Annabel Karmel

Sir: I am writing in response to Joanna Blythman’s idealistic take on how we should deal with fussy eaters and her somewhat distorted view that failing to cook from scratch for your child is a sign of neglect.

Tell that to the exhausted mother who’s been tearing around all day only to find there isn’t time to prepare that shepherds pie she’d planned. Yes, she knows how to cook. Yes, she wishes she’d pre-prepared something earlier. And yes, she tries to cook one main meal for everyone. But just for today, she reaches to the fridge for a toddler meal she knows her fussy child will eat (not to mention that the meal is low in salt with a good helping of veg). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent 25 years helping parents to scratch cook, and that education needs to continue. But let’s not give mum a hard time over a bag of carrot puffs or a veggie-filled toddler meal. It’s all about a healthy balance.

Let’s also give brands in the children food space some credit. Both the big and small industry players are continuously innovating, with nutrition at the very heart of NPD. Are fussy eaters a self-serving food industry construct? No. Many parents who tirelessly cook with ‘real’ ingredients at home will end up locked in a battle of wills at teatimes. Some children just aren’t built to devour everything in sight, and some just aren’t that into food. Some kids are simply wary of anything new - it’s a natural instinct. And it’s a sweeping statement to say children are becoming food decision-makers, pestering powerless parents to serve up a hotdogs, pizzas and salt-laden chips. Most parents are savvier than that.

It’s all too easy to pass the buck on to brands for giving parents a ‘get out’ clause from cooking, thus paving the way for fussy eaters. I’ve spent more than two decades writing over 40 books to help parents to cook well for their families, but even our own research tells us that sometimes mums need meals in minutes or snacks in seconds. And whilst it’s good to plan, life isn’t always that simple, and it’s brands like ours, which have been built on a rich heritage of food expertise, that can offer that level of quality assurance to mums in the supermarket aisle.

Let’s not berate parents for sometimes taking an easy option. We’ve all done it. Let’s instead continue what we are doing to educate the nation on the benefits of cooking with quality ingredients, whilst continuing to improve industry standards in the quality of children’s food out there.

Annabel Karmel MBE