The Story Behind Our Meals
Clean Ingredients, Clean Labels
Whether you’re new to Real Food Blends or have been using (or recommending) our meals for years, you may not know why our meals are the way they are. Although we started with three meals and now have six, we’ve stayed with the same philosophy from the beginning—that simple variety is best. If you’re an RD, you may recognize that our meals are based on the USDA’s Choose Your Plate guidelines and each includes a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and protein; you only need to add a side of dairy to have a government-approved meal.
Meals, Not a Formula
What that means is that we have 5-7 ingredients in each of our meals on purpose—we believe whole food ingredients are best (the less processed, the better.) There’s no need to spend hours combing over our ingredient list to see if there’s something hidden in there that might interact with a medication or that might be a different form of an ingredient you or your loved one can’t tolerate—our ingredient lists will always be short, simple, and easy to read because we ONLY include real food ingredients in our meals.
When choosing the specific ingredients, we always include a full serving of fruits and vegetables in every meal along with a whole grain, lean protein, and healthy fat. Sounds a lot like what most doctors and dietitians recommend to their oral eating patients, right?! As long as the digestive system is still intact, what we all know about good nutrition still applies to those with feeding tubes. Does a vegetable become less good-for-you if it goes through a feeding tube? People with feeding tubes can benefit from healthy, real foods just like oral eaters—they just need a different way of getting those foods into their stomachs. All of our ingredients are consciously sourced as well, including:
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught salmon from the Pacific Northwest
- Only US-raised chicken and eggs
- Certified Gluten-free oats*
That being said, our ingredients are not organic, and that was also something we chose on purpose. We understand that organic is very important to some people, but we made the decision to focus on real, whole foods while keeping costs down so that our meals are affordable for people paying out of pocket and to make sure our meals are easily available to those with insurance coverage. The high heat process that our meals go through to make them shelf stable (which is the same process many food products go through to make them shelf stable) also can minimize any benefits that might be gained from using organic ingredients. Studies in general have been mixed as to the actual levels of increased nutrients in organic foods and many experts agree that WHAT you eat is more important than whether you choose organic versus conventional. If organic is important to you, we would highly encourage you to work with your dietitian and blend fresh organic food versus any organic tube-feeding formula that’s shelf-stable.
So now you know why we have simple, consciously-sourced, whole food ingredients in all six of our meals, but you might not know WHY we have six different meals. After all, in the past formulas for feeding tubes have been designed to have someone use the same formula all day, every day. That just didn’t make sense to us. People who don’t have a feeding tube are told to eat a wide variety of healthy foods every day, so why shouldn’t people with feeding tubes be given the same recommendations? Here’s what Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, a clinical dietitian at one of New York’s largest hospitals, has to say about that.
“Think about people who eat by mouth. No one eats the same meal and ingredients over and over again, every single meal, every single day. As a dietitian, I would never recommend that, even if the patient was taking a multi-vitamin every day. So why are we recommending it to people on tube feeds? Nutritional variety is just as important –if not moreso- as nutritionally complete.”
What’s NOT In There
Now that we’ve talked about what IS in our meals, what about what ISN’T? Like added synthetic vitamins. We know some medical professionals focus on nutritionally complete products for their enteral patients (read more about the concept of nutritionally complete), but we kept added synthetic vitamins and minerals out of our meals for a variety of reasons.
- Synthetic vitamins can cause nausea and leave a nasty after-taste when burped.
- Not all people with a feeding tube need the same amounts of these vitamins, given their underlying conditions. It’s not unusual for someone to need a low-sodium diet, low potassium, or have other unique nutritional needs that are not one-size-fits-all.
- Potential for medication interactions.
- Potential to greatly exceed RDIs.
After all, once you put vitamins in, you can’t take them out. Everyone has individual nutrition needs, different medications that can impact certain vitamin and mineral levels, and different health considerations. A child with cystic fibrosis isn’t going to have the same nutritional needs as an adult who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Consult your medical team for your specific nutritional needs, but in general, if you’re using our meals as a sole source of nutrition, we just recommend adding a daily multivitamin and a dash of salt once a day (our meals have no added salt, either!).
We hope this sheds some light on the story behind the creation of our meals, especially for those who are newer to Real Food Blends. No matter what, know that our meals will always contain nothing but simple, whole food ingredients that provide real food and nutritional variety for people with feeding tubes. Our co-founders, Tony and Julie Bombacino, founded Real Food Blends after seeing their own tube-fed son improve so drastically on a blended diet—we will always only offer meals that we’re proud of and contain ingredients we would feed our own families.
*Our meals are not certified as gluten free, but do not contain any gluten ingredients. They are produced in a gluten handling facility.