Healthy Eating With Amie Harper - The Grace Tales

Healthy Eating With Amie Harper

Introducing your child to solids can be a daunting step, as nutritionist and mother Amie Harper can no doubt attest to. Her new book, Baby Pip Eats, is a compilation of her recipes that the whole family can enjoy together, including the youngest. “I saw a niche in the market for simple, concise and creative whole family recipes and was overwhelmed with books as a new mum that were filled with too much information," she says.

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Amie Harper with daughter Pip

This may be Harper’s first book but she is far from new to the food scene. She has worked as a food technologist, stylist and recipe writer for over 10 years at publications including Australian Women’s Weekly, Gourmet Traveller and Good Taste. However, it was back at RMIT University, where she studied a B.Sc. in Food Science and Nutrition, that her passion for healthy and delicious children’s food really developed. “My final year focused on research into children's diets and, more specifically, energy intake in lunch box items at school. These topics peaked my interest and I was overjoyed when I was welcomed in by kindergartens and day care facilities to talk about healthy eating and give little cooking workshops. Making muesli with fresh fruits, yoghurt and milk was a surprising hit!” she recalls. “However, sadly this work never turned into something sustainable and I went the career route of recipe development for big corporations…though it often came with constraints to creativity, this work presented me amazing opportunities to travel abroad, conduct research projects and broaden my expertise in the food industry.”

Since founding Amie Eats, Harper has returned to her main passion: food writing and styling, with her daughter Pip Kylie by her side. When writing her book, Harper says she “endeavoured to sweep Pip up into my love of adventurous, healthy eating and the joy that creating in a kitchen can bring… Pip is the best assistant and most honest food critic I have had the privilege of working with so far!” We caught up with Harper to find out more about the importance of nutrition for children, healthy eating ideas and her approach to motherhood...

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"I wanted mums and dads to pick up Baby Pip Eats cook book and feel confident to try the recipes and gain a little nutritional information as they went along."

What inspired you to write your book Baby Pip Eats?
Growing up in a rural western-district Victorian community, I have fond memories of long days spent sampling the vegetables and fruits that grew in abundance in my grandparents' back paddock. Stealing ingredients from mum's kitchen cupboard and harbouring them in the rickety old brown cubby house, where I'd prepare a feast for my excited sisters, was another caper I can confess to! Since those days of mud pie tea parties, my passion for preparing and sharing delicious, nutritious meals among family and friends has remained. The exciting and recent arrival of a new addition to our family, Pip Kylie, hardened my resolve to finally work towards the writing of my long dreamed recipe book. As my little girl turned from milk to mashed veggies, I transferred my attention from gourmet salads and spicy flavours, to smaller servings and a simplified palette to include her. I wanted mums and dads to pick up Baby Pip Eats cook book and feel confident to try the recipes and gain a little nutritional information as they went along.

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Strawberry scones with ricotta cream and smashed strawberries - an afternoon treat

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Cauliflower and silver beet au gratin - recipe adapted from Baby Pip Eats

Why is nutrition so important in the early years?
From six months of age an infant’s energy requirements start to outweigh what a feeding mother or formula can supply. This is when the World Health Organisation suggests to start introducing solids to infants to give them what they require to thrive…Baby Pip Eats was a catalyst to inspire others to be adventurous with food variety and preparation for their own children, and to transform misconceptions that older babies and toddlers could only eat purees. The initial year of a child’s life is a crucial part of their development and the introduction to solids can help create a solid and healthy foundation for later in life. I wanted to expose Pip to a myriad of foods that were suitable for this purpose. I also hoped that it would lead Pip to have a love for and knowledge of food as well as a positive affinity for eating healthily…

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Milky oats and chia porridge with hidden dates and strawberries

What’s your personal approach to introducing solids?
One of the first meals I recall preparing for Pip was a simple chicken soup when she was six months old. I wanted to be sure she was ready and waited for specific cues such as grabbing my food, licking her lips and watching me intently when I ate…I refused to start cooking two meals and decided to derive something delicious and easy for Pip to eat from the ingredients of my husband Phil and my favourite dishes. After every awkward sip of that chicken broth Pip let out a ‘Mmmm-mm’ and her bright blue eyes danced around in search of more.

Food should be fun. Can you tell us about mealtime in your house?
Pip, now two years old, found her meal times exciting in the beginning when she could touch and explore her way through the unknown. I used an array of cookie cutters, coloured cutlery and crockery and seasonal foods with varying textures to peak her interest. Every mealtime was a learning experience for myself also. At times I wanted to rip my hair out with the mess she would create underfoot but I calmed myself with my meticulous laying out of old beach towels to catch the chaos. More recently we enjoy cooking and eating together. Pip loves to help so I get her to pour ingredients into bowls or with mixing. Yes, we still have mess!

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"Pip, now two years old, found her meal times exciting in the beginning when she could touch and explore her way through the unknown." Getting involved, Pip helps with the herb garden.Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.23.07 am
M is for Moooo cow burgers - one of the recipes from Baby Pip Eats

Has your daughter ever been a fussy eater?
Mostly not but at times for sure. When Pip has fussy moments this hardens my resolve to create something more interesting for her. I too, at times, have food aversions so when she refuses to eat something I liken it to that. We aim to vary our repertoire frequently…and can always revert back to a few favourites such as D is for Dahl, R is for Ragu or C is for Chicken Soup.

A favourite recipe of Pip's - R is for Ragu

Did your career change at all after the birth of your child?
Yes. I worked full time, freelanced part time and commuted between one and a half hours each way in Sydney pre-baby…I thought I could continue on with everything when I had Pip but your perspective changes and shifts when you have children…We moved to a regional and coastal Victorian town after my husband was offered a new role and I started writing Baby Pip Eats and haven’t looked back. We miss the warmer climate but love the sense of community a smaller town offers for Pip growing up. We are still close to Melbourne-approximately one hour drive, so can get our city fix if we need.

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A healthy, tasty and fun packed lunch

How do you juggle your work commitments with being a mother?
I still juggle work from week to week but my number one priority is my family. As with wee ones, things can change quickly so I have learnt to adapt and take a deep breath if things change last minute…To be honest, I really didn’t know what I signed up to when I made a deal with myself to finish my cookbook before Pip’s first birthday. I had worked in writing and styling for other people and had never taken on a project of this scope solo. There were moments when Pip was fixed to my hip, howling for the food that I had styled so carefully to photograph…The looming deadline had me up late most nights long after I’d put Pip to bed. I was re-writing recipes and emailing them off to my little journalist sister on the other side of the world to edit while my wonderful husband handled all the cleaning up. As I became more confident about parenting and more settled in our new routine the whole process really started to gain momentum and the book went to print in September last year, two months ahead of schedule!

What are your tips for time management?
I’m still learning this one and I think it will continually evolve as our family grows along with my work. I believe as a mum you definitely become more efficient with work time so you can enjoy more of the fun times. I dedicate one and a half days to work days (Pip now goes to crèche on these days) at the moment and anything else I fit in during sleeps and at night is a bonus. It is a juggling act and one I have learnt to just roll with as we go along. I do give myself mini targets on timelines so I have a strong vision for my projects. It can be challenging finding self-motivation when working for yourself from home.

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Celebrating Pip's second birthday - including a pink kitty cake

What has been the hardest and best part of motherhood for you?
The hardest has definitely been the lack of sleep and complete loss of control but you learn quickly how to get used to that! The best is definitely becoming a mother and that overwhelming sense of love, responsibility and making that wee little person proud of you as a mum and as a woman. It’s the single most important and unrelenting job I have ever done.

Words: Eva Lo