Real food meals for people with feeding tubes
In finding a way to improve life for their son, Julie and Tony Bombacino were able to found a business that is also helping many around the country. Their company, Real Food Blends, makes 100 percent real food meals for people with feeding tubes. Their idea began in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014 that they began selling products.
At six months of age, their son, AJ, suffered an unexpected seizure which prompted doctors to perform a number of tests that revealed he’d been born with brain malformations. Along with seizures came acid reflux that caused doctors to insert a feeding tube. AJ didn’t take well to the feeding tube formula and was vomiting multiple times a day; he also had trouble sleeping, wasn’t thriving and growing and had continued seizures.
“Thanks to the internet we started to learn about people that were blending up real food and making their own blended diet for their loved ones with a feeding tube,” says Tony Bombacino. “After many months and getting to the point of desperation, we went against the traditional methods and started blending food for AJ.
“The changes were almost immediate, and although we would never claim we have a cure for any medical complexity, our own son stopped vomiting, starting growing and started sleeping better. He was just a happier and different person.”
The idea to convert their positive experience into a company came a few months later when they decided to take a family trip to Disney World. Recognizing how much work it was going to be to take the equipment and ingredients to blend meals away from home, they wondered if there was a product on the market of blended food for tube-fed individuals. There wasn’t.
“This was the ‘aha moment’ where we said, ‘There has to be a better way,’” says Tony. “We still had no idea about how many people had a feeding tube, how to create blended food meals at scale, where and how we would get them produced, how insurance coverage worked and so on, but that was the moment the idea of Real Food Blends was born.”
“It’s all things you can pronounce and find in your local grocery store or pantry,” says Tony. “Our meals are suitable for both kids and adults and offer true nutritional variety. We currently have four different meal varieties and soon we’ll add our fifth, a breakfast blend. Our meals are also covered by insurance in many, many cases, making it easier for more people to have access to the benefits of a wide variety of real food.”
The Bombacinos have seen an overwhelming response to the product, touching more people than they ever could have imagined. “It’s really been humbling and amazing to see how people from coast to coast have responded to our meal products,” Tony says. “We now call our son our ‘Chief Inspiration Officer’ and, although he was certainly the reason we created Real Food Blends, we now have tens of thousands of Chief Inspiration Officers all over the country in our customers and their families and friends.
“We’ve now sold millions of meals and have an active and engaged Facebook community of almost 80,000 people who continue to share their own journeys with us, who give us ideas and support and who continue to be there for each other through all the ups and downs they face.”
The couple considers the impact that Real Food Blends has had on other families to be a huge reward that came out of meeting their own son’s needs.
“It’s very rewarding for Julie and I to be able to work together and continue to lead and grow Real Food Blends all while having some unique flexibility to see our kids more often than our old jobs allowed and include them in what we are doing,” says Tony. “Beyond these intangible benefits, it’s most certainly all the emails, social posts, letters and calls we get from our customers letting us know that our products and team have played a small part in making their tube-feeding journeys just a little easier. We were parents to a child with a feeding tube and special needs well before we were the co-founders of Real Food Blends and we continue to run the company with that in mind. People first, family first.”
An author of six books, Carrie has penned three are historical titles, two children’s books (“Into the Night” and “Old 104 Ridges Again”) and “Mom Moments,” a compilation of her parenting columns from the Northwest Indiana Times.
Carrie is a foodie who thoroughly enjoys traveling and visiting new restaurants and craft breweries, attending food festivals and trying out new recipes and kitchen gadgets. She writes about her food experiences at ChicagoFoodieSisters.com, a popular blog launched in 2011.