by Annabel Karmel, Ian O'Leary (Photographer)
There's a popular game at baby showers in which the new mom-to-be has to taste jarred baby food and guess its contents. Inevitably, the first comment is "Yuk! How do they eat this stuff?" The answer, of course, is that babies don't know there's an alternative--fresh, delicious, wholesome food made at home. In the beautifully and extensively illustrated First Meals, Annabel Karmel explains how simple and satisfying it is to make baby's food yourself--from the earliest mashed banana and steamed carrot purees to Singapore Noodles for 3- to 5-year-olds.
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Karmel begins with an extensive section on early nutrition, pointing out that while grownups are often encouraged to follow a high-fiber, low-fat diet, "the under 5s need significantly more fat and concentrated sources of calories and nutrients to fuel their rapid growth during the early years." Continuing her "Basics" chapter are sections on keeping a well-stocked pantry; the equipment you'll need; illustrated, step-by-step instructions on preparing your first purees; and notes on freezing and reheating food. Close-up views of spoonfuls of puree are especially helpful for nervous first-time chefs. Chapters of recipes and feeding information are then broken down by age--4-6 months, 6-9 months, 9-12 months, 12-18 months, 18 months-2 years, 2-3 years, and 3-5 years, with each chapter addressing the particularities of the given age (questions about starting solids are answered for parents of 4-6-month-olds, while maintaining a healthy and varied diet and packing lunches are the concerns for the preschool child), along with 20 or more recipes appropriate to the child's level.
First published in England, the book has been "translated" well--ingredients are measured both in cups and in grams, and while there might be more parsnips called for than one normally sees in a North American diet, nearly every ingredient is obtainable at your regular supermarket. Karmel is up-to-date on the most recently accepted food recommendations as of 1999--she advises families with food allergies to avoid peanuts until a child is 3 years old, and while she cooks with cow's milk after 9 months, she doesn't recommend offering it in a cup until baby has reached his first birthday. Most importantly, she preaches a gospel of variety and of fun at mealtime. Cheesy Pasta Stars are made with tiny "stelline" pasta, and homemade Chicken Nuggets (made with grated apple and parsley in the breading) are formed in the shape of hearts--enough to break down the barriers of any picky eater. Stuffed Baked Potatoes become sailboats with cheese triangle sails and red pepper flags, and "Mock Fried Egg" looks just like the real thing--except it's vanilla yogurt with half an apricot on top! So trust your taste buds and leave those jars at the store--Annabel Karmel's First Meals will inspire you in the kitchen and leave your kids pounding the table for more.