HELLO! Online catches up with Annabel Karmel, Britain's leading expert in child nutrition who has more than 20 best-selling cookbooks about coping with fussy eaters beneath her belt, on her thoughts on baby-led weaning and why variety is the spice of life...
We have discussed how you got into children's cuisine, and meeting the Queen. On to your role as the go-to guide for all mums! Do you get parents contacting you directly for advice on feeding their children?
Yes, a lot! Mostly through my website and often things like 'how can I get my child to have textures' or 'my child is a fussy eater'.
And what is your advice to parents of fussy eaters? How many times should you persist with a food and how can you tell if a baby has a genuine dislike of a flavour?
When it comes to fussy eating, often it's because a child will only eat four or five different things and then mums give in, because they have unsuccessfully tried other foods and resort back to those four or five things in order to get them to eat something. And the trouble is, that is only making them more fussy, it really is the worst thing you can do. I think a hungry child will be a much less fussy child; it's not such a bad thing if they miss a meal.
When it comes to re-introducing foods, I would try to give it in different ways. So if they didn't like a big fish pie, I would make a mini fish pie, if they didn't like it with peas, I would try it without. I'd try different things to work out what they didn't like about it.
But we all have likes and dislikes – I don't like beetroot and even now if someone tried to get me to eat it I still wouldn't like it. And I think you have to acknowledge that children will also have likes and dislikes.
The best first foods are simple foods – like sweet potato and carrot, banana and avocado, apple and pear (I don't give baby rice because I don't think it tastes very nice). And the thing is we are all conditioned to thinking it should be low-fat, high fibre, but that's not good for babies, babies need high-calorie food, which is why avocado is very good. And fibre, like high-fibre cereals, will deplete their body of nutrients so it's not a good idea to give them a lot of fibre. But I think once you have given them their first taste of fruit and vegetables, then you can start adding cheese and green vegetables – but use root vegetables as your base.
A lot of people make the mistake of carrying on giving fruit and vegetables for far too long without introducing the proteins that they need.
Babies need iron from six months because the iron they inherit from their mothers starts to run out; iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in babies. So red meat is very important, or lentils if you are a vegetarian. I cook that by doing beef casserole with lots of sweet potato and dried apricot which is really nice, and I do fish purees with salmon because essential fatty acids are very important from six months because the brain triples in size in the first year and a very large part of the brain is essential fatty acids. So all these foods are very important, but a lot of mums just carry on giving just fruit and vegetables for too long.
One of the hot topics of the moment is baby-led weaning. What are your thoughts on that?
It's become really fashionable recently, and I am really in favour of giving finger foods from a very early age. So in that respect it's fine. What I am not happy with is baby-led weaning in isolation because that would mean you give your baby just solid finger foods from six months, and a baby's hand-to-eye coordination at that age isn't really sufficiently developed for them to be able to eat what they need to get the nutrients they need. So I think it's great if you give them some finger foods and purees together.
Also it can be hard enough for them to swallow some purees so if you are going to give them something to chew they might just spit it out or choke on it, so you really have to be careful. Purees to finger foods has always been the way forward – and I think it's the best way.
How important do you think it is to introduce strong flavours, like spices, from an early age? When is too early?
So I think adding herbs is really good, because you can't add salt or sugar. Adding garlic is good for flavour as is mild curry powder or sauce – I would do a mild chicken curry for a baby, and I do a Moroccan chicken tagine in my baby food range which is very popular. Spices like cinnamon are also good.
And do you think exposing children to a wide range of food makes them more inclined to try new things?
Definitely. It's very important to give them a wide variety, and I have found ethnic food is quite popular – stir-frys, paella, satay chicken, quesadillas, fajitas, they are all the kinds of foods children like and are often the ones parents are more reluctant to try.