6 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Blending Real Food for Tube Feeding

Hilarie preparing a blended meal for tube feeding.

Taking the step to try real food for tube feeding can be scary. You don’t have the time or energy for it not to go well, and sometimes the fear of rocking the boat can stop you from trying altogether.

But when you read about the amazing benefits and hear success stories from so many families, it’s hard not to want to give it a try!

I know you’re busy and don’t have time for trial and error, so I want to share common mistakes I’ve made or seen other families make when getting started. By understanding these before you begin, you’ll avoid common pitfalls and set yourself up for success from the start.

Mistake #1: Using a Standard Blender For Blended Tube Feeding

It’s understandable to want to make a standard blender work — maybe you already have one on hand or are trying to avoid a big expense — but often this causes a lot of headaches.

Hilarie placing food into a Blendtec blender to create a blended meal.

The problem with standard blenders is that any foods with tough pieces, seeds, or peels will not get blended to liquid form and will cause clogs.

To avoid this, you can use only soft foods without seeds or peels, but this limits your options. And using a strainer often leads to a lot of nutrient loss.

On the other hand, blenders like Vitamix and Blendtec completely liquify food, even foods with tough pieces. It’s pretty amazing what these blenders can do.

There are medical discounts available to make these blenders more affordable. For example, Blendtec offers a refurbished blender for only $75 — you just need to email the company to request their form. Hundreds of families use this blender and love it.

If you’re planning to blend for more than a few months, I highly recommend investing in a good blender and looking into the discount programs. It really makes a huge difference!

Mistake #2: Not Optimizing Fluid Intake Before Starting the Transition to a Blended Diet

Managing fluid intake with tube feeding is tough. It’s hard to know how much extra fluid is needed, and finding time for water flushes is challenging with busy schedules.

Understandably, many people prioritize formula over fluids due to growth concerns, or fluids are often skipped when given with or after meals when it worsens vomiting.

However, fluids play an important role in helping to digest and break down food, so when someone’s not getting enough fluids, constipation can become an issue – which often makes reflux and vomiting worse.

What I’ve found is that this lower fluid intake may be okay with standard formula, but it’s not enough once you introduce real, fiber-containing food into the diet.

If fluids are not optimized first, these kids get backed up through the transition, which can feel so defeating for caretakers and parents.

If you’re unsure about fluid intake, check out this article next. It offers guidance on determining fluid needs vs actual intake, and practical tips for getting more water in if needed.

Food displayed next to a green blended meal for tube feeding in a storage container.

Mistake #3: Transitioning From Formula to Blended Food Too Quickly

Another mistake I often see is going from fiber-free formula to real, blended food too quickly. It’s easy to get excited, especially when you hear success stories from other parents.

Going too quickly, especially if your child hasn’t had fiber or real food before, can lead to bowel issues, gassiness, or discomfort. Our bodies need time to adjust to increased fiber.

I typically suggest replacing one meal or about 25% of the daily volume to start. Wait a few days, then swap out a little more formula for blended food.

If you notice changes like fewer bowel movements, diarrhea, or gassiness, hold off for a few more days before swapping in more real food.

Taking it slow ensures a smoother transition, plus it is much less overwhelming for the person learning to blend!

For those already eating real food by mouth or using a commercial blended formula, you may not need to go slow. However, a gradual transition will likely make this feel more manageable.

Mistake #4: Using Syringes That Don’t Work Well with Thicker Blended Food

Have you ever been frustrated with the syringes you get from your medical supply company?

Most companies send syringes designed for one time use, with a rubber grommet plunger that expands as soon as it gets wet (the syringe on the right of the picture is an example of rubber grommet plunger).

Three tube feeding images displayed comparing o-ring vs rubber grommet plungers.

If you are using thin formula and gravity feeds, you may not have noticed this because you’re not using the plunger.

However, with thicker, real food, that plunger is necessary. If it’s sticky and hard to push, not only is it hard on your hands, it makes giving blended food pretty frustrating.

The good news is there are better syringes out there, designed with a silicone o-ring that glides easily and can be used over and over again.

Examples include the Miracle O-Ring, Neomed O-Ring and BASIK O-Ring syringes. The Miracle O-Ring is a catheter tip and the Neomed has an Enfit tip, while the BASIK O-Ring has both options, different sizes and a slip tip.

Some families have been able to get the Neomed syringes covered by insurance, but most have to purchase one of these options out of pocket. They last for months, so you only need a handful!

BASIK O-Ring offers a discount plus free shipping with code HD1*.

If you’re providing thicker food, I highly recommend trying o-ring syringes. They are a game changer. And don’t forget, there is other helpful blended diet and tube feeding equipment available to make things easier for you!

*Please note, using this code gives Blended Tube Feeding a small percentage of the sale.

Mistake #5: Not Using Resources, Like Blended Diet Recipes, to Get Started

Going from a calorie-controlled tube feeding plan to just throwing food in the blender or trying to make recipes yourself is often overwhelming.

And my guess is you don’t have extra time to spend planning out meals, calculating calories, and having failures in the kitchen.

An image of six of Hilarie's blended diet recipes for tube feeding.

That’s why I’ve created a large database of blended food recipes that are calorie-matched to formula, so you can start slowly without the stress of figuring out what to blend or meeting calorie needs.

It allows you to swap a little formula for blended food, keep calorie intake consistent, and not make too many changes to the feeding plan in the beginning.

You can start to provide regular meals with confidence, and medical teams quickly get on board because they are excited about these recipes and how easy it is for you to meet nutrient needs!

These downloadable recipes, including videos on how to easily prepare and feed these meals can be found inside my online community group, Blended Tube Feeding Made Simple.

It’s a one stop shop for all your blending needs, including a space to ask myself and other families questions along the way.

Not everyone needs to start with recipes — some families feel comfortable blending up family meals from the beginning, and that’s great! However, most families I work with prefer a little more structure to start and these recipes simplify the transition.

Mistake #6: Not Having a Commercial Tube Feeding Formula as a Back-Up

Many families switch to a home blended diet with the hope to avoid commercial formulas, especially if those formulas haven’t been well tolerated.

For some, blending all meals works well with their schedule. For others, it creates pressure and scrambling when nothing is prepared.

I tend to work with busy families who are juggling appointments, therapies, feeding and med schedules, and all other life activities. If this sounds like you, finding a commercial back up blended formula can make a blended diet much easier.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. As you know, things don’t always go according to plan. You may have a blending day scheduled and something comes up so you can’t get it done.
  2. There may also be days when your child is hospitalized unexpectedly and you have nothing to bring, or the hospital won’t let you use home blended meals.
  3. Traveling can also be a lot less stressful if you have commercial blends to use, or have as a back-up in case something happens to the blends you prepared and brought along.
    (P.S. You can find more tips for traveling with a feeding tube here.)
  4. I’ve also had families share they were in the middle of blending when the power went out, or they ran out of their stock and needed to make more meals but couldn’t because of this. So stressful!

This is why I encourage every family, even if they feel like they’d never use it, to find a commercial blend product that is tolerated okay.

If you’re worried about tolerance, my experience has been that commercial blend products are sometimes better tolerated when used as a supplement rather than as the sole source of food. So, if you struggled with commercial blends before home blending, you may find they work better now that they are just used to supplement.

To see a list of commercial blend products available, the main differences between them, how to get samples, and more, check out this article next.

A variety of commercial blend enteral formulas displayed on a table.

Switching to a blended diet can be challenging, but with the right tools and support, it becomes much more manageable. I hope the information you learned today helps you avoid common mistakes, making your transition to real food smoother and more enjoyable. And remember, taking it slow and seeking support can make all the difference.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. You can find my contact information here, or connect with me on Instagram.

– Hilarie, RD, CSP

*Disclaimer: The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical advice. Always check with your own medical professional before trying to implement any information provided here

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