I’m sitting in a café in Deakin with mashblox® creator and founder Alix O’Hara, talking about her invention of an infant led feeding device. She is young and passionate about what she has created, flicking her gorgeous blue locks as she talks about her soon to be launched product. But I can’t help asking: “You don’t have children, right? So why did you invent something to help children transition to eating solids?”
As a young entrepreneurial woman, Alix must get this question all the time. For starters, most people assume that entrepreneurs are men. Of course, there is the Mumpreneur movement comprised largely of women who seek to create small businesses to provide them with better flexibility in looking after their children. But Alix, one of the 2016 cohort of the GRIFFIN Start-up Accelerator program run by the CBR Innovation Network, was inspired by a different motivation.
“I was in a traditional office job and the office politics was just awful,” she said. “So I decided to create a business so that I could be in a more positive environment. I wanted to be my own boss.” So she started searching for business ideas.
The motivation for mashblox® then came from an unlikely encounter – while brunching at the super trendy Double Shot Deakin, she noticed a young family struggling to feed their toddler. “They were spoon feeding this young child, and it was all a bit of a struggle,” Alix recalls. “I was thinking when you’re two and a bit feet high, there isn’t a lot that you can control about your world. Your meals, friends, activities, clothes and bed time are all chosen for you. The one thing you can control is what you will – or won’t – eat.”
Alix, who has struggled with eating issues, had this ‘ah ha’ moment. Perhaps our complex relationship with food begins as early as when we are two and a bit feet high, with our parents shovelling food into our mouth? “How do you even know if your child is hungry, or full, or if they are eating just to please you,” says Alix. “If I was being spoon fed most of every meal it wouldn’t take me long to get pretty damn fussy.”
As a parent myself, I understand about the guilt cycle attached to food and children. First there is the breastfeeding – some people find it naturally easy but initially there was guilt and worry about whether my boys were getting enough. Then there is the question about when to introduce solids, and how much to introduce, and whether you are introducing the right foods. So many supermarket baby foods are expensive and filled with too much sugar and artificial stuff to be healthy. When it gets to mealtimes, it can be a battle that turns a family bonding time into a nightmare. Then there are the shocking statistics, with one in four Australian children now being overweight or obese.
Alix’s solution to this is mashblox®, a set of silicon blocks that you can fill with soft foods. The blocks look like play building blocks, so the idea is that young children be encouraged to play with their food and explore new tastes and textures rather than it being a chore. Parents can put different foods into each block and let their child effectively feed him or herself. The blocks can be turned inside out for cleaning, and are safe for use around children. They are also transportable.
Alix’s theory is backed up by research on the benefits of infant led weaning, and she has partnered with the University of Canberra to research this further using her product. So this isn’t just a random hipster fad, but one based on good parenting and nutrition. Plus it might even make your meal times fun.