by Julie Bombacino
If your child has a feeding tube, you probably can’t log into your computer without reading about the benefits of a blenderized diet or a “pureed by G-tube diet”…or as I like to call it, food!
The resurgence of pureeing whole food to put through a feeding tube has been fueled by grassroots efforts of some dedicated parents and people who are tube-fed. The power of the Internet has similarly connected those in the feeding tube world.
These groups gave me the courage to try a blenderized diet for my son after failing eight different formulas. His success on a blended diet—and all the work that was involved in cooking, blending and storing his food—inspired me to start a company called Real Food Blends. The goal of this endeavor is to simplify the blenderized diet by creating pre-made blended meals, and to make the blenderized diet more accessible to a greater number of people who use feeding tubes.
Blenderized Diet Issues
Throughout the past few years, I have had the chance to talk blended diets with over 500 dietitians and countless doctors. The general consensus is that they don’t WANT to prescribe a 100% formula diet to anyone, but they haven’t had good options to give to those that want whole foods. Typically their go-to has been the Compleat line from Nestle, which is the only mass-produced formula that contains real food. It’s worth noting that the primary ingredients are water, maltodextrin and corn syrup; and that the formula provides no nutritional variety on a day-to-day basis.
Most dietitians also see risk when it comes to a homemade blended diet: bacterial contamination, an unbalanced diet, clogging the tube, or that it’s too much work. (Those of us in the BD world think these are all pretty unfounded, but I digress!) Pre-made blenderized meals negate these risks in the eyes of the medical community, giving them a viable whole food option for their patients with feeding tubes.
Pre-made Blenderized Food
Fresh is best. But fresh is sometimes a logistical nightmare. Flying with a large Vitamix blender, getting letters of medical necessity, fighting with hospital staff, keeping the food cold, and the hours of prepping are all the not-so-fun elements of a blenderized diet.
Shelf-stable, pre-made blenderized meals used to be a dream of those who blend at home, but they are finally becoming readily available. These meals solve most of the concerns that dietitians have. All blends have an exact nutritional profile, and the food is produced in regulated facilities. Pre-made blends also offer shelf-stability, portability and the potential for insurance coverage.
Enter Real Food Blends
My company has just begun production on its first blends. The first three Real Food Blends meals contain ingredients you can easily pronounce and most likely find in any well-stocked kitchen. Note that these are MEALS–not formula. We believe that the human body wasn’t meant to live off the same thing every day, for every meal, and that no formula could ever be everything that a body needs!
These meals offer an easy way for those who are on formula and able to digest whole foods to introduce some real food and variety into their diets by replacing one or two cans of formula a day with Real Food Blends meals.
For those on a blenderized diet already, Real Food Blends meals are intended to be a convenient real food option for those times where blending isn’t convenient (work, school, travel, hospital), or when you just don’t feel like cooking! They’re a great pantry staple and are shelf-stable for three years.
The Million-Dollar Question: Insurance Coverage
Insurance coverage for enteral nutrition is notoriously difficult to navigate and rapidly changing. As more and more patients with feeding tubes demand more real food options and these meals become more commonplace, we expect insurance coverage to be easier to acquire.
For now, you can submit your receipt for Real Food Blends meals, a letter of medical necessity and a prescription from your doctor to your insurance company. It is helpful to also provide them without the correct coding for processing. More details and sample letters are available here. [Note: since the original publication of this article, Real Food Blends has been able to achieve both insurance and Medicaid approval in numerous states and plans.]
If you’re inpatient at a hospital, you can always request Real Food Blends meals as well. These would be covered just like any other patient meal and billed directly to your insurance company. We are actively working with numerous hospitals throughout the country to have our meals on hand for inpatient stays.
A Growing Movement
Just like any new product, consumer demand will determine how readily available these alternatives to commercial formulas will be in the future, to help drive prices down and pressure insurance companies for coverage. For now, I hope that these meals help more families know that real food via tube is possible.