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Annabel Karmel interview

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2007-05-11

Annabel Karmel

Annabel Karmel

Over the past decade, Annabel Karmel has made a name for herself with her recipes for babies and children, and her attempts to change the way we feed our families. Her best-selling book, Annabel Karmel's Complete Baby And Toddler Meal Planner, not only offers handy advice on weaning babies but also features plenty of mouthwatering meal ideas – several of which are based on her grandmother's own traditional kosher cooking.

As Karmel prepares to attend this year's Baby Show at Birmingham's NEC, SJ's Caroline Westbrook catches up with her for a chat.

What will you be doing at The Baby Show?

I've been doing it for quite a few years now. Sometimes I have my own stand, where I get to meet lots of mums and also give a talk. I feel there's so much conflicting advice out there from experts about what to feed your baby – one person would say don't give them fish, another would say don't give them meat. But I think there's a window of opportunity where babies will accept new tastes, and that's 6-12 months, so if you want your child to be a good eater you want to introduce new flavours in that period. I say you should give your baby fish, chicken, eggs, cheese – we stick to purees for far too long. We're giving them what we think is good because it's low in calories, whereas children need calories.

Do you think people's knowledge of what babies can and can't eat is very limited?

Yes, and then by not giving certain foods you're actually doing more harm than good. Obviously there's concern about allergies, but when you think about it how many children actually have food allergies? Very few. Unless there's allergies in the family you shouldn't worry about it.

A lot of the recipes in your book seem to owe a lot to your grandmother's cooking and also to traditional Jewish food – is that something you're a fan of?

Yeah. I love lokshen pudding and chicken soup, and I love gefilte fish. I never thought the book would have such wide appeal, I just thought some of my friends would buy it and that would be that. But then when it went on sale in so many different countries I was like 'My God, I wonder what they make of these Jewish foods?'

What sort of food did your own mother give you as a child?

She used to make really nice food when we came home from school, and made it look nice. Like for example she would put cottage cheese into an ice-cream scoop, and service fruit which was all cut up, which is such an easy thing, but it makes such a huge difference. If you give children a whole piece of fruit they won't touch it but if you have it cut up on a plate looking all colourful and appealing they'll eat it. If you want your kids to eat good food just have it there available when they're hungry. The time to give them healthy food is when they come home from school, my kids ate so much when they came home from school but it was mostly rubbish, crisps and chocolate biscuits, and they gorged on them, and I thought, 'well why not give them a good snack?' So I started to make up these fab salad dressings and added them to wraps, and they were gobbled up!

What's your own family background?

I was brought up quite religious, mother's father was a chazan at Central Synagogue, I went to St Paul's Girl's School, played a lot of music. That was my profession until what happened with Natasha (her daughter, who sadly died aged just three months), it seemed so superficial somehow. These days, I'm not so religious, I wouldn't eat pork but I would eat seafood, which is a bit naughty. So I'm not as religious as I was, but my husband is Jewish and my children have had a Jewish upbringing.

Which of your recipes would you say are the most popular?

Anything with root vegetables goes down very well, especially with chicken or meat, putting fruit in with vegetables, such as apple, sweet potato and chicken, avocado and banana, lentil puree – most people wouldn't think of giving lentils to babies but it's a great food for babies, and lots of fish recipes. My chicken and apple balls are also popular.

What do your children think of your cooking?

They always say, 'Mummy can we bring our friends round when you've finished experimenting?' But what's interesting is that when they come home they want to eat salad because of my salad dressings. Naturally children will go for healthy food if it tastes good,I first made this salad dressing about six years ago and they eat it every single day of their life. They put it on everything. They're quite good eaters, they eat a lot of ethnic food, a lot of stir fries, satay chicken, things like that. My son in particular very adventurous with his food, he will eat anything.

Do you have any naughty food vices?

I love chocolate, I love pasta and fusion food, just anything that's really good.

Related links:

Annabel Karmel

The Baby Show