“To be a mother and then not be a mother again was horrific. And then my second child turned out to be a really fussy eater, so I felt particularly vulnerable.”
If you’ve had at least one child, chances are you’ve heard the name Annabel Karmel.
After the heartbreaking and unexpected death of her daughter, Natasha, 32 years ago, the plucky Brit created a food empire built off the back of her incredibly popular baby feeding books. 45 books later, with an app and frozen food line under her belt, she speaks just as passionately about the reason she started this journey to begin with.
‘I was particularly vulnerable’
“So I lost my first child and then had my second child Nicholas a year later,” Karmel told Kidspot.
“I always remember that terrible time and how I felt. Having Nicholas really was, for me, a lifesaver. To be a mother and then not be a mother again was horrific. And then my second child turned out to be a really fussy eater, so I felt particularly vulnerable.”
“He liked a few things, not many, but he did like apples. I made up this recipe where I put apple into chicken because he wouldn’t eat chicken. I’d mince up chicken thigh and put onion with it and grated apple and made them into tiny balls and baked them in the oven and he loved them. That recipe has been one of my best-selling recipes ever,” said Karmel.
It was this little stroke of genius that led Karmel, inspired by her children, including Natasha, to write a book on Baby and Toddler diets.
“I thought I could write this book by interviewing all the nutritionists and experts but everybody contradicted each other. Even the experts!” she explained.
And if you’re keen to start whipping up a bunch more kid-friendly recipes then give these popular Kidspot recipes a whirl – or what about Annabel’s fail-safe, broccoli, chicken and potato bites.
Annabel Karmel has always been passionate about kids’ nutrition. Source: Supplied
Red meat and peanuts before six months
Joining forces with the Institute of Child Health in England, Karmel decided to get her info straight from the source, and she was well ahead of her time.
“I was saying you should be giving kids red meat from six months, you should be giving peanut butter from six months. My argument was that the earlier you’re giving these foods, the less likely you are to find an allergy. Then my book comes out and no one wanted to publish it.”
Now the second best-selling non-fiction book in the UK, it is hard to believe that 15 publishing houses turned down New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, an edition many mums would claim as their bible during those early nutrition years.
But Karmel’s focus on allergies and sufficient iron levels in young kids were two dietary concerns hard to ignore.
“A lot of people wait until six months to wean their baby, and by six months the iron they’ve been getting off their mother (if they’ve stopped breastfeeding or weren’t breastfed) will have run out,” explain Karmel. “From six months they need iron twice a day. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it?”
The baby bible when it comes to feeding little ones. Source: Supplied
But getting iron into your kids doesn’t mean plying them with red meat.
“It can be wholegrain cereal at breakfast, it can be an egg – they have a lot iron – it can be lentils.”
But if your kid’s main iron source (this applies to adults too) is from wholegrains or dark leafy greens like spinach, there are a couple of more dietary rules to keep in mind.
“Anything that isn’t meat or chicken, it’s hard to absorb [the iron] and the only thing you can do to absorb the iron from wholegrain cereals and things like that is to have vitamin C at the same meal,” explains Karmel.
“So if you’re raising your children vegetarian, remember to serve iron-rich foods with strawberries or red pepper because if there is nothing in the meal with vitamin C they’re not going to absorb the iron, not matter how much spinach they have.”
Karmel’s focus on getting enough iron into kids is because your little one can’t actually tell you if they’re deficient. The only way to tell is to do a blood test (which no one is going to do to their baby) and if uncorrected there is a chance your child will be tired all the time or “won’t develop properly or physically,” warns the mum-of-three.
Karmel with her three babies, and three kids. Source: Supplied
We’re too protective
The other major focus for the author? Allergies.
Karmel’s ideas a supported by a major study conducted in England called the Leap study, where they gave half a group of babies who were likely to develop an allergy to nuts or eggs (or were at least in the high-risk range) peanuts prior to six months of age and the other half nuts when they were older than six months. “The half of the group that had the nuts didn’t develop the allergy, the ones they left until later, did develop the allergy,” she explained.
“So that changed a whole way of thinking and found that actually, you’re better off introducing these potentially allergenic foods early because it desensitises your baby and the mums who are waiting are giving their child the worst possible chance.”
Karmel argues that we need to stop protecting kids so much to give them a chance to be “normal”.
“You can’t sterilise kids. They’re going to put their fingers in their mouth, it’s what they do. Sterilise the bottle and that is all,” she advises.
“I get people sterilising spoons, saucepans, there is no point. Obviously, milk bottles, keep those sterile but children have to build up immunity. You can’t keep them in a sealed room. And even though these people think they’re doing the best thing for their child they’re actually not.”
Karmel’s latest book, Real Food Kids Will Love, is out now, and is packed full of more great recipes to satisfy your fussy eaters.
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