Thursday 29 August 2013

This Weeks Menu

Last week we didn't stick rigidly to our menu.  We had friends over on Saturday which was a change of plan to what we were expecting so I had to do a quick top-up-shop to get enough in for them, then my sisters came to stay for the weekend and we visited Edenbridge Agricultural Show where we had a picnic, so there was quite a bit in the way of leftovers for lunches and dinners that followed. But having this menu isn't about being strict or restrictive, we are flexible with it and we make IT fit into our lives we don't make our lives fit into IT. I think that is quite an important distinction to make and one which flows through all aspects of our lives, I hope to talk more about routine in the future.
When I shared our menu with you last week I forgot to mention something that is quite important for our meal planning.  We have the sames meals each week!  I know that sounds really boring, there is  a little more to it than that.  We have the same basic food but made in different ways.  So for example on Sunday evening we always have a pasta meal, but that could be a pasta bake, a bolognese or a pasta and sauce dish etc.  It gives a bit of predictability to the week and makes meal planning and budgeting easier (I got the idea from reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne).  I don't intend on sticking rigidly to this week in week out, just like the meal plan, some weeks I will swap days around and I intend on altering it slightly with the changing seasons, but it gives me a basic template to follow.
Here is how the week looks at the moment:

Monday - Soup,
Tuesday - Egg,
Wednesday - Sandwiches,
Thursday - Soup,
Friday - Egg,
Saturday - Leftovers or Sandwiches,
Sunday - Fish.

Monday - Pizza,
Tuesday - Fish,
Wednesday - Jacket potatoes,
Thursday - Meat,
Friday - Takeaway or ready meal,
Saturday - Vegetarian dish,
Sunday - Pasta and Sauce

So here is this weeks menu:

Lunch - Egg mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches,
Dinner - Jacket Potatoes with baked beans, cheese and home made coleslaw,

Lunch - Home made courgette soup with wholemeal toast and butter,
Dinner - Chicken with Salad, home made coleslaw and potato salad,

Lunch - Eggy bread with home made coleslaw, chutney and cheese,
Dinner - Takeaway,

Lunch - Plough mans lunch with ham, cheese, chutney, salad, coleslaw and bread,
Dinner - Veggie Quorn chunk wraps with salad,

Lunch - Fish finger sandwich on wholemeal bread with ketchup,
Dinner - Pasta and home made tomato sauce with artichoke hearts,

Lunch - Courgette soup with wholemeal bread and butter,
Dinner - Pizza with bacon, mushrooms, onion and cheese,

Lunch - Egg mayonnaise sandwiches with tomato,
Dinner - Home made salmon fish cakes with rice and salad,

 This weeks Courgette soup

What do you have planned for meals this week?  Do you do a meal plan?

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Eating at the Dinner Table

Eating at the Dinner Table is something most families do right?  They sit together and chat about their day and they plan for the rest of the week.  They get things off their chests, talk about their worries, have a laugh and enjoy good food in the company of each other.
Well until recently my family weren't doing this, we were eating in front of the TV with our meals on our laps and Boris sat in splendid isolation in the highchair, strategically angled away from the TV in the vain hope that he might not watch it, when in reality he was straining his neck to get a better look!
For ages I had been planning on sorting out the dining table which had been pushed against the wall and predominantly used as a desk for my husbands computer and a space for clutter to accumulate, but I never could quite muster up the motivation to clear it of all the detritus and pull it out.  Until a few weeks ago that is, when Boris was asleep and I had a rare moment of energy to sort out the mess and get the table out.  We have been eating at it for nearly every meal ever since and it is so much better.
My husband and I actually have conversations! (I know, shocking!)  It was tricky at first, if I am honest the first few meals involved a bit of bickering, some awkward feeling silent moments, but we are getting used to talking and eating together now and the conversations are flowing. 
I am also finding that we are watching far less TV.  Often the TV would go on a every single meal but now we are eating at the table it doesn't go on at all during the day.  Yes, we are eating Breakfast, lunch AND dinner at the table.  I actually find it really relaxing and often read a book if it is just me and Boris, the lack of noise pollution that emanates from the box is very calming and helps me to think straighter. It must be beneficial for Boris too, to see us eating and talking together, he will learn about how people communicate, eat politely and he will also benefit from the peace to allow his inner voice to speak.  Actually his outer voice has become quite entertaining around dinner times now too, especially since his highchair is next to the mirror, he has lots of conversations with himself as well as us! 
At first I found it really strange not having the TV on when I was eating, it felt like there was something missing, or that I was missing out on something.  I almost felt like I wasn't enjoying my food as much without being visually entertained, but that feeling has gone and I really do relish the peace and chance to connect with my husband and little boy.
There are also the health benefits that come with eating at a table.  We are much more aware of what we are putting into our mouths and in theory should be eating less as we are more able to concentrate on what we are doing.  There is also the digestive benefits in sitting at a table instead of hunched over on a squashy sofa.
Then there are the myriad psychological benefits from watching less television from a reduction in stress levels to greater sense of self-esteem.  (Read Remotely Controlled by Aric Sigman for more on the benefits of not watching TV)
So the move from sofa to table was, all-in-all a good move and something I am now totally used to. I hope we contine this good habit for many many years to come as we watch our family grow.  I look forward to all the conversations we will have round a table, the laughs we will share and the connections we will make with each other.
Do you eat at a dinner table?  What do you love most about it?

Monday 26 August 2013

Fun things to do with Toddlers - Playing with Lentils

Some time ago I accidentally spilt a pack of lentils on the kitchen floor, Boris came in and had a wonderful time playing in them.  He picked them up and dropped them, swished them around and even "swam" in them!!  He loved it and we only had to end the activity because he started scooping up lentils into his mouth.  They aren't poisonous like some uncooked legumes but I couldn't imagine it being great for his little tummy.
So a few days ago when Boris was really restless and couldn't find anything to really hold his interest, I spread out the mat and poured some lentils into a bowl.  I got some metal measuring cups out and let Boris go wild.
He really enjoyed them again, scooping the lentils from one cup to another, spreading them around, running his fingers through them, stirring them, pouring them, sprinkling them through his fingers, throwing them about.  I didn't mind that the lentils went EVERYWHERE because he was so engaged with the activity.  It came to an end when he took a scoop full of lentils outside and....started eating them.

We played together with the lentils for a good 20 minutes and Boris even had a bit of fun banging to cups together and watching himself do it in the mirror.  It did take a long time to clear them up after, and there was substantially less in the pack after I had to hoover a load up that had breached the perimeter of the mat!  They got everywhere, stuck to my feet and I even found one sitting on my fat pregnant tummy when I was undressing for bed! Made me chuckle to myself.  But it was definitely worth it because he had a great time and the activity somehow really soothed him; enough for him to be able to entertain himself for some time afterwards. A highly recommended activity which I think has further potential as Boris gets older, in terms of weighing and measuring, and in craft activities.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Shopping and Meal Planning

Up until about a year ago I had no system for buying food and planning meals and I often lamented how difficult it was to stick to a budget and to decide what to buy in the supermarket.  I would often come out of the store with several bags full of shopping and a much lighter purse and I would look through my bags and think "what on earth can we have for dinner". 
That was until I had a conversation with one of my friends.  She complained about how annoying it can be to get stuck behind someone in the supermarket who is just browsing, not knowing what to buy and going from one end of the supermarket to the other. And I thought "oh, that's me".  She explained to me how she planned her meals for a week and made a shopping list of what she needed.  The shop took a lot less time and it helped her stick to a budget.  Can you believe this idea have never occurred to me before?!
So I started writing a meal plan for the week and a shopping list of things to buy and it has made things so much easier.  It also means we eat a wider variety of meals and are much less likely to run out of things mid week and need to do top-up shops. I don't always stick to our budget but I am pretty sure we spend less than we did before making a list. 

I thought I would share our weekly meal plan for this week, it includes lunches and dinners.  For breakfast I switch between porridge which I make with rice milk and have with golden syrup and a glass of orange juice (most days), cereal, normally some variety of granola with soya milk (when I am out of porridge or rice milk) and drop scone pancakes once a week, usually on a Saturday).

So why am I sharing this with you?  Well writing a meal plan and shopping list every week is one of the few things I do as a matter of routine which I really think help to make our lives simpler, help us stick to a budget and reduce our stress, so surely it can't be a bad thing it someone reads this and takes it up and makes their life simpler and less stressful? I am certainly not saying "look how great I am, everyone should be like me"  I am openly "imperfect" after all, I really just want to share the things in my life that seem to work.  This one ritual really keeps me grounded and, like cleaning the bathroom is a ritual that keeps me centered throuhgout the peaks and flows of certainty and uncertainty that come and go throughout the week.  It is nice to know that this one thing will almost always be there to ground me, ready for whatever the week may bring.

I do my weekly shop on a Wednesday so the week runs Wednesday to Tuesday, here is this weeks meal plan:

Lunch - Cheese and tomato sandwiches on wholemeal bread,
Dinner - Jacket potatoes with bakes beans and grated cheese with homemade coleslaw.

Lunch - Home made leek and potato soup with wholemeal toast,
Dinner - Quorn mince with homemade veg and tomato sauce in wraps with salad and grated cheese.

Lunch - Omega 3 Pollock fish finger sandwiches on wholemeal bread,
Dinner - Takeaway.

Lunch - Egg mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches,
Dinner - Sausage with mashed potato, broccoli, carrots, peas and gravy.

Lunch - Home made pea and ham soup,
Dinner - Pasta with homemade tomato sauce and bacon with grated cheese.

Lunch - Ham salad sandwiches on wholemeal bread,
Dinner - Home made pizza with ham and mushroom.

Lunch - Eggy bread with grated cheese, chutney and home made coleslaw,
Dinner - Home made salmon fish cakes with potato wedges, homemade coleslaw and salad.

When I make my shopping list I divide the items I need into categories to make going round the supermarket easier, I don't have to dash from one end of the shop to the other.  My categories are typically: Fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, bread and other.  I won't bore you with the shopping list, if you want to use this meal plan you can probably work out what you need, and besides, I already had some of the things I needed in the house so it wouldn't be a complete list anyway.

So there we have it, I hope it is useful.  I plan on sharing more of my weekly meal plans because I hope that making it public will help me to take responsibility for what we are eating a bit more, it might make me make more healthy, seasonal choices if I know others are potentially judging what I am buying, eek!!

So do you write a shopping list each week?  How do you make sure you stick to a budget? What are some of your favourite meals?  I would love to know.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

What I am currently (re) reading - Remotely Controlled by Aric Sigman

I think this might be the third of forth time I have read this book.  The book is about how watching TV could be, no, IS damaging our health and our lives.  I am reading it again because I often find myself slipping back into old habits of coming home and immediately putting the TV on as a default form of entertainment.  When I read through the facts, research and studies on the effects of television on the body and mind it makes me re-address what I am doing and work harder at resisting the temptation to put the TV on yet again.
Another reason I am re-reading this book is because of Boris, (not his real name) my one-and-a-half year old son.  This is the first time I have read the book since he was born and I had been putting the TV on during breakfast, lunch and dinner as a habit.  Remembering how damaging this can be has helped me get us eating at the dinner table and interacting more, rather than sitting in silence staring at a box.  And more importantly resisting the urge to use TV as an cheap and easy babysitter when there are things that I want to do for myself.

If you like being outraged then this is definitely a book for you, there are lots of shocking statistics and information to make you angry about television producers, advertisers and the government, and what makes it a really good read is that you can feel empowered at the end of it because all you have to do in protest is turn off the TV! 

Here are a few of the shocking facts that Sigman includes:

 We spend on average four hours a day doing nothing but watching television - that's more than one full 24-hour day a week.  By the age of 75, most of us will have spent more than 12-and-a-half years of 24 hour days doing nothing but watching pure television.

Children who watch television at ages one and three have a significantly increased risk of developing such attentional problems [ADHD] by the time they are seven.  For every hour of television a child watches per day, there is a nine per cent increase in attentional damage. 

The more TV children view, the more likely they are to be overweight.  Reduction in TV viewing constitutes the single most effective way for children to lose weight. 

A study on suicidal behaviour and "self-harm" at the Warneford Hospital, Oxford recently found that children learn about the act of suicide and form concepts surrounding it following exposure to television.

I could go on for ages because there are so many fascinating facts that simply blow the "everything in moderation" view out of the water.  I highly recommend this book if you want to get more free time for yourself and your children and be a healthier, happier person!  What have you got to lose? Actually you don't need to read the book, just turn off the TV!

What are you reading right now?  Have you read "Remotely Controlled"? What did you think of it?

Saturday 17 August 2013

Happenings in the garden

As well as a 30 foot by 15 foot allotment that I rent from the council, we are also lucky enough have a little garden attached to my house, I mostly grow herbs in it and have a little space for Boris to kick a ball around and we also have a Braeburn apple tree!  We got it for free after collecting coupons on boxes of cereal about 4 years ago.  Every year we hoped and hoped for blossom and apples, one year there were 5 flower, we got very excited, they started to swell and were then eaten by birds *sad*.  In the winter I decided it would probably be a good idea to prune it, we had let it grow as much as possible thinking it was only little so we needed to give it some time to grow.  I cut back quite a few of the branches and a few months later the tree was covered in blossom!  We were thrilled and immediately covered it with net to protect it from the birds and hung old CDs from it to scare the bird off.  It has been positively cosseted ever since and is now heavy laden with apples that we are waiting with baited breath to fully ripen, then eat!  It is so heavy that we have had to prop it up with the frame of a portable green house!
So I couldn't resist sharing some photos with you of our beloved tree with it's apples, having waited so long for them I am sure you will forgive the slight boasting nature of this post!

What's growing in your garden?

Thursday 15 August 2013

Fun Things to do with Toddlers - Flour Play

I started a series of "Fun things to do with Toddlers" over on my old blog, but seeing as I still have a toddler and am still looking for fun things to do with him I thought it would be appropriate to carry on the series on this blog (with a few possible repetitions). 

Entertaining a toddler can be challenging, as you probably read from my "body painting" post he isn't always as excited about the activities I set up for him as I am!  However it is still fun to try out new things for him to explore and to give him new learning opportunities and chances to develop new skills.  Even if he only engages with the activity for a few minutes I still think it is worth the effort of setting it up for the sake of giving him learning opportunities. 

Obviously at his age we aren't talking counting of writing, when I say learning opportunities I am talking about helping him to find out things about the world.  For example when water is in a cup it is contained, when it is poured on a flat surface the water spreads, when it is poured onto an absorbent surface it disappears!  So the toddler is learning about the qualities of liquid, the effects of gravity and the reactions between materials.

This week I thought we would have a go at playing with flour

I got the idea to get some flour out for him to play with because I was just beginning to make a loaf of bread and Boris wanted to look in the bowl and see what I was doing, he dipped his fingers into the flour and was intrigued by the texture, I didn't really want him messing about with my bread flour that I was about to use to got some other cheap flour I had out and I just piled it on the mat to let him poke it, he wasn't all that interested and didn't seem to know what to do so I went back and got a bowl to put it in because that was the way it had been when he had first been interested.
This got him more intrigued and with the help of a wooden spoon and some stacking cups he was soon transferring flour from one pot to another, stirring it and scooping it up and putting it back into the bowl. 
He then decided to sprinkle water from his beaker onto the flour which changed everything!  He also tried to shake flour through the little holes in the stacking cups and pressed the cups into the flour to create shapes and patterns.

It was a fun activity which I will definitely do again with him as I feel there is scope for more exploration as he gets older.

Please share what activities you do with your toddler, I am always looking for ways to keep him entertained.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Body Painting

My plan for this post was to showcase some fabulous pictures of my sons hands, feet, tummy etc covered in paint, a mat with paint smeared all over it and some prints with beautiful painty patterns on them.  However, as with most things toddler related, things didn't quite go to plan, here is what happened:
A few weeks ago I have a fantastic idea that I would get the mat out that we normally put under Boris' highchair for mealtimes and put it in the garden and squirt some paint onto it and Boris would smear the paint all around and roll in it and generally have a wonderful, crazy, painty time and I would take beautiful prints from the patterns he created on the mat. didn't quite go to plan, basically Boris was really not particularly interested in smearing he paint around, he didn't really want to touch it much at all.  I gave him a brush which he used a little, but I can honestly say he spend about 30 seconds on the mat actually playing with the paint, very disappointing as it took be about 45 minutes to wipe it all up and remove the grass and moss stuck to the back of the mat! And then I had to clean him up because somehow, even though he hardly seemed to touch the paint, he ended up with it all over him.

I am hoping it is because he is still small and didn't really know what to do and/or was a bit frightened.
 I did manage a couple of snaps though for the short amount of time when he was engaged with the paint.

Might work with your kids though, perhaps if they are a bit older?  Have you tried this with your toddler?  How did they react?  Did you get some better results than me?

Wednesday 7 August 2013

What I am Currently Reading: Revolution in a Bottle by Tom Szaky

I recently borrowed this book from my local library more for the green credentials that the business advice.   I found it a really enjoyable book and would recommend it to anyone interested in "green" businesses.

This easy to read book tracks the exciting adventure of the author from broke student to successful business man.  I found the story entertaining and enlightening.  He includes all sorts of facts about recycling, rubbish and waste and comes across as a very likable person.  I liked his passion for creating a product with low impact on the environment and his ingenuity at making it into a financial success.  I did feel slightly uncomfortable with the way he got-into-bed so to speak with large corporations such a coca cola, but I could see his reasoning because although he was sleeping with the enemy (the rubbish producers) he was creating a positive outcome for the environment.  Perhaps this is the way more "green" companies should go instead of fighting against the big businesses?  I am not cure, but it certainly got me thinking.

The only chapter of this book that I didn't like was the last one where he talks about how to run a successful business.  I felt like if I had wanted to know how to start a business I would have bought a proper business manual not a personal success story, I was much more interested in HIS story than his tips for starting and running a successful business. 
Having said that I did find reading about his experience inspiring and it did make me fantasise a little about starting my own "green" or "eco" business. It is that sort of book, it gets you excited.
I would highly recommend this book as an interesting, entertaining and captivating read (I read it in about a week!) but not as a business advice manual. 

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Zesty Beetroot Chutney

This post was first published on Serendipity Child on 08/09/2012, this year I have grown my own beetroot at the allotment specifically for this recipe, I can't wait for them to be grown and I can make some, it is delicious with cheese on toast:

We often end up with a glut of vegetables in our fruit boxes (which is one of the reasons we aren't getting it any more) and a few weeks ago we had one too many beetroot, along with a growing collection of empty jars I was inspired to make some chutney.  I find that beetroot can be a bit muddy tasting sometimes, even when fresh, and don't even get me started on the picked variety, yuck!  So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this recipe transformed the beetroot into delicious fruity chutney that goes perfectly with cheese on toast. 

You can find the full recipe here,

1 1/2kg beetroot trimmed and peeled and chopped,
3 onions chopped,
3 eating apples peeled and cored and chopped,
Zest and juice of 3 oranges,
2 tbsp white or yellow mustard seeds, 
1 tbsp coriander seeds,
1 tbsp ground cloves,
1 tbsp ground cinnamon,
700ml red wine vinegar,
700g granulated sugar.

Mix ingredients together in a pan and cook until the beetroot is tender and the mixture parts when you run and spoon along the base of the pan,
Sterilise jars then put the chutney into the jars.
Eat! (It gets better with age.)

Thursday 1 August 2013

World Breastfeeding Week

This week is World Breastfeeding Week! and the theme this year is "Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers".  This is a cause that is close to my heart as I have recently qualified as a Breastfeeding Helper for The Breastfeeding Network.
This means that, once I get my badge, I can help mothers, at my local well baby clinic in an official capacity, who want to breastfeed.  I am really excited to get started with helping other mothers because I feel passionately for breastfeeding and really want to help those mothers who are struggling but need extra support. 
I really enjoyed the course run by The Breastfeeding Network and met some really amazing women on it. I would highly recommend it to any mother who has breastfed and would like to help others.
There are several reasons why I wanted to become a Breastfeeding Helper:

  • The first is that I have seem so many women, friends and strangers alike who desperately wanted to breastfeed but have really struggled and have had to give up, I would like to help women like these to continue breastfeeding so that they and their babies can get of to the best possible start in life and motherhood.
  • I read a book called "The Politics of Breastfeeding" by Gabrielle Palmer and it totally changed my view on Breastfeeding.  Before I read it I thought that there were a lot of women who "just couldn't breastfeed" but after reading this book I found out that the number of women who medically can't breastfeed is tiny (about 2% I think)  and one of the reasons many women struggle and give up is because of a lack of support.
  • I strongly dislike formula companies and their insidious advertising techniques and the way that they undermine breastfeeding.  They are not there for mothers and babies they are there to make money.  By helping mothers to breastfeed I would be helping to undermine formula companies.
  • On reflecting on my own experience of breastfeeding I realised that my experiences could help other mothers who want to breastfeed. 
Wow, I could actually write a whole blog post about each of these bullet points!  There is so much more to say.

I feel really strongly that if women received more support they would have more success in breastfeeding.  They shouldn't have to go out looking for it, catching a bus to the next town to attend a clinic, it should be there, ready and available. 

If you feel you can support World Breastfeeding Week, visit the website and follow the link,
Or else you can donate to The Breastfeeding Network.

 What are your thoughts about breastfeeding support or the lack thereof?