Hidden Hero: An Irish mother’s mission to tackle obesity and get kids eating vegetables

Hidden Hero: An Irish mother’s mission to tackle obesity and get kids eating vegetables
Aileen Cox Blundell’s determination to tackle obesity in children has led to two bestselling cookbooks, a popular blog and now a range of healthy convenience foods.

ONE Irish mother’s mission to tackle the obesity epidemic and get more kids eating vegetables has led to her developing an award-winning blog, two bestselling cookbooks and, most recently, a range of convenient foods specifically for children.

Hidden Heroes has been developed by Aileen Cox Blundell to offer a healthy alternative for time-poor parents seeking a nutritional alternative to the frequently sugar and salt-laden foods directed at this demographic.

“There are currently 880,000 children in Ireland under the age of 12 and only a quarter of them are eating the right amount of vegetables every day,” she explains. “I have met and listened to so many mums who have cried over the feeding habits of their children. I felt I had to do something to make a change.”

Having initially been inspired by a TEDTalk given by Jamie Oliver on childhood obesity, she opted to act through the development of a range of foods.

Our aim with Hidden Heroes is not to replace whole vegetables but to just give children that one extra portion in their diet in a fun way. To that end, we have sourced the best ingredients to create a product that contains only good food, no nasties, no additives or anything you cannot pronounce.

Aileen’s love of food and concern over the childhood obesity statistics led her to start a personal project, Baby Led Feeding, in 2015, and which has amassed a social media following of more than 100,000 parents keen to find innovative ways of incorporating more vegetables into their children’s diets, while avoiding the mealtime battle of the wills.

Within four months of setting up Baby Led Feeding, she had over 10,000 followers, parents craving information and inspiration to help improve the feeding habits of their children.

“The Baby Led Feeding platform now has more than 100,000 followers between Facebook and Instagram and I engage with them every day. It is these mum’s and dads who have inspired many of the recipes I have created and whose interest led to the launch of two cookbooks over the last few years.”

Listening to the concerns of parents and hearing about the difficulties around feeding their family from baby to the parents themselves have helped shape the progress of the platform on a constant basis.

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Bringing a product to market has been the hardest thing I have EVER done. I thought the hardest part would have been the standard of ingredients and manufacturing but it turns out the hardest work has just begun. . I find myself popping into stores and fixing bags in the freezer, chatting to random Mums, Dads and kids in the stores and I’ve even given out bags of my Hidden Heroes Nuggets at the tills. I wake up at 4am with amazing ideas and usually stay awake for the day after that because my mind wont switch off. . It’s hard to do the same level of marketing as the big guys when you are a small business with small business budgets. I am just an Irish Mum working my ass off to make the world a little better. . If you are anywhere near the @dunnesstores listed below please please try them. Every bag helps! Every single one. . Incidentally, this little guy Oscar, thinks I’m his hero and that makes everything all worthwhile. . 💥DUBLIN: Ashleaf, Blanchardstown, Cornelscourt, Crumlin, Donaghmede, Finglas, Kilnamanagh, Northside Grocery, Portmarnock, Swan Centre, Swords Pavilion, Stephen’s Green, Tallaght, Clondalkin, Leopardstown, Finglas Charlestown⠀ 💥CORK: Ballyvolane, Douglas, Ballincollig, Bandon Road; Bishopstown, Carrigaline, Macroom⠀ 💥CLARE: Shannon & Ennis⠀ 💥GALWAY: Westside, Terryland, Knocknacarra⠀ 💥KERRY: Killarney, Tralee N.C.R⠀ 💥LIMERICK: New Jetland SC, Harveys Quay, Parkway⠀ 💥LOUTH: Ard Easmuinn, The Marshes Dundalk, Coupes Cross Drogheda⠀ 💥WESTMEATH: Montree Athlone, Irishtown Athlone, Harbour Place Mullingar⠀ 💥TIPPERARY: Clonmel, Thurles⠀ 💥 LAOIS: Kyle Sc Portlaoise⠀ 💥WATERFORD: Dungarvan⠀ 💥OFFALY: Tullamore⠀ 💥MONAGHAN: Monaghan town⠀ 💥MEATH: Ashbourne⠀ 💥MAYO: Castlebar⠀ 💥LONGFORD: Weaverside⠀ 💥CARLOW: Carlow town⠀ 💥KILKENNY: Kiernan Street⠀ 💥KILDARE: Newbridge⠀ 💥DONEGAL: Letterkenny⠀ 💥CAVAN: Cavan town⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #hiddenheroes #plantbasedfood #vegankids #babyledfeeding #whatmykideats #babyledweaning #funfoodforkids #veganfoodlovers #veganireland⠀ #babyledweaningideas #firstfoods #weaning #eathappy #weaningbaby #babyfeed #kidfoods⠀ #cleaneatingrecipe #blwmenu #cleaneatingaddict #foodforfuel #healthierchoices #cookinghealthy⠀

A post shared by Aileen Cox Blundell (@babyledfeeding) on

“It was because of speaking to literally thousands of parents that led me to create Hidden Heroes. There is a huge need for a product that parents will feel good about feeding their little ones.”

With an idea for a healthy food product for children, Aileen successfully applied for the Food Works accelerator programme in 2017, and through this process discovered that the majority of food launches for children were snacks, bakery, dairy, breakfast cereals and chocolate confectionery and the bulk of snacks for kids were fruit-based.

With childhood obesity among the leading health concerns in Ireland and the UK, there was a clear gap in the market for innovation in a healthy vegetable-based convenient food, with no similar product marketed towards children currently available.

“Food Works was one of the most challenging, but most rewarding experiences of my life and it was crucial to the successful launch of Hidden Heroes. The programme gave me access to research which was key in identifying trends in children’s food. It also confirmed that there was a clear gap in the market for innovation in a healthy vegetable-based convenient food, and really felt like such a privilege to access to supports from Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.

"Our group of eight companies were phenomenal as we were all going through the exact same things more-or-less a the exact same time so it didn’t feel like the lonely journey a startup food business can sometimes feel,” she added.

Hidden Heroes are a blend of baked sweet vegetables mixed with lightly spiced chickpeas, formed into a nugget shape to ensure they look familiar to a child, and are cooked from frozen in 15 minutes.

The vegan-friendly range contains 100% natural ingredients and are a source of fibre, with each portion providing one of a child’s recommended five-a-day.

“We tweaked and trialled the recipe and packaging on multiple occasions until they were perfect. It took 18 months longer than expected to achieve this and it was much harder than I ever thought it would be.

"I cried and stamped my foot like a stubborn child many a time when it came to adding ingredients in that I didn’t want, and think I probably made a few grown men cry too, but where there is a will there is a way and we got there in the end,” she explains.

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🎉 COMPETITION TIME - WIN €100 Voucher for Dunnes Stores⠀ .⠀ Show us your best Hidden Heroes pose & you could win €100 Gift Voucher for Dunnes Stores 🎉🎉🎉⠀ .⠀ Take a photo with a bag of your favourite Hidden Heroes Nuggets in your best superhero pose! Share to your Instagram page or story and tag @babyledfeeding with #hiddenheroes and thats it!⠀ .⠀ One Hidden Hero will be chosen at random on Tuesday 18th June to receive a €100 Dunnes Stores voucher so you can stock up on your favourite colourful Hidden Heroes Nuggets!⠀ .⠀ Heres a SUPER cute image of Oscar for inspiration! You don't need a cape! You don't need a mask! Think flexing muscles, hands on hips, stretching limbs, it can be anything, anywhere. ⠀ .⠀ Happy, happy Friday!⠀ .⠀ Aileen xoxoxox⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #plantbasedfood #vegankids #babyledfeeding #whatmykideats #babyledweaning #funfoodforkids #veganfoodlovers #veganireland⠀ #babyledweaningideas #firstfoods #weaning #eathappy #weaningbaby #babyfeed #kidfoods⠀ #cleaneatingrecipe #blwmenu #cleaneatingaddict #foodforfuel #healthierchoices #cookinghealthy⠀ #homecookedmeals #healthykidsfood #kidsfood #whatmytoddlereats #blwmeals⠀ #cleaneatingchallenge

A post shared by Aileen Cox Blundell (@babyledfeeding) on

With obesity a growing problem in Ireland and around the world, Aileen notes a growing awareness amongst parents to act through more careful shopping and preparing of meals.

“There is a rising change. Parents are batch cooking more, reading labels more and making healthier choices for their children. Baby Led Feeding has grown by 30,000 parents in just one year, many of which are in Ireland.

WAs a parent of three children myself, I still have that one day during the week that I want a convenient food for my little ones but the problem for most parents is that they don’t feel good about the convenient foods they are currently feeding their children, on that one day.

“That was one of the main reasons I created Hidden Heroes. I wanted a mum or dad to be able to reach into the freezer, have a delicious meal for their children on a plate in 16 minutes, that would give them one of their five a day, and make the parent feel good about their choices.”

While thrilled to bring the Hidden Heroes product to market in Ireland, Aileen admits to having significant ambition to export to the UK, France and Canada over the next three years.

“With childhood obesity among the leading health concerns around the world, we see huge potential for Hidden Heroes on the international market.

"When you think about it, food is one of the few things a small child has complete control over. You can’t force them to eat, or it will just make the situation worse.

"The aim is to make eating veggies and fruit fun and to really praise their efforts, no matter how tiny they are. Children love to make you proud. Every little bit helps and is a step in the right direction.”

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