The chef and bestselling author Annabel Karmel tells us that healthy, nutritious and, most importantly, tasty snacks and meals can transform even the most fussy eater into a happy and healthy food enthusiast.
Chef and author Annabel Karmel tells parents how to cure a fussy eater
The last time Annabel Karmel sat down with The National in April 2012, she spoke about wanting to develop a healthy food range for children that would be available worldwide, and most certainly in the UAE. Today, walk into any Waitrose or Spinneys outlet in the UAE, and Karmel’s Organic Baby Purées and Sauces packaged in squeezable pouches and her wholesome snack range developed with Disney – from dried fruit to mini biscotti – might very well be sold out.
Karmel is a household name in the United Kingdom, and no stranger to parents worldwide. She is the UK’s bestselling author on baby and children’s food and nutrition, and with 37 titles under her belt, covering every stage of a child’s development, she is no stranger to helping parents get their children to eat healthy, nutritious and, above all, delicious meals and snacks.
“This thing with diabetes – I mean, in the UAE alone there are 1.5 million diabetics – is a huge problem,” says Karmel. “We used to see type 2 diabetes in older people but now younger children are being diagnosed as well, because of overeating and obesity and poor weight management. If you target children, that’s the best way to try to beat this: get kids to eat well early on, because it is very difficult to break habits after the age of 5.”
Karmel’s range contains no additives, no sugar and no salt; pasteurisation preserves the natural ingredients, meaning no preservatives are used either.
“Many of the purées for babies and toddlers that are already in stores don’t taste very good,” says Karmel, who discovered that babies are not partial to bland food, contrary to popular opinion, when writing her first cookbook – the bestselling The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner – more than 20 years ago. “I had a large kitchen table with 20 babies and toddlers gathered trying out my recipes, and I was cooking sophisticated flavours for babies, using garlic and herbs and spices, and they loved it.”
With a new book coming out next month, featuring recipes that can be enjoyed by the entire family, Karmel has provided a solution to busy families who cannot afford to cook separate meals for their children. Babies, she says, eat very well between the age of 5 and 12 months.
“Instil in them good eating habits early on and they won’t be very fussy,” she says.
Snacking is healthy
“Kids are very stubborn. Getting them to eat three square meals a day is near to impossible, so you have to make sure they are getting snacks that are healthy,” says Karmel.
Moreover, children need to maintain high energy levels, which snacks help sustain.
While developing her range of healthy bites, Karmel worked with strict guidelines when it came to fat and sugar content.
“These snacks are even great for women on the go: they taste good, unlike most toddler snacks that taste like cardboard,” she says, frankly.
Although only Waitrose and Spinneys currently stock her products, Karmel hopes to get all grocery stores across the UAE on board as well, thus making them available to everybody from all backgrounds. “Instead of buying chocolates and chips, parents should be able to buy healthy, affordable snacks for their children.”
Sugar is the enemy
“Most products aimed at children, such as breakfast cereal, have high sugar content,” says Karmel. “Lots of things we think are healthy, such as granola bars or fruit yogurts, are packed with sugar.”
Read labels, she advises. A glass of orange juice, she says, contains five oranges. If your child is overweight, you’d be much better off getting them to eat an orange instead, “which has fibre and will fill them up”.
Give your child healthy food and make sure there’s lots to choose from.
“Have a low shelf in the fridge, keep it stocked with healthy foods so kids can feed themselves. Make wraps with labneh and cucumber. When children are home from school, it’s a window of opportunity because they’re so hungry but dinner isn’t ready. Instead of letting them open up a bag of potato chips, make sure there’s a plate of cut-up fruit on the table.”
Variety is key
“Bananas, cucumber and carrot sticks are great, but it’s good to have a variety of different tastes and textures to keep kids interested,” says Karmel. Variety is important for nutritional value as well, she says. “The imported purées on shelves here rarely have meats because of halal requirements, but children need protein – their brains needs essential fatty acids from sources such as salmon.” Karmel’s sauces, such as her lentil and tomato sauce, can be mixed with chicken, meat or fish for a nutritionally sound meal that’s easy to put together.
Kids can cook
If kids can play complicated computer games, then they can cook, says Karmel. There’s not much to scrambling eggs or making pancakes.
“When my kids were young, I told them they would cook for the family on Friday, not me.” Karmel would choose recipes with her children and do the chopping and knife wielding, but otherwise, they’d take over. “They thrived on it, it became a ritual and a fantastic way for them to learn. When they measure, they learn about maths, when timing, they learn about time, all while they’re having so much fun.” And they always eat what they make, so get them to make their own healthy granola bars or muffins to pack into their lunch boxes.
• Annabel’s Family Cookbook (Ebury Press), with recipes that can feed children and adults alike, is out now. Her new book, Quick and Easy Weaning, will be out Thursday. Visit www.annabelkarmel.com for details