Q: What should I eat after oral surgery? They are saying I’ll need to be on a soft foods diet for a while. Any ideas?
A: This is actually the topic that inspired me to start this blog. I had orthognathic surgery (a type of oral surgery where they cut my jaw bones in several places and repositioned them) a couple of years ago and had a biteguard wired into my mouth for 7 weeks afterwards. I was horrified by the standard recommendations. Here’s what makes up the bulk of “Ensure Original”, which I was given by the dietician at my oral surgeon’s office: “Water, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar, Milk Protein Concentrate, Cocoa Powder
(Processed with Alkali), Soy Oil, Sucromalt, Soy Protein Isolate, Canola
Oil.” They call that a “nutrition” drink and claim that it makes a good meal replacer. I could go into detail about my issues with each of those ingredients, but can we please just skip that?
So then I searched online for soft food and liquid diet recipes. Almost everything I found was extremely high carbohydrate. Sigh. I was going to have to figure this out alone. So I did. Here’s what I’ve got for you.
1. Keep it bland. My mouth was so sensitized that everything tasted more intense than usual and some flavors tasted “off” from how they usually do. In general, I love highly seasoned foods: curries, salsas, etc. Even the mildest spice was too much, though, immediately following surgery. Reduce the seasonings and add more later if you need it.
2. Keep it familiar. I found that if I aimed for a familiar flavor combination, I could sneak lots of other things in. But a combination that would be great on a plate together tasted weird once it had been blended up. For example, chicken, green beans and sweet potatoes. I like them each individually, I like them together on a plate. Whizzed in a blender and served as a soup? Weird.
3. Make it as nutritionally dense as possible. Usually I try to bulk out my food, so I can eat more, because I love to eat. But when eating is a chore, it’s a relief to get it over with quickly. I ate high fat and high protein and was able to keep the entire ordeal shorter that way.
On to some specific meal and cooking ideas.
Simmer everything until it is very soft so that it will blend better – beans, zucchini, green beans, carrots, chicken. Let them get WAY softer than you normally would. Save your simmering water to thin down your soups or to drink as a beverage.
Chicken Parmesan Soup: I grew up in Connecticut, so Sicilian-American food is my essential comfort food. Some soft boiled chicken, some tomato sauce and some parmesan cheese in a blender was not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. I found I could add quite a bit of soft boiled zucchini and green beans and not even notice the difference.
Chicken Enchilada Verde Soup: And then I lived in Austin, TX for 17 years. So TexMex became my second comfort food. More soft boiled chicken, some mild green salsa and a little sour cream formed the flavor base. Again, I could add zucchini and green beans and not notice any flavor difference.
White Bean Soup with Pesto: Pesto is the flavor here, on a base of creamy white beans. Lots of vegetables can sneak in under the radar. This is a great way to get lots of fiber in, which can be difficult on a liquid or soft foods diet, but is essential, especially if you’ve been on opiate pain killers.
Lentil Soup, Split Pea Soup, etc: Any legume soup that you like, with less seasoning than usual, cooked til softer than usual, then blended.
Yogurt Cucumber Mint Soup/Lassi/Smoothie: A classic.
Berry Cheesecake Smoothie: Berries, coconut milk, some maca powder, some mesquite powder, some carob powder. Low carb but sweet. Again, aim for a familiar flavor profile rather than just putting yummy things together and hoping for the best.
Eventually I was able to graduate to soft scrambled eggs, runny refried beans, salsa and mashed avocado. The first time I actually ate with a spoon was such a thrill!
The one other observation I’d like to share is how much more intense the actions of foods and herbs were. In that hypersensitive state, my body responded extremely. Normally I have to pay a lot closer attention to notice much more subtle reactions. In that week or two following the surgery, the pro- and anti- inflammatory effects of food were starkly obvious. My face would be throbbing and red after one meal, then pale and puffy after another. I was able to use dairy to push the healing process along when it had stalled out, for example. When the body is so hard at work trying to get a huge task done is a great time to carefully support it by using food as your medicine.
I hope this helps anyone going through a difficult recovery following oral surgery, or anyone who needs to use a liquid or soft foods diet for any reason. I know how hard it is! Best wishes to you.