Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A few of my favourite (vegetarian) things!

National Vegetarian Week has come around again, here in the UK. As a result, there are lots of delicious recipe ideas floating around online, which I am enjoying!

This time last year, I shared a recipe for rice bake and in previous years I have listed some of my favourite recipe books and online resources for vegetarian food and some simple salad ideas.

I don't know about you but I realise I tend to go through phases with cooking and meals. Dishes I might have cooked a year or more ago, I might rarely make nowadays. Perhaps because I like to try new recipes, we find new favourites and our stock repertoire of dishes in any given week therefore changes.

Something I have discovered very recently (since getting a copy of Leon: Fast Vegetarian) is scrambled tofu. I have never been much of a tofu eater, only occasionally throwing some in a stir fry or with this egg fried rice recipe but for whatever reason, I still tend to have a block in the fridge. The Leon recipe is in the breakfast section of the book but I have only ever made it for supper! I have followed their recipe but then also adapted it to use up the last odds and ends of veg I have lying around. The tofu takes on the flavours of the vegetables and also the chilli, turmeric and cumin, making it really tasty. The children like it too!

We have also started having 'taco night' (as my husband calls it!), in just the last month or so. Tacos have definitely become another new family favourite meal. See this post for what I tend to put in them.

For breakfast (or lunch) I now love to eat avocado on toast a couple of times a week. I literally just spread it onto the toast and season with salt and pepper and it is delicious!

I usually make a quinoa salad most weeks. In an ideal world I would have cooked a batch of quinoa at the weekend for the week ahead but in reality I most often turn to the conveniently ready cooked packs that are great to have on hand for speed.

So there you are, a few of my current favourite vegetarian things. I would love to hear about any of yours!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Cooking for baby and family

Three years ago I wrote a post about cooking for baby and the rest of the family, with six suggestions of family meals that can be mashed or finally chopped to suit a baby of around 9 months upwards. It is great when they get to the stage of being able to eat a wider variety of foods, can handle a bit of texture and you can cook for the entire family without having to prepare something different for the baby.

My youngest is one now so we have been at this stage for a little while and I was looking back over my old post recently and decided I had another six suggestions to give! 

Soup: anything goes with soup but you can add beans, pasta or grains to make it more substantial. You could also crumble in some cracker/rice cakes/bread into the baby's bowl.

Tacos: these have become a new favourite in the Mummy Zen household. We get the crispy corn taco shells and fill them usually with some kind of black or pinto bean mixture often with a bit of covert veg, finely diced or mashed avocado, sour cream and grated cheese. Baby gets the filling and you could break up bits of taco or give them some softer bread or rice with it.

Shepherds/cottage pie: as a vegetarian, my version of these is with lentil or aduki beans but whatever your main ingredient, the rest is finely chopped veg and mashed potato, so nice and easy for baby to eat or you can even mash it all up further if needed.

Jacket potatoes: popular with many children, simply scoop out the soft potato for baby and mix with your choose of toppings.

Savoury pancakes/fritters: potato pancakes, sweetcorn fritters, or grate carrot, courgette into a batter or anything else you fancy. Make smaller ones for baby to hold (or cut up larger ones), these are a great finger food.

You can see my previous six meal suggestions here.

What are some of your go-to meals to prepare for the family that can be easily adapted to baby?
photo credit
You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday, 23 April 2015

6 tips for a longer life!

I have been reading the book, A Short Guide to a Long Life by David B. Agus. The author is one of the world's leading cancer doctors and researchers, amongst other things. The book is a very easy read and compiled of short chapters, each one about a healthy habit he advises people to adopt, or something he thinks we should try to avoid.

As I have found it a really interesting read, I thought I would share a few of his suggestions of things we should all be doing, ones that I think are especially relevant to parents:

Have children: Obviously, not for everyone but the thought behind this one is that raising children keeps us active, both mentally and physically, which are both recommended for good health.

Grow a garden: Agus writes, "This should be a mandatory rule for anyone with children, especially young ones". He believes it is the best way of teaching children how food grows, what it looks like in all its stages and therefore encouraging healthy eating.

Speak strongly to the next generation: Whilst our children might not be very keen on listening to us tell them what is good for them and what is not, Agus believes it is a matter of finding the right words or images that can convey the message in a relevant way to them. He gives an example of showing his own children the Jamie Oliver video where he fills a school bus with the amount of sugar added into Los Angeles Unified School District's flavoured milk each week. It worked in keeping them off the chocolate milk!

Deal with sickness smartly: "Part of the art of dealing with sickness means sticking to our routines as much as possible". Agus advises against lying in bed all day with the curtains closed if we want a quick recovery because if our body is not moving around, the lymph system which helps fight infections will not be in action. This made me smile, as a busy mother to three young children, I never have the chance to lie in bed all day if I am ill and generally, I get over things pretty quickly. My husband on the other hand definitely follows the lying in bed in the dark route and doesn't get over things as quickly I would say...!

Practise good hygiene: Something we can pass along to our children is the importance of hand washing throughout the day. It will help you avoid germs that could make you ill, as well as prevent spreading germs to others.

Have a glass of wine with dinner: There is plenty of talk of wine o'clock amongst the parenting community so this point might interest you! One drink a day for a woman (two for a man) is considered a sensible amount to reap the benefits, particularly of red wine, in reducing your chances of heart disease. Binge drinking at the weekends is not however permitted!

Do you do all or some of the above already?

If you are interested in reading what else helps you lead a long and healthy life, as well as what is to be avoided, do get a copy of the book, A Short Guide to a Long Life. It is very readable and full of lots of fascinating facts too.
photo credit 
I am linking this post up to The List
You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Fear of abandonment

Recently our three and a half-year old daughter has been getting quite anxious, not wanting to be in a room without mummy or daddy during the day time, being a bit scared of the dark at bed time and wanting the bedroom door left wide open... This all sounded very familiar to me, as I remembered my son going through a similar fearful stage around this age. I looked back over the blog to see how old he was at the time, and he was just four. His big issue was waking at night time, scary dreams and thoughts.

Having gone through a similar phase with my son, I know (as with all these things) that it will pass with time. With my daughter however, it is a little more full-on for me as a parent, as she is mostly affected during the day and whilst awake. She is fine once in bed asleep. I literally can not leave her to play for a few minutes while I am cooking dinner or getting the baby ready for bed. Sometimes she is ok if her older brother is with her, but more often than not, only mummy will do.

I am trying to remain patient and understanding. It is a little wearing but I am aware that she needs reassurance and plenty of love and respect for her feelings while she is going through this stage. It is the flip side of a preschooler's independence, whilst happy to go off and do their own thing at times, they can then get worried that mum or dad will go off and leave them. If I tell my daughter I'm going to do something like change the baby's nappy, she'll say, "and then you'll come right back?". Of course, she will follow me anyway....

One day she might not want to come anywhere near me, or be in the same room as me! So for now, I'll try to enjoy the closeness and cuddles as much as I can.

Can you remember your preschooler going through a similar phase? Was there anything you think helped them get through it or was it just a matter of time and patience?
photo credit

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Back to business!

Somehow it has been almost a month since my last post! The Easter holidays kept us busy and we had a great couple of weeks off from school/nursery and the daily routine. I have always loved the holidays but I have also enjoyed the return to the routine and the structure that brings to our days. This time, I was more reluctant to get back to school and the routine than usual, although that feeling may change I suppose.

Spring is full swing now and with that, lots to do! I began my gradual spring cleaning a month or so ago but it is by no means finished and I need to get get back to it. The garden needs some more attention too and I am probably moving my tomato plants outside this week. We planted some potatoes and cucumber plants last week and my neighbour gave me a red pepper plant. The outdoor toys all need a good clean now that the weather is permitting their use once again.

Back to school for me therefore means lots of catching up! The fun and relaxed pace of the holidays definitely takes a toll on the jobs around the house so I guess it is a good thing they have come to an end! 

What about you? Are you glad to have the children back at school and do you also have lots of stuff to catch up on?
photo credit

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Easy edible things to grow with children

First, an update on our tomato seeds. It didn't take too long for green shoots to appear and then earlier this week my three year old came rushing over to me excitedly telling me to come and look at something in the kitchen. I couldn't make out what she was talking about and followed her, intrigued. She wanted to show me how big our green shoots were now! You can see what they look like currently from the photo. I removed the plastic bags we had covered them with about a week ago and so far we are off to a good start!

It was lovely seeing my daughter's excitement and that is one of the things I love about planting things with children. It is fun for them to plant and nurture something and watch it grow into something as a result. When you are growing something edible, they will without a doubt be keen to tuck in, even if it a vegetable they may previously not have been keen on. We grew runner beans last summer and the children loved them, having previously not been overly keen on them.

Even if you do not have much of a garden or none at all, there are lots of resources online for finding things to grow on a windowsill, small patio or whatever so don't be put off by a lack of space! 

I am not sure if tomatoes are not considered an 'easy' thing to grow, as they require quite a lot of specific care (consistent watering but not over-watering, regularly feeding, ideally pinching out the middle leaves once they get growing considerably, plenty of sun etc). Having said that, if I can grow them, you can too! I am not exactly green-fingered, but enjoy having a go!

Having spoken to friends and relatives who are keen gardeners, along with my own (limited experience) I have listed below a few easy edible things to grow that are well suited for trying out with children:

Herbs: ideal for those without a garden,  as you can grow them in small pots on a windowsill. Enjoy using them to make your own pesto (doesn't have to be basil!).

Rocket: we tried this great idea from Daisies and Pie last summer and grew rocket in our used Illy coffee tins. It worked a treat!

Runner beans: you can grow them in a pot, just get a bamboo cane to wind the stems around and secure the growing plant to keep it vertical. The more you pick, the more you get!

Courgettes/zucchini: I've been told these are easy to grow and tend a produce a lot, so get ready with a variety of courgette recipes to use them in! If you leave them, they will turn into marrows.

Cucumbers: we bought some seeds to try growing some this year and bought a small variety that is ideal for pots or grow-bags. You can also buy indoor growing varieties so have a look and see what suits your circumstances best.

Potatoes: we grew some last year in a half empty bag of compost, simply by planting actual potatoes deep down and topping up with compost as the shoots kept emerging and you could equally grow them in a pot. Whilst we didn't get a huge yield, we had enough for dinner for six and they were delicious!

There is a lovely little section on gardening with children in the Leon: Fast Vegetarian cookbook. A couple of their suggestions are really good, such as encouraging your children to 'graze on the plot' to help solidify the connection between growing and eating, and understanding where food comes from. They also advise letting your children have their own patch of soil or collection of pots that they can call their own, I love that idea!

If you have grown any fruit or vegetables in your garden with your children, it would be great to hear about it and any additions to my list above are most welcome.
Disclosure: We were sent a crate containing tomato seeds and the items described here, if we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.
Mums' Days

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Focusing more on my 5-a day

From weaning onwards, there is a lot of emphasis here in the UK on ensuring our children, and families as a whole, get their recommended 5 a day (five portions of fruit and vegetables). I read or heard somewhere not so long ago that we should really be aiming for more like seven and with a greater emphasis on the vegetables.

As a relatively healthy-eating vegetarian, you would think I easily hit my 5 a day but I probably spend more time watching my children's intake of fruit and vegetables than I do my own.

Looking at my lunch the other day, I recognised I had yet again fallen into a bit of a cheese sandwich rut for lunches. The thing is, I love cheese and my children love sandwiches so it's a bit of a default lunch. My older daughter's absolute favourite lunch is pitta bread with hummous and tomato (I usually put cucumber and sometimes avocado in there too).

Most days I ask my son what he had for school dinners and have noticed the distinct lack of vegetables! (The novelty for the sweet puddings seems to have worn off and he seems to choose the fruit over the dessert more days than not now). Then I look at his dinner plate and see one or two portions of vegetables and realise we could be doing better to achieve the recommended five a day.

Back in 2013, I started a photo log of my meals, as a kind of public food diary. I found it really helped me be aware of what I was eating and to go for healthier options at mealtimes. I did it for a while and then stopped. Last week, I decided to go back to it, as a way to encourage me to vary my lunches and increase my vegetable consumption. If you are interested in seeing what I am eating for lunch and dinner, have a look here!

I have only been photographing my meals again for the past week but already it has helped. Last night when our weekly veg box had not yet come and I was pretty much out of vegetables and short on time, I used up the remaining odds and ends to make a healthy meal, rather than going for a vegetable void meal like pasta and pesto. My son ate four big helpings of it too!

Do you feel like you and your family easily achieve your 5 a day? I suspect a lot of people's quota comes more from fruit than vegetables. Is that the case with you or are you good about being conscious of providing several vegetable portions each day?