Food Options on a Mechanical Soft Diet

What to Eat and What to Avoid

bowl of oatmeal with honey
Paula Connelly/istock

A mechanical soft diet is made up of foods that are easy to chew and swallow. It gets its name from the fact that household tools and machines, such as a blender, food processor, grinder, masher, or knife, are used to make foods easier to eat. It's useful for people with swallowing disorders (dysphagia) or those who have trouble chewing food after radiation therapy of the head and neck or while learning to wear dentures. The diet may also be helpful for people who are too ill to chew regular foods or are transitioning from a liquid diet to eating regular foods.

Rules and Guidelines

Most foods can be included in a mechanical soft diet as long as they're cooked, chopped, blended, ground, or shredded. That means you'll be able to get some of all the necessary nutrients into your diet.

The main rule is to avoid all foods that are difficult to chew, including tough meats, raw vegetables, bread with thick crusts, nuts, seeds, or anything crunchy.

You can eat cooked fruits and vegetables, ground meats, soft cheese, and other dairy products, and softened bread and cereals. Any liquid is okay, too.

Legumes are fine as long as they're cooked properly. Anything that's chopped should be smaller than 1/4 inch in size. Bread, cereals, saltines, and plain cookies can be slurried (softened with some liquid) before eating.

Foods You Can Eat

All liquids are allowed on a mechanical soft diet. You can also eat these foods:

Milk Products:

  • Yogurt
  • Soft cheese, cottage cheese, or cream cheese
  • Sour cream

Meat and Protein:

  • Eggs
  • Ground cooked chicken, turkey, beef, or pork
  • Thinly shaved deli meats chopped into small pieces
  • Baked, poached, or broiled fish
  • Smooth tuna, egg, or chicken salad without raw vegetables
  • Silken tofu
  • Hummus
  • Well-cooked, moistened, and mashed dried beans, peas, and legumes
  • Smooth nut butter

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Mashed cooked vegetables without seeds or skins
  • Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes without skins
  • Soft fruits without skins
  • Applesauce or other cooked, pureed fruits

Soups and Stews:

  • Clear or creamed soups
  • Soups or stews with ground meat or vegetables

Breads, Cereals, and Starches:

  • Cream of wheat or oatmeal
  • Plain bran cereals that can be softened in milk
  • White bread and crackers softened with liquid
  • Cooked white rice or pasta

Fats:

  • Butter, margarine, oils, vegetable shortening
  • Gravies and sauces

Desserts:

  • Ice cream and frozen desserts without nuts or other add-ins
  • Pudding and custard
  • Plain cake and soft cookies without nuts, raisins, or candies
  • Graham crackers softened with milk

Other:

  • Condiments
  • Salad dressings
  • Sugar, honey, molasses, or syrup
  • Jams and jellies without seeds
  • Salt, pepper, spices

Foods to Avoid

While the "chew rule" can pretty much direct which foods you can eat and which to avoid, there are certain foods you should especially avoid:

Milk Products:

  • Hard cheeses
  • Cheeses with nuts or seeds

Meat and Protein:

  • Hot dogs or sausages
  • Fried fish
  • Meaty fish like haddock, halibut, and tuna
  • Shellfish
  • Crunchy nut butter
  • Nuts and seeds

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Raw vegetables
  • Stir-fried vegetables
  • Fried vegetables
  • Fruit with pits or skins
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole olives
  • Coconuts

Breads, Cereals, and Starches:

  • Bread, muffins, or cake with seeds, nuts, or dried fruit
  • Rye, pumpernickel, or sourdough bread
  • Kasha (buckwheat) and wild rice
  • Shredded wheat and granola
  • French fries or hash browns
  • Crackers, melba toast, and croutons
  • Toast
  • Popcorn
  • Chips
  • Granola bars

Desserts/Other:

  • Crunchy cookies
  • Pies with crust
  • Chewy or hard candy
  • Jelly or jam with seeds

If you're on a mechanical soft diet because of a dental problem, oral surgery, or mouth sores, avoid acidic or spicy foods like vinegar, mustard, Tabasco sauce, or chili seasoning.

Sample Menu

Here's are some examples of meals you can eat when you’re on a mechanical soft diet. The amounts can be adjusted to match your appetite and calorie needs. It can be difficult to eat a healthy balanced diet, so speak to a dietitian or nutritionist if you're required to stay on a mechanical soft diet for more than a few days.

Breakfast

  • 1 cup fruit juice
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal with sugar or honey and milk
  • 1 glass of water or cup of coffee

Morning Snack

  • 1 cup yogurt with honey
  • 1 cup tea

Lunch

  • 1 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1/2 cup tuna salad
  • 1 slice white bread (slurried if necessary)
  • 1 glass of cows milk or soy milk

Afternoon Snack

  • 1 cup ice cream
  • 1 glass of water

Dinner

  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup cooked crumbled ground beef moistened with gravy
  • 1 glass of cows milk, soy milk, or your favorite beverage

Nighttime Snack

  • 1 piece of cake with frosting and 1 glass of cows milk or soy milk 

You may have additional dietary restrictions, so it's best to speak with your healthcare provider about this diet, especially if you have any health conditions or specific dietary concerns.

Tips and Considerations

If you find it difficult to eat due to severe mouth, jaw, or throat pain, you may find it easier to prepare six smaller meals each day instead of three larger ones.

If you experience constipation while on the diet, try drinking prune juice or adding bran to milkshakes, cream soups, or yogurt. You might also add whole grain cereal to your oatmeal or cream of wheat at breakfast.

A soft foods diet can't deliver all the nutrition you need over the long term. If you require a mechanical soft food diet for more than a couple of weeks, you'll likely need to speak to your doctor about the appropriate daily nutritional supplement.

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