Annabel Karmel is an author on cooking for children and the manufacturer of the Eat Fussy range of healthy ready meals, which, together with Brakes's manufacturing business Creative Foods, she is launching into the restaurant market. She talks to Kerstin Kühn
What made you move into the restaurant sector?
I found that wherever you go, restaurants serve very stereotypical meals for kids, such as pizzas and chicken nuggets, and the quality is really bad. I've been a crusader for healthy eating for children for so long and realised that something needed to be done, so it was a natural progression for me to move into the sector.
Where will your range be available?
At the moment we've signed a deal with Tootsies, part of Clapham House Group, and we're in talks with a range of other operators, including Little Chef and Rainforest Café.
What's your menu all about?
It's about using the kind of foods that kids love and giving them a healthy twist. Going out for a meal is a treat, and kids want something that's not overtly healthy, so it's important to give them something that appeals to them and at the same time provides the nutrients they need. My spaghetti bolognese, for instance, includes five hidden vegetables that are blended in with the sauce so kids eat them without even realising it.
Where do operators go wrong?
The biggest problem is that they don't think about the nutrient side and only focus on what they think kids like. Children are growing, and they need nutrients much more than adults. With families going out to eat more and more, it's so important to provide healthy, tasty meals children enjoy. Operators should think about exploring different kinds of foods and focus on making it fun for kids.
How do you make food fun for kids?
It's about identifying the kinds of foods kids like and then creating something fun and interactive with them. Kids like pasta, so I developed a noodle stir-fry with chicken and lots of vegetables served with chopsticks. Kids love picking out the vegetable pieces with the chopsticks, so they're eating healthily and having fun. I also created a fish pie which is served in an oval dish with eyes and fins so it looks like a fish, and anything eaten with fingers or served on a skewer always goes down well.
Is there a problem regarding children's diets?
Yes. I think Jamie Oliver did a really good job in raising awareness, but kids don't like healthy foods at school and prefer a lunchbox or just to play with their friends at lunchtime rather than queuing up to eat. I find that when I pick up my kids from school is the best time to feed them, as they're starving. A hungry child is a less fussy child, so after school is the best time for parents to feed them healthy meals.