Patients who find it hard to swallow their food may no longer have to eat porridge all the time.
They may soon be able to enjoy ready-to-eat dishes which are easy to swallow, ranging from seafood otak to ginseng chicken.
The meals, which are developed by Changi General Hospital (CGH) and produced by local specialist nutrition company Health Food Matters (HFM), fill a gap in the market for food that appeals to the local palate while meeting the dietary needs of those with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties.
Dysphagia is a symptom of a variety of diseases and affects up to 30 per cent of elderly patients admitted to hospital. People with dysphagia must consume food prepared with soft textures to ensure safe eating.
CGH chief executive officer Lee Chien Earn said the quality of life is affected by food, especially if people cannot enjoy their meals.
"In this case, we recognise that elderly patients who have difficulty swallowing will need food with the appropriate texture that is suitable to our local palate," he said.
The new meals are available in 14 recipes such as kicap fish, chicken masala and braised ginseng chicken, as well as in three textures - finely minced, coarsely minced and blended.
BOOST TO QUALITY OF LIFE
If a patient is used to having... only porridge every day and suddenly is able to have a variety of food, that definitely makes a difference to his or her quality of life.
MS MAGDALIN CHEONG, deputy director for the department of food services at Changi General Hospital.
Ms Magdalin Cheong, deputy director for the department of food services at CGH, said: "If a patient is used to having... only porridge every day and suddenly is able to have a variety of food, that definitely makes a difference to his or her quality of life."
Many people with dysphagia do not look forward to their meals, resulting in a loss of appetite, said Ms Grace Gan, co-founder of HFM.
"On the side of the caregivers, it's very challenging to comply with safety standards (required by people with dysphagia) while producing a fantastic meal," said Ms Gan.
Currently, trained caregivers have to painstakingly prepare meals to specific textures required by dysphagia patients. Even then, the food might not meet nutritional requirements or taste good.
The new texture-modified meals, which are prepared in industrial kitchens and only need to be heated up, are preservative-free and nutritionally balanced. CGH took six months to develop the meals, which will be produced and marketed under a licensing agreement signed yesterday by CGH and HFM.
HFM's manufacturing facility in Woodlands is now being renovated to prepare for the production of the meals early next year, said Ms Gan. Future plans include distributing the meals to Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and developing meals for vegetarians.
She said: "With our strengths in specialised nutrition, we hope to help people with dysphagia rediscover the joy of eating through CGH's ready-to-eat, texture-modified meals."