Best Baby and Toddler Feeding Tips
Both in the U.S. and the U.K., Annabel Karmel is the number-one name for moms who want to make their own baby food. The mother of three has written more than a dozen books about feeding babies and toddlers; her iPhone app is also a hit. Now she’s offering advice and delicious recipes for pregnant moms with her new book Eating for Two.
What inspired you to dive into nutrition, meal planning, and baby food?
About three months after my first child was born, I felt very uneasy—she didn’t look right to me. We took her to the hospital and were there for five days and nights. They believed something was wrong with her brain. On the last night, she died. I can’t even explain what that feels like. She was my first child.
I knew that having another child was the only thing that could bring me back to life, and so my son Nicholas is the reason I wrote my first book. I was quite adamant that he should eat well. I tried books on baby purees and they were all very bland. I tried commercial products and he wouldn’t eat them. I only got him to eat well with my own with herbs, garlic, and fresh food.
I was giving my recipes to all the mums around and they told me I should write a book.
So you did!
I spoke with many, many allergy specialists, nutritionists, and research bodies. It took me two and half years before my first book came out in 1991, The Healthy Baby Meal Planner. I thought that would be the only book I wrote, but so far I’ve written about one book each year on a range of topics: weekly meal planning, feeding fussy eaters, creating family meals, transitioning from puree to solid food, and cooking with your child.
What are good first foods?
I don’t believe in baby cereal. I like vegetables and fruit, preferably sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. Simply steam it to preserve the nutrients, or bake it, which will caramelize it. Then mix it with your baby’s usual milk. Apple and pear are also great choices because they are slightly sweet, similar to breast milk. Then start branching out and introduce mashed papaya, peaches, banana, and avocado.
When making purees, stick to a single ingredient and keep it as close to liquid as possible. Babies are used to breast milk, and you need to mimic that consistency to start. Then work up to mixing a fruit and a vegetable together and creating thicker purees. Try introducing your little one to broccoli and spinach by mixing them with root vegetables.
What if my child is picky and won’t eat a lumpy sweet potato puree?
Stick with it! In the first year, you must introduce to as many foods as possible. Withholding certain foods has nothing to do with developing an allergy or not, but rather it can make children quite fussy. It’s really about trying to train kids to like good food. It’s hard to transition from commercial, processed food to homemade family food. Start them on fresh family food and you shouldn’t have much of a problem.
What are the best first finger foods?
Steamed veggies and soft fruits like peaches, broccoli, pears. I also love serving fingers of toast with real cheese, mini meatballs, and sautéed grated onion and apple.
How can moms be sure their babies and toddlers are getting the nutrition they need?
Follow my books and meal planner—it takes all the worry out of it. Once you’re past the simple foods, bring in eggs, fish, chicken, and other meat. I like putting things like dried apricot into beef casserole or fresh fruit into a savory puree to get babies to like it.
Other key points to remember: variety and food groups. Serve fish or meat twice each week or add cheese to a veggie puree. Do not stick to smooth purees for too long. To avoid this, blend half and chop the other half or keep it lumpier.
Don’t be discouraged or frustrated when you’re baby becomes independent, experiments with food, and then makes a mess. Mums need to accept that and take a deep breath.
Sometimes introducing the same food over and over doesn’t work for me. So I make something else. Is this the right thing to do?
It’s actually important for the child to feel hungry. Otherwise he will carry on and on and get fussy with food whenever he doesn’t feel like eating something. Give him no attention for not eating. It’s a hard thing to do, but focus on the good and not the bad. We’re all guilty of going to the cupboard and trying to appease our children, afraid they will be hungry. But when they’re hungry, that’s the time they will eat something different. Otherwise their diet won’t be varied and that’s the worst thing.
What is the best way to store baby food?
I loved cooking for my children on the weekend and freezing purees in ice cube trays. You’re better off making it in bulk.
Can parents just blend up what they’re eating for dinner?
Yes! But be mindful that no salt or strong seasonings are added.
Do you have a favorite go-to recipe when you’re in a pinch?
My mini-meatballs. I bake them in the oven and then freeze the extra. I also love chicken balls and salmon balls—all are made with breadcrumbs, tomato, and spring onion.
Any tips for mom’s diet?
While pregnant, try not to gain too much weight. You don’t need any extra calories, not until the last three months anyway, because your body is great at using all of the calories and nutrients you already provide. Eating many small meals is best, and good snacks are sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
After your child is born, you must continue to eat well, especially when breast-feeding. You don’t think about storing up food in the freezer but it is such a help to plan ahead for when you’re back from the hospital. If you eat well and rest, you will feel so much better. And it will be nutritious for baby.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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