An expert at devising tasty and nutritious recipes, Annabel offers family mealtime advice and tasty teatime tips to make mealtimes delicious

I’m about to start weaning my
 six-month-old baby. Could you tell me the best fruit and vegetables to start with and whether I should mix them or stick to one new taste at a time?} It’s best to stick to one new taste at a time. The best ‘first vegetables’ to give your baby are: carrot, potato, sweet potato, butternut squash and pumpkin. These are easily digested, unlikely to cause an allergy, and babies like their sweet taste. Best ‘first fruits’ are: apple, pear, banana, papaya and avocado. It’s easy to make fresh baby food as some fruits like banana, papaya and avocado don’t need to be cooked and can simply be mashed.

My three-year-old and 18-month-old have very different likes and dislikes when it comes to food. As a busy mum I find this difficult. How can I get them to eat the same things? Finger foods are good. Try making mini
 chicken burgers and meatballs. For the burgers I mix minced chicken with 
sautéed onion, grated parmesan, fresh breadcrumbs, fresh sage and grated apple – they are delicious and the perfect size
for little fingers. It saves time to make a batch and freeze them and then you can simply take out as many as you need. Fresh fruit lollies made of something 
like sieved strawberries or orange juice with a touch of icing sugar are popular with little ones, too. 

How should I naturally sweeten my eight month old baby’s food? I don’t want to use sugar and my mum said she shouldn’t have honey. Is this true and what other options are there?

 It is true that babies shouldn’t have honey before they are a year old, this is to prevent infant botulism. I find the best way to sweeten food is using fruit. Adding fruit, such as apple, makes chicken or green vegetables more tempting for babies. A great combination is puréed chicken, sweet potato and apple. Dried fruit, such 
as apricots, are a good source of iron and beta-carotene, and can be added to porridge or are delicious with a beef and root vegetable casserole. Baking sweet potato caramelises the natural sugars. Baked sweet potato wedges make great finger food for little ones.

My four-year-old daughter’s fruit and veg intake comprises apples, bananas, celery, clementines, sweet red pepper and raw carrot. Is she getting enough vitamins from these? I would suggest introducing some green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli if her diet does not consist of much red meat or pulses, such as lentils, as they are a good source of iron. Try mixing green veg with sweet root vegetables such as sweet potato in a soup, or add them to a lasagne or
stir-fry. Adding some teriyaki sauce often makes vegetables more appealing, too.
 Berries are good too, as these are packed full of vitamins, including vitamin C which aids iron absorption. If she doesn’t like them in their natural state you could try puréeing and sieving them with natural fruit juice to make ice lollies or smoothies.

My three-year-old loves raw fruit and veg, but refuses to eat cooked vegetables unless he 
can have them with ketchup. How can we persuade him to eat them on their own, 
or shouldn’t we worry? The good news is that your son is probably getting all the nutrients he needs from the raw fruit and vegetables he is eating. As he will eat cooked vegetables served with ketchup, try mixing them with a sweet and sour sauce. In a small pan, simply blend tbsp cornflour with 1 tbsp cold water and add to 150ml vegetable stock. Mix in 2 tsp soft brown sugar and tbsp soy sauce. Bring to the boil, stirring, and then simmer for a couple of minutes. This goes well with a mixture of broccoli, carrots and sweetcorn. You might also like to try serving cooked vegetables that he can hold – for example corn on the cob cut in half, or steamed carrot sticks. Courgettes sautéed in a little butter and oil are nice too.

My toddler is allergic to eggs, but would love a cake for her birthday. Is it possible for someone scared of baking (me!) to create something presentable and egg-free?
150g plain flour
45g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  tsp salt
200g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp sunflower oil
250ml hot water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar or 
cider vinegar
For the frosting:
4 tbsp water
85g dairy-free margarine
40g soft light brown sugar
150g dairy-free dark chocolate, 
  tsp vanilla extract
Makes approx 12 portions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Gas 4. Line the base and sides of a 23cm x 23cm or 18cm x 33cm cake tin with parchment, leaving an overhang at two opposite ends.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Mix together sugar, oil, water, vanilla and vinegar and stir into the dry ingredients. Pour batter into the tin then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen, firm and a cake tester comes out clean.
  3. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then, using the parchment, lift out onto a wire rack to cool completely (leave the parchment on the base; this makes it easier to move the cake).
  4. To make the frosting, put all ingredients except the vanilla in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, then microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring between each burst, until all is melted together. Whisk to make a glossy frosting then whisk in the vanilla. Alternatively put the bowl over (but not in) a pan of simmering water and leave to melt, whisking regularly, then remove from the saucepan and add the vanilla.
  5. Leave in a cool place for 1 to 2 hours to thicken; If necessary, chill in the fridge for 10 minutes, then whisk again. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake (pop the cake into the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up the frosting a little more if you like).

Can you recommend a really good, balanced lunchbox for a three-year-old. I’m running out of ideas! And what exactly constitutes ‘healthy’?

Getting inspired with lunchboxes is so hard, and finding healthy food that you know they are going to eat is even harder. It is all about trying to get a good balance in your child’s lunchbox. Peeling or chopping fruit or vegetable sticks, such as carrot, and wrapping it in cling film or putting it in
a little box with a dip like hummus or their favourite yoghurt, will make it far more likely to be eaten. Here’s a great muffin recipe which is a delicious home-made treat you can make with your toddler in advance – and is much better than a chocolate bar.

I’d love a recipe for a child-friendly smoothie. Could you also explain the nutritional value of the fruit used?

Blackberry and 
blueberry smoothie
60g blackberries
60g strawberries
30g blueberries
1 small banana
6 tbsp blueberry drinking yoghurt
2 tsp honey (optional)

Put the fruit in a blender with the yoghurt and honey.  Blend until smooth and it’s 
a lovely deep purple colour.
Blueberries contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit, while blackberries are rich in antioxidants and also contain vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fibre. A smoothie is better than fresh 
fruit juice as it 
contains all the fibre 
from the fruit, and 
the skin, where lots 
of the ‘goodness’ can 
be. Smoothies are 
fantastic to make 
with your children 
– simply throw in 
what you want and 
whizz; for extra-thick 
smoothies, just use 
frozen fruit.

Recipe from Annabel’s You Can Cook, £12.99, Dorling Kindersley

I’ve read that you’ve launched
 ready-made meals for toddlers. Like most mums I worry about getting into the habit of prepared meals. What
 do you think about this?} I can understand your worry on this subject and it is important to be fussy when it comes to choosing food for your little ones. Some ready meals do have levels of saturated fat and salt that are unsuitable for toddlers.
You need to choose meals that are specifically designed for children under four, as these will comply with the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) of salt and fat that a
child of a certain age can have, such as
my range of chilled meals you refer to. Busy parents want to spend some precious time out with their children, so convenience helps with this, but they need to choose trusted meal alternatives. A mixture of healthy ready meals and fresh, quick meals you can make yourself, offer a balanced approach for you and your family.

Any idea for an animal-themed recipe that’s not too sweet?

How about my cute and cuddly bunny biscuits? Kids will love to nibble on them at breakfast or teatime.

Makes 12

  • 50ml milk
  • 100ml cold water
  • 450g strong white flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 1 x 7g sachet easy-blend yeast
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt 50g butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 110g raisins
  • 30g mixed peel
  • Sunflower oil, for greasing

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 24 currants
  1. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the water, then leave to cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Put the flour in a large bowl and stir in the yeast, sugar, mixed spice and salt until well blended. Make a dent in the centre and add the butter and egg, then add the milk and water mixture and mix to make a dough, adding extra water if needed.
  3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Put in a large, oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
  4. Turn the dough out and pat into a large round. Scatter the raisins and mixed peel over the dough, fold it in half, and half again, then knead the dough to incorporate the fruit.
  5. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and put on 2 greased baking sheets, spaced well apart. Press the dough balls down slightly and shape the ends so that they are oval-shaped.
  6.  Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave to rise for 30-45 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C.
  7. To make the bunny ears, use kitchen scissors to make 2 side-by-side cuts and slightly pull up the cuts to shape the ears. Do a tail by making a small downwards snip at the other end.
  8. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes.
  9. Make the glaze by heating the milk and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the rolls from the oven and reduce the heat to 180°C. Brush the milk and sugar glaze all over the rolls and stick 2 currants on the face end to make eyes.
  10. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

expert annabel small
expert annabel 1

Food Expert

Annabel Karmel is a leading writer of books on nutrition for babies and young children. She is an expert at devising tasty and nutritious recipes to make family mealtimes delicious.

More Stuff.

Ask an expert: Counsellor Teresa Tyler
  Psychotherapist and counsellor,  Teresa Tyler can help...
Ask an expert: Dr Rob Hicks
  Our resident sexual health expert, Dr Rob Hicks, helps...
Ask an expert: Fitness expert Vicky Warr
  A specialist in pregnancy and post-natal fitness, follow...