Monday, 23 September 2013

This week: planning packed lunches

For the first two weeks of school my son has been there just for the mornings. This week, they stay a bit longer, having lunch there and the following week he will begin full days. We have the option of packed lunches or school dinners. I asked my son which he would prefer and he said he would like to have packed lunches. I was secretly pleased, as I feel that way I will at least know what he is eating and can ensure he has healthy, tasty lunches. The school dinners in fairness look pretty good and varied. My main issue is the puddings...I would never give him such rich, sweet desserts on a daily basis!

Back to the packed lunches! I've been giving them some thought. There are some great blogs and websites out there devoted to the packed lunch and ideas aplenty. My son loves his sandwiches but I want to try to give some variety and I am sure some things will go down better than others. The school specifies we are not to give any sweets, crisps, cake and there is a no-nut policy. My plan for now is to mix and match from the following basic ideas:

Main item
Savoury muffins, flapjacks
Thick tortilla-like omelette/frittata
Savoury pancakes / fritters (sweetcorn/potato/courgette)
Pasta/rice/quinoa salad
Mini pie (need to think of options that taste good cold, such as cheese and potato)

Savoury extras
Carrot/cucumber sticks/pepper/sugar snap peas/cherry tomatoes etc
Cheese scone

Dessert / pudding
Homemade cereal/granola bar
Fruit scone
Dropped scones / mini pancakes (plain/blueberry/banana etc)

The above is by no means an exhaustive list but some ideas I have to get started. I have bought some small cool/ice packs and will pop one in my son's lunchbox. This was a suggestion from some other mums who said that the classrooms are kept so warm (during the winter especially) that it's a good idea to have one for keeping cheese/yoghurt etc fresher. I intend on preparing the lunches the night before as much as possible to cut down on added stress in the mornings and to give me plenty of time for getting it ready.

Do you make packed lunches for your children or have you in the past? Any tips you can share or additional ideas of lunchbox favourites?
photo credit

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Autumn round-up

It's that time of year again, the temperatures have started to drop, the days are starting to get shorter and I'm starting to think about Halloween and my daughter's birthday coming up in October - I think it's officially autumn! I have read a couple of nice autumn-themed posts I thought I would share with you and here are some previous autumn posts of my own you might want to re-read:

3 easy autumn crafts for toddlers
10 indoor activities for toddlers
Embracing the seasons

Karen on her blog, Twinlifeonine has come up with 20 ideas for autumn activities. I like the sound of doing some fireworks pictures and crafts with pinecones. There's a very pretty autumn bucket list over at Catch a single thought that would be nice to do with younger children. If you want to start on some Halloween crafts with your children, have a look at 20 Halloween Crafts from Red Ted Art - there are some great paper lanterns and very cute cork spiders I think we might try this year. Over on The imagination tree, a post from a couple of years ago I've kept bookmarked provides 40 autumn activities for kids, including some great ideas of things to do with apples.

These posts have given me lots of inspiration and excitement for the pleasure of the autumn season! Have you come across any other good ones recently? Do you have any particular plans or activities in mind for autumn this year?
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Monday, 16 September 2013

Green tomatoes!

It's amazing to look back at our tiny little green shoots that sprouted from our tomato seeds and to see how much they've grown since. The photo of my four-year old son in front of them gives you an idea of how big they grew. We've watched flowers grow then tomatoes slowly appearing and growing in size. It's been quite exciting for my son and I to track their progress and we've definitely enjoyed the experience of growing tomatoes and will try again next year. 
The tomatoes are of the San Marzano variety and a plum shape and some of them quite large. I've counted at least 30 tomatoes growing, not tons but a good yield for our very first time at growing tomatoes from seed. There's just one small problem. They are remaining a green colour and we've yet to have any turn red and ripe to enjoy. Now the weather has begun deteriotating and the hours of sunlight have decreased significantly, I'm not too confident of their chances now.
I know you can make green tomato chutney so I am starting to look around for recipes that I might try. I'll give them a bit longer and we'll see if there's any change. 

If you've grown tomatoes this year, have you had any issues with them not turning red? Do you have any tips for avoiding this happening again another year? Have you ever made anything with green tomatoes? Any recipes you can recommend?

Disclosure: We were sent a crate detailed in this previous post. If we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.  Head over to the Heinz Tomato Ketchup UK Facebook page for more information about Heinz Tomato Ketchup

Thursday, 12 September 2013

This week: Barszcz recipe

Barszcz is the Polish version of the beetroot soup, you may know better by the name of Borscht. We went for dinner at friends a couple of weeks ago and we had this for our starter. My friend had told me she was thinking about making it and said that even though she doesn't like beetroot, she likes this soup. I too, don't like beetroot and usually end up making it into some form of cake but I was definitely up for trying the soup and really liked it. The children both ate it all up too.

I asked my friend for the recipe and as we got some beetroot in our veg box this week, I plan on making some. Soups are suddenly very appealing again now we're getting cooler temperatures. Whether you are a beetroot lover, or not, I'd recommend you trying the soup. The sweetness from the carrot and tomatoes compliment and almost mask the beetroot flavour, making it a tasty bowl of soup! The recipe is vegetarian and can easily be vegan by substituting the small bit of butter for oil of your choice.

Serves 4
Total time required Total time: 1 hr 45 mins
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 hr 30 mins

  • 2 beetroot, large
  • 1 onion1 carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 45g butter
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1.7 litres vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper, freshly ground
  • Roughly grate the beetroot, onion, carrot, and celery stick.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until just softened.
  • Add the tomatoes and crushed garlic, and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently, then stir in the stock.
  • Add the bay leaves and cloves to the pan. Bring the soup to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes.
  • Discard the bay leaves and cloves. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Have you tasted this soup before, or another version of it? How do you tend to cook beetroot or do you eat it raw in a salad?
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Link up your recipe of the week

Monday, 9 September 2013

Siblings and happy playtime

One of the bigger challenges of having two children I've found, is keeping them both happily engaged in an activity together. The younger one always wants to do what the older sibling is doing, which can result in frustration all round. We are currently at a nice stage where the two children can play together more or alongside each other, without one terrorising the other! There's nearly a three year age gap between them and my youngest is nearly two. I've been noticing lately how many things they can both enjoy now.

I thought I would share a list of activities my two both like getting stuck into. If you have a closer age gap, it might not be so helpful but it may give some ideas of things to try with your own children:

Physical activities
  • Chasing games
  • Ball games - simple throwing, rolling or kicking a ball back and forth
  • Hide and seek - the youngest can't really play of course but has great fun running around looking for her brother. She and I team up and hide together too.
  • Jumping on the trampoline (we're lucky to have been passed down one that we have in our garden. Even though my youngest can't jump yet, she loves being bounced around and falling down)
Messy play
If you can bear a bit of mess and confine it to an area, this is probably the biggest hit for them both. Some ideas include:
  • Water
  • Sand
  • Jelly
  • Lentils/dry beans
  • Shaving foam
  • Painting (finger painting or with brushes/rollers/potato printing)  
  • Sticking stuff onto to paper/cardboard with glue
Creative activities (with less mess)
  • Drawing/scribbling with crayons/pencils or on an etch-a-sketch
  • Stickers 
  • Stamps
  • Play dough 
  • Lego (my daughter used to destruct my son's Lego creations but is now happy sorting through the box of Lego pieces or playing with figures/doors/windows while he builds)
  • Building towers - with boxes, blocks, stacking cups. Both ages love to build a tower and then knock it down!
  • Gardening. Allocate them a patch of garden to dig around in or a pot of soil that's just for them. Let them help with watering the plants and if you have any rocks/gravel, they'll have fun scooping it up. The older sibling can help plant seeds, pick homegrown produce and such like.
  • Books. The older sibling will likely enjoy hearing stories you read to the younger one, or will want to take turns lifting the flaps etc so it can be a nice relaxing activity to enjoy with both children. Maybe the older child can even read a book to the younger sibling.
  • Walks/parks/playgrounds. Letting them both run around, climb, explore, splash in puddles, pick up sticks is always fun!
  • Music. We have quite a few intruments at home for the children (maracas, tambourine, harmonicas, an accordian, flutes and more!) and they both love playing them and generally making lots of noise! If you don't have instruments. putting on a children's CD and/or having a sing-song is another option.
What do your children play well at together or alongside one another? Any other ideas to add to my list above? Have you struggled at different stages in finding activities to suit both ages of your children?
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Thursday, 5 September 2013

The end of summer

This week concludes the summer holidays for us and my son's first day of school is on Monday. We had a good last couple of weeks, especially this final week when I tried to do some of the activities I had been saving up to do with the children and hadn't got around to doing.

We made loo roll watches one day, from Red Ted Art, we played with shaving foam, we did summer sticker pictures and water play outside.
We also did a couple of big outings into central London, saw the London Eye, went to see a show, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs (a favourite book of my son's) with some friends from nursery. We went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard and met daddy for lunch a couple of times.
The summer holidays flew by, which must mean we were having fun! Now we're moving onto a new chapter, school for my son and a new routine for us all. No doubt I will be sharing experiences of what is to come in due course!

How was the end of your summer? What were some of the highlights of time spent with your children?

Linking this post with the Play Agenda.