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Getting your little one to eat a variety of foods can be tricky. Annabel Karmel shares her advice on how to get off to a good start

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it can be difficult to coax your little one into exploring new tastes and eating enough at mealtimes. It’s worth persevering though, to help get them into these kinds of good eating habits. It’s easy to feel frustrated when they refuse to eat certain foods, but the good news is, you’re not alone. Most children will go through at least one fussy eating phase, so don’t be disheartened. If you’re currently coping with a fussy eater or simply want to get the whole family eating more healthily, here are some of Annabel’s top tips for getting everyone eating the good stuff.

Start early

“Eating habits and tastes are formed from a young age, so it’s important to introduce a variety of healthy, nutritious foods at the earliest possible opportunity, especially at the very beginning of their weaning journey.

“Simply mash, blend or serve soft, finger food versions of steamed carrot and broccoli or roasted cauliflower and sweet potato. Strawberries, slices of mango and banana are also fantastic healthy treats to get started. Children often like to eat with their fingers as it gives them a sense of independence so try breaking food up into manageable mouthfuls. And remember, they may need to try a new food as many as 10 to 15 times before they are willing to eat it, so patience is key.”

Eat together

“Set a good example by trying out new, healthy and nutritious foods together. Make it a social occasion rather than something they should be scared of. Children are very impressionable, and they’ll probably want what you’re eating. If you tuck into a plate of healthy foods, they’ll hopefully want to copy you.

“Eating together also gives the kids an opportunity to ask questions and learn about what they’re eating. And if they try it and don’t like it, don’t give up. Try again another day and they will eventually come round.”

Let them get involved

“You’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food if you prepare simple meals together from scratch. So why not get them to join you in the kitchen as they grow?” It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or time-consuming. Recipes such as Annabel’s sweetcorn fritters or mini Spanish tortillas are quick and easy for budding chefs.

Avoid empty calorie snacks

“Where possible, you should try to avoid giving sweets, chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks to your toddler. But you don’t need to shun sugar and snacks altogether, it’s all about striking a healthy balance; give them too often and they’ll start to become the norm, rather than a treat. One idea is to get them to make their own cakes so they understand they’re not readily available to have every day.

“When little ones are hungry, they won’t want to wait, so it’s also a good idea to always keep a supply of healthy snacks to hand. Pieces of fruit or batons of cucumber and carrot, or even breadsticks and rice cakes, dipped into a protein-packed homemade houmous are great options.”

Hide your frustrations

“If your little one can see that kicking up a fuss will get a reaction from you (or even better, a sweet treat), they’ll carry on behaving this way. Eating habits are largely influenced by the way you manage a situation. So if you don’t react, they’ll soon realise there’s not much point making a fuss.”

Experiment with healthy fast-food favourites

“Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t always control what your little one eats. When grandparents and childminders are in charge, you might not always be the one preparing their food. A few bad habits might sneak their way in and to save on arguments, it can be easier to give in and make them what they want. That way, at least you know there will be an clean plate at the end of the meal. But if your little one’s failsafe favourites aren’t as nutritious as you’d like, and to make sure they’re getting all the essential nutrients they need, try experimenting with some healthy versions of their preferred foods. For example, you could try making your own burgers, so you know exactly what’s going into them. Serve them with some baked sweet potato wedges as a nutritious and delicious alternative to chips. There won’t be a toddler tantrum in sight!”

Got a tricky toddler at dinnertime? Find out how Annabel helped one parent solve their fussy eating habits.

For lots of recipe inspiration take a look at Annabel’s Baby & Toddler Recipe app, now updated with more than 200 delicious recipes, as well as a whole host of features. For tasty, nutritious mealtimes (and clean plates), download it from the app store or visit www.annabelkarmel.com for more information.

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