If you’ve been a follower (and hopefully fan! 😉) of Allergy Amulet for some time, you know we love to support other founders shaking things up in the food allergy world.
Enter Meenal Lele, founder & CEO of Lil Mixins. We had a chance to chat with Meenal recently, and as most great stories start, her company was born from personal experience.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for your company?
My son was diagnosed with an egg allergy at around 10 months, and shortly after that developed allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. We had avoided feeding him those foods as an infant (even though I ate a ton of them), because that was the going recommendation back in 2014.
There’s a stat out there that two out of every three food allergy moms are blindsided when they discover their child has a food allergy. That was me—no one on either side of our family has food allergies. On my side of the family, there aren’t even seasonal allergies or eczema.
The LEAP study in 2015 changed everything. This study came out less than a year after my first son was born and 8 months before my second. Suddenly, there was proof that introducing common food allergens to infants between 4-11 months could reduce the risk of developing a food allergy, so I tried my hand at making homemade purees that included these allergens for my second child.
The home cooking turned into Lil Mixins over drinks with friends. I was telling them about how much time and effort it took me to figure out how to prepare these purees. We all agreed most moms would never have the time to do this—and that someone should do something to help other moms. My friends said, if you do this, we will help you in any way we can. So I did, and they have.
Was it challenging to balance managing your older son’s food allergies while introducing those same allergens to your younger son?
I knew I couldn’t use peanut puff snacks because they are messy and would leave crumbs everywhere, so I initially decided to make a pureed mix with peanut butter. But after spending 20 minutes sanitizing the kitchen afterwards, I realized that there was no way I could do this three times a week (per the LEAP study recommendation).
Since babies eat small amounts of food often, the smartest hack I found was to make a large batch of something and then freeze it or keep it in ice cube trays.
Lil Mixins was the result of me spending months trying different ways to apply this same logic to tree nuts and eggs. I wanted to make a lot ahead of time and keep it fresh until I needed it. The batches also had to be easy to proportion into my kid’s meals, and limit the spread of the allergen to clothes, tables, etc. This way I was able to expose my younger son while keeping my older son safe.
Eventually I figured out that the best way to accomplish everything was to dehydrate and defat the foods—dehydrating them prevented bacteria growth so that they could remain shelf-stable, and defatting them gave them a fluffy texture that wouldn’t pose a choking risk. As an added bonus, dehydrating and defatting is natural and preserves all the nutrients and fiber. There’s no need for added chemicals, sugars, or artificial ingredients.
How did you determine how much of each allergen to add to your recipes?
With Lil Mixins’ product line, we make sure parents can follow the LEAP study protocol of three servings per week, with two grams of peanut protein in each serving.
We also looked at another lesser-known study that focused on egg: the PETIT study. This research showed that feeding babies baked eggs and then transitioning to cooked or scrambled eggs was 15x safer. We offer the only baked egg product for parents who want to start introduction in line with this research.
There’s also a fascinating study showing that certain tree nuts have demonstrated a “superpower” ability to teach the body to tolerate themselves AND other tree nuts. Our tree nut powder is the combination of four “super” tree nuts, which together may help the body develop a tolerance to all tree nuts.
When creating your products, what were your top priorities going into production?
My top priorities were trust and access. Lil Mixins is recommended by over 1,000 pediatricians because we give parents exactly what they need. No more, no less. Access is about making sure every parent can afford early introduction. You shouldn’t be kept from protecting your baby because you can’t afford to pay $50 a month. A single jar of Lil Mixins will last a parent over four months and costs only $35.
Lil Mixins also focuses on foods that are difficult and time-consuming to prepare safely—peanuts, tree nuts, and baked eggs. Will we expand to dairy? Never. Because yogurt is already available and safe for babies. We may look at fish and shellfish down the road.
Anything else our readers should know about early food allergen prevention?
There are so few times we get to prevent a massive, deadly, and costly disease with something so simple: feeding babies food. Early introduction is as straightforward as handwashing is to preventing most colds. I hope every parent feels empowered by all the new science available to protect their babies. It feels so helpless to simply hope your kid doesn’t develop food allergies. Being proactive and protecting your child is empowering!
Any advice for fellow food allergy moms trying to manage it all?
Forgive yourself. On some level, every reaction my child has had is because of something I gave him to eat. Undisclosed or unknown ingredients can happen any time. There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer and knowing you caused it. Our children put all their trust in us, and sometimes we let them down. We are only human. We make mistakes despite our best efforts. And we have to forgive ourselves. I’m trying.
Meenal Lele is the founder and CEO of Lil Mixins, maker of infant foods to get eggs and nuts into babies diets and reduce their risk of developing food allergies. She is an engineer and entrepreneur. Meenal is a mom to two and lives in Philadelphia with her family.