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?
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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

Ingredients
  •     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
Method

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?
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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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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Round two of the threenager!

Back when my son was age three and demonstrating some pretty challenging behaviour, I wrote this post, 'The Trying Threes'. Now I am going through it all over again with my daughter. Reading back over my earlier post, I am at least reassured that this is normal and just another stage we have to get through. It is a good reminder to me about doing my best to stay calm when faced with defiance from my daughter and feeling utter despair at times.

Last week I read this article, '10 Signs you are living with a threenager'. It is both funny and true! I can tell the author is talking about her daughter, as there are some things on her list that are the case with our daughter too but that never occurred with our son. Number 1 (about how to cut her sandwiches) and 3 (wardrobe changes, although just regular clothes, not princess costumes in our case) definitely apply to our daughter. Neither of these things were ever an issue with our son.

So, round two and having been there before I am going to try to take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this! I keep trying to identify what it is that is different on the days when my daughter is behaving beautifully but I think it is just the usual stuff: she needs sleep, food and attention, like they all do. Unfortunately there are always going to be days when she doesn't get enough of one of those and I will know about it!

In the meantime, I will endeavour to follow my own advice (see, 'The Trying Threes'), remembering she is only three, trying to lead by example, focusing on something positive from the day and remembering she does love me really!

Are any of you also currently living with a 'threenager'? What are some of the challenges they throw at you and how do you deal with them?
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Monday, 12 January 2015

Something's gotta give!

Once we got back after our Christmas trip to the US, I was desperate to cook some proper food for my nine-month old. I had been relying on either ready-made baby food or doing quick, lazy things for her to eat while we were away. She is at the stage to introduce more lumpy textured foods and a time to expand her repertoire of tastes. I consulted a weaning recipe book I have and cooked up a few batches of things so I could freeze some portions too. I felt much better feeding her homemade meals and she tucked in to them!

To get some food cooked for the baby meant sacrificing the rest of the family's meals a little. I gave the older two the same food as the baby (stuff like risotto) or did something quick and easy like pasta for the rest of us. Thankfully the baby is almost at the stage where she can eat what the rest of the family eat, just mashed or chopped small so things should get easier on the cooking front.

Being a mother of three is all about the juggling and weighing up quickly what is most important at a particular time. I can not keep an impeccably clean house, cook wholesome healthy meals for the family, spend quality time with all three children, help with homework, take a few moments of quiet for myself, do the grocery shopping, and deal with everything else that life might throw at me that particular day or week. Something's gotta give!

I find my priorities chop and change. There will be a day when I really want to clean up the house but that means I have not started dinner by the time my son is home from school, which results in a bit of a rush and often a bit of stress in the kitchen! Or like today, I wanted to get a blog post written so I am sitting here typing, neither cleaning nor cooking. I should have time to do a bit of dinner prep too.... If I am playing with the children after school or helping my son with his homework then we are invariably late with dinner.

I accept that this is the way life goes at the moment with three young children and I am ok with it. The kinds of things that are important to me are cooking healthy meals for my family and spending some time with my children. I also really need to do a couple of things for myself each day to keep me sane! I need to have a shower and be moderately presentable in the morning to put me in the best mood to begin the day so I often don't have the time to clean up fully after breakfast before it's time to leave for the school run. I also need a few minutes of peace and quiet that I take when the younger two are napping and the eldest is at school. It is my time to recharge for the afternoon and evening ahead!

These choices I make mean I may not spontaneously invite you in for a cuppa after the school run (although occasionally I do have an efficient morning and get all cleared up!) and I am often reluctant to do things that mean the girls miss their naps. I really do like to keep a clean house but in reality it is a struggle for me to keep it as presentable as I would like.

However, I do my best and very occasionally I feel like supermum - meals are prepared/organised, the house is clean and tidy, I got a blog post written and had fun playing with the children, did piano practise with my son, got everyone to bed on time. Very. Occasionally. Most of the time though, I struggle to keep up with everything and accept that is the way things are for now!

What kinds of things do you find yourself sacrificing due to lack of time or energy? What do you try to prioritise each day or week or does it vary? Do you always feel like you are struggling to keep up and if so, how do you deal with that feeling?
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Monday, 5 January 2015

Taking the pressure out of new year's resolutions

Whether you like it or not, new year tends to mean plenty of mention of new year's resolutions. We had some friends over on new year's day who told us they each had made resolutions for the year. His was to be more spontaneous and hers to be less stressed. Of course, I didn't say anything to them but those kinds of vague, immeasurable aims are the hardest to keep!

My husband and I are not very serious about new year's resolutions but we do usually have a chat about some goals for the year in a bid to start off the new year with a bit of direction. We had a conversation this new year's eve about a couple of things we each hoped to achieve but rather than the pressure of keeping up with something for a whole year, we acknowledged that there were a couple of things we would try to do for just one month.

There is plenty of evidence out there that a month is the amount of time to make something a habit and that if you can do a month of something, you are more likely to be able to continue doing that thing longer term if you so wish. A month is a lot more manageable than a whole year and by focusing on a month initially, you are already making your goal more in your reach. Once you get to the end of the month, you will have the sense of success of having achieved your aim. Knowing you can do it for a month incentivises you to try continuing it for another month. If on the other hand, you do not wish to keep the action up, no pressure, you can leave it to the side with the knowledge you did it for a whole month and knowing you could do the same again at a later date if you feel you want to.

If you have not made any new year's resolutions but are still thinking about it, it's never too late! Starting on the first of January is not for everyone and you can start whenever feels like a good time for you. Maybe being back to the school routine is a better time to kick start a change in your daily life or maybe you want to wait until closer to spring.

In considering your possible resolutions for the year ahead, think about some of the different aspects of your life:
 
Physical - exercise is an obvious and common one but be specific about what kind of exercise, how long and how frequent, and be realistic! Walking more instead of always taking the car, taking the stairs instead of the lift at work are other simple changes you could choose to make.

Emotional - could be something to connect more or better with a member of your family, a weekly call to a friend, helping out a neighbour, writing a regular letter/email to someone you care about.

Spiritual - anything from going to church more, reading a spiritual text, to taking 5-10 mins a day to meditate.

Integrity - volunteer work, helping someone in need, giving some of your time to a local school/church/organisation

Intellectual - read x number of books during the year, read 5-10 mins of news each day, learn a new skill by attending a class or doing an online course

Parenting - is there something you can do differently/better with your children? You and your partner could take it in turns to do 1-1 outings/activities with the children or as a family you could introduce more regular family time in the form of short excursions/games nights or whatever

Work/career - update or add to an existing skill you have, connect with new people in your field, send out your CV to x number of recruiters/targeted companies....

Keep your resolutions simple, manageable and specific. As an example, I decided on a whim to do five minutes of Spanish every day. I had downloaded an app (Duolingo) where you can learn languages for free and can set yourself daily targets. As a busy mother to three, I do not have much spare time but five timed minutes is definitely doable. I do my five minutes, it is very quick, it is simple and yet I feel like I have accomplished something. I might not be fluent by the end of the year, but that is not my resolution!

It can definitely feel overwhelming to commit to something for a whole year. Take off the pressure by keeping goals small and measurable and initially aiming for one month. See where the month takes you and go from there!

Have you made any resolutions this year or are you still thinking about it?
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