- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - “Just take a bite - one bite,” says every parent ever, at some point.

First bites are the hardest, particularly for parents of picky eaters.

Bobbie Rhoads, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, finally figured it out for her two daughters - cut food into fun little shapes, and let them play with it.

As it turns out, that’s a lot of extra work. She figured if she could make cutting foods into fun shapes easier, there might be a market for that. So, with her husband, Ed Rhoads, who has a mechanical-engineering degree from CMU, they designed FunBites.

Getting kids to bite is one thing. Getting the tycoons/investors on ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank” to bite was another thing entirely.

“We tried for three years, since the business started,” says Rhoads, who grew up in Shadyside and currently lives in Connecticut. “It came from my dad - he watches the show. We didn’t even know what it was. Each year, we’d get through to the video-submission round. They usually didn’t like the video. About 42,000 people applied this year. They film 90. Out of the 90 that they film, half of those air. Even after you film, there’s only a 50 percent that you air. And only half of them get a deal.”

Rhoads got the deal. One of the “Sharks,” Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, shouted “Pittsburgh!” when she mentioned Carnegie Mellon. But it was Lori Greiner, “Queen of QVC,” who took the first bite. She offered $75,000 for 25 percent equity in the company.

Rhoads sees her product as a way for parents to level the playing field with the giant food corporations.

“The big food companies have figured out how to entice these kids to eat their sugary, colorful snacks and fun-shaped, not-so-healthy nuggets,” said Rhoads on “Shark Tank.”

“(It’s about) making healthy food more fun and appealing,” she explained. “Playing and interacting with food makes eating more fun. Cornell University found that if you allow kids to play with their food, they’re open to trying new things and eating healthier.”

The solution was two pieces of soft, but sturdy, plastic.

“It has a curved blade, so it’s able to cut through a variety of foods,” Rhoads says.

The two-piece set is made of Delrin, a super-sturdy plastic made in the United States by DuPont. “It’s as sharp as a butter knife, but you can throw it out the window and it won’t break. It has a matching popper top, to pop out the pieces.”

There are several different FunBites that allow one to cut out squares, triangles, hearts and crescents of varying shapes and sizes. You can cut through cheese and bread with ease and make little sandwiches, for example.

“It really works with everything,” Rhoads says. “Really cute with pancakes or waffles. When we have play dates, we make heart-shaped pancakes. Bloggers have used it for strawberries, orange melons, green melons. Tea party sandwiches. Turkey burgers. Quesadillas.”

The product can be found online at funbites.com, on amazon.com, and at a number of kid-oriented online retailers and physical stores.

Rhoads is in talks with Disney to get Marvel Comics-branded versions of FunBites.

Before going on “Shark Tank,” the couple had more than $500,000 in sales in three years, which likely helped prove a market for the product exists.

Some creative uses have come as a surprise. Many parents of autistic children have written to Rhoads, telling her how helpful FunBites have been.

“We’ve been sought out by a lot of grandparents with arthritis,” she says. “It’s really easy to cut through things with the curved blade.

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Online: http://bit.ly/18U8oKr

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com

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