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.

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?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sowing seeds

Two years ago, we excitedly participated in the Heinz 'Grow Your Own' tomatoes, having just moved into a home with a garden and space for more adventurous gardening projects. We grew the tomatoes from seed and after months of nurturing had our own tomatoes to pick and enjoy! We have since grown potatoes, runner beans, rocket (arugula) and broad beans. I really like spending time out in the garden and the children have fun getting involved so growing our own is definitely something I am keen to continue.

This year I was invited again to participate in the Heinz 'Grow Your Own' initiative and gratefully accepted. We received our gardening kit comprising a wheelbarrow, two packets of tomato seeds, a watering can, a gardening themed activity book and a bottle of tomato ketchup, all enclosed in a wooden crate.

As the weather was so pleasant and spring-like at the weekend, we got straight to work and planted the seeds. Last time we did this, my daughter was too young to do anything and my son did all the planting but now aged three, she is the perfect age to get stuck in with her brother.

They each planted a pot of seeds, carefully covering them with a final layer of soil and watering them a little. The pots are enclosed in plastic bags and are inside now in a sunny spot. Over the coming weeks we will check them regularly, water them when needed and await green shoots!

Are you planting tomatoes or any other kind of fruit or vegetable this spring? Do you and your children enjoy a bit of gardening together too?
Disclosure: We were sent a crate containing the items described above, if we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.  Get involved too and head over to the Heinz Tomato Ketchup UK Facebook page where you have the chance to win free seeds.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

16 Sugar-free snacks

This Lent I have given up sugar again. I like to think I can have sweet treats in moderation but if I am honest, I struggle with the 'moderation' part! I therefore think it is quite good for me to spend periods of time avoiding it completely, maybe making my consumption a bit more moderate overall.

Sugar is in almost everything and you really need to check ingredient labels diligently. This is a useful list of other names sugar goes by so you can look out for it in all its forms! Even things you imagine would not contain sugar, like wholemeal bread, can have it in so beware. Thankfully, in the UK at least, there are brands that avoid it entirely.

If you would like to cut down on the amount of sugar you consume, even if not giving it up entirely, I have come up with the following list of 16 sugar-free snacks:
  1. Oatcakes (plain or with topping)
  2. Rice/corn/quinoa cakes (plain or with topping)
  3. Wholegrain breadsticks
  4. Cheese scone *
  5. Nuts
  6. Seeds
  7. Small portion of fruit
  8. Piece of cheese (nice with fruit)
  9. Natural yoghurt (add some seeds/nuts/fresh fruit if desired)
  10. A boiled egg
  11. Carrot/cucumber/celery/pepper sticks
  12. Hummous with veg or breadsticks
  13. Half a pitta bread with filling *
  14. Slice of wholemeal bread/toast with topping
  15. Hummous/lentil chips (a slightly healthier crisp and really tasty)
  16. Popcorn (make your own and eat plain or add a little salt or nutritional yeast)
*wholegrain / made with wholemeal flour

As a side note, nut butters tend to become your new best friend when going sugar-free. I recently started stirring a spoonful of almond butter into my porridge and it is delicious! My children love it too. Your favourite nut butter also makes the perfect topping for any of the things mentioned above. Again, check the ingredients and try to buy the pure nut butter, made only from the nut, with no added salt or sugar.

Do you have any other suggestions of sugar-free snacks to add to my list?
photo credit

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Cheesy carrot flapjack

Last week was a half-term holiday from school and nursery. One day, I gave the older two children three choices of what we could do that day: go to a nearby park and playground, go to a museum or stay at home and do some cooking and painting. To my surprise they chose the last option!

I didn't want to do the usual biscuits/cookies/cakes with them this time so when my son suggested they cook something for lunch, I thought that was a great idea. We decided on cheesy carrot flapjacks and got to work! It turned out to be the perfect recipe for two children to make together, as there was a good division of tasks and no fighting over who got to do the mixing/pouring or whatever!

The recipe is one I make quite often, that came from Riverford (our veg box people) and is great for a healthy snack or for lunch with some salad bits on the side.

Cheesy Carrot Flapjack

  •     150g rolled oats
  •     175g finely grated carrots
  •     175g grated cheese
  •     1 egg beaten
  •     pinch of mixed dried or fresh herbs, salt + pepper
  •     bit of butter

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / gas mark 4.
Combine the oats, carrots, cheese, egg and herbs in a bowl and mix well.
Season and press into a 20cm square flapjack tin that you have base lined with baking parchment.
Dot the butter on top. Bake for 25 minutes until set and browned.

When it came to lunch time, I let them cut up their own cucumber and tomato to have with it, so they really did make lunch mostly themselves and really enjoyed it (the making and the eating!).

I am linking up this post with Kids in the Kitchen over at Raisie Bay and with #recipeoftheweek at A Mummy Too.
Link up your recipe of the week
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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Valentine's Day: heart-themed treats & a hunt!

It is February and that means Valentine's Day is coming up! More than anything it has become an excuse to do heart-themed baking/crafts/activities with my children than anything romantic with my husband!

Last year I was not organised enough to post anything in advance to share idea-wise with you. I saved up what we did do however and can offer it up as some inspiration this year....

Heart-shaped biscuits/cookies usually appear in one form or another at our house. Last year I branched out and tried a new (more chocolatey) recipe from The Crazy Kitchen, Chocolate chip shortbread hearts. Mine certainly don't look as pretty in the picture but they tasted delicious! I made the larger ones for my son to take to his teachers at school (we packaged them in a cute little bag, sealed with a heart sticker) and the smaller ones were enjoyed by us and some friends who came over that day. They are very simple to make and I would definitely make them again.

My son had a play date at our home on Valentine's Day last year and at the last minute, I decided to set up a little heart-themed hunt for them to do. I bought some small heart-shaped chocolates for them to find on the hunt. I cut out some pink paper hearts and wrote a very brief, easy description on each of where I had hidden a chocolate heart. It was a sneaky way to practise their reading/phonics, which at age five they were getting stuck into at school. So first they had to go around and find the pink paper hearts and then they had to read what was written on them to find the chocolate hearts. A hunt always goes down well with that age (4/5) and this one was definitely a success and a fun Valentine's activity.

I'll finish with a link for the grown-ups! I had every intention of making these Chilli chocolate truffles for my husband and I to enjoy but the weather was so atrocious last year, I could not face the trip to the supermarket to pick up the ingredients I needed. This year, I am definitely going to make them and still have plenty of time to get anything I need for them. I love the combination of chocolate and chilli!

Do you have any Valentine-themed activities or baking you like to do or that you have seen recently that sound fun?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Less is more, third time around

Our youngest, the baby, is ten months old now. How the time has flown! I was just saying to a friend the other week that I suppose I should start taking her to some playgroups or something. The other two children and especially the eldest was taken along to various baby groups from around six weeks old.

I told my friend how I am a bit more reluctant to go to playgroups a third time round. For a first time mum they are a lifesaver, a great way to make friends with other mums, a reason to get out of the house and have some interaction with people and can help a child to become more sociable too. Yet, without wishing to sound smug in any way, I feel that I am past that stage now.

This time round, I have friends I see regularly, mostly my eldest's nursery and school friends mothers. I am always out and about on school and nursery runs, getting bits done while they are at school and nursery and quite honestly, enjoying a bit of calm with the baby while it is just the two of us! Going to a playgroup and watching the baby stuff germ-ridden toys into her mouth while I force myself to chat to some other mothers is not high on my priority list these days!

I tell myself that it is different with a third child. She is used to having her siblings around and friends of theirs over sometimes too. It is always a lively time and she seems to be a sociable baby around other people. We went to some friends for dinner recently and I left the baby in the playroom with the older children and she was perfectly happy. The older children (all girls apart from my son in this case) looked after her and gave her toys and she was happy to be joining in with the others. I don't think I could have ever left either of my older two when they were babies in another room, unattended. Don't worry, I did keep going in and checking on her!

Once the weather gets better, we will all be enjoying the outdoors more and a walk to the park will be as nice for me as it will be for the baby so we will get out more and she will be more mobile then too. There is a music class I took my older daughter to quite often that I think I will take the baby to soon but I don't think I will be filing up our precious mornings too much.

The routines of my older two children impose a structure on our days that never existed with my eldest when he was the only baby. That changes things, as so much of my day with the baby revolves around drop-offs, pick-ups and activities that the older children do. Consequently, I like to have more relaxed mornings with the baby. She has her nap and I get a few bits done around the house. She wakes up and we play and get lunch ready before picking up my older daughter from nursery. Our morning time together is brief as it is and I am all too aware of how fast the sweet baby stage flies by so I want to make the most of it.

For those of you with two or more children, did you do less of the playgroups and baby classes with your younger children? Do you think it's inevitable that we do less activities (for want of a better word) with subsequent children or am I just being lazy about not taking her to more groups?!
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