How to eat and drink safely


How does a stroke affect the way I swallow?

A stroke can affect the muscles that help you chew and swallow.

This includes the muscles in your lips, tongue and throat.

Click here to see a video example of what an abnormal swallow looks like after a stroke.


What are some common signs of trouble swallowing?

Some common signs are:

  • Drooling (saliva dripping out of mouth)
  • Coughing, choking or throat clearing after eating or drinking
  • Swallowing a few times for 1 mouthful
  • Feeling of food stuck in throat when eating or drinking
  • Holding food in the cheeks or back of mouth after swallowing on the weak side
  • Taking a long time to finish a meal
  • Many chest or lung infections (such a pneumonia) 

For caregivers

Talk to your loved one’s healthcare team right away if you notice any of these signs. They can help manage this. 

Are there exercises I can do to make my swallow stronger?

Try these swallowing exercises:

Video credit: University Health Network

Video credit: University Health Network

Video credit: University Health Network


How can I prepare for safe eating and drinking?

Put on all your daily aids including:

  • Dentures
  • Hearing aids
  • Glasses

For the caregiver, help your loved one put on any aids they normally use. 

 Daily aids

Sit up straight

Before eating, sit up straight. Your head should be slightly forward and your chin slightly down. This helps prevent choking.  

Sit up straight

Eat in a calm, quiet place

When you have trouble swallowing, it is safer to stay focused when you eat. 

During your meal:

  • Turn off the TV or radio 
  • Limit the number of people talking 


Put everything within reach during meals

Make sure all your food and utensils (spoons, forks and more) are close to you.  

For the caregiver, put everything within arms-length for your loved one so they can reach everything they need.


Face the person feeding you

If you need help eating, face the person feeding you. Sit with them at eye level.  

For the caregiver, make sure the first bite or sip is swallowed before the next is given.

Face the person feeding you

How can I eat safely? 

Make foods easier to chew

  • Puree or blend food
  • Mash the food with a fork
  • Cut food into tiny pieces

Your Speech Language Pathologist will tell you how small or smooth each bite needs to be.

Watch this video to learn more about making foods safer: 

Video credit: Stroke 4 Carers

How can I drink safely?

Make things safer to drink by:

  • Switching to thickened drinks
  • Switching to pudding instead of milk, or apple sauce instead of juice

Your Speech Language Pathologist will let you know how thick your drinks need to be. They will also tell you how much thickener to use.

Watch this video to learn more about thickening drinks:

Video credit: Stroke 4 Carers

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If thin liquids are not safe, avoid ice cream, milk shakes, or Jell-O . These fluids melt into a thin liquid in the mouth.

What should I do after eating and drinking?

Make sure your mouth is empty   

Using a mirror, look inside your mouth to see if there is any left over food, especially on your weak side – you might not feel it. Brush your teeth and clean your mouth well after each meal.

Stay sitting up for 30 minutes  

Lying down right after eating might let any food left in your throat go into your breathing tube. Sitting upright will give you extra time to let it go down.


Where to learn more about safe eating and drinking:

Toronto Central Healthline


Specialty Food Shop

Phone: 1-800-737-7976