Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas round-up

For newer readers and as a reminder for longer followers of Mummy Zen, I thought I'd round-up a few previous posts I've written over the past couple of years relating to the Christmas season ahead:

10 Simple Joys of Christmas 

Big Family Get-togethers: 8 Ways to Minimise Stress & Maximise Enjoyment

Creating and Enjoying Family Traditions and Memories


Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!
I'll be back with more in the new year......

Friday, 16 December 2011

Avoiding the gluttony of Christmas

With Christmas comes rich foods, big meals and lots of edible treats! We tell ourselves it's Christmas so it's ok to indulge but after the event itself we soon start to wish we hadn't eaten quite so much.... You can still enjoy festive food and treats but there are ways to keep your diet a little more balanced in the process. Here are some suggestions to avoid the gluttony of Christmas:

Meal plan: not just your Christmas day main meal but also plan what you're going to have on Christmas Eve and Boxing day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way you can choose some lighter, healthier meals around the indulgent ones.

Make a shopping list: along with the meal planning, making a list of food you need to buy will help avoid impulse unhealthy food purchases and will encourage you to think about what you will be consuming over the holidays. Just make sure you stick to it and don't get tempted by special offers on foods you don't need!

Watch your portion sizes: on the occasions you are having a particularly rich meal, you can still enjoy a taste of everything but keep your portions small so you don't stuff yourself. You don't need a large amount of something to enjoy it. Use a smaller plate, refrain from second helpings or use smaller serving spoons to help control the amount you eat.

Drink water: keep drinking lots of water each day and a glass before each meal. It will keep you hydrated and means you're not filling your body with food and alcohol alone.Sometimes we eat when really we're thirsty and are not drinking enough water, so make a conscious effort to drink a glass every couple of hours.

Have one or two fast / detox / healthy eating days: put a day in the diary just before Christmas and another one a couple of days after to do a fast, a detox or just to eat extra healthily. It'll give your body a break from the rich foods and make you feel better for eating less or very healthily. You can also enjoy your treats with a little less guilt!

Exercise: it might be cold outside but you can still exercise over the festive period. Wrap up warm and go for a brisk walk, do some simple exercises indoors, some vigorous dancing in the living room....whatever it is will make you feel good and stop you languishing on the sofa grazing.

Are you good about what you eat over the Christmas period or do you tend to stuff yourself and regret it later? Do you have any additonal tips to add to the list above?
Photo credit

Monday, 12 December 2011

The magic of Christmas

My oldest brother has three children, much older than my two. They are all past the stage of believing in Father Christmas and as they got older, my brother felt Christmas lost the magic it once had for him. He laments of the lack of surprise with Christmas presents for his children and the fact they provide their parents with the exact item details of whatever it is they want and where to buy it. He misses the excitement and the delight on their faces when they open up their presents. Hearing him tell me this reminds me that I need to really treasure every moment of the festive spirit shared with my family.

Luckily, my children are still young enough to experience the wonder and awe of this time of year and it is a joy to watch. I was just telling my husband recently how sweet it is every time my son and I are out for a walk and he excitedly points out every Christmas tree or display of Christmas lights in shops or houses. He reacts like each one is the first he has ever seen! Last year was fun having him help decorate our Christmas tree but this year he'll be even more willing and able so I'm looking forward to it. He's been helping me wrap presents, pack parcels to take to the post office and doing little drawings in Christmas cards.

At age three this is probably the first Christmas where my son is aware of what happens at this time of year and can really enjoy the build up, the preparations and family traditions. We will be having a fairly quiet Christmas this year, just the four of us. It'll be an occasion for sharing time together as a family and enjoying the festivities exactly how we want without the pressures of fitting in with anyone else's plans or expectations. Christmas provides the perfect excuse to see and enjoy the world through a child's eyes, however you choose to celebrate it. How will you be creating your own magic of Christmas with your family this year?
Photo credit

Friday, 2 December 2011

Affordable, fun 'toys'

As we approach Christmas, with stores going all out on the marketing of toys and people buying far too much for the children in their lives, I thought it was a good time to read The 5 Best Toys of All Time on GeekDad. It was posted at the beginning of this year and is a nice reminder of the simple pleasures children enjoy and fun sources of imaginative play.

I would add to his list, tape. Masking tape is especially good. Easy for little fingers to rip off and can be played with on its roll, pulling long stretches of it, tearing small bits off, sticking stuff together, and if an adult sticks a long wide strip to the floor and adds a black line down the middle, it becomes the perfect road for your child to drive their cars along.

What would you add to his list?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Treasuring time

Not a lot of spare time for me at the moment, as you'll have realised from the lack of new posts on the blog ;-). Whilst with our first baby, my husband and I found it difficult to even find time to shower or make some food, second time round, we're managing a lot better with fitting in those basics at least. Yet, there's a lot of things we struggle to find the time for, like keeping on top of the washing, cleaning and household chores and having a moment to put our feet up with a book or film is a luxury we're not enjoying as often as we were.

Having family around to help out in these first few weeks following our daughter's birth has really made me recognise the value of time and how quick we are to take it for granted. I've felt lucky to have our families take both children out for an hour or so to allow me to do one of the many tasks I've been meaning to do, to catch up on a bit of sleep or as now, to write my blog.

With just one child, I'd got into a nice routine with our son with set times when I could get jobs done or do something for myself. Now there's a newborn around, those precious moments have disappeared for the time being. After you're used to having spare time that you don't even stop to think about, it's hard not having it all of a sudden. However, it's a useful lesson in reminding us that time should be treasured.

Although these first few weeks and months with a new baby and toddler can be a bit tricky, stressful and certainly tiring, I don't want to wish away the time with our daughter while she is such a tiny vulnerable little being needing lots of love and care. I'm all too aware of how fast a baby grows up now and how important it is to enjoy each day with them. This time round I also know that the challenges of getting through weeks on very little sleep, the bouts of crying that seem neverending or the days when everything seems to go wrong are stages that are going to pass.

Probably sooner than I realise, I'll get settled into a new routine with two children that will once again provide pockets of time where I can get a few things done. For now, I'm happy to take each day as it comes and not to worry if I feel like nothing gets done. I might not have these sentiments every day (we had a fairly good night's sleep last night!) but on the days I don't, I will endeavour to remind myself of what really matters - not the housework but being there for my two little ones.
Photo credit

Monday, 7 November 2011

The waiting game

First things first........I had my baby! It was a girl! So many people, including lots of random strangers in the street told me I was having a boy so I'm especially pleased to have proved them all wrong - you can't judge a bump by its shape :-). It was a lovely surprise and my husband, son and I are really enjoying the new addition to our family.

I have already mentioned on here that my son was born at 38 weeks and how some people assuming the second child would also be early, started acting like it was late once we passed the 38 week mark. Well, our daughter arrived at exactly 41 weeks so I had to endure 3 weeks of questions, comments, and 'tips' on how to get things moving along.

Aside from running a marathon, I really had tried lots of the suggestions for helping initiate labour. Three cups of well-steeped raspberry leaf tea each day, spicy food, lots of walking, running up hills and chasing my son and his friends around the park, that and everything else on lists like this one. Some people swear that something in particular contributed to their labour starting but I think it's pure coincidence. Baby comes when it's ready and when your body's ready for birth.

A quick glance at three different pregnancy books I have at home revealed that 'late' is not really late until you reach week 42 and beyond. In most cases, baby will arrive within 10 days of the due date and according to one book I have, "studies show that about 70% of apparent post-term pregnancies aren't post-term at all", it's simply a miscalculation of the due date / date of conception.So why does everyone treat 'late' like it's such a big deal?

I was thankful that I was living in the UK, planning to give birth at a birth centre where there's a focus on natural births and no pressure for induction unless there's any medical concern for mum or baby. I've heard too many stories of people who've used private healthcare and have been persuaded to have an induction earlier than necessary that has resulted in an emergency c-section or an otherwise traumatic birth.

Whilst I felt relaxed about my pregnancy lasting longer than first time round and was feeling fit and well, I couldn't help but start to get a little stressed out when people would ask me, 'what's going to happen?', 'when will they induce you?'. I didn't feel like those kinds of questions were very sensitive or helpful when I was only a few days 'late' after all.

One thing I have taken from the experience of having a 'late' baby is that I won't be one of those annoying people asking a pregnant friend or aquantaince where her baby is when it comes to her due date and the baby is yet to arrive! I don't think I was before but I'll certainly be more aware in the future of what I say to anyone in that situation.

A mum-to-be has a lot to deal with in late pregnancy; the hormones, the excitement, the trepidation, the preparation (both on a practical and emotional level) and she doesn't need people adding to it. As I know myself, a healthy new baby is definitely worth the wait, whether that's an 'early' 38 weeks or a 'late' 41+ weeks.

Were you early or late with your babies? Did you have any comments or unsolicited advice from people that you'd have rather done without?
Photo credit

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Do you hide vegetables in your toddler's meals?

Whilst there might be an extensive range of tips, cookbooks and general encouragement out there towards hiding vegetables in food you cook for your child, the advice I was given recently in a family nutrition course was very much against such sneaky tactics.

The nutritionist and pediatric dietician running the course explained that by disguising vegetables and making them totally unrecognisable in dishes isn't going to ever help your child enjoy that particular food. It's important for them to see what they are eating and to try foods in different forms (raw/cooked/served in varying meal types etc). It can take up to 20 attempts at a food before a child accepts and enjoys it so it's worthwhile for the parent or carer to persevere and try presenting the food differently. 

The advice I was given makes sense to me. I can see why parents do hide vegetables in meals but equally I think it's important for children to learn about different vegetables, to recognise them and gradually gain an understanding of the seasonality of them too.

As a vegetarian, I've always enjoyed a wide range of vegetables and brussel sprouts and beetroot are the only two that spring to mind as types I really don't like (although I have found ways to eat both - in a soup and in a cake respectively). Whilst my son is a great eater with a voracious appetite, he's not terribly keen on any green vegetables. He'll eat peas and green beans but when it comes to the iron-rich dark green cabbages, kale and broccoli, he will barely touch them.

I know a lot of people who aren't big vegetable eaters but even their children will eat broccoli. I've therefore perserved in particular with broccoli and have tried presenting it in different ways but to no avail. My son still won't eat it. However, I'm slightly embarassed to say that if it's hidden in a broccoli cheese soup or in this yummy vegan pesto I tried recently, he eats it no problem. It's frustrating because surely the same flavour is there and he is getting the nutritional benefits from it and yet clearly, these recipes go against my no hiding vegetables rule.

Unfortunately I haven't been keeping track of how many attempts we've had at broccoli but I'm pretty sure we've reached the 20 mark. I'm not giving up on the dark green veggies with my son though! Whilst I certainly won't resort to hiding tactics all the time, I will allow myself the occasional exception that involves a recipe that the whole family enjoys.

What are your children like with eating their vegetables and green vegetables specifically? Have you discovered a particular recipe that they love and doesn't involve any hiding of the vegetable itself?
Photo credit

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Less buggy, more walking

I was surprised to discover this week that the borough of London we live in has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country. As a result, an article suggesting more parents make their 3-year olds walk rather than use the buggy in The Telegraph newspaper made its way to the mums group I belong to and help run. I thought it made an interesting discussion to share with you.
"Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council's cabinet member for children, and a fellow Conservative, told a newspaper that parents who relied too much on the buggy to ferry their young children from A to B risked damaging their charges' long-term health".
Ms Aiken, herself a mother of two, acknowledges that parents resort to the buggy to get to places fast but suggests that from the age of three, it shouldn't be used for short trips.

A mummy friend of mine made the point that she uses the buggy more from a safety aspect to get around busy London streets without worrying about her daughter running onto roads or getting squished on bustling London buses. More often than not, she uses the buggy on journeys that take her daughter to activities  involving physical activity, like swimming, football or running around in the park.

When I think about my own usage of the buggy, it definitely tends to be for journeys that I know are too long for my son to make there and back. We always just walk to the local park, nearby classes or playgroups and to the local shops. His nursery is too far and we'd have to leave very early to make it on time and he's still at the stage where he's exhausted when I pick him up at lunchtime.

Being pregnant has probably meant I've relied on the buggy a bit more recently than usual. If I've known I needed heavy shopping or something that I can store on the buggy and push along rather than carry whilst supervising a walking toddler then I have taken the buggy. Even then though, I usually try to encourage my son to walk alongside it rather than stay sitting in it.

My guess is that time is the biggest reason parents reach for the buggy. Very often we are rushing to get somewhere for a particular time and we haven't factored in a toddler's slower walking pace into the time we allow ourselves to get there. We can't expect their little legs to keep up with an adult pace and whilst they might enjoy running in the park, it's a different story when you're trying to hurry them along a road to get to nursery or a class because you haven't allowed the extra time needed.

What is your buggy usage like? If you have an older toddler, when did you phase out the buggy significantly?
Photo credit

Friday, 14 October 2011

Chocolate recipes for Chocolate Week

Yes really, we're coming to the end of Chocolate Week! Whilst I have lots of favourite chocolate recipes I like to make, I thought I would look around for some new ones to share with you. Here are three I came across and like the sound of, in case you feel like making something chocolatey for the weekend....

Chilli chocolate fudge cake - I only quite recently tried the chocolate chilli combination but I love the way the contrasting tastes work together. This recipe also contains nuts and tahini, which I think go very well with chocolate. The ingredients, along with simple instructions for throwing this cake together all sounds like a winner to me.

Chocolate biscuits with soft chocolate centres - I chose this Jamie Oliver recipe because he suggests it's a good one to do with your children and with lots of cutting of circles to be done, as well as placing of chocolate squares, it certainly seems very child-friendly. From the comments, it looks like several people had trouble with the dough being too crumbly to roll out but someone posted that you can fix the problem either by leaving the dough in the fridge longer or adding a little water to make it more pliable.

Chocolate orange muffins - This recipe comes from fairtrade chocolate company, Divine and uses their milk orange chocolate chopped up, along with some orange rind to bring out the complimentary citrus chocolate flavours. It also uses yoghurt, which I find always gives a nice consistency in cakes.

Do you have a chocolate recipe to share, either a trusted favourite or something you've seen recently that you think sounds yummy?
Photo credit

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

3 easy autumn crafts for toddlers

We're enjoying a very pleasant autumn in London. Most days there's sunshine, it's not too cold but there's a bit of a chill in the air and crisp golden leaves aplenty falling on the tree-lined streets and in the parks. As with all the seasons, it's nice to embrace what they bring to the time of year and engage in the changes in nature around us. With that in mind, here are 3 very easy art/craft projects you can do with your toddler (probably best suited to ages 1-3), focusing on autumn leaves:

Leaf collage - this is super-simple and something I did with my son when he was aged 1. Collect a bunch of leaves of assorted sizes, colours and types. Bring them home and let your little one loose with the glue and the leaves, sticking them at will on a large piece of paper. It's not about making a pretty picture but allowing them to enjoy the textures of the leaves and having some free creativity.

Leaf print - bring home a leaf or two. Placing a leaf under a sheet of paper and using a crayon over the top enables your toddler to make an effective and attractive leaf print (pictured).

Tree picture - draw a tree trunk and branches for your child on a large sheet of paper. They can either colour in the tree trunk or could stick brown paper to it. Provide some cut up pieces of coloured paper, fabric, foil, whatever you have and some glue and let your child stick the bits and pieces onto the paper as leaves. They can't go wrong with sticking them on the branches, the tree trunk or around the tree!

Do you have any other simple ideas to share, either that you've done yourself at home or seen elsewhere online?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Getting close!

Our first son was born at exactly 38 weeks. Of course that doesn't mean subsequent babies will also arrive 'early' but in our case, it means you are prepared in the event they are! First time round, everyone told us he/she would likely be two weeks late so we hadn't even considered the two weeks early scenario. Once we got home with our newborn, my husband was frantically assembling flat-packed baby furniture, we had no name for our baby boy and generally were a bit disorganised.

This time round we have the reverse situation of being totally on top of everything (except maybe the baby's name!). In addition to all the baby stuff being washed and ready, meals have been cooked and frozen and even some Christmas presents bought and wrapped. We passed the 38 week mark a couple of days ago so now I'm experiencing things I never went through last time:
  • Wondering when our little one will arrive! I was so taken by surprise last time that I didn't have the time to really think about it.
  • Calls, questions and comments from family, friends and acquaintances about the baby still being in utero. I could understand this more if I was at my due date or past it but didn't expect it now.
  •  Excitement! Partly because I feel we're as ready as we can be for our new addition to the family, I'm really getting excited to find out the sex and to meet our baby.
  • Nerves. As well as the excitement, there's also naturally some trepidation as to how our son will react to his sibling, how I will cope with a newborn and a toddler, how my husband and I will survive on those sleepless nights to come and whether they'll disturb our good sleeper of a son.......
  • Realistic expectations. Unlike first time round, I am somewhat comforted by knowing what to expect with a newborn and recognising that however hard it might seem some days, it all passes and new stages come and go. Other mums I know who have had two or more children have all said how they have been more relaxed with the second child, simply as a result of it not being such unknown territory!
Amidst these emotions and thoughts, I'm trying to stay relaxed and keeping on with our daily lives as normal. At some point soon a new chapter will unfold for our little family and who knows what it will bring. For now I am treasuring life as it is and relishing our special little family of three before it becomes a family of four, equally special but also very different no doubt!

If things go quiet on Mummy Zen all of a sudden, you'll know why ;-)
Photo credit

Monday, 3 October 2011

Vegan baking

Regular readers amongst you might remember reading last year about a friend of mine Annie, a mother to two young children who was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm pleased to report that after extensive treatment; chemo, surgery and radiotherapy, she is well on the road to recovery. She came to visit last week and forewarned me in the event I planned on serving some cake with our tea, that she was now on a dairy-free diet.

Always one to relish a culinary challenge, I began looking around for vegan cake recipes. The ones I saw online seemed a bit unispired until I came across the Dan Lepard series of dairy, soya and egg-free baking in the Guardian, which included some tasty looking creations like these walnut black cherry cookies and mocha fig muffins.

Time ticked on and I hadn't sought out any special ingredients I might need to make any of the recipes I had seen. I ended up turning to Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook and made her 'healthy blueberry muffins', which were not only vegan but also sugar-free. I had all the ingredients in my cupboard, they were quick to throw together and tasted good.

When Annie was here, I asked her about the dairy-free diet and whether she found it particularly challenging. (The reason she has omitted dairy from her diet is to reduce the amount of hormones in her body). She has always loved baking herself (and eating cake in general!) and told me the hardest thing was going out for tea and the cakes on offer containing butter and therefore being unsuitable.

She has experimented with different butter substitutes in her own baking at home and told me sunflower spread was the best substitute, as it doesn't effect the taste of the finished product in the way that soya can for example. She can still follow all her favourite cake recipes, using sunflower spread in place of butter. Good to know!

When I began looking into vegan baking, I thought to myself, there's no way it'll taste as good as cake made with dairy ingredients but I'm pleased to say I was proved wrong!

Have you ever made any vegan cakes or muffins that were especially yummy or do you have a book or website to recommend for vegan baking?
Photo credit

Monday, 26 September 2011

Avoiding toddler jealousy

Following on from my last post, these 5 tips to avoid toddler jealousy on Mindful Mum seemed appropriate to share. The advice seems very practical for helping a toddler feel involved in the new addition to the family. Of the five tips provided, two stood out as particularly useful to me.

'Involve the toddler' talks about how some children love to help out with passing clean nappies or assisting with bathtime but it also acknowledges that not every child enjoys being a helper and some would rather get on with their own activities. In the latter case, the advice is to respect their attitude and there are some suggestions of other ways to involve them in their younger sibling.

'Keep them occupied' recommends having a small box with toys, books and maybe a few snacks that can be brought out at times when you are very involved with the baby, especially when feeding. The idea is that your toddler will be happy and kept amused during a time when it's more difficult for you to engage in an activity with them and it can help create a time that they look forward to rather than resent.

Have a read of the 5 tips and let me know if you have any others to add.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

From one child to two

These past couple of weeks whilst starting my son at nursery, I've spent a bit of time with some of the other mums, several of whom have two children or more. I've been hearing them share stories of the ups, but mostly downs of the first few months adjusting from having one child to two. After a little while, they look at me and apologise for all the negativity, recognising that someone soon to have their second child might not want to hear all the horror stories!

To be honest, I have been taking it as helpful and not as something to scare me. After all, it's good to hear what others experience to be better prepared for what may lie ahead. In most cases the stories relate to the challenges they faced from the older child, testing them and reacting in new ways once the younger sibling was on the scene. Here are just a few examples of what the mums have related about their older child's behaviour:
  • Their child has recognised that when the mum is feeding the baby (especially breast feeding) she is in a weak position so they run off when outside / do things they know they shouldn't when at home (eg. writing on walls, pouring out drinks onto the floor).
  • Testing behaviour, pushing boundaries, being defiant about everything and driving the mother to tears. One mum distinctly remembered crying to her husband of their 2-year old, "why does he hate me?".
  • Rejecting their mother's best intentions. Another mum told me how when she suggested reading a book with her older son (something he had always loved), he refused and didn't want to spend that time with her.
  • With regards to nursery school itself, it seems some children don't like the fact that they get taken there whilst the younger child gets to stay with mum. Others however, enjoy the 'grown-up' time with their friends and teachers and it can be a way that they receive some extra attention during a needy time. 
  • Finally, a (sort of) funny story that one of the dads told me he'd heard from some friends of theirs. A child's grandmother asked if the child would like to have a story and the child replied, "yes, how about the one where the baby falls down the stairs and dies?". The parents recognised that shocking though it was, it was better for the child to vocalise such a thought in this way, rather than act upon it!
In all the above cases, I think we can recognise that the older child is wanting attention and doing whatever they think it takes to get a response and be noticed by their parent(s). You can't predict how your older child will react to having another person in the family and I think it's important to expect a period of adjustment and some tough challenges along the way.

If you have two or more children, what were your experiences when you had the second child? What were the most difficult situations you faced? Is there anything you would do differently?
Photo credit

Monday, 19 September 2011

Calling all knitters!

Refuge, the UK's largest specialist provider of domestic violence services are running a 'Comfort Blanket Campaign' which caught my attention.

Readers of the magazines Simply Knitting and The Knitter are being asked to knit small squares, which can be sewn together to create larger blankets. The blankets will then be given to the women and children who access Refuge’s services – with the target of making 100 blankets by Christmas.

I was rather taken with the idea, as it provides a relatively easy way for an individual to make a worthwhile contribution, expending a bit of time and effort rather than simply giving a monetary donation. By asking for one small square to be knitted, it's a manageable task for someone who likes knitting or who is keen to test their skills and yet enables them to be part of a bigger picture that will make a real difference to those in need.

As part of the Comfort Blanket Campaign, beautiful patterns are
available online in an e-book containing 26 different designs created by fantastic designers and stars of the knitting world. The magazines are making the e-book available for free, but are suggesting a small donation for each download.

Sandra Horley, CBE and CEO of Refuge, says:
“Domestic violence is the biggest issue impacting on women and children in this country. The statistics are shocking - two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales and hundreds more women suffer in silence. The blankets will mean a great deal to the women and children who receive them, many of whom leave home with little more than the clothes they are wearing.”
Of course you don't need to be a reader of either of the two knitting magazines who are working on the campaign with Refuge. If you can knit or know someone who can and would be interested in submitting a knitted square, get involved! You can send in completed blankets directly to Refuge’s London offices: Fundraising/Simply Knitting, Refuge, 4th Floor, International House, 1 St Katharine’s Way, London E1W 1UN.

Do let me know if you plan to participate or if you have a friend or relative you can persuade to knit a square!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sensitive skin

Since becoming a mum, I've heard a lot more about eczema and know so many people with young children who suffer from it. In some cases, the cause is easy to identify. A friend of mine noticed that as soon as she eliminated dairy from her 2-year old's diet, the eczema cleared up almost immediately. In other cases, it's not so easy to find a solution and it can be an unpleasant condition to suffer from.

This week is National Eczema Week in the UK and one of my favourite organic beauty shops featured some helpful tips on their blog that I thought I would share with you. As their tips highlight, it's not just about looking at the surface but important to consider the all-round picture of your diet and lifestyle too.

Whilst there might not be an easy fix to managing your eczema or that of your child, there are steps you can take to help replace the moisture lost from the skin and to try to determine if there are particular factors that aggravate the symptoms. It's worth remembering that with very dry skin, you should avoid using soap which dries out skin anyway and that thick oily lotions are often most effective.

Does anyone in your family suffer from eczema? Do you reply on any product to ease the condition or have you identified any specific triggers that have involved making a change in lifestyle habits?
Photo credit

Monday, 12 September 2011

I'm still here!

It's been a quiet week from Mummy Zen but not without things going on behind the scenes. The transfer of my archives has been one task in progress and I'm nearly there but with a few images and bits missing that may or may not be retrieved in due course.

Today was my son's first day at nursery, more to come on that in a week or two once I see how he gets on. I'm also suffering with a bad cold and trying to let any germs escape to the rest of the family.

All that to say, I should be resuming a more normal blogging schedule soon (and have several posts in mind and that I am working on) so bear with me for a little longer :-).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Moving on

Mummy Zen is moving! My domain name and site hosting came up for renewal and involved a major price increase from what I have paid previously. I don't feel I can justify the cost when the blog  is something I write mostly for my own enjoyment only. For now I am moving to Blogger to keep things simple at a busy time in my life.
I still need to work on getting my archives moved over so for now it looks like a brand new blog but all in good time.... You'll also have to bear with me as I play around with templates, layouts, images and who knows what else until I feel like I find a look and format that works best for me.
I might lose a few people in the move but for my loyal readers, please now find me here, update your RSS / email subscriptions accordingly and I very much hope you keep reading :-).

Moving on

This is my first post on the new format of Mummy Zen so I'm feeling a bit of pressure! No, not really. Rather, I'm welcoming it as an ideal change during a significant period of transition in my personal life. September and October are big months for my family and I. Our lives are soon to change in ways we have no way of predicting. It's exciting but also a little scary. Here's what we have going on....

At the end of this week, we have to say a sad farewell to some very dear friends who are leaving London to head back home to the US after a two-year stint here. They have a son similarly aged to mine and the two boys became fast friends and have spent a lot of time together. My son also adores the mother, with whom I have struck up a strong friendship and our husbands come from the same state in the US and get along really well too. We've watched their family grow from three to four and they've watched ours in progress....They are the people we spend most time with so we will certainly miss them a great deal.

Maybe it's good timing as a distraction from the departing friends, but next week my son starts nursery. A big change for him and I! The first two weeks are 'settling in' weeks, which my American mummy friends have told me doesn't exist in the States. For my US readers, the settling in period involves usually the mum, going along to the nursery for the first week or two and making the separation a gradual process, instead of just dropping off the child on the first morning and leaving. If your child seems to adapt and settle in a few days then you don't need to keep going every day but it's done on a case by case basis.I'm excited for my son to start nursery but this morning when it occurred to me that this is our last full week together 'at home', I also felt a pang of sadness or maybe that's too strong a word....

The third big change on the horizon is the new addition to our family, due to arrive next month! I don't need to tell you what that might bring but suffice it to say, we'll certainly have our hands full.

We're doing our best to prepare our son and ourselves for the twists and turns to come but any advice from my readers is welcome :-). Do share any thoughts or tips for dealing with any of the three things I've mentioned: helping a toddler deal with their best friend leaving, starting nursery and a new baby/sibling in the family.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Home-cooked food to freeze

The latest post on one of the cookery blogs I follow is very timely for me: the pregnant cook: 12 meals to stock up on while waiting for baby. I've already started freezing a few bits and pieces when I've made extra of something but I plan on doing some cooking specifically to freeze for those first couple of weeks when making a meal is the last thing on your mind. It's nice to know you'll have some healthy food on hand without the effort of making it from scratch.

I find it hard to think of good freezable meals so I was pleased to get some ideas from Stone Soup. To add to those, here are a few of my own suggestions (all vegetarian in my case):
  • lasagne
  • veggie chilli
  • pasta sauces
  • bean burgers
  • lentil base for shepherds pie
  • pies (veg and beans make hearty fillings)
  • pizza dough (and sauce)
  • prepared veg (not a meal in itself but a great time-saver)
  • soups
What else would you recommend? I'd love to hear some of your suggestions in the comments.

Photo credit


Monday, 22 August 2011

Reporting back on toilet training

It's hard to believe that it's been over a month since we toilet trained our son. I say toilet trained because we skipped the potty and went straight to the toilet (using a child's toilet seat).  I had written about some of my preparatory steps for the process and now I can let you know how it went for us and what I think worked best.

We set aside a weekend to start the process and ensured we had no plans and no place to be. Saturday morning, the big boy pants went on (our son was happy to wear them and picked out which pair to put on) and we started giving him lots to drink (water, juice, fruit smoothies and using straws and different cups to make them more appealing). He was dressed in easy, comfortable clothing - elasticated shorts and a short t-shirt that wouldn't get in the way.

It wasn't long before he started doing something in his pants and as we were keeping a vigilant eye, we were able to whisk him to the toilet to finish off. Rather than asking him every few minutes if he needed to go, the message we were repeating over and over was, 'remember to tell mummy or daddy when you need the toilet'. That way, he feels in control (which everything we read recommended) and by taking him to the toilet each time he starts to do something, he learns himself that going to the toilet is what needs to happen and at some point it clicks.

I'll be honest, the first couple of hours of that Saturday were tough and I told my husband that life would never be the same again and that we'd never be able to go out and do all the fun things we usually do.  I was keen to persevere however and day 2 was a big improvement and we could see our son was getting to grips with it and making excellent progress.

In fact on the morning of day 2, my husband took him to a weekly football class so that was a big test. It was a good 20 minute walk there, a 45 minute class and then the walk home (of course there were toilets at the venue if needed). I knew my husband was dreading the scenario of our son having an accident in the middle of the class and having a puddle on the floor to deal with (it was an indoor football class) but we were adamant about not confusing him by putting a nappy on. I sent him off prepared with towel and spare clothes and it went perfectly fine.

During the first week, we had one really bad day but I kept up the encouragement and positivity and the next day was back to being accident-free and since then it has continued really well. Although I kept our first week fairly quiet with just the odd brief outing here and there, by the second week we were back to our usual busy routine and life got back to how it always was.

As an incentive, I designed a super-simple sticker chart. Each time he went to the toilet, he could get three stickers. One for telling me he needed to go, one for doing it all in the toilet (and keeping his big boy pants dry) and the third for helping pull up his shorts/trousers/pants and washing his hands. It worked well, he was excited to choose his stickers and fill up his chart. After a week of no accidents, he got a small present. We gradually phased out the sticker chart but we are still doing small presents as a reward for a week / two weeks of keeping his pants dry.

I don't want to be over-confident because we have testing times looming ahead, with the start of nursery next month and a new baby the following month. Both of these are common causes of set-backs but we will deal with them if and when they arise. The important thing is that our son understands and seems to enjoy the responsibility of using the toilet. We still use a nappy at night time (we call it a 'sleep nappy' now) but the night time nappies are getting drier and he tells us first thing in the morning when he needs the toilet, even before the nappy is taken off.

This has turned into a long post so I will conclude by leaving you with three factors that I think helped make our toilet training go smoothly:

- Waiting until our son was ready. He was 2 1/2 and I don't think he was ready much earlier than that. Being able to communicate with him about the process was an important part of making it work, which could prove more challenging with a younger child.

- Good preparation. Things like not referring to his dirty nappies as stinky and allowing him to look inside them might sound funny but I think they helped him feel comfortable with his own bodily functions. Also, talking to him in advance about using the toilet like a big boy got him used to the idea and interested in it too.

- Being consistent. There was a lot of repetition of 'remember to tell mummy or daddy when you need the toilet' and a lot of enthusiastic cheering when he used the toilet successfully. Even when the going gets tough, keeping up the positive attitude is vital to keep making progress.

If you have potty-trained your child, what techniques did you use and what part of the process was the most challenging and the easiest? Do share your experiences in the comments!
Photo credit

Monday, 15 August 2011

What one tip would you give a new mum?

I was at a pregnancy yoga class this weekend and it was a different instructor covering the class. She talked a lot more than the other yoga teachers I'm used to and as the class was mostly made up of women expecting their first babies she was giving out some advice and tips, based her own experience. She said the best piece of advice she was given was to tell anyone who visits you and the new baby to bring a meal for you because you shouldn't need to look after guests when you're busy looking after a newborn.

I remember reading that tip somewhere when I was pregnant first time round but let's be honest, are we really going to demand a meal from every visitor? If I think about my own relatives and friends, that's not just going to work with everyone. One of my aunts loves babies but she's never had children of her own, she hates cooking and I dread to think what she might bring me if I insisted she brought us a meal! For my friends who don't yet have children, it's impossible for them to understand how difficult it is to make a meal when you're feeding, changing and looking after a newborn and trying to get some rest yourself. Yes, I could ask them to bring me a meal but it's not in my nature to make demands of my friends. With friends who have children, it's a different story and I think several of them would have the thought to bring food of their own accord.

As well as thinking about that particular tip, I then got to thinking about what my top tip would be to a new mum / mum-to-be. It's tough to pick just one piece of advice and once you've experienced those first weeks and months with a baby, you soon learn all kinds of things you had no idea about previously.

When you're in the thick of it, it can be hard to recognise that everything is just a passing stage that soon gets forgotten - the horrendous sleepless nights, the constant chain of feeding, nappy changing, clothes washing that seems to leave you no time for even the basic day-to-day tasks of showering or eating, the teething, the crying, the whatever all passes! Even when you feel like you can't take any more, you get through it and then it's all over and things seem much brighter again. It's worth remembering that when you feel like you've hit rock bottom so I think something along those lines would be a tip I would give a new mum.

Looking over a past post here on Mummy Zen that I wrote when my son turned one, I see I included the above point as one thing I learnt from my first year of motherhood and nearly two years later,  I still stand by the other things I listed too.

What would your top tip be for a new mum / a mum-to-be? What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you before you had children?
Photo credit

Monday, 8 August 2011

The evils of fat and sugar

Ok, the title of this post is a little dramatic but I've been paying a lot more attention to fat and sugar levels in food lately and getting some shocks! It all started from the healthy lifestyle sessions I mentioned that I was attending a few weeks back. Although aimed at families, specifically with toddlers aged 2-5, a lot of the nutritional advice naturally applies to adults too. We were given a handy rule to remember the figure that constitutes as 'low' fat and sugar when looking at food labels and it has been both helpful and enlightening.

Most food products list nutritional information per 100g, as well as per slice/biscuit/portion and it's the per 100g section you need to look at for reference. Fat is a three-letter word and coincidentally 3g is the number to remember for low fat. Sugar is five letters and 5g is the number relating to low sugar. (See chart below for the medium and high levels).

High fat foods can lead to weight gain and increase risks of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. High sugar foods will provide us with energy but if that energy is not burnt off with activity, it gets stored as fat on our bodies and again puts us at risk of certain diseases later in life. Sugary foods also contribute to tooth decay. Read more about possible dangers of high sugar consumption here.

Cereals are big culprits when it comes to high sugar. Special K focuses on the low fat content to portray itself as a cereal for people wanting to keep in shape but its sugar content definitely falls into the high category. Same goes for the popular children's choice of Cheerios. Have a look for yourself next time you are browsing the cereal aisle of your local supermarket.

A quick look at the nutrtional information of some of the foods in my kitchen cupboards gave me a nasty surprise. The crackers I enjoy munching on and the tortillas we like to cook wih all contain high levels of fat. Of course something like ice-cream would be a high-fat and high-sugar food so double the damage!

The human body has become so used to processed foods and our taste buds are now naturally attracted to high sugar, high fat and high salt. Food companies aim to satisfy our tastes whilst masking under a veil of 'healthy eating' that can be very misleading to consumers. Words like 'wholegrain' on a cereal packet give the conotation of something healthy and good to eat but if you look at the sugar levels, the picture is unlikely to be so healthy in reality.

Whilst I'm not suggesting you eliminate all high fat and sugar foods from your diet, I would recommend you take a look at food labels next time you are shopping. I've found it an interesting exercise and it has been a good way to make me more aware of what I am eating and knowing what I should eat less of. Moderation is the key message here. It's ok to have something you really enjoy that is high fat or high sugar (or both) but not on a very regular basis. Save it for treats or special occasions and that way you can savour it with no guilt, knowing that overall you are eating a healthy balanced diet, within which such types of food do not dominate your eating habits.

With children, we can help by setting a good example, as we know they always like to eat what we are eating! If that tends to be healthy food, low in fat and sugar, then we are helping create healthy eating habits that they will carry with them into adulthood. I know from personal experience that having grown up with a healthy diet as a child and enjoying sweet or fatty foods only as occasional treats has made me a generally healthy eater as an adult and someone who is thoughtful about what I consume on a regular basis.

Do you already pay attention to the fat and sugar levels on food labels when you shop? Are there some foods you like to eat a lot of that perhaps are not as healthy as you thought? How careful are you with the food that your child eats?

[caption id="attachment_2553" align="aligncenter" width="243" caption="Chart showing low, medium & high levels for sugar, fat & salt (UK)."][/caption]


Photo credit


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What's in a name?

Our son was unnamed for the first 6 days or so of his life. After everyone telling us that your first baby is usually late,  we hadn't yet settled on a name when he arrived two weeks early. We had a few names written down that we liked but had not chosen one and suddenly there he was and we still couldn't pick one! Every time a family member spoke to us on the phone, they'd ask if we'd come up with a name, which got frustrating - did they really think we would give him a name and not tell them?

Giving a child a name is a big responsibility and a task that doesn't come easily to my husband and I. We know people who have found out the sex of their baby and announced the baby's name half-way through their pregnancy but we're at the opposite extreme. I've taken baby name books out of the library for perusal, "1000 Baby Names" and such like but nothing stands out. It's not because we're into obscure names or are looking for a name that people have never heard of, although neither do we want a very common name.

We're trying to be more organised with the baby due later this year and are hoping to come up with a name in good time. So far, we don't have anything and are resorting to studying the credits at the end of each film we watch to see if anything grabs our attention! Some people use family names, others have already picked out names before they even got married. However you choose, there are things to consider about the name:

- Does it go well with your surname?

- Do the initials spell anything? (eg. Steven Andrew Drake = SAD).

- Does the name fit with any siblings' names?

- Are there different ways to spell it that might cause difficulties or frustration once they are at school?

- My favourite: Does it pass the playground test? We read this somewhere and it seems good advice. Would you feel comfortable shouting out the name across a crowded playground (for instance if your child is about to jump from the top of a high slide or they're in some other dangerous situation where you need to yell out to them). It works. There have been names I thought I liked but they didn't pass the playground test!

How did you come up with your child(ren)'s name(s)? Was it a tough task for you?


Image courtesy of Poppy Thomas-Hill


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Mid-week moan

Vegetarian + pregnant = very limited choices in some restaurants!

I've noticed recently how many vegetarian options in restaurants, especially in pubs and British restaurants involve a cheese that is not recommended to eat when pregnant. If the choice was not limited enough as a vegetarian, I'm finding it almost impossible sometimes. Goats cheese is a common one - goats cheese tart, goats cheese salad....or blue cheese, in pasta dishes or savoury tarts.

Not that it would occur to a restaurant owner or head chef to cater to vegetarians who might also be pregnant but it would be nice to see some wider options, maybe something without any cheese at all!

When I was pregnant with my son we lived elsewhere in London and didn't have the same kind of nice pubs for eating in that we have in our neighbourhood now. We would go to more Indian and Italian restaurants which are great for vegetarians (and pregnant women) so I didn't come across the same difficulty before.

Is there anything similar that you experienced when pregnant that frustrated you a little, either with eating out or other social situations ?


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Five favourite links

Toilet training my son continues to be the main focus of the week, meaning my time for writing and doing other things is limited. We started this past weekend and it is going pretty well so far. I will report back at a later date to let you know what worked for us.

Rather than rush out a blog post for the sake of it, I'm sharing five links to items I've read and enjoyed recently that you might like too:

Cleaning with Kids on Babble gives simple, constructive tips for encouraging your toddler to help tidy up and making it part of their daily routine.

• Another great free eCookbook is available from the minimalist yet always imaginative Stonesoup. Quick, easy, delicious meals perfect for busy families.

• Lots of helpful suggestions from Gretchen Rubin if you want to feel happier by the end of the day. I know whenever I have done any of these they always work for me.

• As the summer holidays are about to start, you might like to try some of these ideas for frugal summer fun for the whole family.

• Summertime is picnic season. Simple Organic provides a great list of portable lunch options that can be ready in 15 minutes or less.

Let me know if there's something you've enjoyed reading online recently.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Toddler Travel Tips

To follow on from my previous post this week, I wanted to talk a bit about preparing for travel with a toddler. Before you set off on your journey there are a few things you can do to help make the experience run more smoothly:

Talk about the journey a couple of days in advance. Explain what's going to happen, the transport you'll be taking, how long it'll take and what it'll be like (for example, I told my son that our 10 hour flight would mean he wouldn't get to run around like he usually does in any given day, that it would involve a long time sitting on the aeroplane, that he'd have lunch and his nap on there). Repeat the explanation the next day and in the lead up to your departure to get them used to the idea and what to expect.

Pack early. You probably already do this but starting to pack for a trip well in advance makes the process less stressful. It also gives you time to go and get any last-minute things you might need. You are likely to be more organised about what you pack and avoid over-packing or taking unnecessary items. Keep a list of what goes into the suitcase so you can keep track of what has been packed.

Think small! Whether clothing or your bag of toys for the journey, you want to keep things to a minimum. It's no fun carrying heavy bags when you are travelling. You can still have a good variety of toys and activities for your child without them taking up much space. Look out for small notebooks / colouring books / packs of crayons, mini tubs of playdough and small fun toys that can all be easily stored in a small bag to take on board a plane, train or in the car. With clothing, consider if there will be any washing facilities at your destination so you can take less or otherwise try to plan outfits with mix and match tops and bottoms.

Plan toys and activities in advance. A week or so before you leave for your holiday, pack away a few of your child's favourite small toys and books so they are forced to play with other things before you leave. That way they appreciate having their favourite toys on the journey all the more. Wrap up a couple of toys too (they don't have to be new) for them to open on the journey. It will help provide extra interest and excitement in them.

Watch what your child eats. The day before you travel and the morning of your departure, pay particular care to what your child eats. You don't want them hyper on a sugar rush, you don't want them to eat anything that might cause an upset stomach. If they are prone to constipation that causes them discomfort, give them a healthy dose of fruit to avoid it or if they are the opposite, limit their fruit intake! Healthy and nutritious food will make a difference to their behaviour and disposition on your travel day so it's worth bearing in mind.

Prepare some healthy snacks. Likewise with snacks that you pack for your journey, make sensible choices as to what they will be nibbling on. You also want to think about snacks that transport well and won't leak, smell or go off! You can still take some fresh fruit and vegetables but they will need to be eaten first. Crackers, nuts and raisins (obviously not if there is any choking or allergy risk), rice cakes, unsalted breadsticks and that kind of thing are all good options. Whilst it is good to break up a journey with frequent snacks, don't go crazy like one of my friends did. She gave her son so many snacks on their long train journey that he ended up being sick!

Travel with a toddler doesn't need to be something you dread. Some thought and preparation beforehand helps everyone feel calmer and appreciate the experience all the more. It should be something to enjoy together as a family so tell your child all about your upcoming holiday and the fun things you have planned to do together. Remember that young children are fascinated by the simplest things and love watching what is going on in their surroundings. Make the most of that and talk to them about each stage of your journey and the environment around them, point out things, ecnourage their observation and have a great holiday!

Do you have any other toddler travel tips to add my list above?


Photo credit


Monday, 11 July 2011

10 toddler entertainment ideas for long journeys

Last year I wrote a post with some suggestions for keeping your toddler entertained when you're travelling. As we are entering the peak summer holiday season and we recently had a 10-hour flight to visit relatives in the US last week, I now have 10 more ideas to share with you!

Most of my mummy friends seem to rely on portable DVD players and iPad games to keep their little ones amused on journeys but as we don't have either, I asked around for other ideas and was given some some helpful recommendations of things to try. Here they are, along with some of my own:

(1) Sticker books. Great as an activity and can be educational or encourage interaction about different scenes and situations.

(2) Lacing / threading activities. Punch some holes in a shoe-shaped piece of cardboard and take along a shoelace to be threaded through. Pack some dry pasta and a piece of string to make a pasta necklace.

(3) Collage. I took some scraps of coloured paper and a small roll of sticky tape. I had my son tear up the paper into tiny pieces (plenty of space on your aeroplane drop-down table for doing this) and then placed tape (doubled over to leave a sticky side up) onto a sheet of paper. He then stuck on the various coloured scraps of paper. This was a big success, he spent a lot of time on it and the end result was quite pretty.

(4) Fastenings: buttons and button holes, zips affixed to a square of material, various buckles and clips. These types of things are fun for little fingers to open and close but just be careful they are easy enough to not become frustrating for them.

(5) Flash cards: use them to create matching / sorting games or play snap.

(6) Children's magazines: they often come with free tacky toys that have a certain novelty value to them. We got one earlier this year that had a free plastic camera and our son still uses it now and takes it out sometimes to take photos. They usually have pages for colouring as well as simple counting and matching activities so they can provide a variety of activities to pass away some time.

(7) Music: my son is a big fan of children's music and nursery rhymes. The in-flight entertainment system (on British Airways) has a children's section with a selection of these kinds of songs and he sat very still listening to those. We also had some of his favourites on our iPod but didn't ever get around to switching it on.

(8) Cleaning: we opened up the free toothbrush provided on the plane and our son enjoyed using it to clean the area around his seat - the seatbelt, the tray table, the armrest etc. Same with the paper napkins.

(9) Calculator: maybe it's because our son is not used to playing with phones, screens and computers but I decided to pack a calculator for the journey and it turned out to be a good source of entertainment. It wasn't a really tiny one so the buttons were a good size for his little fingers to press. He pretended it was a computer and we also used it to practice numbers.

(10) Cooking: I packed one of his little saucepans that he has at home and gave him that, along with some of the unused plastic cutlery we got with our meals and a couple of pieces of the dry pasta I had brought with me and he used them to do some 'cooking'. You could also just use an empty plastic cup from the aeroplane instead of a toy saucepan.

Have some of these suggestions aleady been a success for you? What else have you discovered works well for keeping your toddler happy on a long journey?

Remember to check out my post from last year with more ideas. I'll also be following up with some general toddler travel tips later this week.


Photo credit


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Preparing for potty training

The next major task to tackle with my 2 1/2 year old is potty training. We have a trip to the US planned for next week but once we are back and settled after that, we'll be giving it a go.

In preparation, I've been reading some books to get some suggestions of how best to go about it. I read one that is very strict and focused on getting your child trained within a week and another, which in contrast is laid-back and for people in less of a hurry.  The third one struck somewhere in-between. It's certainly been interesting to see the points they agree and disagree on and I thought I would share some of those points with you.

Points the books all agree on:

  • Your child should be showing some signs of being 'ready'. These do vary a bit from book to book but the general idea is the same.

  • The parent needs to be ready too; ready to devote some time to the task, to their child, to be prepared for accidents and such like.

  • Potty training is not recommended close to a new baby's arrival, moving house, a holiday or starting nursery.

  • Your child should be involved in the preparation. Let them choose their potty, underwear etc to get them involved and interested.

  • The parent should not show any disapproval nor reprimand the child for any accidents. A relaxed and positive attitude is encouraged.

  • Accidents happen and are inevitable so be prepared (plenty of clean underwear for the child, buckets and mops at the ready...).

  • Don't force your child to do anything (wear underwear, sit on the potty/toilet etc), instead try gentle encouragement to get them on board.

  • Give LOTS or praise when they first do something in the potty.

  • Allow your child to feel in control of the potty training rather than the adult making all the decisions and choices for them.

  • Be consistent! Your use of language, your responses to accidents or challenges, your level of encouragement and positivity all need to stay constant.

Points the books disagree on:

  • Where the potty should be (bathroom or another room in the house)

  • Asking the child if they want to go, as oppose to asking them to tell you.

  • Whether to remove nappies for naps and bedtime, as well as awake time.

  • Having the child sit on the potty just in case they do something, rather than only when they ask or show you they need to go.

  • Reward systems (using stickers, treats etc).

  • Dealing with regression (putting them back into nappies or not)

The plan is not to follow one of the methods I read about specifically but to apply some of the suggestions that I feel would work for myself and my son. I personally like the approach of encouraging my son to tell me when he needs to go, rather than taking him every 20 minutes to sit there whilst we read books and hang out in the bathroom, which doesn't seem very natural to me and I think we'd both get bored fast! It's been a helpful exercise to get me thinking about different approaches and considering what I have to expect during the potty training period.

One of the books mentioned that some children get upset at seeing their 'number 2' in the toilet / potty because they've probably never seen it before.  A parent wipes it away and wraps it all in a nappy to be discarded so they don't get to see what it looks like. This particular book suggested you ask your child if they'd like to see their nappy sometimes to get them used to what it looks like. I thought that was a good point so I did ask my son and showed it to him. The next couple of times we did a nappy change, he told me he didn't want to look at it but now he's reverted and he wants to see inside each and every nappy!

Have you been through the potty training process with your child? What worked best for you and do you have any tips to share?


Photo credit


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pregnant and prudent?

I read with interest the article, A Womb in Paris on Persephone Magazine this week. It compares some of the different attitudes towards what a pregnant woman is allowed to eat and drink and what they choose to consume, in France versus the US. The author's Parisian pregnant friend continues to enjoy some soft French cheeses, a glass of wine here and there and coffee, whilst the United States government’s list at recommended all those things and more should be avoided by someone who is pregnant.

A couple of pregnant friends were talking the other day about this same topic. One is due with her second baby and was commenting on how she has been less cautious with food and drink this time round, having a daily diet Coke for example, whereas with her first pregnancy she was very careful to avoid certain foods and drinks. The other lady is pregnant with her first baby and somehow hadn't even heard that she should have cut down on things like coffee and wine and has been consuming those things with the same regularity as before she was pregnant.

In my own case, I can say that I'm being a bit less strict with what I eat and drink this time round too. With my first pregnancy I cut out coffee completely but would have one cup of caffeinated tea a day. This time, if I want a cup of coffee I have one, whilst still sticking to no more than one caffeinated drink per day. Of course chocolate contains caffeine too and I'm not always as careful with how much of that I eat..... I am not drinking any alcohol and I am avoiding unpasteurised cheeses but generally I'm probably not eating overall as healthily as I did with my first pregnancy, where I would make a fruit salad for dessert over a cheesecake when we had people to dinner. (I've just made a cheesecake for dinner with a friend this evening!).

As the French lady featured in the article says, with a lot of the things to avoid, it's because of a pregnant woman's increased risk more than a direct danger from eating or drinking something. She also says that she can trust her own judgement and I think I feel the same. I try to balance out my diet with lots of healthy foods as well as my little indulgencies and I have my own personal limits that I don't exceed.

We're all responsible for our own bodies and need to do what we feel is right. Whilst I'm not as relaxed in my food and drink choices as the Parisian in the article, I do think there's a balance and no need to be too extreme, as with anything. Sensible choices, moderation and being aware of what we eat and drink can help strike a healthy balance.

What do you think about the article and how strict or careful were you in your pregnancies in terms of what you ate and drank?


Photo credit


Monday, 20 June 2011

A Good Week

Today sees the start of A Good Week, a global celebration of good that runs until 26 June. The idea behind the initiative is to encourage an environment where people can Feel Good, Do Good and Live Good.
"We want you to use the week to think about – and do – what makes you and others feel Good. And if you’re already doing Good in your life then even better, just get involved and tell us about it. Use the week as an opportunity to shout about what you or your organisation is doing".

Their website has suggestions and a downloadable toolkit for how you can get involved but it's really down to you and what you judge as being something that makes you Feel / Do / Live Good. There are also a number of fun and inspiring events you can attend as a way of participating and enjoying A Good Week.

A small gesture is just as effective as something more complex. Look around you, the people you come into daily contact with, the places you spend your time and see if there's something you can do to generate a bit of good feeling. It's often mentioned that doing good for others makes you feel good in return so try it and see for yourself!

Let me know if there's something 'good' you do in particular this week or if you have some ideas of what you might do. Have A Good Week!



Friday, 10 June 2011

The trials of teething

My two and a half-year old has been putting everything in his mouth just lately. Everything! He hasn't done this since he was a little baby and I feel like I'm constantly telling him to take something out of his mouth. He's also been a bit funny with his food and on two evenings this week hasn't eaten his dinner (just a couple of mouthfuls). Anyone who knows my son, knows that's very unusual behaviour - he generally loves his food and has a voracious appetite.

A friend suggested he might be getting his two-year molars so yesterday I lay him on his back and had a good look at the back of his mouth. Sure enough, all four are visible and one has just broken through! Now it all makes sense about everything going in his mouth, his lack of appetite and also his messy nappies over the past couple of days.  Who knows what we have in store whilst the other molars break through but at least we are on to the last of the baby teeth.

With a new baby and a first baby especially, you hear about teething and you read about the symptoms but you're never quite sure if particular behaviour in your baby is teething related or not. My husband and I would often say, "it must be teething" but our son didn't get his first tooth until he was almost 1! When they can't tell you what's wrong or if something is hurting, it's hard to know exactly what's going on.

The way a child reacts to teething and the discomfort that comes with it varies of course from one child to another. Some always have disturbed nights as a result, some have inconsolable crying fits, some just dribble loads and get red cheeks, some completely stop eating for a few days, some become grizzly and clingy....

It can be a trying couple of days for parents and children when a tooth comes through but all you can do is be sensitive to their needs and do what you can to ease the pain. If they seem to want to chew on something, give them something you're happy for them to chew on. For a baby it might be a special teething toy or ring. For a toddler you can use foods like hard bread or cool cucumber or carrot sticks. With eating meals, you can provide foods that are easy to eat and also soothing to sore gums, like yoghurt or cool fruit purees.

How does your child react when a tooth is coming through? If you've already been through the entire teething process, do you have any words of advice to share?


Photo credit


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Are you stuck in a snack rut?

Recently I have been attending a free healthy lifestyle programme for 2-5 year olds and their families, provided by the NHS. The sessions focus on nutrition and activities to keep your family fit. I'm only half-way through the 6-week course so there is more to come but so far I have found it interesting and helpful.

Three meals and two snacks is the recommended daily eating pattern for toddlers under 5, here in the UK. A morning and afternoon snack should help contribute to your child's balanced diet, helping them achieve their 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. I often find myself  struggling for variety when I give my son his snacks. Fruit always seems an easy healthy option but if he's eating fruit at mealtimes, I don't want to overload on it. There's a wide selection of organic, sugar and salt-free toddler snacks available in the supermarkets but I don't like to rely on those all the time.

In the last session of the aforementioned healthy lifestyle programme I attended, we talked a bit about snacks and were given some suggestions of healthy snacks to give our children. For those of you like me who sometimes feel stuck in a snack rut, I thought I would share the ideas with you:

  • 1 slice of medium wholegrain toast with low fat cream cheese / marmite / ham

  • 1 mini pitta bread / crispbread and low fat hummus

  • 1 crumpet with low fat spread

  • 1/2 bagel and low fat cream cheese

  • small sandwich filled with cheddar cheese & cucumber / cheese spread & tomato / tuna & sweetcorn / ham & tomato

  • 2 crispbread / bread sticks and low fat cream cheese

  • vegetable sticks and dip, eg. low fat hummus, guacamole, salsa

  • plain unsweetened popcorn (25g)

  • rice cakes or Ryvita minis

  • handful of nuts / seeds (not for any nut allergy sufferers or young ones at risk of choking)

  • piece of fresh fruit (dried fruit is advised for mealtimes only to help protect your child's teeth)

  • cereal eg. 1 Weetahbix, 30g porridge

  • no added sugar custard / rice pudding

  • natural or healthy eating yoghurt

  • 1 plain biscuit

  • 1 slice fruit bread / malt loaf

  • wholemeal scone with low fat spread / sugar free jam

  • 1-2 oatcakes
What kinds of snacks do you give your toddler? Do you try to give them a wide variety or do you find they always want the same thing no matter what you suggest?
Photo credit

Friday, 3 June 2011

Brief musings on half-term

This week was half-term in London and with summer sunshine, the parks have been extra full with people. Mums whose children are at nursery or school complain at how hard it is entertaining their children during this week while they are off. Mums like me whose children are not yet at nursery complain about how busy everywhere is and the fact that many of our usual playgroups, classes and activities shut down for the week!

In a city like London, there are tons of great events going on to entertain families during half-term. We're spoilt with places to go, from parks to museums, indoor soft play facilities to children's theatre. If you're less keen on attending crowded events, it's nice to venture out to some new places and explore different parts of the city together. We've been doing more of the latter, going to some different parks in other areas or just going out early in the mornings to our local park and enjoying the lovely sunshine before it gets too busy.

Rather than complain, we should enjoy half-term for the variety it brings to our daily routine. It helps us make an effort to do new things and have a change of scene. Perhaps it also makes us think more about how we spend time with our children and encourages us to watch their enjoyment of life a little more than usual.

If your child's been on half-term this week, what's it been like for you and how have you been spending your week?
Photo credit

Friday, 27 May 2011

A glimpse into Gwyneth Paltrow's kitchen

Earlier this month, Gwyneth Paltrow came out with a cookbook, Notes from my Kitchen Table and I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the book. Whilst celebrity associated things are definitely not usual on Mummy Zen, I was keen to check out the book for a few reasons. Gwyneth is known for following a healthy diet, we've all probably heard about her macrobiotic diet specifically. Her daughter Apple is a vegetarian (as am I) so I figured there would be some good vegetarian recipes in her book. Thirdly, I love to cook and try new recipes. Finally, the book is written with families in mind, so with food that appeals to children and adults alike and the book also includes some tips on involving children in cooking.

The US version of the book has the title, My Father's Daughter which certainly reflects the personal tone in which the content has been presented. There are photos, stories and anecdotes amongst the recipes that bring a real sense of family, memories and special times, many of which concern Gwyneth and her father.

I've tried out a selection of the recipes, all vegetarian but I can assure you the non-veggie recipes prevail. In fact, there is only one vegetarian option in the 'main course' section of the book. Here's what I cooked, with some feedback on the end results:

Veggie burgers: I'm always looking for a reliable veggie burger recipe as too often they disappoint in one way or another.  I was keen to try this easy combination of rice and beans binded together with a few other ingredients. They were quick to make, healthy and my 2-year old son enjoyed them. My husband and I found them lacking in flavour and had to rely on the condiments we served with them to make them tastier. I will however make them again, just with some added spice next time to liven them up a bit.

Tortilla soup: This was fun and new to try. It was quite tasty and we liked the texture of avocado and fried tortilla strips with the flavours of the soup. However, there wasn't much substance to the soup and it was very watery in consistency. We ate two bowlfuls each as one was not very filling but maybe it's intended as a starter and not as a main meal. My 2-year old didn't get to try this one so I can't comment on the suitability of the soup for a child's palette.

Vegetarian chilli: This was the best of all the recipes I've tried so far from the book. I've always been happy with my own version of veggie chilli but now I think this one will replace my own as I really enjoyed the puy lentils and combination of black and kidney beans together. My son devoured his bowlful - we all loved it.

Spiced apple crumb muffins: I splurged on some spelt flour and good quality maple syrup to make these macrobiotic muffins. They were simple to put together and we had them for breakfast one day. My husband thought they were trying too hard to be healthy whilst appealing to sweet tastes and he found them too sweet. I thought they went well with a black cup of coffee and my son thought they were yummy. Gwyneth describes them as 'super-healthy' but with their sugary topping I'm not sure that's very accurate. They make a macrobiotic diet sound easy to follow!

In conclusion, I like the ideas in the book and the personal way in which they are presented. There's an eclectic range of types of dishes and there are definitely more recipes I want to try out, like the macaroni cheese made with mascarpone, the white bean soup and the oatmeal raisin cookies.  Gwyneth has some good suggestions for vegetable side dishes that children will likely enjoy too. When it's back in season, I'm keen to try out her kale crisps, which Gwyneth reports her children eat like they are potato crisps.
"This is the food that I cook for my family and friends, over and over again, the food that never fails me".
I think that summarises the feel of this book. Gywneth doesn't pretend to be a professional chef imparting her culinary wisdom, but rather she shares her family favourites with us. It's much like using trusted recipes from your own family or friends.

Have you bought or seen the book? If not, are you likely to have a browse through it next time you're at a bookshop?