An interview with… Annabel Karmel
Annabel Karmel is one of the UK’s leading experts on family cooking. Since September, Gousto has been featuring a range of her family-favourite recipes on the menu, and it’s been amazing to see so many families enjoying her tasty, balanced meals and sharing their completed dishes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!
We caught up with Annabel to find out more about her recipes, her common sense-inspired approach to family cooking and get a few bits of sage advice about cooking for families. Read Annabel’s interview with the Gousto blog below.
Who are your Gousto recipes made for? Are they just for kids?
Gousto is all about trying to help make life that little bit easier and my recipes are perfect for those nights when you want someone else to do the thinking and planning ahead for you! My recipes are perfect for the whole family – adults and children alike – and definitely not just for kids.
It’s important to remember that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to mean producing elaborate meals, and recipes like my Perfect Pad Thai and Super Sweet ‘N’ Sour Chicken have been lovingly created with the whole family in mind – simple, easy-to-follow and extra tasty – ideal for those busy mid-week schedules.
Annabel’s Sweet ‘N’ Sour Chicken recipe
What’s the most important thing for parents to think about when cooking for their kids?
A lack of variety can result in fussiness. It’s easy to fall back on your bank of go-to meals because you know there will be clean plates all round, but it’s so important to introduce a variety of flavours into your child’s diet from an early age.
Challenge yourself to cook one new recipe each week. Cooking something new doesn’t have to be scary or time consuming – it’s actually easier than you might think. Keep it up and you’ll soon build up your mid-week meals repertoire.
What does ‘family cooking’ mean to you?
To this day, my mission has remained the same: to empower and inspire parents across the world to give their families the best start in life. To me, this begins with good food at home; if you’re sitting down together to a home cooked meal at least two or three times a week, you’re winning in my eyes. You get that wonderful glow when your children love eating something you’ve prepared.
I’ve always been a fan of shared social eating. While busy family schedules don’t always allow time for eating together, it’s a positive principle to adopt, even if only a few times a week.
Family cooking shouldn’t mean spending hours in the kitchen. It’s about finding solutions that work for your family, and often that means quick, balanced meals which are super-simple to prepare. And they need to taste delicious – let’s be honest, to be ‘good food’, it’s also got to be something the whole family will want to devour!
Some of my best loved dishes, like my Little Chicken and Leek Pies, are incredibly simple and can be prepared in under half an hour, but they’re super tasty.
If you could only pick one, which of your Gousto recipes is an absolute ‘must try’ and why?
When cooking for the whole family you want to make something you will enjoy but also something the kids will eat. It’s hard to choose but my Fruity Chicken Curry recipe is one of my favourites as it proves that there’s no reason why toddlers and children shouldn’t join in on mum and dad’s curry nights too!
Annabel’s Fruity Chicken Curry recipe
It’s important to pack in a variety of flavours from an early age to encourage healthy eating habits, and this wholesome family curry is the perfect introduction to spices. Deliciously mild and fruity, it’s one of my favourite failsafe recipes.
Has home cooking changed over time? And do you think it’s still as important today as it used to be?
Increasingly hectic schedules get in the way of us being able to serve-up healthy home cooked meals for the whole family every night of the week. It’s now all too easy to opt for pre-prepared meals or takeaway foods, which can be laden with salt and sugar.
We want what’s best for our family, and home cooking does just that – you know exactly what’s going into the meal you are preparing without having to worry about any hidden nasties.
Most importantly, home cooking brings families together – to me, there’s no greater joy than sitting round the table for a long lazy Sunday lunch as a family and I believe these are moments we should all savour.
What are your 3 top tips to help busy parents make home cooking easier?
- Plan Ahead. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead and make more than one meal, for instance I’ll make a batch of chicken burgers, a big lasagne, or several fish pies in individual ramekins and then just whip them out when needed.
- Make the most of the ‘one-pot’. There’s nothing better than a one-pot recipe on busy days – just chuck all the ingredients in and leave it to do its thing while you get on with other jobs.
- Stock Up. Have a well-stocked store cupboard, so even if you haven’t had time to go to the shops you can still cook-up a healthy nutritious dinner for the whole family. If in doubt, eggs are my staple ingredient – you can always whip up a quick frittata in minutes!
How does family cooking change or develop as family grows?
Family cooking and eating together is important at every age and stage, whether your child is strapped into his highchair or tackling her teens.
My children are in their twenties, and the dinner table is still the one place where we take a break from our busy lives and connect with each other. In fact, mealtimes seem to have grown in my home, with my kids’ friends joining us too!
What have been your proudest ‘mum moments’ so far?
My children are my daily motivation – I wouldn’t do what I do today without them.
Now a mum of three grown-up children, my passion seems to have caught on with my daughter Lara, who joined the business last year. This was a wonderfully proud moment for me as she’s keen to learn and grow (plus I get to see her every day!).
Sadly, my first child, Natasha, passed away due to a viral infection when she was just 13 weeks. Whilst Natasha’s illness wasn’t diet related, I was understandably cautious when my second child, Nicholas, came along. I wanted to give him the very best foods. But I’d landed myself the world’s fussiest eater.
I struggled to find enticing recipes to encourage him and so set about devising my own. At the time, I ran a local playgroup and I soon had mums queueing up for my recipes. With a little persuasion, I started compiling a cookbook for babies and toddlers using my healthy food combinations – the Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner.
Annabel’s first book: the Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner
After being rejected by over fifteen publishing houses, I finally secured a publishing deal. But never in my wildest dreams did I foresee that this cookbook would go on to sell more than 4 million copies (to this day it remains the 2nd bestselling hardback non-fiction book of all time ), or that I’d go on to publish 43 more cookbooks! It’s a fitting legacy to Natasha that I’ve been able to help generations of babies develop healthy eating habits.
What have been the most unexpected challenges of being a mum?
The great thing about running your own business while raising a family is that you have the freedom to work to your own schedule. Juggling the dual demands of work and family life is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination; I remember completing my first recipe book in between the children’s naps, managing a busy toddler group and running a house. It’s difficult keeping all the balls in the air without dropping one occasionally!
But I love being a self-employed mum. I felt, and still do feel, empowered by being able to make my own decisions and follow a worthwhile passion.
Being a working mum isn’t worry-free, so my advice would be to try to keep the guilt in check. Focus on the positive benefits of being your own boss and value the time you do have with your children.
Which of your recipes were your children’s favourites growing up?
My signature Chicken and Apple Balls recipe is where it all began. It encouraged my fussy son to eat chicken for the first time – the grated apple which adds a lovely natural sweetness which is appealing to younger children.
Around the age of 5 and 6 I encouraged my children to cook the supper for the family every Friday. It’s a great way to teach children how to cook and (with a little help if your children are still quite young) the recipes I have designed for Gousto would be perfect for children to prepare themselves.
Right now, my mini energy balls are proving a huge hit with my own children. I developed these for my new Baby Led Weaning Recipe Book, which is all about introducing healthy finger foods and family meals from the very beginning. Free of refined sugar and packed with oats, seeds, nuts and dates, these delicious snacks will give your child (and the rest of the family) a healthy energy boost.
And finally… Do you have any food vices?
I am obsessed with food so have many! However it has to be Japanese food – I absolutely love sushi. If you were to ask me my food foe, it would be beetroot. Although having said that, my chocolate beetroot brownies are amazing (you see, I’m even still encouraging myself to eat foods that I wouldn’t usually touch!).
Annabel with her dog, Bono.