A specialist Bromley college is innovating the way young people with swallowing problems eat and wants others to do the same.
Nash College has developed a new technique for disabled students suffering from ‘Dysphagia’, a condition that reduces appetite and takes away nearly almost all enjoyment of food.
The method, six years in the making, moulds pureed food into the “shape and texture” of real dishes, complete with details such as cheese sprinkles on pizza and precise colouring of vegetables like cabbage.
Now, past plates that looked “unappetising, shapeless, and bland”, have been transformed into meals that look realistic – and taste a lot nicer.
It is all done using a maize-based granule to thicken and hold food in a particular form, allowing the likes of chips, macaroni, and cakes to be ‘created’.
Staff at the further education college, which is run by disability charity Livability, say the step has been “dramatic” since it was introduced in 2013. This year a full menu was brought in.
The team says the food created can be so realistic that people have been picking up a pureed item, such as a sandwich, only to see it slip through their fingers.
Catering manager of nearly a decade, Lesley Coward, explained: “Thanks to the innovative work we have done, a pureed burger looks and tastes like a burger and a pureed ‘full English’ looks like sausage, egg, bacon and beans!
“This is not something that is available to our students when they eat out or at home, so it gives them more choice and includes them in new experiences.”
Lesley Coward and Linda Griffiths
Nash College says the technique has already had a positive impact, with students starting to take greater pleasure out of eating and gaining weight to a healthy level as a result.
With food such a major part of our everyday lives, the young people are also said to be happier, more confident, and enjoying having more energy.
Pizza and chips
Speech and language therapist Pippa Tarran, who has been at Nash College for six years, says after years of “unappealing” mealtimes the introduction has been remarkable.
She said: “Self-esteem and enjoyment of a meal are significant.
“Being offered food that looks the same as everyone else’s’, and therefore not feeling or looking ‘different’, is important.”
Spaghetti and meatballs
Dysphagia is a serious problem which affects diet, health, and enjoyment of food generally, and Nash College now wants to promote its advances to other health professionals to see them employ the techniques elsewhere.