Annabel Karmel is a best- selling international author, world leading baby food expert, the UK’s number one children’s cookery author and a trusted nutritional specialist for millions of mums around the world.
The first time I heard about Annabel, was when Nikoleta was born and a friend of mine who had been living in London for years bought me Annabel’s amazing “Top 100 Baby Purees” cookbook. It was by far one of my favourite gifts- as it can become quite daunting being a first time mum introducing solids, and finding inspiration to create new meals for your baby each day. I was so glad I could flick through this easy and simple baby cookbook, with it’s endless list of purees and taste combinations that are nutritional, healthy and appealing for babies.
Today, Annabel chats to Mummy’s Life & Style about her passion for baby and kids food, dealing with fussy eaters and the importance of beginning healthy eating at a young age.
She also tells us about her exciting new kids frozen food range recently launched in Australia, how her successful business venture began and her key piece of advice for mums who are looking at starting their own business.
ML&S: When and how did your passion for baby and kids food begin?
Annabel: It was actually 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 but I was understandably cautious when it came to ensuring that my second child, Nicholas, was provided with foods that optimised his health. Feeling vulnerable when he became fussy I struggled to find enticing recipes to encourage him and so set about devising my own, which is where my passion started.
ML&S: Can you tell us how you turned your passion into a successful business over 20 years ago, when you launched your first cookbook?
Annabel: I started by sharing my recipes with other mums and, fuelled by the discovery that they were proving popular with others, set about compiling a book – The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. It was a struggle trying to get it published as it was rejected by over fifteen publishing houses.
Each rejection letter could have been enough for me to doubt the viability and worth of my idea but I continued to believe in my pitch. New to the publishing world, I wasn’t afraid to break the rules, so I kept approaching people and broadcasting my vision. Fortunately a friend of mine introduced me to a small dynamic book packager, who created book ideas and sold them on to mainstream publishers. They understood what I was trying to achieve and worked with me to shape a mock up, which they took to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where it was sold to US publisher Simon & Schuster who ordered 25,000 copies.
This deal unlocked doors that had previously remained shut, and I’ve since gone on to write 40 books, selling more than four million copies worldwide. I’ve also turned my hand to pre-prepared meals, weaning equipment and recipe apps. I’ve also grown a vast online following of mums in need of advice and inspiration.
ML&S: Where do you draw inspiration from for creating new baby and kids recipes?
Annabel: When Nicholas was born, I would try his baby food and really didn’t like it. It was so bland and boring and I didn’t want to feed it to him so I started creating fun flavour combinations to liven-it up.
For example I struggled to get him to eat chicken, so I added some apple to the minced chicken and it worked a treat. He absolutely loved my Chicken and Apple Balls, which have now become a family favourite in our household. I’m a big believer in giving babies herbs and spices to make the food really tasty and delicious. My favourites are garlic, thyme and garam masala.
ML&S: Being a mum of 3, how did you balance work and mummyhood- especially when your children were younger?
Annabel: It’s all about finding your guilt threshold. Of course everyone feels guilty about leaving their children to go to work but some mums wouldn’t be good mums unless they had a career, as they would be miserable and frustrated, so don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes real confidence to return to the working world after having children – whether that’s as an employee or becoming your own boss.
It’s important for women that motherhood is valued in its own right but equally true that having children shouldn’t necessarily be the full stop at the end of a CV. Shattering the glass ceiling with a changing bag over your shoulder is no longer limited to the realms of fantasy. However, it’s vital that you believe in yourself, which makes confidence as important as competence.
The great thing about running your own business whilst raising a family is that you have the freedom to work to your own schedule. Juggling the dual demands of work with family life is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination; I remember completing my first recipe book in between the children’s naps, managing a busy toddler group and running a household. It’s difficult keeping all the balls in the air without dropping one occasionally!
ML&S: What are a few of your best tips for mums with fussy eaters?
Annabel: It can be hard finding foods to tempt your tot – especially when almost every child will go through at least one phase of fussy easting. If you have a fussy eater in tow, I would get them helping out in the kitchen. Most children love cooking and it’s amazing how being involved in planning and preparing of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite. 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 home made pizzas.
I would also get together and eat as a family, as this really can make a difference- taking the focus off your child’s eating and refocusing on social chit chat at the table could help.
Presentation is also another key to getting a fussy eater eating. The way your child’s food is served up can make the difference between your child accepting and refusing food. Cutting up fruit and popping it onto skewers or straws or making mini portions in ramekins immediately becomes more appealing.
ML&S: Tell us about your new & exclusive food range available at Coles supermarkets around Australia?
Annabel: It’s a delicious frozen food range of 33 products that takes youngsters on a flavour adventure, whilst ensuring all the goodness of a homemade meal. The range is also free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives with the meat and veggies sourced locally from Australian producers.
Within the new range there’s something for every stage of a child’s development, starting with my delicious frozen purees. They are made with 100% real fruit and vegetables and come in an easy peel and pop tray meaning you can feed your little one with ease. They come in 8 delicious flavour such as Apple & Pear with Cinnamon Puree (stage 1), Pear, Mango & Strawberry Puree (stage 1), Lentils & Vegetables Puree (stage 2) and Salmon with Hoki and Orange (stage 2).
My new tasty finger foods are a quick solution to helping mums when faced with a hungry toddler. I’ve designed them for 1 – 4 year olds and they are a great alternative to sugary snacks. My bites are ready-to-go in a resealable pouch and come in four tasty flavours such as Tasty Thai Pork Bites and Famous Chicken & Apple Bites.
Then there’s my new toddler meals (1 – 4 years) and older kids’ meals (3 years +) which are packed with a delicious helping of vegetables, not to mention my Toddler Treat range (1 years +) for balanced puddings in portion controlled snap pots.
ML&S: Can you also give us a brief about your smartphone app – Essential Guide for Feeding your Baby & Toddler?
Annabel: The Essential Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler app features over 220 of my most popular recipes from my cookbooks. It’s a handy guide to help mums who are in need of quick and easy mealtime inspiration whether they’re cooking for baby, toddler or the whole family. The app is complete with step-by-step instructions and tips because after all, we all know that family life is busy enough without having to spend hours in the kitchen. My app recently made it to No.1 in food and drink on the App Store, which was fantastic to see!
ML&S: How important do you think it is to introduce healthy eating habits and a balanced diet from a very young age?
Annabel: It’s very important as there isn’t a ‘best before’ date on learning how to cook. Whilst starting young equips children with the knowledge and skill to make good food choices as they grow-up, if you want to instil a love of good, healthy food then I would recommend preparing recipes from scratch. They’ll learn all about getting the balance right between wholesome options and occasional treats.
ML&S: You also have a treats range for toddlers and kids, can you tell us about that?
Annabel: Every mother will know how much children love sweet treats, which is why I designed my Toddler Treats for 1 years plus. They contain 40% real fruit and come in 6 delicious flavours including: My Beautiful Choc Berry Brownie Pudding, My Charming Jam Roly Poly, My Special Summer Fruits Pudding, My Enchanting Tropicana Coconut Pudding, My Dazzling Apple Crumble, My Dreamy Choc Caramel Pear Pudding. I love them!
ML&S: Your fabulous book “Mumpreneur” gives mums amazing advice on how to start their own business and to become successful. From your own experience, what is the most important thing to keep in mind when beginning your own venture?
Annabel: It takes real confidence to return to start-up a business after having children – and self-belief is absolutely vital in order to succeed. Confidence is just as important as competence – if not more so.
The more you believe in yourself and in your chances of succeeding, the more likely you are to do just that. Of course, we all have doubts from time to time – the danger is if those doubts spiral out of control, creating unnecessary anxiety and negative self-limiting beliefs, which prevent us from doing something that we really want to do (and, deep down, know that we can do).
ML&S: What do you love most about your work?
Annabel: I love that no two days are ever the same. They say that if you love your work then you’ll never have to do a day’s work in your life. One minute I’m livening up bland baby food by devising new recipes and flavour combinations and then next, I’m in a meeting discussing my supermarket range.
ML&S: What is the best piece of advice you can give mums when it comes to eating time?
Annabel: Never give up – especially when it comes to dealing with a fussy eater. It’s so easy to feel frustrated and powerless when your child simply refuses to eat certain foods but the key is to not give in or give up. It’s actually the way that we deal with the situation that impact on their eating habits.
Annabel Karmel’s new frozen range is available from Coles. Based on her favourite cookbook recipes and tasting just like homemade, check out her line-up of tasty purees, toddler meals, older kids meals, independent bites and toddler treats. For more information visit www.annabelkarmel.com/au/