I attended the Baby Show at the Excel in London this week and had the pleasure of speaking with children's food expert Annabel Karmel.
I have two children, Amber, 9, and Jacob, 2. I bought Annabel's book The Complete First Year Planner just before Amber was born back in 2003, and I still have it! I also have some of Annabel's other books including: Superfoods for Babies and Children, After-school meal planner, Family Favourite recipes, Children's First Cookbook and You Can Cook. They still have bits of ingredients stuck to the pages, and post-it notes marking Amber's favourite recipes, which also became Jacob's favourites years later when he was weaning.
As a fan of Annabel's, it was great to meet her, and hear how passionate she is about children's nutrition.
She was raised in North London, and as a talented harpist, she performed alongside Liberace in Las Vegas, and filmed a video with Boy George!
She told me the heartbreaking story of when her first child Natasha died suddenly at 13 weeks old due to a viral infection in 1987, and how she gave birth to her second child, a son, Nicholas, in 1988 on the stairs in her house!
Wanting to give her new son the best start in life and spend every moment being a mother, she ended her career as a musician to spend more time with him.
Annabel started a local playgroup, and as Nicholas started to toddle he was a terribly fussy eater. She wanted him to be as healthy as possible and started experimenting with food. She came up with unusual concoctions like mashed avocado with banana and apple with sweet potato. Which don't seem unusual now, thanks to Annabel!
She took the recipes for other mums at her playgroup and they said their children loved them too. She decided to write a cookery book aimed at first-time mums cooking for children, and The Complete Baby And Toddler Meal Planner book was born. It took some time to get it published as most of them didn't think a recipe book for babies and toddlers would sell! It was first published in 1991 with no publicity, instead it sold by word of mouth. Today, it is still the number one bestselling book on feeding children.
Annabel tells me that babies are born with a clean palette and don't know sweet from sour and by giving them a wide variety of healthy tasty food when weaning, they'll be less fussy as they grow up. According to a recent survey, British toddlers are the fussiest in Europe!
People used to think that babies and children preferred bland food, until Annabel started making tasty recipes.
She thinks the reason there are so many fussy eaters in the UK is that parents give in to them. "We are so terrified of our children being hungry. We give them what they want to eat, and if we're not careful, all they will end up eating is chicken nuggets, pizza, burger and chips. A hungry child is less fussy, it's no problem if they miss a meal if they won't eat what's on their plate."
Both my husband, Mark, and I, followed Annabel's advice and recipes from her books with Amber and she is a great eater, to be honest there isn't much she won't eat! And our son Jacob is following the same path.
She says that children can have healthy junk food. By making homemade chicken nuggets from scratch with her recipe, they can still have 'junk food' but you know exactly what is in them and they are much better for the kids. She has lots of fun recipes they'll love.
Annabel has three children, Nicholas 24, Lara, 23 and Scarlett, 21. It was great to hear how when they were growing up they used to make the family meal on Friday evenings. They came up with the menu, cooked and served it. She says "Getting children involved in cooking as soon as possible is really important, even when they are little, giving them some dough and a cookie cutter is all it takes to get them involved."
Amber now enjoys picking recipes from Annabel's You Can Cook book, and I think it's important for her to be involved in cooking food.
Since her first book was published, Annabel has never stopped writing and has become very successful, and a person who mums and dads, including me and my husband, turn to for guidance.
She has published an amazing 26 books ranging from her new Eating for Two book which guides mums-to-be throughout each stage of their pregnancy, offering tips and advice on what to eat and avoid, to her Complete Family Meal Planner, and everything inbetween. She has a new book coming out in June.
Annabel teamed up with Disney to create a yummy range of wholesome snacks and has now got her own range of food including Organic Baby Purees, Organic Sauces, Organic Pasta and chilled ready meals which are available to buy in the Supermarket. Plus to make it easier when you are weaning your little one, the Annabel Karmel by NUK range will make it easier to blend, mash, store and freeze your freshly made baby food.
Annabel assures me all her food has been tested, and contains no horsemeat!
She has also had a TV programme called Annabel's Kitchen which featured on CITV and has Annabel's app which has 130 recipes, 24 videos and 2 episodes of Annabel's Kitchen. She was awarded an MBE in June 2006 in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for her outstanding work in the field of child nutrition.
Check out Annabel's website www.annabelkarmel.com for loads of tips and recipes.
This recipe is a favourite of ours.
Hidden vegetable sauce
1 tbsp light olive oil
1 onion, chopped
75g carrot, chopped
1/2 stick celery, chopped
50g courgette, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
100 ml vegetable stock
250g Annabel Karmel Alphabet Pasta
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the courgette and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the crushed garlic and cook for one minute.
Stir in the tomato puree, passata and vegetable stock.
Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Puree with an electric hand blender.
Cook the Alphabet Pasta in boiling water according to the instructions on the packet, then drain and stir into the sauce.
Information: From 9 months, Suitable for freezing, Makes 4 portions.