Annabel Karmel Q&A: cooking for grandchildren

27 August 2013

The UK’s number one expert on feeding children, Annabel Karmel, has more than 20 years of experience under her apron, so we asked her for some top tips when it comes to feeding the grandchildren.

Which foods were considered beneficial for children 20 or 30 years ago that would not now be considered suitable for children?

Throughout history food has had fashions and fads that are constantly changing; it seems that each week there is a new health food we should be trying,  or danger food to avoid. 

What is most visibly different to 20-30 years ago is the sheer variety of different foods that are available to us; particularly foods from around the world that were exotic 30 years ago, but are now the norm. However, there also seems to be a lot more sugar and fast food available to us all.  

We are a lot more concerned with fat, sugar and salt intake than we were 20-30 years ago. Salt in particular is hidden in so many foods that we don’t even think about, and as adults we are much more accustomed to the taste of salt than children, so think before adding it to dishes.

I don’t think there are necessarily foods that we used to have that children should not have now; I think we just need to use a bit more common sense with what we eat and what we give our children and grandchildren. If you eat a balance of healthy foods, the occasional treat does not matter.  

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Grandparents are traditionally considered indulgent with children, how can we give our grandchildren a treat that is not ruinous to teeth or temper? Or even has a secret healthy element to it?

I think you can still give your grandchildren treats without cramming them full of sugar and spoiling their appetite. A great way to do this is to make something with them like flapjacks or cupcakes.  This way you know how much sugar you are giving them. Also if you are giving treats, try to avoid doing it before meal times, as this can make them less likely to eat a proper meal. A few of my recipes are on The Children’s Society’s Bake and Brew website, but below is one of my favourite quick healthy treats to make with your children and grandchildren:

Why do you think it is important that parents and grandchildren teach their children to cook and spend time with them in the kitchen? How can they increase that time.

Getting children baking for a fantastic cause such as Bake & Brew is a great way to get children cooking and they will feel such a sense of pride at producing something that is going towards helping others.

It’s so important to get children into the kitchen from a young age; it teaches them numerous invaluable skills as well as getting them to interact with the food they are going to eat and also helping fussy eaters engage more with food. 

Cooking is a skill that will stay with them for life and is great for building confidence and spending quality time with you. Cooking with kids can be a bit chaotic and often messy, so choose a really simple recipe to start with, and expect mess. 

Get them to help with the rolling and mixing and making food into shapes or decorating foods- even cutting sandwiches into shapes or decorating biscuits with icing. I have a couple of fantastic cooking with kids’ books that have tips and recipe ideas including Kids in the Kitchen from Annabel’s Favourites, a series of books exclusively with Sainsbury’s.

It may have been a long time since a small child lived in the house, how can we childproof the kitchen quickly, cheaply and reversibly?  And what else do we need to watch out for in the kitchen?

I don’t believe you need to completely redecorate your kitchen when you know you are going to have your grandchildren to stay, but taking a few precautionary measures before they arrive will give you some peace of mind.  There are also a few cheap and effective appliances that you can buy to help avoid disasters in the kitchen such as cupboard locks on low cupboards in the kitchen or corner guards if you have some particularly nasty corners at little people’s head height.  To save on floor mopping it might be worth buying a mat to put under the high chairs to catch the food that will inevitably fly off. Regarding dangerous implements in the kitchen, below are a few tips you could check off when you know little ones are coming to stay:

  • Make sure to keep detergents, cleaning products and any other toxic household chemicals locked up.  If you keep these under the sink, either get a child proof lock (making sure it’s one that you yourself can get into, it’s no good if no one can use them!) Alternatively move them to a high shelf out from their reach.
  • Make sure that sharp knives and other sharp tools, such as food processor blades, peelers, and graters are stored in latched drawers or high cabinets away from little one’s reach. Knife blocks on kitchen side boards are not a good idea as they can easily be reached for.
  • If your grandchildren are very little, watch out for potential choking hazards on low surfaces such as: grapes, balloons, coins or that pot of small random bits you keep on a side table.
  • Be firm about running around in the kitchen, especially if you have the oven on or hot pans on the stove.  Keep handles on the hob facing inwards and keep any pans or heavy equipment to the back of work surfaces towards walls so nothing can be easily pulled off the shelf.

Sometimes adults do need to get on with food preparation in the kitchen while looking after grandchildren. What's the best way to do this with young children around?

If you need to cook a meal while looking after children you can either get them involved or find an absorbing activity that will keep them occupied for a bit of time: you don’t want them running around in the kitchen if you are using knives or have hot food in the oven or on the hob. 

If they are younger get them playing a board game or drawing you a picture, but if they are a bit older ask them to help you with the family meal and give them a small, simple task they can achieve by themselves- not only will this keep them occupied for a bit of time, but they will feel a real sense of achievement at helping you prepare the meal.

Are any ingredients off limits?

Ingredients such as salt, spicy food or caffeine shouldn’t be given to little ones under 1 year of age. After that, little ones won’t miss what they do not know so I would avoid introducing too much sugar or salt if possible as they don’t need it. 

That doesn’t mean not giving treats, but everything should be had in moderation.  You will be surprised at what flavours children will enjoy.  Mild curries and spices can be given to toddlers, but just avoid giving something very spicy if they are not used to it.

Are there any old-fashioned treats from the 40s, 50s and 60s that grandparents could bring up to date and share with their grandchildren?

Some of my favourite recipes were passed down from my mother, and I have since taught them to my children. Whilst styles of food change, all those classics you loved as a child are often just as popular now. Baking something you enjoyed when you were younger with your grandchildren is a wonderful way to spend time together.  There will always be a place for classic British baking recipes such as swiss rolls, victoria sponges, apple pies and custard; that will never go out of fashion!

Annabel Karmel is supporting The Children's Society's Bake and Brew campaign. For more information, please visit:

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