. 30% less fat than potato chips. No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

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4. Trader Joe's Belgian Butter Waffle Cookie Crisps

These classical Belgian biscuits are baked to a golden brown and are perfectly crunchy. Thin and crispy.

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5. Hippeas Organic Chickpea Puffs

Light and crunchy, HIPPEAS are low-calorie, certified organic, certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher and non-GMO. HIPPEAS have 3-grams of fiber and 4-grams of protein per single-serve, 1-ounce bag.

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6. Pea Crisps

Made from ground up pea flour, the snack is extruded into the shape of been pods and then baked. Salty, crunchy, meltable.

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7. Trader Joe's Sour Cream & Onion Corn Puffs

Although in appearance they resemble packing peanuts, they're definitely crunchy on the exterior with their puffy popcorn-like interior with no kernels like popcorn. They're light and easy to munch down.

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8. Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux Cookies

A sweet caramelized crisp with a delicate crunch. Thin and crispy.

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9. Funyuns

The classic snack with a crisp texture and zesty onion flavor.

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10. Trader Joe's Vanilla Meringues Cookies

Sweet, light and airy, crunchy and crispy at the same time.

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11. Kinder Bueno Mini

A delicious mini bite size version of the very popular Kinder Bueno bar. Kinder Bueno is a wafer with hazelnut filling covered in milk chocolate.Soft, with a slight crunch, and meltable.

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12. Lay’s classic potato chips

Perhaps this last one is a little more controversial as to where it falls in the "mechanical soft" realm. Generally, if chips are easily broken up, thin, crispy, and crunchy, they fall within the realm of level 3. Lay's classic potato chips traditionally have that very thin, very light, very meltable texture.

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