You want to go out for dinner and you’re craving Italian food but you’re worried, as usual, if your friend/partner/spouse will have enough choices of things he or she can safely eat. Let’s consider the options…
If the waiter brings out some crusty bread to start, most Dysphagia Diners (DDs) will have to skip it. If you’re looking for an appetizer, (or antipasti, as the Italians say) try soft meatballs or marinated olives and cheese. A simple roasted beet and goat cheese salad may be okay for some DDs if it doesn’t have any crunchy lettuce or croutons. Ask your waiter for details if this is a dish you might want to order. Italian soups like minestrone or Italian wedding soup can be tricky for many DDs due to the thin broth and mixed texture, so it’s probably best to avoid those.
Italian’s have tons of great entrée options for DDs! If your diet includes soft or moist foods, you can eat most pastas, from spaghetti to pappardelle to cannelloni. You can also select items like eggplant, braised meats, and fish.
If you need your food to be cut into small bites, look for smaller pastas like macaroni, chifferi, ditalini, or any of the “minute pastas.” Risotto is one of my favorite Italian dishes and it may be a great option for you, provided the sauce is adequately thick and there is nothing too large or chewy mixed in. Soft items like tortellini, ravioli, or gnocchi can also be cut easily with a fork, in a pinch.
Entrée options are a bit more limited for those who eat a puree diet. However, if you look to other sections of the menu, there may be a few options for even the most restricted DDs. In the appetizer section, you might find fonduta, which is a thick cheesy dip. Authentic Italian restaurants may also offer a white bean or fava bean puree. If you consider side dishes, polenta and mashed potatoes are both smooth options. If you’d like, you can even stir in a spoonful of pesto or marinara sauce for more flavor.
Let’s not forget dessert! Italians make a few great desserts that are very soft and palatable for most DDs. Gelato is one possibility. I also recommend tiramisu or panna cotta for almost any DD. Both options are thick, but soft and sweet.
Best of luck with your Italian dining. Buon appetito!