10 minute read

A Change for the Better

We meet three children with very different dietary challenges – and ask the queen of kids’ cooking, Annabel Karmel, to help them and their families to make healthy changes.

TIANA, four, and her mum Donia are from Essex. Tiana has always been a fussy eater and refuses to try new foods.

AIRON, 12 and his mum Heather area from Swansea, Airon has a sweet tooth and has struggled with his weight for years.

WILLIAM, seven, and his mum Stephanie are from Cardiff. William has an extreme allergy to flax seed, peanuts, tree nuts, mustard and sesame.

For any parent, managing their child’s diet can be a real minefield. There’s so much information to sift through, including conflicting advice about what kids should eat and when. Factor in dealing with super-fussy eaters, overeating, snacking or even food allergies, and it can be tricky to know if you are doing the right thing.

Luckily, with a career spanning 25 years, there’s nothing that Annabel Karmel – one of the UK’s leading authorities on cooking for kids – hasn’t seen. From food intolerances to portion sizes, she knows pretty much everything about what children should be eating – and the best ways to get them to try it.

‘Cooking for a family needs to be fairly quick and easy,’ she says. ‘Plus, a dish has to be a crowd-pleaser – I think too many of us are running “kitchen cafés” at home, preparing multiple meals for different children. I don’t believe in this – you have to find recipes that everyone will eat, and that means tapping into what children find appealing.’

She says that one big mistake many parents make is thinking they can only give stereotypical children’s food to their kids. ‘Actually, kids love variety,’ she says. ‘They will enjoy dishes with lots of flavour, such as butter chicken curry and teriyaki salmon.’

With this in mind, we introduced Annabel to three children, each with a different dietary challenge, for her take on how their parents can introduce more healthy variety into their everyday meals. Read on for Annabel’s expert advice, plus delicious family recipes…


‘Tiana has always been a fussy eater – she won’t try anything new’

Tiana only eats a handful of different foods and mum Donia feels she has run out of options. Donia says: ‘Tiana has always been incredibly fussy; as a baby, she was very difficult to wean. She gets fixated on the same foods – plain pasta or rice, chicken breasts, broccoli and mackerel – and will just eat those over and over again. If I encourage her to try something new, she looks at the plate and says, “That looks disgusting”.

‘I’ve tried every trick in the book and she still won’t budge. It’s got to the point where I’ll just ask what she wants because whatever I choose to cook, she won’t eat. She hates chips, bread, potatoes, fish, cereal, anything with sauce on and any vegetable that isn’t broccoli. I just don’t know what to do for her any more – I’m at my wits’ end.’


‘Tiana drinks a lot of milk, which could be filling her up, so cutting that out might be a good start,’ explains Annabel. ‘If she doesn’t like chips, try sweet potatoes in meals. You can spiralise them and serve instead of pasta, try them as wedges or make them into “potato waffles”. Giving a dish child appeal – finger food is always popular! – is another way to help a child to enjoy eating. A reward chart could encourage Tiana to try some new foods. Get her involved in cooking them, too, as she may be more willing to taste something she’s helped to make.’


Donia says: ‘We’ve really made progress with Tiana over the past fortnight. Cutting down on milk has increased her appetite and she gave the meatball and spiralised sweet potato recipe (right) a try, which was a really big step for her. Thinking about how I present the food so that it looks appealing to Tiana, or is easy for her to eat with her hands, has also really helped. Getting her into cooking has been a good idea, too – she even ate a slice of bread that we had baked together.’

Mini beef & vegetable meatballs with sweet potato curls

Annabel says: ‘Meatballs are a great way to ‘hide’ veg that kids don’t want to eat. They are fun to eat with fingers, too, which children love.’

‘You can batch-cook these meatballs and freeze some for another day’

● 250g butternut squash, peeled and cubed

● 1 red onion, sliced

● 1 small red pepper, deseeded and diced

● 2tbsp sunflower oil

● 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

● 30g fresh breadcrumbs

● 250g lean minced beef

● 2tsp thyme leaves

1) Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.

2) Put the squash, onion, red pepper and 1tbsp of the oil onto a baking tray. Toss to coat, then roast for 25 mins. Leave to cool.

3) Leave the oven on. Line a large baking tray with nonstick baking paper.

4) Put the sweet potatoes through a spiralizer to make long curls. Arrange on the lined baking tray; drizzle over the rest of the oil. Roast for 20-25 mins, stirring halfway through, until golden and crisp.

5) Meanwhile, whizz the cooled roasted veg with the breadcrumbs, mince and thyme in a food processor until finely chopped. Shape into 24 meatballs and return to the baking tray.

6) Reduce the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6. Bake the meatballs for 15 mins or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve immediately with the sweet potato curls.


• 'Don't react. If your little one is refusing to eat, don't give their fussiness any attention– just let them go and play. A hungry child is a much less fussy child!'

• 'Time it properly. Children are often hungry after school, so this is a good time to try out new foods.'

• 'Mix it up. Feeding a child the same foods all the time may just encourage them to be fussy–and it's boring, too. We all need variety.'

• 'Put foods together. If your child is obsessed with one type of food, try combining it with something they don't like or haven't tried, such as adding green veg to a cheesy pasta dish.'

Whatever their dietary needs, kids will love these ice lollies packed with fruit and veg – perfect for dessert or a snack.

Beetroot & berry lollies

Annabel says: ‘Another fun way to get kids eating fruit and veg!’

Low in fat

● 50g cooked beetroot, chopped

● 100g strawberries, hulled and chopped

● 50g raspberries

● 100ml apple juice

● Extra fruit (optional), to serve

1) Whizz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into 6 small ice lolly moulds. Put in the freezer for 4-6 hrs or until solid.

2) Serve with extra fresh fruit, if you like.


‘We’ve got into bad eating habits, and snacking is our downfall’

Mum Heather feels responsible for her son Airon’s bad eating habits. She says: ‘Airon has picked up his overeating from me. I’ve struggled with my weight from the age of four, and I can see those habits have been passed on to him. He’s overweight and feels self-conscious about it. I do feel responsible – after all, I do most of the food shopping and cooking – but it can be difficult. Many ready meals have four servings, but the three of us will end up eating it all.

‘Snacking is one of our big downfalls and, like me, Airon has a sweet tooth. My parents never cooked, so it isn’t a skill they passed down to me, but I’m trying to learn now so I can make us healthier family meals from scratch.’


‘To overhaul your child’s diet, you need to do it as a family,’ explains Annabel. ‘Start with a healthier approach to cooking – steaming and grilling foods instead of frying them, or why not make your own chicken nuggets at home?

‘If snacking is an issue, make sure you have something to hand when they come in from school. A selection of cut-up fruit works well (children will often walk straight past a fruit bowl) and handy packets of ready-sliced fruit are brilliant for lunchboxes, too.’


Heather says: ‘Chatting to Annabel was so helpful. It made me realise that I had just been serving the same meals and so wasn’t making it interesting for Airon or encouraging him to eat new things. I was surprised that he loved the salmon recipe (right) – we’ll definitely make it again!

‘Now that I’ve started cutting up the fruit for his lunchbox, he’s actually started eating it. Plus, after cooking this salad, I feel a bit more confident that I can follow a simple recipe and know that it’s going to be good for Airon.’

Giant cous cous salad with salmon & rainbow veggies

Annabel says: ‘This so-simple recipe is a delicious mix of crunchy veg and flaky salmon, and the maple syrup dressing is a winner.’

A source of protein

● 125g Good & Balanced Giant Wholemeal Cous Cous

● 100g Frozen for Freshness Edamame Soya Beans

● 180g Asda Steamed Salmon Fillets, flaked

● 1 carrot, diced

● 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely diced

● 4 spring onions, sliced

● 198g tin sweetcorn, drained

● 3tbsp olive oil

● 1tbsp rice vinegar

● 1tsp balsamic vinegar

● 2tsp maple syrup

1) Cook the cous cous and edamame beans separately, according to the pack instructions. Allow to cool.

2) Mix together the cous cous, salmon and all the vegetables in a large bowl.

3) For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, both vinegars and maple syrup in a small bowl. Pour over the salad, toss, then serve.


‘Food shopping for us means spending ages checking labels for allergy warnings’

Mum Stephanie has found that it’s becoming more difficult to buy food that son William is able to eat. Stephanie says: ‘We had no idea William was allergic to anything until he went into anaphylactic shock, aged three, after drinking a smoothie with flax seed in it. Tests then showed he’s also allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, mustard and sesame. Following all the recent allergy awareness stories in the news, shopping for food is actually getting harder, as the “may contain” lists on everyday products seem to get longer.

‘William is an amazing little boy and he doesn’t let his allergies get to him, but they have definitely changed our lives as a family. We rarely eat out at restaurants – we’ve actually been refused service before – and eating at home means making a lot of meals from scratch. I definitely need some new ideas!’


‘Allergies like William’s can mean it’s especially difficult to enjoy Indian or Chinese dishes,’ says Annabel. ‘That’s why I wanted to give a recipe for a dish that he probably wouldn’t be able to order if he was having dinner in a restaurant. It’s also a great family meal, too. ‘For sweet treats, Stephanie could make her own granola bars at home and simply swap out any nuts and sesame seeds for oats or pumpkin seeds. William can have fun and learn a few cooking skills helping her to make them, too.’


Stephanie says: ‘Annabel’s butter chicken recipe (right) is our new favourite family dish – and just being able to all eat the same meal together has made such a difference. But the biggest change has been the improvement I’ve seen in William’s confidence – he’s so much more optimistic about dealing with his allergies now. After speaking to Annabel, he has a sense that he will be able to eat many more dishes as long as we make the right food swaps when we prepare them.’

Butter chicken with yellow rice

Annabel says: ‘This delicious chicken curry is free from nuts, mustard and sesame – and it will go down a treat with the whole family.’


● 15g unsalted butter

● 1 large onion, chopped

● 2cm piece root ginger, peeled and grated

● 2 cloves garlic, crushed

● 1tsp Asda Garam Masala Spice Blend

● 1tsp ground cumin

● 1tsp ground coriander

● 1tsp smoked paprika

● 2tbsp tomato purée

● 1 Oxo Reduced Salt Chicken Stock Cube made up to 200ml

● 2 skinless chicken breasts, diced

● 1tbsp Extra Special Mango, Apple and Ginger Chutney

● ¼tsp turmeric

● 200g basmati rice

● 6tbsp full-fat Greek yogurt

● 1 spring onion, sliced, to garnish (optional)

1) For the curry, melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 3-4 mins until softened but not browned, then add the ginger, garlic and spices. Cook for 30 secs, then add the tomato purée and chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 mins.

2) Season the chicken with ground black pepper, add to the curry sauce with the mango chutney and simmer for 15-18 mins until cooked through.

3) For the yellow rice, put the turmeric in a pan of boiling water. Add the basmati rice and stir, then reduce the heat and simmer for 12-15 mins until the rice is just tender. Drain and leave to steam in the sieve, covered, for 5 mins.

4) Stir the Greek yogurt into the chicken curry just before serving and serve with the yellow rice, garnished with the spring onion, if using.