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.

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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!
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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?
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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]


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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