We asked best-selling cookery author Annabel Karmel to help us with the issue of tackling fussy eating. She’s offered the following advice….
When babies start out on their weaning journey, I find that parents are often concerned that their children will grow into fussy eaters, and this is sometimes a worry that presents itself before first tastes have even been mastered! I know that for me, it was a very real worry. I was blessed with not one, but three, fussy eaters, and I had daily battles on my hands. I came out the other side and so will you, I promise.
I realise that it can sometimes feel like you are the only parent with a picky eater and everyone else’s child eats everything put in front of them, but this simply isn’t the case. In fact, around ninety per cent of children go through at least one lengthy phase of fussy eating.
There is evidence that food fussiness is genetically determined to an extent. Whether or not that’s the case, how you deal with the situation will considerably impact their eating habits now, and more importantly, in the future.
By only giving them the foods they enjoy, you will simply escalate their fussiness and deprive them of the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop. I always think it is important to note that patience is key when tackling fussy eating as your baby or child may need to try a new food as many as 10 to 15 times before they are willing to accept it and parents are often shocked (and put at ease) when they hear this stat.
More often than not, it is toddlers who get picky about food and this is because, at around 18 months, but often sooner, they start trying to assert their growing sense of independence. Unfortunately, food is one of the easiest ways for them to take control. When they reject the meal you’ve lovingly cooked-up in the kitchen, they feel like they are in charge, and very quickly realise they enjoy this feeling!
But the good news is that there are ways you can help to prevent picky eating, often simply by including children in family mealtimes. Here are a few of my top fussy eating tips:
Aim to start early
Eating habits and tastes are formed from an early age so it’s key to introduce your baby to those all-important nutritious foods at the very start of their weaning journey (and beyond).
Children often like to eat with their fingers as it gives them their very own sense of independence. Not only this, but finger foods are more manageable and less overwhelming for a small child.
From a young age your baby can have elements of what you’re eating as a family at mealtimes. If you’re having fish with some roasted veg and sweet potato wedges for example, then offer them a little of each (minus any added salt) directly onto their highchair table to pick up themselves. Or for dessert, a simple fruit salad is a dish the whole family can enjoy. Strawberries, slices of mango and banana are fantastic healthy and nutritious finger foods.
Getting children to take an active interest in what they’re eating is essential for their general health and wellbeing. It’s amazing how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite. Plus, children can join you in the kitchen earlier than you might think – whether it’s counting ingredients or stirring the food, little ones can give you a helping hand.
Plus, introducing some hands-on fun to mealtimes is a great tactic to get your child to try new foods that they would usually shun.
While you’re cooking together, you could try playing a food trivia game and blindfold each child before introducing a new food and ask them to guess what it is. Giving them facts is likely to make them more interested about what is going into the food they are preparing (and eating).
I believe that sitting down together as a family around the table is so important. This removes any potential distractions from the TV, mobile phones or tablets, and instead, it’s a chance to take some out from your busy day, catch up and spend some quality time together as a family. It’s also an opportunity to try new healthy nutritious foods with them. Not only are you setting a good example, but it gives kids an opportunity to ask questions and learn about what you’re eating. Children are so impressionable – they’ll want what the grown-ups are having!
Children learn from other children so, if you have friends with older kids who are past this picky-eating stage and tuck into whatever is on offer, invite them round. Post nursery play dates can be a fantastic tool in tackling fusty eating. Simply by watching other children eating the food on offer, your fussy-eating tot will be motivated to try it themselves.
Make the food look good
Make up batches of mini chicken pie portions in ramekins, serve my Crispy Baked Cod in a cone with some sweet potato ‘chips’, or thread bite-sized pieces of fruit onto a straw. You don’t have to spend hours beautifying meals, but a few simple tweaks on the serving front will have them intrigued to try. You can also lay out bowls of ingredients and get the kids assembling foods such as salad lollipops, animal face bagels, or teddy bear pizzas.
If you are looking for quick and balanced options for your little one on those jam-packed days, Annabel’s award- winning Chilled Toddler Meal range includes children’s favourites that even the fussiest of eaters will enjoy! From Scrummy Fish Pie to Mild Chicken Tikka and Tasty Chicken & Potato Pie, discover the full range at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado. www.annabelkarmel.com