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?
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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?
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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?
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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 ;-)
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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?
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