Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

August 29, 2012

Thinking outside the lunch box

According to conventional wisdom on the matter (not mine, might I add), lunch is an important meal for children and should provide at least one third of their daily nutrients to help them grow, learn and play. One third of their daily nutrients? Wow. And bearing in mind that this ‘third’ has to be squashed into a plastic container, has to survive for several hours next to a school radiator and has to then be eaten by the child without a nagging parent reminding them to eat the crusts and to not pick the cucumber out.

Packing a nutritional lunch box sounds like a relatively simple task. It is, in theory. It’s just the practical part which I seem to fail on. Despite my devout promises the previous night that I'll do something different the next day, standing in the kitchen at 7am, half-dressed and half-asleep, all I seem to be able to manage is the same old boring cheese sandwich, something made of yoghurt, and some shrivelled-up grapes.

It’s not that I don’t try. I do. In the novelty of those first ‘Back to School’ days, I use cookie cutters to make dinosaur-shaped sandwiches. I slice strawberries and put them into little pots. I chop up carrot sticks and provide dips. I pop popcorn for a treat on Friday. But regardless of all my fussing and faffing, the lunchboxes will inevitably come home with about as much food in them (sometimes more) as they left home with. Tough though it is to admit, come the third week of September, I will inevitably have reverted to the old reliables.

But I have promised myself that this year will be different. With a bit of planning and organisation at the supermarket, I might – just might - be able to add some elements of surprise, which actually get eaten. So, some inspiration:
  • Bread - granary, wholegrain, fruit or seed breads, bagels, wraps and pittas instead of sliced white.
  • Filling - shredded chicken, turkey, cold meat from last night’s dinner or peanut butter. Fish and eggs are great but should probably be sent with an apology to the teacher.
  • Pasta is a great, healthy alternative to a sandwich.
  • Fruit – try dried fruits. Dried mango is delicious (although it looks awful). Veg sticks are great too.
  • Drink – water with a twist of fresh lemon or orange for a change. Freeze overnight in the bottle so it’s still chilled by lunchtime.

Of course, whatever we give our kids in the lunch box, they always come home looking for a snack. Top tip: be prepared, and avoid the quick-fix biscuit or sugary ‘treat’.
  • Keep a tub of freshly sliced fruit in the fridge.
  • Pop your own popcorn but don’t add salt.
  • Make a batch of soup and serve in a mug.
  • Whizz up a smoothie (freeze leftovers in lolly moulds).

With some great offers on Back to School food items at Tesco at the moment, such as two for €2.50 on bread items and three for €3 on selected fruit, maybe we can all inject a little enthusiasm into our lunch boxes this term! 

For healthy eating ideas and inspiration, check out these Tesco 'Real Food' links for more lunch box and back to school family meal ideas.

This is a sponsored post.


August 22, 2012

Rain, rain, go away!

No, this isn’t another rant about the ‘summer’ weather – although it's very tempting. I think we’re all well aware of the meteorological issues we’ve faced since the start of July, so let’s just move on, ignore the howling storm outside and think of something positive to do before we all get cabin fever.

Art and Craft! Yay.

Or not, as the case may be.

It should be simple really: kids are naturally creative and parents are always looking for ways to keep them occupied - especially when it's raining, again. Surely, art and craft is the natural solution. Paint, glue,glitter, feathers, a blank piece of paper – what more could you need?

Patience. That’s what. A very, very large amount of patience.

Our art and craft sessions always seem to start out with great enthusiasm. Inspired by ‘1001 craft ideas’ books and children’s TV programmes which give step-by-step, fool-proof instructions, I roll my sleeves up, take a deep breath and make the brave announcement. ‘Right, let’s do some Art and Craft!’

I get everything prepared: messy mat, paint, glue, brushes, glittery things, lolly sticks, googly eyes, feathers, tissue paper, safety scissors, shiny things, pens and paper – it all looks so promising. I have the instructions to hand and call the children, who skip excitedly into the kitchen and gasp in wonder at these treasures I have provided for them.

And that’s when the trouble starts.

You see, children will always insist on doing their own thing. So, despite the fact that I have planned for them to make the polystyrene ball owl which Mister Maker made yesterday in about five minutes, they will insist on building a rocket or an alien monster. They will paste a seven inch thick layer of glue onto the page and tip the entire bottle of glitter onto it – the bottle of glitter I was hoping to also use at Christmas. The yellow, blue, green and red paints I carefully poured into separate pots will, in seconds, be mixed together to create a miserable shade of dark brown.  The water will be spilt, they will argue over who uses the ‘big’ paintbrush, the man will come to read the gas meter, my sister will ring for a chat and the cup of coffee I intended to drink while watching my little Picassos will go stone cold and be thrown down the sink. Of course, there’ll also be an almighty mess to tidy up afterwards and I’ll be picking bits of glitter off my cheek for the next week.

This, I am afraid, is the reality. But, somehow, it is all worth it when the kids proudly admire their works of art and insist on sending them to Nana for her birthday.

Over the years, I’ve realised that when it comes to art and craft, the best plan is to not have a plan. Give the kids the raw tools and let them get on with it, as only children know how. The joy is often not in the end result, but in the thrill of the creation. Turn your control-freak off, sip your steaming hot coffee and all will be well.

Tesco’s ‘Go Create’ is a great range of art and craft materials. With everything from A3 size colouring books to coloured paper, glitter stars to washable pens, safety scissors to shiny stickers, there’s something to keep everyone occupied during the last few days of the 'summer' holidays and for those after-school afternoons which will soon be with us again. 

So, I, for one, intend to forget about the weather, grit my teeth and get creative. I might even get the kids to decorate my wellies. Now, there’s a thought…


August 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Trousers

I’ve often wondered what there is at the bottom of my laundry basket. I’m not sure, you see – I haven’t seen it for a very long time. It is not entirely impossible that underneath the never-ending pile of things to be washed, there might be the Ark of the Covenant, the Missing Link, or a worm-hole to Mars. Maybe I might even find that missing blue top of mine I haven’t seen for months.

Dealing with ‘the laundry’ is my least favourite of domestic chores. It’s the relentlessness that kills me. Wash, dry, iron, fold. Wash, dry, iron, fold. It’s like white noise. While there might be some small degree of satisfaction to be reached when the clothes are all fluttering away on the line on a rare, ‘good drying day’ (do people still say that?), the joy is short-lived. But by the time those same clothes are dry, there is twice the amount in the laundry basket.

Even when you're ready for Big School, teddy still needs a wash!
During the summer holidays there somehow seems to be even more washing. Does it breed under conditions of excess moisture, I wonder? The boys seem to somehow manage to go through several different outfits a day – swapping out of the winter clothes they dressed in when it was lashing rain in the morning, to shorts and t-shirts in the afternoon as the sun finally makes an appearance and back into different joggers to go and kick the ball on the green in the evening when it’s drizzling again. Drips from ice-lollies, suncream stains, sticky marks, grass-stains, mud … it may sound like an advert for washing powder but these things really happen!

Of course, in a few weeks, we’ll be back to school (hurray!) and then there will be the additional factor of ironing (booo). You see, I don’t really believe in ironing - especially not shorts and t-shirts, and especially not when the Olympics are on - but you can’t really get away without ironing the school clothes can you. Can you?

Well, maybe you can.  Did you know, for example, that the Tesco school uniform range comes with shirts and polo shirts which are easy-iron and trousers which are stain resistant and non-iron.  This has to be good news - unless, of course, you happen to be an iron.

I will admit to being more than a little sceptical about these ironing claims, but after putting the clothes to the test in a strict scientific environment (i.e. throwing everything into the washing machine and putting the kettle on), I can happily say that the trousers didn’t need ironing at all and the shirts only took a couple of minutes (you only see the collar, right?!).

Whatever your personal ‘domestic goddess’ ranking, I suspect that many children across the country will never look smarter than on the first day of school. Washed, ironed and preened to perfection they will look fabulous – and us mammies will proudly take endless photos. After that? Well, I’m sure it will be a slippery slope towards Christmas when the cracks in the domestic facade begin to show and tolerance levels for ironing creases into grey trousers begin to wane. No doubt, come next June, our children will be walking out of school with half-mast trousers, scuffed shoes, worn patches on the knees and a shirt which hasn’t seen an iron since Easter. But with a little bit of Tesco’s help, there’s always hope…

This is a sponsored post


August 8, 2012

The Shops

There is a simple, universal, parenting equation I have discovered in recent years, and it is this:

8 weeks of school holidays + 1 frazzled parent + 2 young children + 1 supermarket = Stress!

School holidays. Children. The ‘big shop’. It is a coming together of things which seems to culminate in a barrage of empty  threats, fifteen packets of unwanted biscuits, eight different types of yoghurt, two packets of Lego mini figures, several bottles of wine (for later), and nothing at all with which to make a substantial, nutritious meal. Sigh.

I try – oh, how I try – to give the impression of being a calm, organised mother, enjoying a family trip to the shops with her impeccably behaved children. It may last for a few minutes, but by the time we reach the cheese aisle, all hell breaks loose and I seem to spend the next forty minutes barking orders to stop running off down the aisles, to stop bumping into each other, bumping into me and bumping into other people. It really doesn’t make it very easy to work out which is the best value packet of fig rolls, does it?

And when there are new school clothes and shoes to be bought, it gets harder. I find myself having ridiculous conversations like this:

Me:  ‘Can you stand here. Let me see how big this looks on you. Hmm. Perhaps we need the next size up. What do you think?’
Child: ‘Mummy, can we go and look at the toys?’
Me:  ‘How do those shoes feel? Where are your toes? Is that your big toe?’
Child: ‘Mummy, please can we go and look at the toys?’
Me:  ‘What does that jumper feel like?’
Child: ‘Erm, soft. Can we go and look at the toys now, mummy? Pleeeeeease.'

I find myself staring at rails of clothes, deliberating and debating with myself, trying to decide whether to buy ‘this one’, ‘that one’ or ‘the other one’ while deflecting requests for Moshi Monsters and Lightening McQueens. Is one size too big too big or just roomy, I ponder? It’s a fine line between value for money, and watching your child trip up on their own jumper sleeves.

After a recent trip to 'The Shops', the Tesco school uniform items I’d eventually settled on were tried on with great enthusiasm by my children: ‘I look great, don’t I?’ and ‘Can I wear this all day?’ and ‘This is soooo cool,’ were just some of the comments their mini fashion show produced.

One smart boy. See below for pricing.

Whether I will show quite as much enthusiasm when it comes to washing and ironing the same clothes over and over again remains to be seen. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the clothing, and with the trousers and skirts in the Tesco range now Teflon-treated (i.e. stain-resistant) and many of the shirts ‘easy-iron’ (hurray!), Sunday evenings - or even Monday mornings – will, hopefully, be a bit less painful.

Shopping with children may not be the easiest of tasks. In fact, there’s probably a reasonable case to introduce it as an Olympic sport. I certainly feel like I deserve a medal when we all get back home, but for now I suppose a box of chocolate éclairs will have to do.

This is a sponsored post.

Pricing: Scuff resistant black shoes (€14.50), 2 pack stain resistant non-iron grey trousers (€8.50), 2 pack easy-iron short sleeve shirts (€5), blue jumper (€5)


August 1, 2012

Three Little Words

Yes, it’s that time of year when those three little words are on the tip of every parents’ tongue:
Back To School.

It seems a little unfair really, to be thinking about the end of the summer holidays already. ‘Back to School!’ we wail. ‘What - already?’ Some of us (ahem) have barely even unpacked the school bags and lunch boxes from the last day of school, let alone started thinking about re-filling them for the first day back. We’ve only just started to fully enjoy those simple ‘summer holiday’ pleasures: not ironing, buying endless amounts of ice lollies and eating breakfast at eleven a.m. And - let’s face it -there hasn’t been an awful lot of ‘summer’ in these so-called summer holidays. But, alas, all too soon we have to stop thinking about emptying stagnant water out of deserted paddling pools and start thinking about jumpers and winter coats and sensible shoes and packed lunches. It’s inevitable and unavoidable.

For some parents, 2012 will be the first time they immerse themselves in the full Back to School experience, as their first child embarks on life at ‘Big School’. These eager parents will probably have had everything organised since the start of June – lunch boxes labelled, miniature shirts and skirts washed, ironed and hanging expectantly in the wardrobe – everything in place for this milestone in family life.

Others may have lost count of the number of times they’ve been through the Back to School process and, as a result, are relaxed, nonchalant and confident in their abilities to leave everything to the very last minute. Some may not participate in this annual event at all and take the entire family off to Spain at the start of September. Tempting.

I fall somewhere inbetween. My eldest goes into First Class this September, and my youngest starts school. As a result, I am balancing precariously between the confidence of an experienced ‘Back to School Mammy’ and the trepidation of being a fledgling once again. On the one hand, I am breezing along with my school books list and dusting off last year’s school bag. On the other, I am ready to shed bucket-loads of tears as I watch ‘my baby’ walk into his new classroom, proudly clutching his new schoolbag (which is actually the same size as him  - possibly even slightly bigger). The last week of August will be an emotional rollercoaster in our house, to say the least.

Half boy, half school bag.
For now, as my vitamin-D-deprived mind struggles to cope with intricate details about 7mm sum copy books, HB pencils, 30cm rulers, safety scissors and plastic document wallets, I'm taking the softly, softly approach to Back to School; sneaking a few bits into the trolley as I do the weekly shop. With Tesco's full Back to School range (think everything from A4 folders to zips on winter coats), I can throw in a packet of coloured pencils here, a Spiderman lunchbox there, the occasional packet of glitter for good measure, and it suddenly all seems a little bit easier. Plus, I can stock up on ice lollies at the same time.

Back to School? Easy peasy. If only it was as easy to organise the weather.  Anyone? Anyone…?

Back to School essentials* from Tesco. For pricing, see below.

This is a sponsored post.

*glitter not essential, but it is very nice.
Pricing: Crayola 12 Coloured Pencils (€2.99), 30cm ruler (70c), plastic document wallet (€1), subject dividers (€1.20), craft scissors (€1.50), Staedtler 10 pack HB pencils, plus eraser and sharpener (€3.90). Glitter star shakers (€2).
Pictured above: Backpack (€10), Crocodile lunchbox with drink bottle (€13.50)
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