This week, we interviewed inspiring mum Annabel Karmel, the UK’s best-selling author on baby and children’s food and nutrition.
Q1) Tell us what inspired you to become involved in children’s food and nutrition and what did you do before you because a best-selling author and household name?
I started writing recipe books for children and babies after the death of my daughter Natasha at a very young age. I knew then that I wanted to work with children in some way, but it wasn’t until I started weaning my second child Nicholas, who was an extremely fussy eater, that I started putting together recipes to encourage him to eat. After my first book, Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner was published everything went on from there. Before I had children I was a professional harp player, which took me all over the world, but I didn’t want to play after Natasha, and to be a musician means practising all the time.
Q2) Describe a typical family day in the life of Annabel Karmel – what are your favourite things to do as a family?
My children are grown up now, and as I am a bit of a workaholic meal times is the best way for me to find out what everything that is going on. We love having friends over and eating together as a family. We also love taking our three dogs for a walk in the park. We are all very keen skiers so a highlight for us is our annual skiing holiday, although I now struggle to keep up with my son!
Q3) What is your favourite family meal, and what are your own personal favourite foods?
We all love pasta as a family, and one of my favourite dishes is seafood spaghetti. I also however, have such a sweet tooth and love frozen yogurt or dark chocolate after a meal.
Q4) Do you have a favourite family holiday destination and where in the world is your most loved restaurant, and why?
I love going to Courchevel with my family. I like having lunch at Cap Horn with my children on the terrace where you can bask in sunshine looking at the snow. They have a DJ playing amazing music and serve the most delicious food. I always have the mulled wine which I think makes me ski better in the afternoon, when actually the opposite is probably true.
Q5) What did you find was the best way of hiding vegetables in food when it came to feeding your own children? How did you encourage them to eat the typical vegetables kids usually dislike?
I found tomato sauce was a winner for hiding a huge range of different vegetables, I just whizzed it all up together once the vegetables were cooked. I used to make a big batch so I could put it into bolognese, casseroles and plain old tomato sauce and pasta. I used to give them a lot of different vegetables raw and cut into sticks with a dip. Apart from the fact that it was more fun to eat like this, children often prefer raw veg to cooked.
Q6) How difficult is it to provide your children with a balanced diet each day, and what would your advice be to other busy mums, with little time to organise meals?
It is so difficult to have to come up with and produce meals day after day that will keep everyone happy. It is important to try not to feel guilty, just do what you can. If you can set aside a couple of hours at a weekend and batch cook one meal (British classics like shepherd’s or fish pie, casseroles or soups are great for this) freeze these into family or one or two portion dishes that you can take out when you know you are not going to have time. You can also make some quick easy healthy dishes like stir fry, saving time with some of the sauces and pre-cut meat and vegetables we now have in the supermarkets.
Q7) I like to cook as much fresh produce as possible, how do you keep your packaged food fresh without using additives and what are your top tips on batch freezing?
We don’t add any additives to any of our products, I think that it is so important not to. Our chilled meals for children go through a steam cooking process that seals in the nutrients.
If I am batch cooking I make individual portions for the kids in things like ramekins. It means if you have to produce a meal quickly you can whip one out and it defrosts much quicker. I also make things separately and then you can mix and match them with other things such a tomato sauce that can go with meat or into a pasta dish.
Q8) I’m personally against microwaving – what are your views on this, and is this something you’d advise mums against, even though it’s a speedy way to prepare food?
This is a tricky one as there is research on both sides of the argument about using microwaves. I have not read evidence so far that has put me off using them, but I am always looking out and think we should be informed about any possible health concerns and then people can make up their minds about using them. I personally think they can be very useful for busy parents.
Q9) I swear by your weaning guide and the importance of puréed food – at what age should you start to include lumps?
Introducing lumps is something that varies with each child – if they’re wolfing down the purees no problem and are starting to look for more I would give it ago, but when you are making food I would say to try to make it overall lumpy, a surprise lump can put them completely off and can make them wary of lumps in the future. A good way to add texture is to add tiny pasta shapes to your baby’s favourite purees. We produce our own range of organic pasta shapes for babies.
Q10) What’s in the pipeline for Annabel Karmel, and what are you most looking forward this year?
This year has been pretty busy so far, I have just had the launch of my new organic baby purees, which I have been developing for years, and we are going to lots of baby shows around the UK in the next few months, which is always a great chance to meet mums and find out what they think. I am really excited about the release of an eBook from my first book, Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, which I wrote over 20 years ago. I still have lots more recipe ideas, so I don’t think I will stop writing books any time soon!