A brief backstory for you all. I tried to eat a wide variety of healthy foods when I was pregnant because I wanted to give my daughter the best start at a diverse pallet, as well as excellent nutrition obviously! However, when the time came to introduce solids, I was so was incredibly anxious. I had no idea where to begin, what to start with, how much was too much food...? I found myself asking all my friends about it, and eventually my sweet friend Kyla gave me Annabel's Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner. I'll never forget opening her book, reading the introduction and feeling such an incredible wave of relief. I was instantly inspired, and felt my confidence building with each homemade meal I prepared from her book. I started to create my own recipes and my passion for eliminating the expression "kid food" in our home has been a huge success and quite an enjoyable challenge. Some of the most engaging posts on my Instagram are surrounding the meals I make for my daughter.
Annabel's story is complicated and beautiful, stemming from the loss of her first born daughter. Annabel wanted to create a legacy in her daughter's memory, and she has done that in spades. She is has pioneered the way babies and toddlers eat in the UK, and now you can find her products in countries all over the world as well.
So, without further adieu, let me introduce to you the one and only, Annabel Karmel.
WELCOME Annabel! Let's dive in, shall we:
Describe your personality in three words.
"Obsessed with Food!"
Your passion for cooking began when you were living in Holland. What was that experience like for you as an expat and a cooking novice?
A lot of people don’t know that I actually started working life as a musician. I was a talented harpist and studied classical music at the Conservatoire in the Hague, Holland. It was while I was living in Holland that I very quickly realised I had to fend for myself. Part of this meant that I had to figure out how to cook, and it was during this time that my love of cooking really began. Each week my mother would send me recipes which I would try out and by the time I returned home, cooking had become a real hobby of mine.
What is a day in the life of Annabel Karmel like?
No two days are the same! I definitely don’t ever sit still and I am extremely hands on. I like to be in the office as much as I can, so that's where you'll find me when I’m not out at various meetings with brands, retailers, suppliers, attending an event, filming or working on my next book! Our digital team, PR, marketing and sales departments are the eyes and ears of the business, so we regularly come together to discuss how we can continue to build the brand, act on our successes and share new ideas.
I still dedicate one day a week to developing new recipe ideas, so every Tuesday you’ll find me cooking up something new in my kitchen. I love having this day out of the office, away from my desk, to get creative and discover new foodie favourites – some of which can often spark the idea for a new book. I trial and tweak ingredients, texture and method until I’m happy.
I don’t ever want to stop this aspect of my job as it’s where it all began for me back in 1991 with the Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner. Evenings and weekends are all about family and friends and one of my greatest pleasures definitely has to be dinner with my three children – Nicholas, Lara and Scarlett. Now they are in their twenties! You really have to grab these opportunities when you can!
You have three beautiful children as you mentioned above. Were they picky eaters, and what did they teach you about motherhood?
Perseverance! Any parent out there with a fussy eater will appreciate the vulnerability and frustration you can feel.
When I started out, there were no recipe books out there that provided meals which tasted as good as the recipes I was preparing. My ingredient combinations were truly unique. Getting a child to eat well can be a real challenge (and utterly draining), but I kept at it, and it’s because of Nicholas’s fussiness that I am where I am today.
My children are now all grown up in their twenties, but if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have become such a celebrated author and a leading name in baby and children’s food. They are my daily motivation, and I couldn’t have taken on this journey without them. My passion for what I do seems to have caught on with my daughter Lara who joined the business in 2016.
What's the best piece of advice you could give to our postnatal readers?
If you’ve just welcomed a very special new member into the family, then – congratulations! It’s such an exciting time but your day-to-day is set to get a little bit more jam-packed! It’s important for you to continue to eat well both for you and for your baby.
Here are my top foodie tips for new mum "Kate" starting her incredible journey:
1. If breastfeeding, your fluid requirements increase dramatically so keep a close eye on your daily intake and remember to stay hydrated. Kate should be drinking lots of water, herbal teas or unsweetened fruit juices, and keep a bottle of water handy when she breastfeeds.
2. Try to up your all-important intake of calcium, iron and fibre-rich foods:
Fibre. Kate should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and include plenty of fibre. She can get this much-needed dose from fruit and vegetables as well as wholemeal bread, pasta and whole grains. After childbirth, women can often suffer from constipation - soluble and insoluble fibre can help with this.
Iron. Red meat, dark green leafy vegetables and pulses such as lentils are all good sources of iron. If you’re a vegetarian then lentils are good, but should be consumed alongside a source of vitamin C which has been proven to help enhance iron absorption.
Calcium. Kate should be aiming for 4-5 servings of dairy or other calcium-rich foods each day. A great way to start the morning is with a bowl of granola topped with fruit and yoghurt or some delicious bircher muesli soaked in milk. Plus, it’s two for the price of one in the nutrition stakes - oats and bran are low GI foods, so they will help fuel your body through a busy morning.
We know that the healthy omega-3 fats contained in oily fish are important for your brain, nervous system and vision and they continue to be hugely important post-pregnancy. Try making my super simple Salmon Fishcakes to provide an important and delicious dose of the good stuff! Just remember that if breastfeeding, you should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week.
What stars had to align for you to go from cookbook author to having your food stocked at Tesco, Morrisons, Woolworths and beyond?
I first gained the confidence to launch my own range of children’s food after learning about the retail sector when acting as an expert to retail giants Marks & Spencer and Boots in the UK. Marks & Spencer had wanted to launch a range of children’s food and, completely out of the blue, asked me to be their food consultant.
I spent nearly two years talking to focus groups and it was a complete education in building a food range from scratch: thinking about who the consumer was, working out the nutritional information, recipe choice, understanding packaging and the importance of pricing.
Three years later Boots asked me to work with them on a baby range that would be jointly branded Annabel Karmel and Boots. They wanted me to decide which products I thought would work in their stores. I designed a range called ‘Make It Easy’, which included both equipment and baby foods, and would be sold on the shelf alongside my books.
This experience was invaluable. Under the aegis of two major retailing companies, I was given the opportunity to listen, learn and become my own expert.
And it was during this time that I learned to tune in and listen to my own instinct. I knew I had it in me to produce my own food range under the Annabel Karmel brand – and it all stemmed from there.
A big part of my mission is to offer healthy meal solutions for busy families. So many parents want to cook healthy meals from scratch, but often hectic schedules get in the way. Busy days still deserve the best mealtimes, and that’s why I’ve created a special range of snap-frozen meals for babies and toddlers in Australia.
Babies will love my nutritiously balanced Peel & Pop Purees made with 100% real fruit and veggies which are snap-frozen to lock in the taste and goodness. I have also developed 15 delicious meals for children aged 1-4. A tasty way towards their 5-a-day, they make for the perfect freezer filler.
Best part about living in the UK is…
I love the food scene in the UK, particularly in London. Going out for dinner and catching up with friends and family over good food is one of life’s great pleasures. Since I love to cook, when I eat out, I want it to be special and food that I often wouldn’t cook myself at home. I adore Japanese food, and there are some incredible Japanese foodie spots here in London.
I also love the great British countryside. My dogs are a big part of my life, and spending time with them is incredibly therapeutic and important to me. If I’m in need of a boost, I’ll take Bono (American Cocker Spaniel), Hamilton (Samoyed) and Sabre (Golden Retriever) away for a weekend of long walks or off to the nearest park for a good dose of fresh air.
You’ve penned 44 cookbooks (and counting)! How do you keep inspired to keep creating year after year?
My vision today is the same as it was over 25 years ago. I set out on a mission to show the world that you can make tasty recipes for babies and children. I want to continue to empower and inspire mums across the world to give their families the best start in life and to raise their children on healthy, wholesome diets.
What, or who, inspires you above all else?
My three children are my inspiration and motivation – and Natasha. I started out on my food journey wanting to give some meaning to Natasha’s short life and my first book was a legacy to her. My passion to succeed continued to be fuelled by Natasha and my three children who are so supportive.
My mother is also a huge inspiration to me. She is a wonderful woman with an amazing work ethic. She is still busy working now as an architect and interior designer.
I absolutely love running my own business, and I still love what I do 26 years on!
What do you love about your work?
Everything! I always say that if you choose a job that you love you will never have to work a day in your life. What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others lives on. I hope that my recipes and the work that I have done in the field of children will continue.
The knowledge in my books and food products makes it as if I'm there every stage of a child’s life, helping to look after them (and mum and dad too). Success in my eyes starts by eating well while pregnant to feeding babies, toddlers and families.
The most famous person I’ve ever cooked for is …
I have cooked for many celebrities and indeed chefs. Although I'm best known for baby & toddler food, I also make delicious food for adults. I'm especially pleased when cooking for well-known chefs as it's a challenge and I think they probably expect carrot puree... but get a gourmet meal that could stand up to a Master Chef grilling!
Your new book Real Food Kids Will Love has just been released! I love scratching the term “kid food,” and your book seems to do just that. What age do you think babies are ready to join their parents at meal time?
Home-cooked family meals are often the best meals. It’s not about spending hours slaving over the stove, it’s about finding solutions that work for your family, and often that means quick, balanced meals which are simple to prepare and taste delicious.
My advice is to try and introduce tasty, healthy alternatives early on. My new book Real Food Kids Will Love brings together delicious recipes for kids aged one to five. It includes all the things mums want such as 15 minute favourites, making your own healthy fast food, and one–pot batch cooking. There is also dairy free and egg free recipes, vegetarian and vegan recipes.... as well as a collection of dishes that young children can make themselves.
2018 / 2019 will be epic because…
I want to continue to innovate in the children’s food sector with even more flavour-fuelled, ready-to-go recipes based on my much-loved trusted cookbooks. We’ll also be working on making our products available for many more parents in even more territories.
We are also heavily investing in our digital channels, so we will be developing even more content and helpful advice for parents. We are also currently working on a number of exciting education initiatives which will equip parents with even more useful tools to be able to give their baby the very best start. Watch this space!
We sure will Annabel! x
If you have any particular questions for me, or about Annabel's books, comment below!
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