July 13, 2008

The Right Picks for the Picky

By Su Aziz

SU AZIZ speaks to Annabel Karmel, who offers delicious solutions to parents with children who are fussy eaters.

In a restaurant one day, I witnessed an exasperated young mother coaxing her toddler to eat.

And the dish in question? A kid's platter of mini hamburgers and fries. The plastic dish on which it came held no garnishing and no frills. In fact, it looked to me as appetising as a plate of mush. What more to a toddler!

Parents and restaurants forget that colours, (the brighter the better), besides flavour and presentation, are equally important in whetting appetites.

Annabel Karmel, author of 16 books ranging from The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner to Lunchboxes and Snacks, Mummy and Me Cookbook and Favourite Family Recipes, understands this.

Mother to four grown children, Karmel has been writing since the death of her first child Natasha, who died at 13 weeks.

"Although she was born healthy, she died of a viral infection. After her death I wanted to work with children," she recalled. At the time she was a harpist, having studied classical music for five years.

"I started writing as a legacy to Natasha. And because my second child was a very fussy eater, I felt particularly vulnerable with a child who wouldn't eat, having lost my first one."

She has been writing now for the past two decades.

Karmel has just completed a new book on finger foods.

"I found it quite challenging coming up with 100 recipes for babies and toddlers," admitted the 51-year-old celebrity chef, television personality and entrepreneur who resides in London.

Targeting fussy eaters, Karmel's recipes would suit local taste buds, and are colourful and healthy to boot.

So why is it sometimes so difficult to get children to eat their meals?

"Many children don't like experimenting with new foods and prefer a limited range of familiar foods. The more you confine their diet to a few favourite foods, the more you encourage their fussiness," explained Karmel.

"Refusing food is also a way of asserting their independence. Its best not to make an issue of it. I would focus on the positive and praise a child when she eats, ignoring negative behaviour.

"It's important to make meal times happy occasions. A child will soon find that there is no point making a fuss if you don't react."

She said that convincing parents that meals need not be complicated and time-consuming was the biggest challenge she faced when writing about food for children.

"Most of my recipes can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes, with no long lists of ingredients or cooking experience needed."

Finicky eaters aren't the only ones she targets though.

"I also write books for mothers wanting to learn what to feed their babies.

"I find many women continue to give just fruit and vegetable purees to their infants, when what they need more are nutrient- dense foods like cheese, chicken, fish and meat.

"I encourage mums to give their babies a more varied diet as soon as possible.

"For example, the iron a baby inherits from his mother runs out at six months, so red meat is important as it provides the richest source of iron. Essential fatty acids are vital for brain development and the best source is oily fish like salmon," she explained, adding that it's important to introduce fish from an early age as a baby's brain doubles in size in the first year.

Fussy Eaters Recipe Book is her favourite among her books.

She explains why: "Because the recipes are delicious and children are encouraged to try new foods. I have chapters on how to get children to enjoy eating vegetables with a dish, for example, like Tomato Sauce and Mini Vegetable Balls.

"There is also a chapter on yummy recipes with fish, as so many children grow up disliking fish. The recipes are also suitable for the whole family."

What's been the most memorable comment on her books so far?

"A lot of people tell me that they cook dinner parties with my The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. I work hard constantly testing recipes because after all, children don't care how healthy something is, they only care what it tastes like."

Seeing that her recipes are tasty, attractive, nutritious and easy to chew, it caters to the elderly too.

"In fact, I have a food range in the United Kingdom for one to four-year-olds, and a lot of the seniors buy it!"

Curiously, this lady who wears many hats would prefer her puppy Oscar and "something on which to play music" if she is ever trapped on a deserted island with her three children.

"Oscar is adorable and just six months old. Music, I can't live without, and oh, chocolate too!"

For many parents, it would be her books on that island. Thankfully, they are available at all major bookstores.

(c) 2008 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.