Friday, 29 June 2012

Sand Le Mere Holiday - a review

As you know, were recently went up to stay at Sand-le-Mere Holiday Village in East Riding.

We stayed in a 'comfort' home and weren't quite sure what this would mean. Happily we were pleasantly surprised with the accomodation - it was a 6-berth caravan, completely refurbished and spotlessly clean.  It even had it's own jack-and-jill ensuite to the master bedroom and another seperate toilet - always handy when you've got kids!

It was a bit of a shame that there were no consumables left for us, we've stayed in plenty of caravans or holiday cottages that have provided at the very least teabags, sugar, salt & pepper, washing-up liquid etc.

Sand-Le-Mere has recently undergone a massive refurbishment and we were lucky enough to be amungst the first to try it out.

We stayed just after the unofficial re-opening and outside of the main school holidays.  So while we were there the place had a lovely peaceful, quiet atmosphere and we felt like we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Feeding the ducks from our window each morning

The new pool is fabulous and Ruby went in every day.  She particularly loved the water jets that squirted up from the floor and these were hugely popular with all the kids. I wasn't able to get photos because there were other children in the pool, but trust me - it's amazing!

I got to enjoy a tasty coffee and pastry in the brand new coffee shop, and watch through the huge windows while Ruby and her dad splashed about.  Sadly, due to some technical teething problems, there was no wi-fi in the leisure complex, but I'm assured there should be.  There was also no mobile phone reception, so I was pretty much forced to take a break from Twitter!

Wi-fi is available on the site and I was able to pay to log on from the van, you know me, I can't be offline for too long or I get the jitters.

The leisure complex on site is open from 9am each day, and the pool is open to kids from 10am (there's an earlier session for adults only).  Ruby loved the new soft play area, and over the few days we stayed spent quite a lot of time in there.

At 11am each day there are children's activities and we went along for the face painting session.  I'm not too sure about the kid's club entertainers drawing ability, but they were fun and friendly and they certainly made an effort!

I wanna be a Smurf Mummy!

What struck me most about Sand-le-mere was without a doubt the stunning refurbishment.  A beautiful wooden outdoor play park, relaxing coffee shop, fabulous pool with very attentive staff and the bar and restaurant.  They were all sparklingly new and spotlessly clean.

The staff were, without exception, all great fun and very friendly - no mean feat considering they were still finding their feet in their new surroundings.

Personally, I'd have liked to have seen the activities start a bit earlier.  By the time Ruby had had a swim and gone the the daily session it was lunchtime.  I guess a lot of people stay on site all day, but for us, we like to get out and about and explore the local area.

There is a beach just a couple of minutes walk from the site.  We spent an exhilarating wild and wind-swept evening beach-combing here and I loved the raw beauty of it. However, the area is plagued with pretty severe coastal errosion, and this does make the beach fairly difficult to access.  If you don't fancy (or can't) scramble over rocks and boulders to get to it, then I suggest looking further afield for more picturesque beaches with more ameineties.

Fossil-hunting on Withernsea beach

There's certainly plenty to do nearby.  We stumbled upon the Mere at Hornsea. It's well worth seeking out and is sigh-posted within Hornsea.  A stunning huge glacial lake, I recommend taking a rowing boat out and enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of cake.  There was something very old-worldly about the place.  True, the cafe is pretty tired and dated, and they don't seem massively into the whole tourism thing, but we found it charming and quaint.

Rowing on The Mere at Hornsea

If you're looking for a proper, traditional seaside day out, then it's well worth the hour or so drive up to Bridlington.  Miles of golden sand, donkey rides, sticks of rock, fish and chips, sand castles and fairground rides make for a thoroughly British day out.  We loved it there.

Giddy up!

Nothing lasts forever
The end of a busy day

When you're done with the beach, do take a wonder around the pretty harbour and watch the fishing from the harbour walls.

I spy pirates!

We also visited Beverley, an upmarket Yorkshire town full of high-end high street stores and smaller boutiques.  Lots of charming lanes and secret passages to explore and we kept Ruby entertained by spoting the curious local white phone boxes.  We spent a lovely lunchtime in a little cafe overlooking the market square and all the comings and goings.

There's another one!

Beverley Minster is stunning, but we had no chance of persuading a four year old that it would be a fun place to look around - we had to make do with a few snaps of the outside.

Beverley Minster

If the weather isn't kind to you, I hear that the huge aquarium at Hull is well worth a visit. 'The Deep' is home to 3,500 fish and is the world's only submarium.

Do take a look at this website for more info on local attractions and money-off days out in Yorkshire - it's worth planning some activities before you go.

All in all, Ruby had a great time - she loves holidays like this with organised activities, kid's discos and entertainers.  It was a fun short break, and I'm very glad I've had the chance to visit this charming part of the country.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to Sand-le-mere for allowing us to come and review for you.  We stayed for 4 nights in a comfort home free of charge for the purposes of this review, however all views expressed are my own and are honest.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cow's Milk Allergy? Got any advice for me?

I've been trawling the internet looking for useful information, but I really seem to be drawing a blank.

Given the fabulously supportive network of people on Twitter and in the blogging community, I'm really hoping someone might be able to help me out - our GP has been worse than useless.

Some background:

Ruby was an absolute dream of a baby right up until she was 6 months old.  She slept all night, was happy and very alert.  I breast-fed her but she had a bottle of Aptimil formula at night.

At 6 months I weaned her, and she started with the usual mush.  The very first 'food' that passed her lips was a Petits Filous which she LOVED.  Generally a good eater, she enjoyed fruit and veg, scrambled egg, cheese pasta etc etc.

But from around this age, it all went wrong.  She practically never slept through the night again (at 4 and a half she still doesn't sleep through every night).  She was wingey and winy and cried a lot more than she ever used to.

Admittedly, around this time lots of things are happening, not just the transition onto solid food.  She started teething - each and every tooth was a nightmare, and she got very ill with each one.  She became more aware of her surroundings and this is typically where separation anxiety starts up.

I carried on breast-feeding her at bedtime up until her 1st birthday.

Ruby has always had a big 'round' tummy.  Even as a tiny breast-fed baby, she had what looked like a beer belly.  I mentioned it to several doctors and health visitors along the way, and they told me this was 'normal ' even though none of my friends babies or my nieces and nephews - in fact no other baby I knew - had a belly quite like this!

And so we carried on.  With sleepless nights, endless runny noses and night time coughing.  We went to the doctor who dismissed it - children are always picking up bugs so it was probably one cold after another I was told.

I went back again and said her nose NEVER stops running and her coughing is keeping her awake at night - could it be an allergy? Could we get her tested? At which point we were prescribed some anti-histamine.  It cleared up a bit.

By the age of 2 and a half, Ruby was complaining of a tummy ache.  Back to the doctors.  'Nothing to worry about.'

By the age of 3, she was complaining of tummy ache not quite every day, but very often.  One day I was phoned by nursery to say she was huddled in the toilet crying so much because her tummy hurt.  I took her straight to the Health Centre.

She was poked and prodded.  I was asked whether she vomits.  How is her poo?  Because she was neither sick, nor had constipation/diarrhoea I was told it was 'unlikely to be anything - probably just growing pains'.

Off we went.

The sleepless nights continued.  She'd thrash about at night, crying out in her sleep, scratching furiously - or wake with inconsolable tears.

Several more times we went to the GP.  Each time we were sent away.  On our last visit, the doctor sent her out of the room.  She asked me lots of questions about her general behaviour (rather than her health) and basically told me she was probably having me on.  This was more than likely attention seeking.

I was told to ignore her complaints of tummy ache for one month.

I felt like a monster.  She'd be clutching her stomach, pleading "but Mummy it REALLY hurts. It hurts all the time, deep inside my tummy".

Ruby had been having milk at night time right up to now (aged 4).  Frankly, with such erratic sleep, I was too scared to change her routine, so stuck with what I knew would send her off.  At age 4, she accepted she was 'a big girl now' and didn't need a bottle of milk at bedtime.

Instead she'd take water to bed - she still wanted the comfort of a bottle/beaker to hold.  But her sleep improved.  We'd get maybe 4 nights a week where she'd sleep through.  We no longer had so much of that crazy thrashing in the night, the runny nose and the cough.

It was only one night, when she'd asked me for some cereal before bed that I pulled all this together in my head.  That night, after a bowlful of cereal with milk, she was back to her old self - thrashing about, scratching madly at her skin, crying, waking up.

This was about 3 weeks into the 'ignoring her' phase and I decided enough was enough.

It struck me like a lightening bolt that maybe she had an allergy to milk.  After lots of conversations on Twitter, and some Googling, I felt it was unlikely (due to her age) that she was lactose intolerant, but maybe she as intolerant or allergic to cow's milk protein.

Se we tried our own diet experiment, totally cutting out cow's milk from her diet.  This was a challenge - she tried and didn't like - soya milk; rice milk; almond milk; goat's milk; hazelnut milk.  We finally settled on buffalo milk - which didn't seem to have any adverse effects on her, but is devilishly hard to find in the shops!

She loves goat's cheese and butter so that's fine.

However, after not being able to get hold of buffalo milk for a few days, we tried again with goat's milk.  She'll drink it, but within a few hours she was complaining of a tummy ache - the first time in 6 weeks since we cut out cow's milk.  Sorry - this may be too much information - but her poo has changed too in the last 2 days of goat's milk.  Although not diarrhoea, it's not 'formed' properly and is broken into lots of little bits if that makes sense.

It may also be relevant that she always had peculiar smelling breath - kind of yeasty?  That's now gone too.

Is it possible that she can be ok with goat's milk products (yoghurt, cheese etc) but not the actual milk?

At age 4 and a half, how much dairy does she still need in her diet?

Where do we turn next?  Am I going to have to face the GP again and tell her what we've discovered?  Can I insist on a test?

Please help if you have any experience of allergies or in tolerances because I don't know where to turn. x

Spuds you'll love!

Ever since I was invited to an event recently by the British Potato Council, I haven't been able to get the Potato City episode of Peppa Pig out of my head.  Would it be like that?  Would there be spud-themed fair rides?  Would Mr Potato himself be there?

Well, frankly no.  The PR people opted for the far more sensible option of getting celebrity chef and Mr Twinkle-Toes himself James Martin on board to give the spud more love!

Joining in enthusiastically with National Hug a Chef Week


Why hurrah?  Well let me explain.  If, like me you've ever been disappointed by rock solid roasties, or lumpy waxy mash or mushy pulpy potatoes in the bottom of your hotpot, then chances are this is down to poor potato choice rather than questionable cooking skills. (Yes, I am indeed a bad workman blaming his tools).

Getting to know you...getting to know all about you...

There was a Food Psychologist on hand (I'm not making this up) and James cooked up some samples for us to test.  It's quite staggering how different two types of potatoes can taste, even when cooked in exactly the same method, and it perfectly demonstrated the theory.

He's wearing his Strictly legwarmers behind that counter - honest.

James them got down to some proper cooking, and prepared us such delicious dishes as Potato, Pea, Watercress served with a poached egg - he also gave me a lesson on making the perfect poached egg.

We tucked into Apple Mash with Pork and Walnuts - adding grated raw Bramley apple to the mash was a revelation.  We learnt that the secret to perfectly comforting mash was a potato ricer and a heart-stopping amount of butter and cream.

Finally Chilli Salmon with Potato and pickled cucumber.

They were all absolutely amazing and I'll be trying them out at home.

The Many Faces Of Potatoes - and it seems I am one of them.

So, maybe not Potato City, but I had a fabulous day meeting James Martin, sampling the mouth-watering dishes and catching up with my good friend Lins from Daisy Chain Baby - an unexpected pleasure.

Disclosure:  All views expressed are my own.  I attended the event described above but have not received any financial reward for this post.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

More recipes for Elderflower & Rhubarb!

I have fallen head over heels for this taste combination and have now made a fair few bottle of elderflower and rhubarb cordial - make hay while the sun shines and all that...

We have so much of the stuff that I've been getting all experimental in the kitchen finding new ways to use it as an ingredient.  None so far has failed to impress (well, they impress me anyway).

The first thing I tried was a granita.  As Ruby is not having cows milk anymore, we've been looking for alternatives to her beloved ice cream and this was a real success.

The quickest way to make this is to freeze it on a metal baking tray (don't use aluminium though).  Using chilled water from the fridge will also speed up the freezing process. Simply make up your cordial with water (I made it a little stronger than I would to drink) and pour onto a shallow metal baking tray. Tip: it's easier if you position your tray flat in the freezer first and then pour it in!  The quantity will obviously depend on the size of your freezing container and there's no need to add sugar as it's already in the cordial.

After 1 1/2 - 2 hours, remove and break up the ice crystals with the back of a fork and return it to the freezer.

Repeat this process each half hour until you are left with a snow-like consistency. The shallower the tin, the quicker this will be - mine took about 2 1/2 in total.

The end result is a sherbet tasting, powerfully refreshing granita. Perfect for a light dessert or to cool down on a hot day - whatever that is.

I'm entering this recipe into the Kavey Eats Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge. Wish me luck!

I have to say, one of the nicest ways to enjoy this granita is to leave it to melt slightly, fill a cocktail glass, pour over white rum and enjoy it as an Elderflower and Rhubarb daiquiri!

Tonight I tried something different and came up with Rhubarb and Elderflower infused custard tarts.

Whoop whoop, I've never made custard before and was pretty surprised at how easy it was.  By using the flavour of elderflowers, you get a beautifully fragrant custard.

Ingredients (makes about 8 mini tarts):

1 pack ready roll sweet shortcrust pastry
4 tablespoons cordial
2 teaspoons gelatin
2 sticks rhubarb
2 egg yolks
500 mls full cream milk
500 mls double cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 heaped teaspoon cornflower
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
3 elderflower heads (shaken but not washed)

Gently heat the milk in a pan until warm - do not allow to boil.  Place the elderflower heads in a bowl and pour the warm milk over.  Leave to cool and infuse.

Meanwhile cut out and cook your mini pastry cases as per the instructions on the packet.

Slice up the rhubarb and cook gently in a little water in a saucepan until just soft - about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

To make the custard, strain off the infused milk through a muslin lined sieve.  Together with the cream, heat in a pan until just simmering.  While this is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, cornflower and sugar.

Take the milk off the heat and pour over the egg mix, whisking all the time.  Add the vanilla paste.  When fully combined, return to the pan over a medium heat and stir gently until it starts to thicken.  Pour into a jug and leave to cool.

Once cool, part fill your pastry cases and refrigerate to set the custard.

Make up a jelly glaze by heating the cordial in a pan.  Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin until dissolved.

Top your tarts with rhubarb slices and pour over the glaze, refrigerating again before serving.

Lastly, I was quite taken with the idea of flavoured jelly, so I attempted something else I've never made before - Turkish Delight.

Make up a strong jelly mixture by again heating some cordial and adding gelatin.  Follow the packet instruction, but make it stronger than for a dessert jelly.  Pour into a bowl or metal tray and put in the fridge to set.  Mix together equal quantities of icing sugar and cornflour on a plate and turn the jelly out onto it.  Using a warm knife, cut into squares and coat with the powder.

This was delicious and an unusual combination of the Turkish Delight texture, with the sharp sherbet hit of the rhubarb. Yay! Another success.

What shall I try next?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Britmums Live - It's a Rap!

There were hopes, there were fears.
Meeting friends old and new.
There was laughter and tears,
But we’d all had a few.

We had beer, wine and fizz
 if that wasn’t enough,
We got all in a tizz,
seeing men in the buff.

Workshops; groups and the den,
Such a lot to take in.
Shit! Where’ve I put my pen?
My head’s in such a spin.

Hats off, such a great team.
You must be really proud,
Britmums Live ran like a dream.
I love this blogger crowd!

Respect your Elders - Rhubarb and Elderflower Cordial

We've knocked up quite a few bottles of elderflower cordial over the past month, blessed as we are with an abundance of the frothy white flowers nearby.

I have been devouring a wonderful book called Hatfield's Herbal - the secret history of British Plants.  A heady mix of tradition and folklore together with science, anecdotes, stories and recipes, it has opened my eyes to our woodland, wasteland and hedgerow's secrets.

Planting an elder near your home is said to protect the occupants from evil, and so powerful it was thought to be, standing under the branches of an elder was once considered protection from lightening.

Much as I enjoy the fragrant, musky taste of elderflower, I've been looking for a more kick-ass cordial and reckon my culinary experiments have struck gold.  First I paired it with basil - hurling handfuls of leaves and flowers from my now bolted herb into the mix.  This gave a more aromatic flavour and a slightly greener tinge to the colour.

But by far the best cordial I've come up with so far is my elderflower and rhubarb.  I had to bitch-slap myself for exclaiming out loud that it was a 'taste sensation', but it really is!

Remember the sweet yet sharp cheek-sucking hit of old-fashioned granular sherbet?  This is it recreated in liquid form.  Mix it with ice and sparkling water for a fizzy fruity summer cooler, or pour with vanilla flavoured cream soda for rhubarb and custard in a glass.

Make sure you pick your elderflowers on a dry sunny day, and avoid those which are not yet fully open, or which are starting to turn brown.  However squeamish you are, don't wash or rinse the flowers to get rid of creepy crawlies, you will wash away all the fragrant pollen which is what you need for the flavour.  To make regular elderflower cordial, follow this same recipe but omit the rhubarb.

Ingredients and equipment:

About 20 large elderflower heads (shake to remove any large bugs)
2 large unwaxed lemons
50g citric acid (buy from a chemist)
1.2 litres water
500g sugar (use more if you prefer less sharpness)
2 or 3 stalks of pink rhubarb

Large mixing bowl or container
Clean tea towel or muslin
Clean, sterilised bottles
Jug or funnel

Place your flower heads into a bowl.  Roughly peel off the zest from your lemons (I use a potato peeler for this) and add to the bowl.  Slice the lemons and add also.  Sprinkle over the citric acid.

I tend to use a white bowl - adding the lemon will send any little critters scurrying up the side of the bowl and you can simply scoop them out or wipe away with kitchen paper - but frankly they'll all be sieved out anyway!

Meanwhile, pop the water in a pan and heat, stirring in the sugar until dissolved.  You can then add your sliced rhubarb and cook for about 5-10 minutes until soft and the pink colour is released.

Pour the hot syrup over the flowers and lemon and stir so the citric acid dissolves.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours.

Strain through a muslin or linen tea towel over a sieve and pour into sterilised bottles (I generally clean my bottles in hot soapy water, rinse then lay flat in a low oven for 10 minutes or so).

Keep refrigerated and enjoy (I'm gonna say it again) the taste sensation!

I've got lots more ideas and blogs to follow on how else to use this cordial.  Keep your eyes peeled. x

Magpie Monday - Pinterest Purchases

After two fabulous holidays and an awesome weekend away at Britmums Live, I'm back in the shires - I knew this to be true after visiting the village pub yesterday to find a horse and his rider enjoying a drink in the beer garden.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Lulastic Blog for minding the Magpie baby while I was away.

At the Britmums Live conference I attended a really useful session on Pinterest, which has spurred me on to re-organise my boards and spend (even) more time over there. Please do come find me over there if you hang out in the beautiful place too, and leave your Pinterest name in the comments so I can give you a follow too.

Rather than leaving my pins gathering dust, I have been scooping up potential craft materials and doer-uppers as I unearth them in charity shops. Here's a few recent ones, along with the pins which made me look at them with new eyes!

When I spotted this pin, I just knew I wanted to spell out a word and display on my downstairs shower room wall. I picked up these rackets at various charity shops for between 20p and £1. Looking forward to this project!

I loved this idea of re-purposing an old board game (who doesn't have games with pieces missing?) and you can always pick up these at car boot sales. I got this chequers set for £1 from a charity shop, and the chequers will come in useful for some other crafty project...hopefully!

Finally, I was holding up this cute little sunny yellow sou'wester the other day in my local hospice shop, wondering if Ruby would fit in it. The Manager passed me and noticed the stain on the pocket and said I could have it for free rather than her put it in the rag-bag. Don't you think it will make a great little washbag, especially if I can re-use one of the pockets on the front?

So what have you rescued from obscurity recently? If you've got something you've picked up second-hand I'd love you to grab the badge and join in.

Grab my button and link back to this post
Me and My Shadow

Monday, 18 June 2012

Magpie Monday - AWOL

Your honour, I refer you to my previous post.  I am sunning myself and living the dream busy on an assignment so unable to bring you my usual bargains.

Magpie Monday is being hosted by the gorgeous Lucy at Lulastic Blog this week, so do please pop over and join in still.

Meanwhile, we've been busy hunting for something entirely different this morning.  I'm pleased to say it was a very successful mission.

Friday, 15 June 2012

We're off to Martinhal Resort

Just a quick post as I sling my sun cream and bikini (yikes) into my case and jump up and down on Ruby's Trunki to keep it closed.

After getting home from our UK holiday this afternoon, we jet off tomorrow lunchtime to Faro to stay at the amazing Martinhal Resort.

I've been bursting to tell you all about this - I hope you don't all go green with envy and unfollow me!

A luxury, 5 star resort it promises to be the perfect location for a relaxing family holiday.  The baby concierge facility ensures all your little ones needs are met and Ruby will be trying out the kid's club and activities.

I'll be rigorously testing out the on-site spa and hoping they can perform miracles.

The Old Man can amuse himself with the numerous sporting activities on offer - tennis; cycling; swimming or maybe even para-gliding.  In fact, it's his 40th birthday on Tuesday while we're away, maybe it's time to get my own back for that parachute jump he got me a few years back...

I know we are going to love the 50's inspired, award winning interiors of the hotel and facilities.

I'm beyond myself with excitement that we'll be going on a dolphin watching trip - I haven't told Ruby about that yet so it will be a huge surprise.

I hope you'll follow my tweets and pics and I can't wait to tell you all about it when I get back.

Disclosure: I am holidaying at Martinhal and reviewing their facilities.  We have paid a contribution towards the flights but the accommodation and activities will be provided for us for the purposes of our reviews.  All opinions expressed will be honest and accurate.

Row, row, row your boat

This week we've been sampling the delights of East Riding, Yorkshire staying at Sand le Mere Holiday Village - more on that shortly when I've had chance to draw breath!

I just wanted to quickly share one of our lovely days we had there.  It was totally unplanned, we were just pottering through the lanes and villages in the car when I spotted a sign in Hornsea for 'The Mere'.

We followed the sign down a bumpy dirt track, not quite knowing what to expect.

It opened out onto a beautiful lake, thousands of geese; ducks and swans and the offer of boat rides and ice creams.

The largest natural freshwater lake in Yorkshire, it's 2 miles long and 3/4 mile wide.

In a very peculiar display of machismo, the old man insisted we hired a rowing boat for a jaunt out.  Why is it assumed (by men mostly) that men can row boats?

Luckily life-jackets were included.  There were a few hairy moments in the beginning when I was having serious second thoughts - mainly when the oars kept slipping out of the holder-thingies (that's a technical, nautical term you may not be familiar with).

To be fair, he soon got into the swing of it - probably due to his enthusiastic and vocal cox - and before long it was like a scene from Swallows and Amazons.

Hundreds of beautiful swallows and swifts swooped and skimmed the lake all around us.  The gentle lap of the water against the boat was the only sound - it felt like we were the only three people in the world.

We went out to the island and saw a swan with her cygnets, a seagull nesting and a - erm, any ideas?

The tranquillity was broken when myself and Ruby launched into a hearty rendition of 'Row, row, row your boat'.  Singing at the tops of our voices, with nobody to hear but the swallows, it was pure bliss!

Linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Spill the beans - what do you think about kid's food?

I've been asked for my views on kid's food for some market research.  I'm relishing the opportunity (sorry, I promise there won't be too many food jokes).  Seriously, I think we should seize the chance whenever companies ask for our opinions.  If you have bugbears then this is the time to share them.

I'd really like to get your input as well to feed back, so if you have a burning issue, then please use the comments section to get it off your chest.

I'll give my thoughts here on the criteria they are interested in, so please feel free to add yours - get your voice heard.

How do you shop for kid's food?

We do all our food shopping about once a fortnight, with top-ups of perishable items in between.  Ruby comes with us on the main food shop and tends to give her input about what she wants!  That's not to say she always gets her own way.  The smaller shops I do on my own otherwise I suspect I'd come out with a basket full of treats.

What are your priorities?

I never bought manufactured baby foods, so try to resist the temptation of buying food aimed specifically at kids now.  We choose normal 'adult' food and ingredients for meals I can make from scratch that the whole family will enjoy together.  As we try to eat together every evening, I don't want to get into making several different dishes for different people.

The priorities for my daughter are the same as for us - good quality; nutritious; tasty food.

I'm a stay-at-home mum so in that respect am lucky I have the time to cook from scratch and don't tend to buy pre-prepared or ready made food.

What do you worry about?

I don't really.  As I make meals myself, I know what levels of salt and sugar etc they contain.  If I were buying pre-prepared foods, and with some processed foods like ham; cheese and bread I do check the levels of salt and sugar.  I try to avoid things (particularly treats) which contain high levels of E numbers, as I have noticed changes in behaviour when Ruby eats certain sweets and drinks certain drinks.

Due to a constant tummy ache, we've been trying Ruby on a diet with no cow's milk for the past month or so.  It has had a great effect, but it does mean I'm more conscious about checking labels for 'hidden' ingredients.  Hers is just probably a mild intolerance, so it's not the end of the world if she eats something with a little butter or milk in, but it has made me sympathise with how difficult it must be for parents of children with severe allergies.  I think clearer labelling all round would be a good thing.

What do you look for?

I prefer to give Ruby 'adult' food.  We eat out a fair amount so I don't really want her in the habit of only eating something if it's in the shape of a cartoon character.  I think this will only bring problems in the long-term.

What are the most important things to you when it comes to kids and nutrition?

Through what we've taught at home and what Ruby's learning at nursery, she is aware of the importance of nutrition and what various things do for the body.  This helps lots if I'm able to say 'this has lots of calcium in so your bones and your teeth will grow healthy and strong' for example.  I think the earlier your children understand and begin to take some responsibility for their own diet, the better.

Which brands get it right?

I like Organix because I know they get the taste of their food spot on.  There's nothing more annoying than being coerced into buying a kiddie brand by your child in the supermarket, only for them to take one bite and declare 'I don't like that!'

They are also a brand I trust, have clear labelling and quality ingredients.  We are also fans of Innocent drinks for the same reasons.  I'm not big on gimmicks or promotions, but at least the ones that Innocent do are engaging and educational - like the alphabet magnets and the recent seeds giveaways.

What do brands do/say that annoy you?

It annoys me when a perfectly fine product gets 'rebranded' to appeal to children.  I'm thinking of apples which are packaged up in bags emblazoned with Disney characters, or cheese which is packed into individual child-sized portions with excessive packaging and gimmicky labels.

I can see how this might be helpful for parents of fussy eaters, but it annoys the hell out of me personally - an apple is an apple!  Why pay more for smaller things??

Where do treats/puddings fit in?  What are the challenges there?

Puddings where not something we generally had, but since Ruby has started eating meals at nursery a couple of times a week, she's been conditioned into thinking that every meal is rounded off by dessert - she sometimes asks for pudding after breakfast!  I'm not a strict parent, I'm quite happy to give puddings as long as the main meal has been eaten.  Sometimes it will be fruit; sometimes yoghurt or ice cream or sometimes something naughtier!  All things in moderation I say!

And...what do your kids say/think?  Do they comment on their diet?  Do they ask for certain things?  Do they know about nutrition?

She does sometimes surprise me.  We were making food for a little Jubilee party recently and she looked in horror at all the cakes: "but mummy, we need some fruit - we can't just eat cake!!"  That made me giggle.  Generally Ruby is quite good.  She does have a sweet tooth and often asks for sweets or chocolate, but she does know it's not good for her and that she should only have a little.  With the cow's milk free diet, she's taken a much keener interest in what ingredients are in certain products and she's having to try new things like goat and buffalo milk, new cheeses and soya products.

She is heavily influenced by advertising though, and we do sometimes have supermarket battles when she demands a certain type of sugar-laden cereal just because it has a crappy plastic toy in.  Let me add that to the 'what do companies do that annoy you' section...

So, those are my personal opinions, but we're all different and have different priorities.  What are your views?  Please leave them in the comments box and I'll be sure to pass them on.

Disclaimer:  I will receive a small financial reward for my involvement in this project.  Thanks for your time and input.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A forager in the making?

So, yesterday we were supposed to be shopping for clothes for our hols, but I couldn't resist popping into the bookshop.  I came out with an armful of shiny new books including a host of new foraging books which I'm devouring.

I also picked up this little book for Ruby.  I thought it would be fun to take on our walks.  There's a point scoring system depending on the rarity of the flowers you spot.

As soon as we got home, we dumped off our bags, pulled on our wellies and hit the woods.  The book is simple for even young children to use - the pages are divided by the colours of the flowers and colour coded at the top of each page.  She wasted no time.

Hmmm what's this I spy?

Let me just refer to my little book...

Is it? Could it be?

We had a great time.  Ruby spotting the flowers, then she'd flick through the book and try to match it to a picture.  I'd then read out the description, characteristics and habitat and together we'd decide if this was the right identification.

Amongst others, we found and identified poppies; cow parsley; herb robert; dog rose; daisies and wild garlic.

She did get a little frustrated when flowers she found weren't in the book - maybe we need a more comprehensive one already!  Instead we took photos and agreed to look them up at home.

This one was on the edge of the woodland. Very beautiful - any ideas?

Or this? Looks like broom but on a very short plant

Of course, there was time for some obligatory wood balancing...

Then onto the serious business of collecting elderflowers for our cordial.

This was a great trip out.  Not only did we come home with a basket laden with edible goodies, but I feel Ruby was much more in tune with her surroundings and having the book helped to open her eyes to beauty she would otherwise have missed.

She loves to come foraging, so hopefully teaching her how to identify some wild flowers will be a good step to her learning the ropes!

Linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall