It's high time Annabel Karmel was as well-known here in the United States as she is across the pond. This best-selling author from Britain has written 14 books on baby and children nutrition, including her latest, First Meals Food Diary. Her food philosophy is that diet is the one constant you can control with respect to your child's health.
We asked Annabel to share her top tips for getting kids of any age to eat healthy food. Keep reading for some great recipes and imaginative ideas.
- Essential fatty acids—found in oily fish like fresh salmon—are very important, particularly during the last three months because it aids in the baby's brain and visual development. I make a really quick, simple dish where you cook salmon, mushrooms, onion, soy, and pepper, in a paper parcel in the oven.
- It's important to eat a good breakfast during pregnancy, even if you feel sick. Rolled oats with dried fruit is a great option.
- When you are pregnant, it's a good idea to make meals and freeze them for when you come home from the hospital. With a new baby, you don't feel like cooking and you don't have much time to sleep. The last thing you are going to want to do is spend time in the kitchen. Plan to stock the freezer while you are still mobile.
Babies (1-6 months):
- Making your own fresh baby food is cheaper than store-bought jars. Plus, I think it's healthier because much of the processed baby food has been heat-treated, which preserves the food for a long time but also destroys Vitamins C and B. Moms can easily make food themselves—such as mashed bananas, pureed carrots, and mashed avocado.
- Root vegetables have a naturally sweet taste that babies like. I puree things like carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash until smooth and freeze them individually in ice cube trays. Then you can re-heat these purees as needed; they are particularly good mixed with apple or pear puree.
- Keep in mind that what's good for us as adults isn't necessarily good for babies. For example, babies need fat and calories (butter, whole milk yogurt, etc.), but they don't need as much fiber as adults.
Babies (6-12 months):
- Babies at this age need more calories than veggie and fruit purees can provide, so I suggest making a cheese sauce and mixing it with veggie purees to give babies more calories.
- At about seven months, you can introduce fish, chicken, and meat; this is important because the iron that babies received from their mothers usually runs out at six months. I like to mix these proteins in with root veggie and fruit purees. I make a nice puree that pairs chicken with sweet potato and apple.
- I find that moms think that babies don't like red meat. But what they really don't like is the texture of red meat—babies don't like lumps. So if you stew steak for a long time so it's soft and puree it until smooth and then mix it in, they will like it.
- Some moms are worried about protecting their babies from allergies and, therefore, are scared of introducing a variety of new foods. I think that unless there is an allergy in the family—eczema or hay fever, for example‐ there is no reason to withhold new foods from kids. In my opinion, it is best to introduce foods early on.
- Moms get really frustrated because toddlers are often fussy and refuse to eat. It is important to realize that this is completely normal: Babies grow very rapidly in the first year. In the second year, their metabolism slows down, and they get more excited and don't want to sit in the high chair. Therefore, it's natural that toddlers are more difficult eaters in second year. The key is to make the least reaction possible.
- Toddlers like to eat with their fingers; they don't want to be spoon-fed. Therefore, I think carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, pieces of chicken, little meatballs, etc. tend to work better than food that requires a spoon.
- Moms shouldn't worry if a toddler refuses to eat a meal. It's a good thing if a toddler is hungry. A hungry child is less fussy child.
Children (ages 4-10):
- This is a good age to start thinking about eating together as family and making one meal for everyone.
- This is the time to get kids interested in more exotic food. For example, I make a simple paella with chicken. Or kids might like a really nice Bolognese sauce.
- Try to get kids involved in kitchen and let them help prepare food. This is a great way to get them to eat new foods. Make food fun—let them have a group of friends of over for dinner, help them to cook their own supper, etc.