How To Use Food and Drink Thickeners: A Step-By-Step Guide

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon May 22 2023.

Man holding glass.

How To Use Food and Drink Thickeners: A Step-By-Step Guide

Many family caregivers use food and drink thickeners to make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable for loved ones with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Thickening agents, like Thick-It and ThickenUp, change the consistency of edibles and liquids, reducing the risk of coughing and choking.

If you care for someone with difficulty swallowing, it’s essential to have food and drink thickeners on hand. But how do you use them? Here’s an easy-to-follow guide with six simple steps.

What You’ll Need

To thicken foods or beverages at home, you need the following:

  • A thickening agent (for example, Thick-It)

  • Measuring cups 

  • Measuring spoons 

  • Spoon, fork, or wire whisk

  • Bowl (for mixing everything)

How to Use Food and Drink Thickeners

Step 1: Determine The Consistency

People with swallowing and chewing difficulties are often prescribed a special diet of thick liquids. There are three consistency levels for thick liquids:

  • Level 2: Mildly Thick (nectar-like): These liquids have a slightly thicker consistency than thin liquids. They can be poured from a cup but do not flow as freely. Examples include nectar-like juices, vegetable juices, and thin nutritional supplements.

  • Level 3: Moderately Thick (honey-like): This category includes liquids that have a thicker consistency, similar to honey. They pour slowly and can be consumed with a spoon or a straw that has a larger diameter. Examples include honey-like liquids such as thicker juice, and mildly thickened soups.

  • Level 4: Extremely Thick (pureed): These have a consistency similar to pudding or custard. They are scoopable and maintain their shape on a spoon. Examples include thickened liquids such as pudding, custard, yogurt, and thicker pureed soups. Most often, level 4 is used for food rather than liquids.

Your loved one’s doctor can tell you what consistency best meets their nutritional needs. 

Step 2: Measure the Food or Drink You Want to Thicken

Calculate the portions for your loved one’s food or drink. Then, use a measuring cup or measuring spoons to put the liquid or pureed food into a bowl.

Hear it from a caregiver

“[Thick-It] works very well with cold and hot liquids and foods.”

- Susie R. 

Step 3: Refer to the Food and Drink Thickener’s “Usage Chart”

Food and drink thickeners have a “usage chart” on the label. The usage chart tells you how much thickening agent to mix into your loved one’s pureed food or drink based on the desired consistency.

Hear it from a caregiver

“[Thick-It’s] instructions are easy to read, and it works well for getting just the right texture.”

-Barbara P.

Step 4: Add The Food or Drink Thickener to the Bowl

Slowly add the food or drink thickener into the bowl, using a spoon, fork, or wire whisk to stir it rapidly. Continue stirring until the food or drink thickener is completely dissolved. 

Step 5: Let the Mixture Sit for At Least One Minute

It takes about 60 seconds for food and drink thickeners to work. So if your loved one’s food or drink stills seems runny, even after following the instructions, you can slowly add more of the thickener to the mixture. 

Carewell Tip

Certain drinks, like milk and nutritional supplements, take longer to thicken. You might need to wait 5-10 minutes before these beverages reach the proper consistency.

Step 6: Serve the Thickened Food or Drink

When your loved one’s food or drink is the right consistency, it’s ready to serve.

How do I know if I’ve thickened my food appropriately?

Fortunately, the International Dysphagia Diet Standard Initiative (or, IDDSI), has published clear guidelines and standards so you can tell when foods and beverages are the right consistency. Ensuring that your loved one is getting just the right consistency they need promotes comfort, prevents choking, and ultimately helps your loved one meet their nutrition and hydration needs.

Check out the videos below to learn how to ensure your loved one is getting the right level of consistency for your loved one.

Level 2 Consistency: Moderately Thick

Level 3 Consistency: Moderately Thick

Level 4 Consistency: Pureed

Need More Information?

If you have questions about drink and food thickeners or need help choosing a thickening agent, we’re here to help! Our compassionate Caregiving Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call us at (800) 696-CARE or email support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.