Students, Prepare for Your Final Class! The Iron Chef Dysphagia Challenge

Engaging class turns complex principles into a collaborative celebration

Imagine a TV show where the contestants prepare pureed food for judges, and you get an idea what Steinhardt’s Iron Chef Dysphagia Challenge was about.

The Iron Chef competition was the culminating experience of an intersession class that brought together students from the varied disciplines of communicative sciences and disorders and nutrition and food studies, to learn how to manage patients with different stages of dysphagia, a difficulty swallowing.

“The basis for the course was collaboration,” said Erin Embry, an associate director of the master’s program in Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD). ”Speech-language pathology students taught nutrition students about swallowing assessment and evaluation; nutrition students taught CSD students how to translate different stages of dysphagia into a diet that could meet the client’s nutrient, cultural, and caloric needs.”

Kara Ellis, a master’s student in clinical nutrition, worked with patients with swallowing disorders during a recent dietetic internship. “At the time, I honed in on the types of diets patients were on and methods to encourage consumption and hydration,” she said. In the Interdisciplinary Case-Based Management of Dysphagia course, Ellis learned “how and why” specific diets are chosen for patients, as well as the techniques that speech-language pathologists use to make their assessments.

Ellis’ team of nutrition students and CSD students won the event by creating a meal for a New Orleans lawyer with tonsilar cancer.

Taking into consideration their patient’s love of Southern cooking and his need for a soft mechanical diet, the group prepared a main course of talapia mojito over grits and a dessert of rice pudding with a fresh berry glaze. Taste was an important consideration for the patient who liked doughnuts and fried eggs for breakfast, they told the judges, who included Steinhardt Associate Dean Beth Weitzman and Dr. Preeti Raghavan and Dr. Matt Diamond from NYU’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.

During the award segment of the class, Lisa Sasson, clinical associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, remarked that winners are perhaps the only Iron Chef Dysphagia champions in the world.

“Food should always nourish the body and soul,” Sasson said. “We should never assume that because a patient has swallowing problems that their food choices will be limited to pureed mush.”

(Photos: Judges sample talapia mojito over grits prepared for a patient with a swallowing disorder; rice pudding with raspberry glaze. Food was evaluated for taste, appearance, texture, appropriateness of their dish, as well as the use of the secret ingredient, pumpkin puree.)