Juice Master Jason Vale has always puzzled that we are the only species on earth which struggles to eat what nature intended to make our minds and bodies function well. So, when it comes to nurturing babies and toddlers as they first explore solid food, it comes as no surprise that many parents find this a particularly tricky area to navigate.

Ensuring our little ones get the right nutrition during the early years of development is critical, and Annabel Karmel, who first published her book, The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, in 1991, has been helping parents for more than 27 years. Considered ‘the bible’ for weaning babies and tackling the first few years, including the fussy toddler stage, Annabel has since published 45 books, numerous apps and even developed a range of high-quality purées and ready meals for busy parents.

Having enjoyed the best nutrition possible in the form of breast milk since birth, when time came for Jason and Katie Vale to wean their son, JJ, the couple soon discovered Annabel as a source of knowledge and voice of experience. Jason connected with Annabel via social media, and recently the nutrition experts got together to record an interview for one of Jason’s upcoming podcasts, due to be released later this year. The meeting represented a collaboration of minds, since both Annabel and Jason share the same view that a balanced diet is essential for health, whatever your age. Just like the Juice Master, Annabel had to challenge conventional thinking to change views when she first set out on a mission to reshape child nutrition, almost three decades ago.

From Bland To Grand

“When I started out, the thinking was the blander the better,” Annabel explains, “but children didn’t like it. I ran a playgroup and gave my recipes to 100 mums each week – they told me they were amazing and their kids loved them. I blew up the concept that babies only like bland food and added ingredients like onion, herbs, mild curry powder and
garlic to challenge what was acceptable for young children to eat. Starting off with a wide spectrum of fruit and vegetables helps introduce babies to a diverse range of flavours and textures.

“I had a difficult time writing my book as when I talked to experts I kept getting different advice, so in the end I went to Great Ormond Street Hospital and worked with its Institute of Child Health to create a plan based on scientific and nutritional fact. Previously there were no good books on child nutrition that had recipes with photographs, and I was the first person to come at it from a different point of view. I had two fussy children and I had lost a child, so I wanted to leave a legacy that would
help other parents. I was turned down by 17 publishers, but in the end Ebury Publishing picked it up and the book went on to sell six million copies.”

The rest, as they say, is history and Annabel’s books and more recently her Baby & Toddler Recipes App with 350 recipes have been ‘nutrition bibles’ for many parents over the years, a ‘go to’ guru who has the answers to all of the challenges our little ones throw at us.

While thinking on what is and isn’t acceptable for young palates and technology changes, Annabel provides a sane voice of logic and reason. Vying with Juice Master Jason Vale for the top spot in the App Store at the beginning of the year, both his and Annabel’s apps are hugely popular, creating easy solutions for those ‘What to eat?’ moments in the supermarket. “Today, people are aware that babies shouldn’t have sugar or salt and there has been a lot of improvement in child nutrition,” says Annabel. “During the first year of life, a baby grows faster than at any other stage of life and a child needs critical nutrients such as iron and omega-3s, found in red meat, lentils and oily fish, for example. Unlike adults, they need a high fat, low-fibre diet and we make it easy for parents with weekly plans. I love that our books and app are passed from one generation to the next.

There are still challenges – people say their toddlers won’t eat, but often they serve them empty-calorie snacks. It’s as easy to mash up a banana as it is to open a jar, and I firmly believe fresh is best. Juicing isn’t much different from purées or baby smoothies, so if your little one is teething, a frozen ice lolly made with fruit and veggie combinations like mango, carrot and orange is a great way to soothe gums and get the key nutrients in.”

Annabel On…

  • Baby-Led Weaning: Annabel has always advocated baby-led weaning and taking cues from your child to introduce new ingredients and textures. “It’s important to treat each child as an individual and to mix purées and finger foods,” she says. “Babies do gag but it doesn’t mean they are choking, it’s a reflex and a process they go through to learn to chew. As long as you give them soft foods and are observant, they will be fine.”
  • Veganism & Allergies: “Babies need iron twice a day from six months when natural levels start to drop,” says Annabel. “It is more difficult for them to absorb it from vegetarian sources such as lentils so an iron-rich vegetable sauce is a great alternative and, if you are vegetarian, cheese adds good protein too. Allergies have become prevalent, but studies show giving babies allergenic foods from six months, can help to build up a tolerance.”
  • Fussy Eaters: “Fussy eating is a way to show independence, particularly as a baby’s rate of growth slows,” says Annabel. “Make sure you are not giving them the same thing again and again, particularly between 6–12 months, and don’t give snacks between meals so they are hungry at mealtimes. If they are not interested, leave it rather than let a battle of wills develop. Let your baby enjoy food and create a habit of eating together as a family.”