My life on a plate: Annabel Karmel

  • By
    Lily Barclay - Senior writer - bbcgoodfood.com

Lily Barclay caught up with Annabel Karmel to talk about her biggest food battles, top tips for tricky toddlers and her favourite childhood foods...

Annabel Karmel

What was your first childhood memory of food?

My mum was a very good cook; she made some great recipes like Fish Pie, a Constance Spry Mulligatawny Chicken and the most amazing Hamburgers and Cottage Pie. When I wrote my first book, I asked her to come and cook with me some of the foods that I loved as a child and I adapted some of these and put them in my first book. Now she doesn't cook at all and just comes over and raids my fridge!

If you hadn't been a recipe writer, what would you have been?

I love animals and have three dogs. They say that when your children are all teenagers you should get a dog as then at least someone is happy to see you when you come home! If I didn't work with children developing ways of getting them to eat healthy food that tastes good, I would have liked to work with animals and children together. I'm interested in pet therapy and I'm visiting a children's hospice in Dorset called Julia's House and bringing my dogs with me as I think animals bring happiness. If I didn't have the career I have now, I would probably try and work with charities like the Dogs Trust and find homes for dogs that are abandoned.

I think I still would have worked with children, I was a musician before I had children, however after the death of my first child I didn't want to play any more. There are some absolutely incredible children's charities, particularly ones that support parents and families during times of extreme stress and anguish. I think I think they are doing such an important job and I think I would have got more involved in these charities had I not got into cooking.

What initially spiked your interest in children's nutrition?

My son, Nicholas was an extremely fussy eater and I was worried that he wasn't getting a good balance of food. So I started researching what babies needed and figured the best way to keep him healthy was by finding food that he would eat, that was also good for him. It was almost impossible to get my first book The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner published as in those days most parents just fed their babies jars of pre-prepared food. It is so different now, with over half of mums or dads preparing fresh baby food, which I am delighted about.

Do you have one top tip for sneaking veggies into tricky toddlers?

A firm favourite in my household was the hidden vegetable Bolognese. With this you can cram in around seven different types of vegetables, and most children love the classic spaghetti Bolognese or shepherds pie.

Do you think attitudes have changed to the way we feed our children?

In some way yes, we are much more aware about the importance of healthy eating, especially with rising epidemic of obesity and diabetes. However despite this awareness obesity among children is on the increase with food that is high in fat, salt and sugar, being so readily available at our fingertips that can be cheap and convenient.

As a mother, what was your biggest food battle and how did you deal with it?

I could not get my children to eat meat or fish, and this is such an important source of nutrients such as iron in red meat and essential fatty acids in oily fish like salmon. I worked out that if I mixed the meat with something they did like, like the sweet taste of sweet potato or apple, such as a beef casserole with root vegetables, or chicken balls with grated apple, I could get them far more interested in eating it.

What project are you focusing on at the moment?

I have a very exciting project at the moment with the launch of my new organic baby purees. I wanted to make a range of savoury, delicious purees from the beginning of my career, but it has taken me over 20 years to get them on the shelf, so I am really excited about this. Also with everyone relying on digital so much more, I am releasing an eBook of my first book 'Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner' which has become one of the top selling books on feeding babies.


Each child comes with their own personal trials and triumphs when it comes to eating, so we took to our Facebook page to see if we could help answer your questions, here's what you asked...

Your questions

Shelley McGowan: What age would I need to increase portion size? I've just started weaning my 23 week old daughter. She's currently having small pots of pureed carrot, sweet potato etc.

Tricky to give you an exact amount as every baby is different, with some babies having a larger appetite than others. Also a nutrient dense puree like a beef or chicken puree will be more filling than a fruit puree and remember to introduce proteins from 6 months. What is interesting is that babies grow more rapidly in their first year than at any other time in their life whereas their growth rate slows down after one year. A lot of it is down to a mother's instinct. If you feel your daughter is eating the pot happily and still wanting more once that is finished, that is often a sign she needs more. Babies generally clamp their mouth shut and turn their head away when they have had enough. Babies are chubby by nature before they become mobile and you can tell if they are eating too much by following the centile chart which shows average weight gain.

Rebecca Hilliar: How to get the fussiest eating child in the world ever to eat new things.. Just to actually get them to put it in their mouth would be a revelation to me!

If your child has a very restricted diet, it is best to give new foods when she is really hungry. Try to encourage her to eat just a small amount and give lots of attention and praise if she is willing to try it and I know it's hard but try not to give her attention for refusing to eat. Give small portions - it's not good to overload your child's plate. Also children generally prefer smaller pieces of food so it's a good idea to make foods such as mini burgers with new potatoes, small broccoli florets and mini carrots. Attractive presentation can make the difference between your child accepting and refusing food. Whole fruit may well not get eaten but fresh fruit threaded onto skewers or straws immediately becomes more appealing.

Sarah Holden: Trying to cater for a four year old and a one year old when both parents work and don't have ages to prepare food - what do you do for dinner?

Pasta is always a great one for making a quick dish that you can make for one year old that is also suitable for toddlers. You can make a quick sauce using a base of a tin of chopped tomatoes, which you can blend in vegetables like carrots, or a cheese sauce.

Carolyn Reed: My two year old used to eat anything I gave him from pilchards to mashed potato and for the last few months he has become so fussy. Is this a phase or will he always be turning his nose up at the food I give him?

At least 90% of children go through a stage of fussiness at one time or another, so don't worry it is extremely common! A lot of children do grow out of it, but it can be so frustrating when they have been eating so well to begin with, and often they can get into a pattern which can be very hard to get out of. Try not to let him fill up on snacks in between meals as this can exacerbate fussiness. Try some ethnic style foods like Chicken Satay, Paella or Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry for some different meal ideas that he might be interested in.

Annabel's new launch of organic baby purees available in Sainsbury's and Tesco in 6 different flavours for £1.49. For more information visit, annabelkarmel.com.

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