Saturday 3 May 2014

Special guest interview with child nutrition expert Annabel Karmel

You may have read my Weaning Wednesday series of posts; if you did, you'll know that I was a big fan of a certain child nutrition expert. Annabel Karmel. Or the Weaning Guru as I like to think of her!

Thanks to Dorel UK - the makers of Maxi-Cosi and Quinny strollers - who will at The Baby Show, Birmingham NEC, in just a couple of weeks' time, I've had the chance to speak to Annabel and can bring to you this exclusive interview.

Annabel will be speaking at The Baby Show (find out when here) and I for one will be sure to go along to one of her talks. I found her books so useful when I started the weaning journey and I was really honoured to have the chance to speak to her about her inspiration to become an author, what the common concerns mums seem to have are and what's next for her...

What inspired you to become an author and expert on child nutrition?

It was the tragedy of losing my first child Natasha, who was born healthy but who died at 13-weeks-old from a viral infection that led me to change direction into the field of nutrition.

 It wasn't a diet-related illness that led to my daughter’s death but I just felt I wanted to give my next child, Nicholas, the very best start in life. 

When I had my son, he was the most fussy eater! Anything I tried to feed him from a jar bought from a supermarket would immediately be spat out, so I had to improvise. I started making fresh baby purées in my kitchen with healthy ingredients, but that also tasted delicious. I then started sharing my recipes at my son’s playgroup and they went down a treat.  All the mums kept asking me for more recipes and then they said I should write a book so I spent over two years researching child nutrition and testing recipes and I wrote my first book, the Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner.

I have this book and it's well-read, complete with puree splatters, I can tell you! There's a great range of recipes to try and Annabel's advice is really reassuring. For the first two months of weaning, I religiously stuck to the meal plans and Ethan was very cooperated and followed the plans perfectly.

What do you find are the common concerns mums have when it's time to move onto the next stage?

The general rule is that babies should be weaned from around six months old; this is the age recommended by Government guidelines. Milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months or so, but some parents feel that their babies are ready before then. If this is the case with your baby, it’s acceptable to introduce solids a little earlier, but not before 17 week as his gastrointestinal function won’t have fully matured. 

Every baby is different, and in families with a history of food allergy, hay fever, eczema or asthma, it’s best to try to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months.

If weaning is delayed until after six months, some babies can have difficulty eating foods with lumps. Also as your baby gets older he will need more iron and nutrients than milk alone can provide.

Transition into lumpy food can sometimes be quite difficult for babies. They always seem happy chewing on finger foods but as soon as you get the spoon out to feed them they instantly refuse.  A good way to introduce solids is to mix tiny pasta shapes into your babies’ favorite purees. Babies tend to prefer eating something that is overall lumpy, rather than smooth with the occasional lump.

How have things changed over the past 20 years? Is it easier or harder now to help mums make their own food?

When I first wrote my books, everyone thought babies only liked bland food, but I always thought that that couldn't be the case and set about researching what babies actually enjoyed eating! Just like us, babies prefer food that tastes good and is full of flavour

I believe that today it is easier for mums to feed their little ones, as there is a much wider variety of foods and flavours acceptable to feed your baby. I think that all the concerns about allergies and myths about what their babies should and shouldn't eat were holding mums back, there is much more focus on food and the benefits of eating a healthy diet now.

What connection is there between the habits mums bring in when their children are young and the child's potential for lifelong habits and attitudes to food?

The first few years of a child’s life are paramount to their diet in the future. In the first few years their eating habits are formed. There is a big window of opportunity between six to 12 months to make sure your babies preference in taste leans more towards healthy food rather than the junk food. 

Babies tend to be good eaters but their appetite slows down towards the end of the first year in line with their rate of growth. What I find so fascinating is that by the age of five, children have pretty much made up their mind what they do and do not like to eat, and often these decisions can last a lifetime – I know that my dislike of anchovies and beetroot certainly hasn't changed from when I was little!

What are your top tips for busy mums?

Plan ahead! Do a meal planner for the coming week and cook dishes you know that you can freeze. Try and cook for your dinner something that you can put in the kids lunch boxes to bring to school; it will save you so much time slaving away in the kitchen. If your dinner isn’t suitable for your kids, try and organise breakfast and their school lunches the night before, as the mornings are always the most hectic and disorganized times.

38 books later, what do you think has changed in the world of weaning? What's next for you?

I am always doing some exciting projects, but I think 2015 is going to be a big year for my company. We are starting to diversify into a lot more fields whilst also expanding the services and product lines we currently offer. 

I have written a fantastic Family Cookbook with all my favourite recipes that my family have enjoyed over the last 20 years. I also have a new Quick and Easy Weaning book to be published in May. Alongside our chilled toddler meals and baby purees in pouches, we are also going to be expanding our already very popular website

A big thank you to Annabel - it was fascinating to hear about how your career started and the new projects on the horizon. The meal planners are so helfpul in the early days and I do try to think ahead to what I will be eating and how this could be made suitable for Ethan to join in. Great advice and I'm sure many other mums will be keen to read the new books.

I will be speaking to a third and final baby expert ahead of The Baby Show so watch this space for my next interview post.

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