Friday, 27 January 2012

Dinner Time Cheats!

When I'm short on time or have had a disorganised day for whatever reason (yes, it happens to the best of us!)  and the grumble-tums overcome my family, I need to be able to put together a quick meal that will satisfy even the hungriest of my children.

In this post I will share with you my secret weapons, that have a meal on the table in around 30minutes!

Cheats Casserole and Dumplings

I always keep a bag of 'casserole' vegetables in the freezer (cubed onion, celery, turnip, swede, and carrot) and a bag of pre-made dumplings.

Place the frozen vegetables in a pan on the hob with some gravy or sauce/stock of your choice, bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and the liquid thickened.
Meanwhile the dumplings bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, then are added to the top of the casserole for the final 5-10 minutes of cooking time.

For a meat version:
If I have left over meat in the fridge I will add this to the casserole or add a couple of cook from frozen chicken breasts.

Sausage Pie

The children love this and will happily eat a big wedge on it's own, but it can be served with mashed potato, or whatever you prefer.

I always keep some sausage meat in the fridge to make meatballs/sausage and bacon wraps and, of course, this pie (which is a regular on our meal plan!)

I line a pie tin with short crust pastry, add the sausage meat and top with another layer of pastry.
Pierce the top with a steam hole and bake in the oven for around 20-25 minutes.

Pasta Bake

This one really is simple as I use a jar of Homepride Pasta Bake poured on top of some dried pasta and bake it in the over for around 30-40 minutes.

We eat it how it is, or with added veggies, such as carrot, green beans and sweetcorn, and/or meat/tuna, whatever we have handy at the time.


I keep a box of mini pre-made pizza bases in the cupboard for when I am too busy to make my own (I have also used chunks of  baguette cut in half length ways and pitta bread etc in place of pizza bases)
Some tomato puree or ketchup and then whatever toppings we have to hand, pre-cooked veggies, and/or meats and bake in the oven for around 10 minutes.

What meal time 'cheats' do you have up your sleeve?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Escaping the House (Pt 2) - What I pack

Following on from a previous blog, giving my tips for escaping the house with my 4 children and having a stress and meltdown free day, I was also asked what things I pack in my baby bag to get us through an entire day away from home.

If you missed the first blog, you can find it here.

I try and keep things as minimal as possible, as I tend to do most things with the children alone, and I can't manage masses of 'luggage' and the 4 kids all at once!

If we are out for the day I will pack according to our destination, but the items on the following list are my basic staples that I will just add to depending on the venue.

1. Nappies/Diapers

Che turned 2 at the end of October and we are yet to start potty training with him, so nappies are essential!
I tend to pack about 5 disposable nappies (yes, I know, bad for the environment, but I just didn't have it in me to parent 4 children and be super-eco-mum at the same time) Che doesn't tend to need more than 3 or 4 changes a day now.

2. Wet wipes

These are a must wherever we go!
Essential for nappy changes, obviously, but also for 4 sets of sticky fingers.
Falling over is a given when out and about with my active brood, so wet wipes come into their own, especially in muddy conditions!

3. Antibacterial hand gel

When visiting Zoo's or even friends or family that have pets, the anti-bac hand gels are a must.
They are small enough to carry in my handbag and give peace of mind that if I can not get straight to a washroom, a wet wipe and some anti-bac gel will do the trick.

4. Tissues

A small handy pack of tissues, to wipe noses and dry tears, should they occur.

5. Calpol and syringe

Che is still of the age where he dislikes medicines on a spoon, so a med syringe is the way to go for him.
The girls don't mind using the syringe either, so it saves on carrying an extra spoon.
I don't carry a bottle of Calpol with me, as not only would this be bulky and sticky, it would also be dangerous, given it's glass container. I prefer to use the sachets, which are equal to 1x5ml spoonful, which can easily be syringed up, or, if you are an 8 year old tom-boy, sucked straight from the sachet!!

6. First Aid Kit

Antiseptic spray, band aids, sterile pads and a bandage. I carry these in a small zip lock bag along with the Calpol, syringe, antibacterial hand gel etc. It has come to be quite useful on occasion!

7. Muslin Square

Useful for many things. I have used one for spillages, a shade from the sun (hung from the hood of the stroller) a nose wipe (when tissues were not handy) and even a toy tie!

8. Paper & Crayons

Supermarkets are great for things like these. I buy 4 packs of crayons/pencils (contains 6 different colours. Crayons are better as they don't require sharpening!) and 4 'memo pads' which are the perfect size for tiny hands.
These are fantastic on longer journeys in the car, train or plane. They are also great when in cafes/restaurants when the children are at that tired, hungry and whiny stage and have to wait for food, or even to encourage them to stay at the table until everyone has finished!

I have also been known to use them while waiting in shops in the queue for the checkout, in busier times. The children sit on the floor by the stroller and either write or draw in their own little books.

9. Drinks and snacks/picnic food

Having 4 children, eating and drinking out becomes very expensive! I always make sure that each of my children have their sports beaker topped up with their drink of choice (either water or very diluted cordial)
I keep a spare big bottle of water in the car (freshened daily!) to make sure everyone is properly hydrated.

I pack a small(ish!) insulated bag with sandwiches, fruit, and snacks (bread sticks, crackers, biscuits, cupcakes, crisps, cocktail sausages, squeezy tube yoghurt's etc) and a couple of ice packs to keep everything cool and fresh.

What essentials can you not leave the house without?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Meal Plan Monday!

I have been doing this for a while at home now, but have never really shared it on the blog, so I thought that I'd jump on the band waggon!

I get asked a lot how I keep on top everything that 4 young children come with and feed them well, without breaking the bank.

Well, the most common reason for breaking into your overdraft is your expenditure on groceries!
How much do you throw out every week? How many times have you looked in your over flowing freezer and said "There's nothing to eat!"? How many times a week (or night!) to you groan, trying to think of something to cook for the family?

We are all guilty of that from time to time, but making a menu plan helps to not only use the food stock we already have in our home, it cuts out the annoying " Muuuuuuum!, what's for dinner?" And it also reduces the amount we spend in the shops.

Every Monday, I shall be posting my weeks menu plan, I also have a baking day, in which I make homemade treats with the children for that week.
I also try to make one or 2 meals a week a cheats dinner where I cook double the amount of meat for example and use it over 2 days/meals, so there is less cooking, they will be labelled with a '*'

Monday:      Spaghetti and HM *Chicken Meatballs in a HM tomato sauce.
Tuesday:      *Chicken and potatoes with cabbage and carrots.
Wednesday: Baked potatoes with Baked Beans
Thursday:    *Pork Risotto
Friday:         HM Sausage Pie with HM Baked Potato Wedges
Saturday:     HM Pizza and Salad
Sunday:       *Pork Roast Dinner

Baking - Chocolate Brownies.

If anyone would like recipes for any of the above, please leave a comment below and I will post. I will set up a recipe tab and add them all there when I have a little more time!

What are you having for dinner this week?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Escaping the house: How I do it with 4 children!

Taking the children out is something that we all have to do, be it for grocery shopping, the park, or something a little more exciting, like a play centre, museum or zoo.

I often get asked how I keep track of my little brood, especially as I am quite often going it alone, due to the husbands workplace being far from the understanding and family conscious type with regards to holidays. Anyway..

I thought that I would share what works for me when I am in a public place with 4 young kids.

1. Head Counts

If you know me, you will know that I always conduct conversations while scanning the room/play equipment/monkey enclosure, and every other sentence is followed by a "1, 2, 3, 4.."

2. Dress Code

I try to dress the children in one colour if possible.
There is nothing more frustrating when desperately searching for your child(ren) in a large crowd than forgetting what colour shirt they are wearing!
Also, the colour pink is to be avoided, if at all possible when out in busier locations. Searching for a child with long blonde hair and a pink shirt is like looking for a needle in a haystack!

3. What to expect

Before we even leave the house, and again to reinforce the rules, before we exit the car, I explain, clearly to all of the children where we are going, what we will be doing and how I would like them to behave.
9 times out of 10 this works, with minimal reminders during the day.

4. Countdowns

My Children all respond very positively to countdowns.
They are a constant in our everyday routines, so they work very effectively when we are out and about.
Young children have no concept of time, so this exercise gets them used to gauging how long they can continue with any given activity. This also helps prevent meltdowns.
By giving the children clear, timely instructions, they respond well to the next action
When I call to say time's up, they (usually!) come running back. If they ask for more time, I explain that we have to go now, but we can come back to the area before we head home/revisit soon etc, depending on the days time constraints.

"We have 10 more minutes to play on the slide"
"In 5 minutes, we are going to leave this area"
"You have 2 minutes playtime left"
"1 minute to go, then you have to get your coat"

5. Buddy System

The older 2 girls are paired with a younger sibling.
I usually keep the 'Buddies' the same and not mix them up, as I know which 2 children work well together.
The 8 year old is teamed with the 4 year old and the 7year old with the 2 year old.

Crossing roads or walking down the street/venue, I will tell them to find their buddies and that is their queue to hold the hand/stroller if being used, of their buddy.

The old ones look out for the younger ones on play equipment too if I'm busy with one of the other children, which is a huge help in big spaces when they all want to play on separate things at the same time!

6. Rewards

All 4 children love stickers, so these are often used as rewards. I carry a pack in my handbag so they are always handy. If they have been extra good, usually when we are shopping in the city with little time for play, then the lure of a shop bought treat, like a cookie, muffin or ice cream does the trick!

7. Use what you have around you! 

I can not stress this one enough, especially if you have younger children!
Not every outing is exciting for them and they are often just tagging along for the ride in life's mundane duties.
I often make trips into Norwich City with all 4 children. It is crowded and boring and there are queues, lots of queues!! This is when children will get bored and act up or possibly worse, meltdown.
The shopping mall in Norwich is home to the Early Learning Centre, so this is a frequent stop for us.
"If you can stay close to Mummy, and behave while we visit these two shops, we'll go to the toy store to play"
This works wonders! We will visit the ELC and all the kids will run riot around there while I browse for possible birthday/Christmas presents for 15 minutes.

There is also a big library which a great Children's section, we will also visit there. I will often take pens and paper for the children to sit in there and draw their favourite book character or for the older girls, write a book review, they all love this and it gives them a chance to be creative rather than just still and read for the entire visit.

In the summer I will pack a picnic style lunch for our visit and we will go and sit in the park and eat and play, before heading back to the throng of the high street.

What works for you?

Past, Present and Future

Things went horribly wrong there for a while, and for the last few months of 2011, I couldn't bring myself to blog at all.

A bad spell of Bipolar struck and it well and truly outstayed its welcome. I recoiled back into myself and found solace under my duvet for a good few days.
Poor health all round in the family added to my already darkened mood and I lost all interest in the things I had built into my everyday routines.

I decided, with the help of my husband, to take a complete break from all things social. I really did become a recluse for a while. I didn't leave the house, other than school runs. I had shopping delivered. I shunned all invites of parties, luncheons and coffee mornings. I deactivated my Facebook and deleted my Twitter. I shied away from G+.

Then I found Instagram. This, for me, is not a 'Social Network'. It is not a place for meeting people, it is simply a place to share a common love/hobby/interest.

I have always enjoyed taking photos. I am not a photographer, and I don't pretend to be.
I've  never been any good at the 'arty' stuff. I like what I like and I try to recreate that in my photos.
I feel immensly proud of myself when I manage to capture a moment in time that makes me remember the best parts of my day, and I find that, that also goes a long why in helping with the depressive cycles of my Bipolar.

Gradually, with the help, love and support of my family and a couple of good friends, I have started  to ease my way back, gently into the real world again.
I have had a couple of play dates with Che, I have returned to Facebook, Twitter and G+ (although in a much lesser capacity than before!) And I am slowly, but surely working towards getting both my life and this blog back on track.

2012: I may be a late starter, but I'm going to make you mine!