Annabel Karmel reveals her top tips to feed a fussy toddler

Photos: Annabel Karmel - supplied
Photos: Annabel Karmel - supplied  

Are you feeling overwhelmed trying to feed your baby or toddler? We asked baby food expert and cookbook author, Annabel Karmel, for her best advice and tips around weaning, allergies and how to feed fussy toddlers.  

When it comes to weaning, I think now more than ever there seems to be so much conflicting, and at times what feels like, outdated advice available to parents when it comes to embarking on their weaning journey.

And there is still a certain amount of pressure on parents who feel like they have to 'get it right' all of the time. 

Weaning can feel challenging whatever stage you're at and as all babies are completely different it doesn't even seem to help if you've been there before with another baby!

What parents are most worried about 

Allergies are a big concern for parents which isn't a surprise given that childhood allergies are on the rise. Recent research has shown that early exposure (around 6 months ) to foods like peanut butter, eggs , cow's milk etc.. is the best strategy for avoiding food allergy in babies .  

Whilst family allergy history plays a role in how prone to food allergy a baby may be, specific food allergies are not inherited . However food allergies are more common amongst children from families where other members suffer from an allergy. Also babies who have severe eczema are much more likely to suffer from a food allergy so for these babies seek medical advice before introducing potentially allergenic foods.

Choking when introducing finger foods is a worry and parents want to know what are the best first finger foods to introduce .  

Start with soft finger foods like banana, avocado, mango, pear, steamed carrots, roasted sweet potato wedges etc.. Your baby will need to close her had around the food so its best to start with pieces long enough to hold in her fist with some sticking out. Fairly long pieces (5 to 6 cm long stand the best chance of being picked up .  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Avoid giving hard foods like raw carrot or apple until your baby can chew.

Gagging as opposed to choking is a safety mechanism – it's a natural response to food travelling too far back in the mouth. Gagging is your baby's way of managing the problem and they'll usually sort it out without your help. You can offer a gentle pat or a sip of water to them . you are there for reassurance .

Babies need to learn to use their tongue to move food from the front of their mouth to the back, so they can swallow it . Just because your baby gags it doesn't mean that you cant give finger foods .

Never leave your baby alone whilst eating and they must always be supported in an upright position .

Help - How can I get my fussy toddler to eat 

Don't just stick to a few favourite meals

Offer a variety of healthy dishes and keep trying new recipes. Offering only the foods that you are sure your child will eat can encourage extreme fussiness and may lead to a restricted and unbalanced diet.

If your child only eats junk food as a first step you can make your own 'healthy junk food'

Burgers with lean minced beef and veggies like onion, carrot and sweet pepper, ice pops made with fresh fruits and veg like my Carrot, Mango and Orange Lollies. You can also resort to disguise with my Spaghetti and tomato sauce with hidden veggies.

Make food look attractive and fun 
You can make individual fish pies or cottage pies in ramekins, thread bite sized pieces of fruit onto a straw to make a fruit skewer or my chicken, cucumber and cheese straws.

Healthy snacks  

After school is a great time to get your child to eat something healthy as children generally come out of school hungry. Try giving raw veg with a dip like hummus, easy to prepare wraps, or something like my delicious Carrot Cake energy balls in my new cookbook will poser your baby's day and made with only nutritious ingredients and no sugar whizzed up in a food processor, rolled into balls and stored in the fridge.

Toddlers and even babies are often more sophisticated in their tastes than you might imagine

My First Chicken Curry is popular with 7-month-olds and recipes like chicken satay quesadillas or Chicken Chow Mein are popular at an early age. Don't be scared of saying 'no' better that they miss a meal than they only eat junk food and a hungry child will be a less fussy child.

The biggest myths about feeing a baby 

Babies and toddlers need a low fat, high fibre diet 

Actually adult guidelines don't apply to young children as they have small tummies and need proportionately more fat in their diet.  Choose nutrient dense foods like cheese and avocado and don't give low fat dairy products under 2 years .  

Too many high fibre foods can fill up your baby's tummy without them getting the nutrients that they need to grow. So don't give too much brown bread or wholemeal pasta. Its best to give a mix of white and brown bread, white and wholemeal pasta and white and brown rice. Also fibre can deplete the body of important nutrients like iron .

Spinach is a good source of iron 

It's true that green leafy vegetables are rich in iron, however iron from plant sources is difficult to absorb. In order to absorb iron from green leafy vegetables you need to include a vitamin C rich food at the same meal something like strawberries, blueberries, citrus fruit or vegetables like sweet pepper or broccoli.

If your baby or toddler has an egg allergy you need to avoid any foods that contain egg

This is not always true. Egg allergy is very common and some children cannot tolerate any foods with egg. However some children who cannot tolerate eggs in scrambled egg, omelette, boiled egg etc.. are sometimes able to tolerate egg in baked foods like meatballs, chicken goujons, biscuits and cakes. For these children including small amounts of egg in the diet can help them eventually grow out of their egg allergy.

Toddlers don't like curries 

Not true. In fact I find that babies enjoy a mild curry from as early as 7 months. As babies and young children shouldn't have too much salt in their diet, adding some curry paste or powder is a good way to add flavour without adding salt .

Annabel Karmel is a London-born mother of three with a career spanning over 25 years. Credited with starting a food revolution with her trusty recipes and methods, she has become the UK's No.1 children's cookery author, best-selling international author, and the mother of all feeding experts with 45 cookbooks…and counting.

She has just released her latest book, Weaning Made Simple, RRP $39.99. Find out more at annabelkarmel.com