Cooking with a soft touch

KRISTINE BENISHEK began amassing soft food recipes when her elderly mother developed dental problems. Through a lot of trial and error, she developed an electronic cookbook featuring 200 soft food recipes that offer a variety of textures and flavors. The diet is not just for the elderly — people of all ages may find themselves needing to lay off of hard, crunchy food, at least temporarily.  (Photo by Sara Arthurs)

KRISTINE BENISHEK began amassing soft food recipes when her elderly mother developed dental problems. Through a lot of trial and error, she developed an electronic cookbook featuring 200 soft food recipes that offer a variety of textures and flavors. The diet is not just for the elderly — people of all ages may find themselves needing to lay off of hard, crunchy food, at least temporarily. (Photo by Sara Arthurs)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

Problems chewing don’t mean you have to live off of mashed potatoes — there’s a lot out there you can eat, and Kristine Benishek has found the recipes for you.

Benishek, of Findlay, has authored a cookbook “Simply Soft Food,” an e-book which includes more than 200 recipes including 60 main dishes, 20 soft sandwiches, more than 20 breakfast dishes and 40 side dishes as well as breads, soups and desserts.

Benishek, a medical librarian, started researching soft food recipes several years ago when her elderly mother developed dental problems. Her mother has since died but Benishek and her father, 93, still make use of the cookbook.

“I use it pretty much every week,” she said.

As Benishek started researching she realized that there were probably millions of other baby boomers like her who care for elderly parents and might be facing the same dilemma of what to cook.

She said many people have temporary or long-term problems chewing, including teenagers with braces, people who have recently undergone oral surgery, and seniors who have lost teeth or jaw strength. Benishek herself developed a jaw injury and found she needed to eat soft foods. She has also heard from others interested including a woman who works with dementia patients and a throat cancer survivor.

“Because people who are limited by what they can eat often do not get enough nutrients, they are at a very real risk of malnutrition,” Benishek wrote in the book introduction.

But, she said, “good food is a fundamental pleasure in life” and the cookbook aims to give a variety of options for “the pleasure of a good meal.”

Benishek had originally planned to make a cookbook of 120 recipes, then 150. She ended up with 200.

She strove to make sure different categories of foods were represented, including both main and side dishes.

“Of course, it could have been all desserts,” she said.

Developing recipes for the cookbook took “a lot of experimenting.” Benishek might make the same recipe four or five times, soliciting input from family members. Her goal was to create foods that were not just soft but also tasty.

Benishek focused on “homestyle” recipes rather than gourmet food. Her parents and others of their generation who grew up in the Midwest often lived on farms, and these were the foods they’d preferred. In the book’s introduction she wrote that her family’s staples had been things like steaks, roasts and pork chops, “in short, anything we could sink our teeth into.”

Soft food does not mean pureed food. While people with some health problems such as trouble swallowing must eat pureed foods, Benishek’s book is geared toward people who do still have the ability to chew but cannot eat crunchy foods.

Main dishes are arranged in three categories: slow cooker, oven casseroles and stovetop cooking. The full table of contents can be read online with the “Look inside” feature on Amazon.com.

One of Benishek’s favorite recipes in the cookbook is a zucchini-potato soup which she called a “very nice, light, wonderful soup.” She has also enjoyed sweet potato muffins.

“Even the desserts have nutrition,” she said, noting that there are zucchini cookies as well as sweet potato chocolate chip cookies.

Benishek found that working on the soft foods cookbook has also “opened my eyes to spices.” Since soft foods lack the texture of foods such as bagels or chips, it’s important that they not be bland, she said. She found herself using a greater variety of spices while working on the cookbook than she had previously used.

Benishek found the project enjoyable but also a challenge. While she has always liked to cook, she has generally been someone who follows cookbooks, rather than making up her own recipes. She did look through many cookbooks to get ideas. Copyright laws prevented her from using someone else’s recipe, but often a recipe in another cookbook would provide inspiration and help Benishek in creating her own recipes.

She worked to find recipes that offered some variety. People who have to eat soft foods may feel limited and some may be “just living on mashed potatoes and oatmeal.” Benishek met one woman whose relatives ate exclusively baked beans. Often people are “stumped” when it comes to creating soft food recipes that offer variety, Benishek said.

Benishek received an endorsement from Dr. Ira B. Lamster, dean at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and editor of “Improving Oral Health for the Elderly: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” Lamster wrote that Benishek’s book “fills an important need” as the population is aging.

The book is self-published as an e-book. It is available for Kindle or Nook and sells for $2.99. For those who do not have an e-reader, Amazon has a free Kindle app that can be downloaded onto a computer or a mobile device.

Benishek welcomes questions at simplysoftfood@gmail.com.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
saraarthurs@thecourier.com

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