How to Pack a Child off to School with a Healthy Lunch; Kitchen Assistant: Annabel and Her Daughter Scarlett Make Gingerbread Men as a Special Treat

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Byline: LISA FREEDMAN

Annabel Karmel may look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree -fine-boned and fragile - but she has a mind as sharp as a Sabatier knife. And,fortunately for desperate mothers everywhere, she's chosen to use this incisiveinstrument dreaming up ways to tempt fussy eaters to finish every lastmouthful in their school packed lunch.

It is, of course, a mother's lot to worry that her child is not eating properlybut, for Annabel, 45, the concern was even more pressing. 'I lost my firstchild, Natasha, to encephalitis at three months and, after that, I always feltvulnerable.' This early tragedy meant that when her son Nicholas was born 19years ago, she was particularly concerned that he was getting every ounceofgoodness. 'I'dtempt him with combinations of foods he loved such as avocados and bananasrolled into balls.' Her friends - all with tricky newborns of their own - wereso impressed by her technique, they urged her to write a cookery book. And,withonlya post-school typing course and a Cordon Bleu diploma, she set out to oblige.

Fifteen books later, Karmel has become one of the country's leading specialistsin feeding children,and was awarded an MBE last year for her outstanding workin the field.

Annabel's three children - as well as Nicholas, there's Lara, 17, and Scarlett,15 - are well past the packed-lunch stage, but starting children off right isstill fundamental to her philosophy.

'If they're used to a variety of fresh flavours from the word go, children aremuch less likely to become fussy eaters later on,' she says.

Annabel is also aware that, of the5.5 billion children's lunchboxes packed each year, three out of four areoverloaded with fat, sugar and salt. Little wonder that 25 per cent of childrenin England are classed as overweight.A healthy lunchbox, according to Annabel,should contain a source of protein such as chickenortunatokeepyour child alert; complex carbohydrates like a pasta salad or a sandwich madewith wholegrain bread for energy; and calcium, found in cheese or yogurt, forhealthy bones and teeth.

There should also be two portions of fruit and vegetables for vitamins andminerals, and a little fat for staying power,so it is fine to include a treatsuch as cookies or gingerbread men.

And however healthy a packed lunch you prepare might be, it won't get eaten,says Annabel, unless it's tasty and appealing to your child. 'Simple touchescan make the difference,' she says,'such as cutting sandwiches into shapesusing cookie cutters, or threading fruit on to a straw to make a fresh fruitskewer.

'Children at primary school are always in a great rush to play, so involve themin preparing food that goes into the lunchbox.

'Make food they can share with friends such as flapjacks and biscuits. Muffins,too, are a useful portable treat, since you can sneak in healthy ingredients.'Annabel suggests revving up sand wiches or, better still, making pitta pocketswith tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise, tortilla wraps with sliced turkey,saladcream,shredded lettuce and grated cheese, mini baguettes with ham and cheese,or bagels with Marmite.

She's also - children everywhere will be happy to know - a fan of chocolate.'Chocolate is not all bad. It contains iron,calcium and potassium, plus avariety of vitamins.'

My favourite lunchtime tips

It's a good idea to buy an insulated lunchbox - as those left in a warmclassroom or cloakroom can become a breeding ground for germs. To keep yourchild's lunchbox cool, buy a mini icepack or freezer gel pack which can befrozen and inserted with the lunch. Alternatively, freeze a carton or plasticbottle of juice overnight. The frozen drink will help keep food cool and willhave defrosted by lunchtime.

?To prevent sandwiches or bagels from getting squashed, store in a smallplastic container in your child's lunchbox. Make sure you dry ingredients suchas lettuce, or the sandwiches will become soggy. …