Real Life: We Talk Tasty Family Meals With Annabel Karmel
Very few parents have embarked upon the weaning stage without consulting at least one of Annabel Karmel's books. The UK’s No.1 children’s cookery author, Annabel has pioneered the way families all over the world feed their babies and children. So, here in the Great Little Trading Co. office, we were very excited to receive a copy of her brand new book, Real Food Kids Will Love.
Real Food Kids Will Love offers everything today's parents are looking for once their toddlers are ready to start joining in with family mealtimes. Each dish is designed to be enjoyed by the whole family, while remaining simple, healthy, and nutritionally balanced for young children – helping develop healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.
The chapters make choosing a fuss-free dish simple. Many recipes include swap-outs to cater for those with food allergies, intolerances or particularly fussy eaters! There is a huge range of meat-free and vegan meal options as well as recipes including meat and fish.
We were lucky enough to be able to have a quick chat with Annabel and ask for her advice on some of the food issues that many parents face each and every day. No doubt we'll all be able to relate to at least one or two of these situations.
I always believed that by introducing my children to a variety of foods at an early age it would mean that they'd forever be open to those different tastes. However, as they've got older, they've suddenly decided that they don't like them. Have you come across this and how would you deal with it?
Yes absolutely and I think a lot of parents out there will sympathise! Children can go through numerous ‘out of the blue’ phases of liking something one day and detesting it the next. It’s often a way of them asserting their independence as food is something they realise they have control over. Frustratingly, it’s often the food that’s good for them which are the main culprits of these certain picky eating phases. However, a phase is all it will be so try not to be overly concerned.
My first piece of advice would be to not put too much of an emphasis on portion size and instead, get them to try a few mouthfuls of everything and try not to make it into a big deal if they don’t.
Unfortunately, there is often no rhyme or reason as to why children go through picky phases. I often say that a hungry child is a less fussy child. So, the best tip I would say is to try to avoid giving too many snacks close to mealtimes and if your child refuses the meals that you give them, respond with ‘fine you are obviously not hungry’ and let them go and play. Long drawn out mealtimes where you are constantly looking for something to tempt your child can be stressful and very unenjoyable for everyone.
I love to cook with herbs and spices, but my child can spot a speck of basil a mile off and refuse to eat anything on her plate because of it. Do you have any tips for disguising herbs and spices in meals or helping my child to overcome her aversion?
You might find that the blender will become your new best friend! My own fussy-eating son was very similar and could spot what I thought was a ‘hidden’ veggie a mile off! So, I started to blend sauces containing lots of different vegetables – what they can’t see they can’t pick out.
Hiding herbs and veggies is step one and a quick and easy solution butit is also important to educate them on different ingredients, where they come from and why you like them yourself. Children follow by example and with some explaining they’ll soon start to appreciate that these herbs and spices add lots of flavour to meals and that this is what makes them tasty.
My kids used to love growing cress in egg cups on the window sill so you could get them to help you grow and look after a basil plant on the window ledge or perhaps plant some chives in the garden.
Don’t spend hours doing so, but it is worth taking that extra step to try to make sure that your child’s food not only tastes good but looks good too – and use herbs to achieve this. For example, why not try making my Mini Bunny Quiches with chives for whiskers! It’s a sure-fire way to tempt them into trying something new.
Regarding snacks for older children, what would you recommend for that peak hunger time between finishing school and having dinner on the table? My children tend to think that because they have healthy snacks in school, they're entitled to something a little less good for them at home.
Mini savoury muffins are my usual go-to as they will keep hungry tums satisfied while including lots of nutritious ingredients. My Carrot, Cheese and Tomato Muffins from my new book are delicious and will help count towards their 5-a-day.
Another trick is to offer them something they might initially think is, as you say, ‘a little less good for them’. My No-sugar Chocolate Orange Energy Balls from my new book Real Food Kids Will Love are the perfect sweet treat or on-the-go healthy snack. They are absolutely delicious and noone would know they are made with dates, cacao and cashew nuts rather than butter, sugar and chocolate!
In the warm weather ice cream will always be a winner! Why not make my super simple Banana Ice Cream – you can always lay out ingredient bowls of fresh fruit and chopped nuts for them to top their own healthy after school snack.
When it comes to table manners, which we all agree are hugely important, how would you go about reinforcing them to children who don't necessarily want to sit politely at the table?
Generally, when we think about the health benefits of mealtimes, we typically consider what we should or should not be eating. Yet, whilst super-nutritious mealtimes are an absolute must, sharing good food at the dinner table has boundless benefits. For everyone of all ages, gathering at the dining table provides an opportunity to build family bonds, share stories and learn from each other including how to conduct conversations, observe good manners, serve others, listen and compromise.
There is no magic number but if you aim to sit down together as a family at least two to three times a week then you’re on the right track. To make the most of these occasions, try to ensure that everyone gets the chance to talk and join in the conversation. You could also let the children choose the menu. It will make them feel included and make it a lot easier in encouraging them to sit down at the dinner table (and hopefully eat their dinner!)
We're a family on the verge of giving up meat completely but I'm worried about whether it will have an impact on offering my children a balanced diet? Which foods/meals/recipes would you recommend to ensure that my children don't miss out on any much-needed nutrients?
There are lots of health benefits associated with vegetarianism and veganism, and more and more families are looking to adopt a similar approach. However, parents do have to be extra careful to ensure their children are getting key nutrients mainly in the form of protein, calcium, Iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and fibre for their development and long-term health.
Foods such as tofu or beans and pulses (such as lentils), dairy products, eggs, green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli and spinach) and fortified breakfast cereals are all fantastic foods to include on the menu for your family.
Try a vegetable and lentil curry or a lentil Bolognese as an easy initial switch from using chicken and beef mince.
If as a family you are looking to follow a vegetarian diet rather than vegan then eggs are a fantastic ingredient to use as they are packed full of nutrients andan excellent source of protein and also contain iron and zinc.Often referred to as ‘nature's multivitamin’, they are extremely versatile and make the perfect base for countless healthy meals or snacks – try cooking-up an omelette, scrambled eggs, mini tartlets or some frittata muffins and get creative with nutritious toppings and fillings.
It's probably my own fault by telling them to 'eat up your dinner or you won't get a pudding', but my children eat their dinner far too quickly simply to get their hands on something sweet. Do you have any tips on encouraging them to slow down and enjoy their food?
There are so many distractions at the dinner table. Whether they are scoffing down their dinner quickly to get to the end goal – dessert, or, if they just want to go back to play time as quickly as possible, it’s a common occurrence in households!
At the age of 4, 6 and 7 I encouraged my children to cook the supper for the family every Friday. It’s a great way to teach them how to cook and about different foods, where they come from and how to handle utensils sensibly. Plus, you’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food when preparing simple meals together from scratch. Fajitas, quesadillas or mini tortilla pizzas are great options to serve to the kids. Place lots if bowls of different toppings and get them to fill, fold and top their own dinner. This should slow them down and the activity of creating their own dinner will mean they enjoy it more and take more of an interest.
I seem to be stuck in a rut of creating meals for my children different to what my husband and I are eating which means spending an extraordinary amount of time in the kitchen every evening. How can I reverse this and go back to eating all together without creating drama every evening about what's for dinner?
You don’t need to cook ‘food for kids’, you simply need to cook real food that the whole family will love – nourishing meals that are fresh wholesome and delicious. It is easy to underestimate how adventurous children can be when it comes to new tastes and how much they will enjoy the foods you and your husband enjoy too.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself by creating lots of different meals – I assure you there is no reason why you can’t make the same meal for the whole family. You just need to look at ways you can reduce your time spent in the kitchen. One-pot meals for example are fantastic and mean you’re not having to prepare more than one dish. You could also cook a double batch of bolognese, chicken and potato pie or a versatile tomato sauce for example over the weekend and then freeze smaller individual portions for midweek dinners in minutes.
I'm keen to start planting and growing food with my children. What should I grow that would work in as many of your recipes as possible? Are there certain fruits or vegetables that are more appealing to children?
Herbs are a great go-to, requiring minimal fuss. I use so many herbs in my recipes from sage to thyme, basil and chives. They add so much flavour to recipes which means you can reduce the seasoning you add to your food as the flavour instead comes from herbs. For example, basil is fantastic as you can make a quick pesto for homemade pizza toppings or to stir into pasta for a quick as a flash supper.
Otherwise I think it’s great to try a variety of fruit and vegetables and focus on what works seasonally. I love courgettes, tomatoes and berries in the summer months as they are all so incredibly versatile – for example, you can get the kids to help turn your home-grown courgettes into courgetti as a fun and healthy spaghetti alternative!
In autumn I love cooking with root vegetables such as sweet potato, butternut squash and carrots. I make a lovely Chicken Tikka Masala with Butternut Squash which the whole family will enjoy.
My five year old is really keen to start helping in the kitchen. Which tasks should I start him off on? And which recipe/s is a great one to get him to help with?
Children can join you in the kitchen earlier than you might think. Whether it’s counting out, weighing or stirring ingredients, mashing, cracking eggs or rolling dough, little ones can give you a helping hand.
You’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food when preparing simple meals together from scratch. It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming – why not start with a simple savoury muffin or a quick and easy frittata recipe (with lots of tasty toppings). Try my Cheese & Cherry Tomato Muffin recipe – it’s a delicious (and nutritious) one to begin with and sure to be a hit.
Decorating what they have created in the kitchen, whether that’s cupcakes, mini pizzas or biscuits will very quickly become their new favourite tasty task. Lay out ingredient bowls and assign mini helpers with themed foodie challenges such as animal bagels, or funny face muffins.
Annabel, you write such wonderful recipes, but do you have a favourite? And which food/meal is your personal guilty pleasure?
That’s such a tough question but there’s nothing better than a one-pot recipe at the weekend. I love entertaining family and friends and my One-pot Roast Chicken is an easy, all-in-one meal that feeds the whole family. Plus, you can just put it in the oven and get on with other jobs while it cooks.
I also love the Glazed Salmon with Chinese-Style Veggie Rice in my new book, Real Food Kids Will Love. The salmon marinade is deliciously moreish, it’s packed full of lots of different jewel-like coloured veggies and is so quick to prepare.
I am a big lover of Japanese food but I have never eaten in Japan. I love sushi and nothing surpasses the quality of the ingredients in Japanese food and the way it’s presented. I would love to travel to Japan and try authentic Japanese food.
A huge thank you to Annabel for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope that you find them useful. If you'd like to get your hands on a copy of Annabel's new book, Real Food Kids Will Love, pop over to Instagram and check out this photo, as we have two copies to give away. Good luck! (Competition now closed)
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