The anxiety of what to feed our pride and joy
From Shelley Jofre, BBC Panorama reporter:
I remember all too clearly the anxiety and uncertainty as a first-time mum about what to feed my daughter five years ago when it was time for her to move onto solid food.
There seemed to be so many rules about what little babies couldn't or shouldn't eat but very little advice on what I should give my precious Orla. There was one person above all others who I turned to for advice then - Annabel Karmel.
I found her recipes for baby food invaluable and I am not alone. She has sold more than 3m recipe books over the years and has made her name promoting nutritious, homemade food for babies and toddlers instead of jars of bland, processed baby food.
I may chuckle now at some of the more exotic recipes I earnestly followed (like apricot and tofu pudding!) but, at the time, they boosted my confidence that I was giving my growing child a varied and balanced diet.
I must admit to not thinking much about Annabel Karmel again until after I had my son, Joe, 15 months ago. Around the same time I was planning my return to work, I noticed a new range of chilled ready meals in the supermarket that were apparently specifically designed for toddlers.
They were from Annabel Karmel. But could a ready meal - by its very nature - be healthy? I wanted to find out more.
Ready meals in general have a reputation for being high in salt and sugar - two things we are told that we should be eating less of.
The latest scientific evidence suggests that the die may be cast for our children's health before the age of five. So, if we feed pre-schoolers too much salt and sugar we could be setting them up for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease in later life.
Sobering thoughts for all parents trying to do their best for their kids.
My first step in this investigation was to buy some of Annabel Karmel ready meals and look at the labels. Unlike many ready meals aimed at adults and children five and older, they do not come with at-a-glance guides on the front of the pack to tell me whether the meals are high or low in sugar.
I had to work it out for myself - harder than you might expect do as you stand in the supermarket aisle.
On the back of her kiddies' beef lasagne it says one meal contains 1 gram of salt and nearly 12g of sugar. I did not know if that was high or not.
Back home I checked the Food Standards Agency website - not something I imagine most parents have the time or inclination to do.
It told me a one to three year old should have no more than 2g of salt in a whole day, and recommended I shouldn't add any salt or sugar to my home-cooked food for my toddler.
If we're all meant to be weaning ourselves off salt and sugar, then why add them to ready meals meant for toddlers whose tastes are still to develop.
I asked Annabel Karmel why her toddlers' lasagne is more than twice as sweet as an ordinary supermarket lasagne and nearly as salty. On both counts, it's down to taste she told me:
"I deal with mums all the time who have children who won't eat, and in order to get a child to eat, it needs to taste good."
However, she told me she is planning to remove sugar from all her ready meals. In future, her lasagne will still be sweetened, but with fruit juice. She has no plans currently to reduce the salt content, though, which she doesn't believe is excessive as part of a balanced diet. She said:
"I think if it was a very bland meal then the child won't eat it."
For me, though, that seems to be at odds with the advice health professionals are trying desperately to get across to new parents. I remember in the '70s my own well-meaning grandmother dipping orange segments in sugar to get me to eat them...open my mouth now and I have the fillings to prove it! Would I really not have eaten a sweet, juicy orange without a thick sugar coating?
The most interesting part of making this week's Panorama was having the opportunity to watch my daughter and all her classmates learn to cook.
All the ingredients they used were fresh and healthy and the end results were bursting with colour and flavour.
Not only did they enjoy the process, they even tried different tastes and foods they previously thought they didn't like.
It made me wonder whether it isn't us parents who're misguided in thinking children still need a spoonful of sugar - or a dash of salt - to make the medicine go down.
I'd be very interested in hearing from other parents on this topic, please feel free to add your thoughts to our Panorama blog on the challenges of feeding your young families and any handy answers that you may have come across.