Let's Eat

A generation of healthy eaters

Annabel Karmel is celebrating 30 years feeding our babies and toddlers


Next week marks a huge milestone for me — 30 years since the Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner was published. As I approach this exciting anniversary, I’ve found myself taking stock and reflecting on my 30 years of working in the baby and children’s food industry. It’s remarkable how much has changed in the past three decades.

When to start weaning

Thirty years ago babies were weaned on fruit and vegetable purées from three months old. This was absolutely fine as a baby gets all of the nutrients they need from either breast or formula milk in the first six months. However, the current official guideline is now around six months — although babies can be given simple solids earlier, from around five months. If you start to introduce solids from six months, fruit and vegetables plus breast milk or formula will not give your baby the critical nutrients they need for growth and development. In particular they will be missing out on iron and essential fatty acids.

Meal time make up

As we’ve learned more about what babies need, starting foods have shifted from stewed apple, baby rice and mashed up fruit to a much wider variety. We know that ‘first taste’ fruits and veggies are important, but critical nutrients such as iron, protein and omega 3 fatty acids are also essential at an early age.

By the third week of weaning you need to introduce iron-rich foods like meat, eggs, lentils or spinach (ideally twice a day). Oily fish like salmon needs to be eaten twice a week as it’s the only good source of essential fatty acids (vital for your baby’s brain and visual development.)


Baby knows best

Baby-led weaning (BLW) has rocketed in popularity in recent years.

The theory is that you start with soft finger foods and small portions of family meals (minus the salt) from the very start of weaning at around six months. The method puts baby in control, allowing them to decide what foods they want to eat, when they want to eat and how much.

Easy-to-hold finger foods like steamed carrot batons and sweet potato wedges are now a more popular choice over the baby rice of yesteryear.

The book now includes more finger food options.

Understandably, choking is a big worry for parents, so we explain exactly how to cut and cook food to ensure your baby’s safety.



Parents have become more savvy about the types and variety of foods they’re feeding their children to aid development. Today it’s more commonly accepted that each bite needs to contain the maximum amount of nutrition with minimum bulk — largely due to babies’ tiny tums filling up so quickly.

We now know that each meal should contain protein, carbohydrates and fat, and that their diet should include all-important iron, essential fatty acids, zinc, vitamin D, C, E, iodine and calcium.

Allergy aware

Childhood food allergies seem to be on the rise, but so is awareness, and it’s easier than ever to accommodate free-from and specialist diets. We were aware of allergies in the 1990s but our approach was completely different. The general advice was to hold off feeding your child possible allergenic food (such as nuts, eggs and dairy) for at least a year. Now it’s encouraged to start introducing these foods slowly from six months to help de-sensitise babies. In Israel, for example, young children regularly eat Bamba (a peanut-rich snack), and they actually have a very low case rate of peanut allergies.

Family allergy history can play a role in how prone to food allergy a baby may be, but specific food allergies are not inherited. However children who suffer from eczema have a 30-50 per cent risk of developing a food allergy, particularly if their eczema is severe.

If you are concerned that your child might suffer a food allergy you should seek advice from a paediatric allergy specialist or doctor. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is introduce new foods one by one, leaving a day or two between each one to check for a reaction.

We now know that babies can be allergic to a food in one form but not another. For example, sometimes they can’t eat an omelette but can eat a biscuit containing eggs. The advice used to be to avoid these foods in all their forms, whereas new research shows that giving small amounts of these foods can help your baby grow out of their allergy.

Adventurous tastebuds

When I was starting out, I was told babies and toddlers only liked bland food, but of course this just wasn’t true! Nowadays babies are exposed to (and enjoy) a range of tastes from a young age — a trend I hope to see continue to develop. Parents today have much more confidence experimenting with flavours in the kitchen and I think this will only continue to grow.


Veganism is far more prevalent today, partly thanks to a greater awareness of the impact food has on our health and the environment. Its popularity continues to gain momentum with adults, and now weaning babies.

Although there are lots of health benefits for adults, for little ones a strict plant-based diet needs close management. Parents have to be extra careful to ensure their child is getting key nutrients mainly in the form of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12, for their development and long-term health.

Bountiful information

When I started weaning my children, information was sparse — it felt like a guessing game. The parents at my baby and toddler group felt the same way, so each week I would supply them with recipes to help their fussy eaters enjoy mealtimes. It was these parents who encouraged me to write the book.

Now there’s a plethora of conflicting advice to choose from, making taking your first steps into the world of weaning pretty daunting. My mantra is simple: experiment with a wide variety of healthy foods and flavours from the very start of your baby’s weaning journey and you’ll soon be on the road to weaning victory.

The fourth edition of the New Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner (Ebury Press) is out now

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