10 Minutes with... Annabel Karmel
Meet Annabel Karmel, one of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs, and credited for starting a ‘food revolution’ with her nutrition-based recipes for children. In 2006 she even received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her outstanding contribution within the field of children's food.
We are delighted to sit down with Annabel as part of our 10 Minutes With... series and get to know the woman behind this revolution.
Hi Annabel, it is such a pleasure to meet you! So your entrepreneurial journey started in 1991 with your Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. Did you ever envision it becoming the 2nd best-selling non-fiction hardback of all time?
I could never have imagined it. I quite literally started at my kitchen table (with two small children at my feet) and this first book, The Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner, was initially turned down by 15 publishers! No literary agent would take me on. I had so many rejection letters, but that didn’t put me off. I knew I had written the right book for parents.
What inspired you to create this planner, and what were your hopes for it?
I have always loved cooking and indeed eating! However it was a tragedy that changed my life forever. My first child Natasha was born healthy but contracted a viral infection that spread to her brain and she died in my arms at the age of 3 months. My whole world fell apart. I was a professional musician for many years but I knew when she died that I wanted to create a legacy for her to make some meaning from her short life.
Were you always passionate about food and healthy eating, or was this something which evolved as you had your own children?
The catalyst was my second child Nicholas who was born a year later and an incredibly fussy eater. I felt very vulnerable having lost a child and I was determined to create recipes that would tempt him to eat. For example one of the very popular recipes in The Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner is my Chicken & Apple Balls. Nick loved apples and wouldn’t eat chicken until I developed this recipe, and we still love eating these today!
At the time I was running a large playgroup and giving out my recipes to all the mums and they would come back every week asking for more recipes, and they told me that I should write a recipe book as the recipes were so popular with all their babies and children.
It was a challenge writing the book as many of the experts contradicted each other on matters of nutrition so I ended up working with The Institute of Child Health to ensure that the advice in the book was all based on proper research. It took me 2 ½ years to write the book. It was eventually first published in 1991 and now the next generation - babies who themselves were brought up on my recipes are now giving them to their children. This book has been translated into 20 languages and has sold over 4 million copies. Every few years it is updated and new recipes added so it just gets better and better.
You are now one of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs and have thriving social media accounts, a website full of blogs and recipes, your very own food range, and an app! How did you balance being a mum and building such a successful business?
I chose to write as I knew I could work from home and combine that with looking after my children. I had three children in quick succession. For many years I concentrated only on developing recipes and writing books. I have now written 50 books!
I didn’t start producing meals for supermarkets until the children were in school full time. Now that they are grown up I feel very privileged that my daughter works with me and we can now branch out into many other related fields.
I am particularly proud of the new app that we launched at the end of last year – it has taken us a year to develop. It has over 650 recipes, meal planners, guides, listen-along weaning course, allergy tracker, shopping lists and much more.
We also have chilled and frozen ranges of food for toddlers and kids in most of the large retailers in the UK and Australia.
More recently we have opened a 12,000 sq ft kitchen where we make delicious meals for nurseries and we deliver our meals to over 100 nurseries all over the country in our own refrigerated vans.
I hope I am a good mum. I spend a lot of time with my children. We are a very close family and interestingly my daughters have both become entrepreneurs in their own right. I mentor them but I also learn from them. My son is getting married this year so I am hoping for a grandchild – it will be fabulous to have a baby again in the family.
What advice would you give to someone who is just getting started and wants to feed their children healthy and nutritional food? How could they get started?
I would recommend starting with a single vegetable like sweet potato, butternut squash and carrot and I like to offer a mix of purees and soft finger foods (from 6 months). I find that roasting vegetables like sweet potato in the oven gives them a lovely slightly caramelised flavour that appeals to babies.
I also try to gradually introduce green vegetables like broccoli in the first week. Research shows that bitter vegetables such as spinach, broccoli or cauliflower can be difficult tastes for babies to accept, but if you introduce these tastes sooner rather than later, your baby will be more receptive to new foods before they reach ten months.
If weaning at 6 months it’s important to move on from only vegetables and fruits quite quickly and introduce fish, particularly oily fish like salmon, as well as chicken and red meat or an alternative plant-based protein that contains iron.
This is because the iron that a baby inherits from their mother starts to run out at 6 months so it is important to give iron-rich foods like red meat. The other important critical nutrient which is vital for brain development is omega 3 fatty acids and the best source of this is oily fish like salmon.
Ideally, babies need iron-rich foods twice a day from the age of 7 months or if your baby is vegetarian then at every mealtime (around 3 times a day). In order to absorb iron from a plant-based source you need to combine it with a vitamin C-rich food such as strawberries, mango, orange segments, red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli or leafy greens.
They will also need two portions a week of oily fish a week like salmon.
What are your favourite go-to ingredients that you can easily add to meals and increase their nutritional value?
It’s all about variety so include lots of vegetables and fruits, fish, lean meats and vegetable proteins like lentils and quinoa.
I also like using the following in meals for a quick added nutritional boost:
Nutritional yeast - it’s packed with lots of vitamins and minerals including essential B vitamins and you can stir it into pasta dishes, stews or sauces. It gives a lovely umami cheesy flavour and it’s vegan so great for those following a plant-based diet.
Flaxseeds or linseeds - they provide a good source of fibre, antioxidants and are a plant-based source of omega 3 fatty acids. You can add to purees, porridge, pancakes and muffins. They are also great to coat slippery finger foods such as avocado or nectarine wedges to help baby get a better grip, whilst upping their nutrition at the same time.
Nut butters - it is recommended that babies are offered nuts from 6 months as a way of helping to reduce the chance of an allergy to nuts developing. Peanut butter and other nut butters are also packed with iron and are a good source of fat for your growing baby. It’s also really versatile – you can spread on toast or spoon into porridge, or you can stir through a small amount of nut butter into an apple, banana or sweet potato puree. I also like to marinate pieces of chicken in peanut butter and bake in the oven for a baby-friendly satay.
I also always have eggs in! I’ve always recommended eggs from the very start of weaning as they are full of nutrients including high quality protein and many of the vitamins and minerals essential for your baby's growth. There are so many ways to cook eggs including scrambled egg, mini egg muffins, frittatas and dippy eggs and soldiers.
We heard that your second child, Nick was a very fussy eater! What advice would you give to mothers who are trying to feed fussy eaters?
- As a gradual weaning off junk food it can be a good idea to make your own healthy ‘fast food’. You can make tasty burgers and weave in grated carrot and apple, pizzas using English muffins as the base, homemade baked chicken nuggets or fresh fruit ice lollies from pureed fruits.
- Make food visually appealing. You can stamp out fruit and veg star shapes using cookie cutters, serve mini portions in ramekins, make chicken skewers or thread bite sized pieces of fruit onto a straw.
- Keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand – maybe have a low shelf in the fridge with cut up fresh fruit and other healthy foods. When children are hungry, they won’t wait.
- Children like to assemble their own food, so you could lay ingredients out in bowls and let your child fill and fold their own wraps or choose their favourite toppings for their homemade pizzas.
- I loved cooking with my three children and from a very young age they were helping to cook dinner every Friday night. It’s amazing how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite.
- And, most importantly, stay calm. They will soon find there’s not much point making a fuss if you don’t react.
What’s next for your company? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you are eager to get started on?
My new Baby & Toddler Recipe App is a big project for us and we are constantly working on updating recipes and adding new content.
We are launching our frozen meals in M&S stores this month which we’re really excited about and we are hoping to launch a range of frozen meals in China.
I also have a new book out in September called My First Cookbook!
Lastly, we have our quick fire questions!
Tea or Coffee? Coffee - I don’t like tea !
Movie or Boxset? Boxset. Loved Yellowstone and 1923
YouTube or Netflix? Loved the Offer on Paramount about making the Godfather
Cosy night in or Night on the town? Cosy night home cooked food and curling up on the sofa with my three dogs.
Beach BBQ or Sunday Roast? Beach BBQ
Starter or Dessert? Dessert – I love ice cream and dark chocolate
Summer or Winter? Summer
Trainers or Heels? Heels – I am only 5’ 1”
Looking for mealtime inspiration for your baby or toddler? Annabel’s #1 rated recipe app is filled with over 650 simple and delicious ideas, PLUS new recipes every week. You’ll also have exclusive access to meal planners, shopping lists, allergy tracker, and popular listen-along weaning guide. It’s a kitchen essential for happy, healthy mealtimes. Visit the App Store and start your FREE trial today!