Is your child notoriously picky when it comes to food? Then consider Annabel Karmel your saving grace. As the UK’s number one children’s cookery author, Karmel knows a thing or two about how to get little ones eating well minus the mealtime dramas. Currently in Australia to launch her food range of organic baby purees and chilled toddler meals (you’ll find them in Coles), Karmel let me in on some of her trusty secrets for dealing with fussy eaters…
Don’t fuss over them
Don’t make a big deal about your child not wanting to eat something. “You have to try and ignore the bad eating habits and just take their plate away,” says Karmel. “They won’t be so fussy if you don’t give them that attention they’re craving. If they’re hungry and you just take their plate away, they’ll just think for next time ‘Oh mummy will just take it away, I better eat’.”
It’s okay if they miss a meal
As we all know hunger is great motivator and sometimes you have to be firm with your child if you want them to break their fussy eating habits. “It isn’t such a bad thing if your child misses a meal if they’re very very stubborn about trying something new because the hungry child will try something new and they’ll break that pattern. If they don’t break that pattern then they don’t get the nutrients they need,” says Karmel.
Variety is key
It can be tempting to keep giving your child the same tried and tested foods over and over again because you know it’s something they’ll eat. However Karmel says this just ends up making them more fussy. It’s important to introduce a variety of different foods to your child’s diet to get them used to trying new things. Case in point: Karmel’s frozen food range has 33 different food options such is her belief in this philosophy.
Don’t underestimate your child’s palate!
Given the chance you’d be surprised what food your child will actually like. “People make the mistake where they have this stereotype of children’s food that they only like chicken nuggets and pizza but actually they don’t,” says Karmel. “They like stir fries, they like butter chicken and if you try these things and eat as a family together you’d be surprised at what your child will like. And sometimes they don’t like bland things and if you make them tasty and you add spices and herbs they like that kind of food.”
Presentation is important
Food presentation is important to kids too. If their plate looks nice, you have a better chance of your child wanting to eat what’s on it. Karmel suggestions include having small portions on a plate rather than overloading it and instead of just putting a whole piece of fruit in a bowl, create a fruit skewer by cutting fruit into pieces and threading it onto a straw.
Don’t force them to eat
“I wouldn’t keep a child at the table for more than 15 minutes because after that it’s really counterproductive. They don’t want to sit there because they want to do other things,” says Karmel. So Karmel suggests after 15 minutes to let your child go then bring them back to the table.
Don’t give them unhealthy foods early on
Your child will eat what you give them so if you don’t give them unhealthy foods then they won’t have a chance to develop a taste for them. “You are the custodian of your child. Your child is not born with tastebuds that like salt and sugar,” says Karmel. “If you allow your child to have children’s food which unfortunately ends up being low quality food like the sugariest breakfast cereals and the saltiest chicken nuggets and pizza they will like those foods. It’s important to try not to give them those foods in the early years. If you don’t give them the sugary cereal they won’t crave it.”
Introduce a reward system
If you’re really facing an uphill battle with your child’s eating habits, consider rewarding them when they try something new. “You can have a good food reward chart where if they get 6 points they can watch their favourite TV show or get a trip to the zoo or something. Bribery works quite well as long as it’s for the right things! It’s a good way initially to get them to try something new,” says Karmel.