Sunday, 28 February 2010

Plan the Week

Every Sunday, I try to start afresh and plan the week ahead. This stops me from forgetting doctor's appointments and nights out (not that the prospect of going out for drinks would ever slip my mind), but it also makes me think about the week's menus. I use a Weekly planner and divide it into "morning/ afternoon/ tea/ evening" Like an Organised Mum, I blu-tak it to the biggest kitchen cupboard at eye level, and update as the week goes on.

There is nothing I dislike more than trying to work out what to cook for tea.  I am the type of person who, if I lived alone, would survive on cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I can never get inspired at a moment's notice, and even if I do have some inkling of a recipe I fancy doing, you can guarantee I'll be out of some significant ingredient like chopped tomatoes or onions. 

I would rather save myself the stress of having to conjure up a delightful and healthy meal on the spot every day by planning the week's menu on Sunday night. This way I have time to drag out my collection of recipes torn out of magazines in a moment of domestic optimism or browse through my two staple cookbooks (How to Feed Your Whole Family a Healthy Balanced Diet, with Very Little Money and Hardly Any Time, Even If You Have a Tiny Kitchen, Only Three ... - Unless You Count the Garlic Crusher...- this even has weekly menu plans inside - and Vegetarian Grub on a Grant) and see what I actually have in the cupboards. While we're on the subject of plans and lists, why not grab your free sample pages and ePlanner from ListPlanIt todayVegetarian Grub on a Grant is ideal for those of us whose culinary skills have perhaps not envolved tremendously since student days and who also, don't like cutting up meat.  I also have time to go shopping before each Great Cooking Event.

Planning each evening meal in advance means you can spread the wholesomeness through the week, so if one day is not particularly Delia Smith, then you can make up for it another day. Many families have a regular pizza night - ours is Friday - and it's the one night you can guarantee plates will be cleared. Save yourself the stress of trying to come up with a popular, easy-to-cook and healthy dish during "the witching hour" (between 4.30 and 5.30 in the afternoon) and get your week's menus and activities up on your weekly planner.  You can buy Weekly planners on amazon or download them off the internet and print them off each week. It might make life just that little bit easier.

Friday, 26 February 2010

How to save £142

We only use our television set to watch pre-recorded videos and pre-recorded DVDs. We found out last summer that we therefore don't need a TV Licence. We have made sure that the television and video are not tuned to receive television broadcasts. The equipment is not connected to any aerials.

Having no television does keep you out of the loop, but sometimes that's no bad thing, especially if you, like me, are sick of the Cult of Celebrity, and the news broadcasts make you despair. Even better, no-one in the household sees television adverts, which helps reduce pester power. It also enables us to feel more contented with what we've got rather than being under pressure to buy more.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The House Fairy Reward System

The House Fairy is a reward system we've been using in our home since my daughter was about two.  Inspired by Fly Lady, it focuses on the positive and has an element of magic and mystery. As the House Fairy was part of our lives when my son was born, we carried on the system with him, and he accepted it as normal. 

You may want to tweak it for your children: feel free. This is a long-term reward system to be used until your children grow out of it. As you can see in the photo, Prima is pretty keen on dressing up as said House Fairy, and accepts the system as completely normal. If you have a partner it is important that he or she backs you up on this and joins in. Believing in the House Fairy is like believing in the Tooth Fairy. They are, incidentally, sisters.

1. You need a reward chart. Make your own or download one for free. I get mine from Bubhub, or ichild for free. Supernanny is of course famed for her reward chart system. It is important to choose a chart that will be easy enough for your child to fill over a reasonable period of time. Younger toddlers will probably need fewer spaces to be filled so they don't get demotivated. If your child likes art and craft, s/he can make the chart with you or colour it in.

2. You need stickers. Any old stickers. As long as they fit in the spaces. Don't tie yourself down to always buying Disney princess stickers, as you will then ALWAYS have to use them. Vary it. Keep the stickers out of reach.

3. Decide what a sticker is worth. This will change over time. For example, when potty training, every time a child uses the potty they get a sticker for the chart. Or they get a sticker for getting themselves dressed. Or for playing together really nicely with no arguments. Or for sleeping all night without getting out of bed.

What I tend to do is reward the behaviour without them expecting it. I don't say "IF you help put the cutlery away, THEN you will get a sticker for your chart." I tend to say "Oh wow, you helped me really well with the knives and forks. Here is a sticker." Or "You were so sensible when we waited for the ballet lesson to finish. You get a sticker for that." This way, they are not behaving well JUST so they get a reward.

You CANNOT take stickers off the chart. You only give one sticker for a reward. If they get a sticker for doing well at school or nursery, they can bring it home and put it on their chart.

4. When they have a full chart, they take it down off the wall and put it by their bed. Or outside the bedroom door, or in a box outside the front door (if your child doesn't like the idea of fairies coming into the house!).

In the morning, the chart will have been taken away by the House Fairy, and a small present will be left in its place. The kind of things our House Fairy leaves are: a book, hair accessories, a train whistle, stickers, a top, a toy train or car, socks, a notebook, a comic. Nice things but not expensive. I often get them from freecycle or charity shops! Remember you are in this for the long haul so don't set yourself up to buying huge gifts every fortnight.
It is important to ensure that the full chart is securely disposed of and the children don't see you buying things that are later given to them by the House Fairy. The great thing is that because the House Fairy brings the gift, it is nothing to do with you, and the kids can't moan at you that they don't like the present etc.

The House Fairy has been visiting us for about three years now, so if you have any questions, let me know. If you are looking for a long-term sustainable reward system, why not give this one a try? Tell your kids you read about it on the internet and you want to see if it is true!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Do you Dare Ask for Help?

Do you dare ask for help? Are you brave enough? Do you even know how to ask, or what would actually be helpful?

I didn't.

Despite being diagnosed with PND shortly after Secundus was born, and clearly needing help, I found it almost impossible to ask for what I wanted. "Is there anything I can do to help?" my mum would ask, and my mind would go blank. "Let me know if you need anything," friends would offer, but I never did.

Are your kids fed up with yogurt?

Mine are. Good for you it may be, but of late yogurt has lost its appeal in our house.

Not wanting to succomb to the usual pressure to buy Finlay the Fire Engine yogurts or Suck-Me-Squeeze-Me Bratz yogurts (okay they don't exist but they're sure to be in the pipeline),  I decided to opt for my usual trick of Disguising Food Items. It worked with vegetables (blenders at the ready!), so what could I do to improve yogurt?

This is my answer and it works. Make it out of sight to preserve the mystery. Kids can't believe it when they come to tea at our house and I say "Would you like a yogurt for pudding?" (safe option) and then emerge from the kitchen with this:

1. Get a yogurt your kids normally like. Do not spend a fortune. Buy organic if you feel you need to. I have found French Set yogurts are quite cheap and seem to go down well.

2. Find a nice glass or beaker. I use cocktail glasses (they might as well get some use, they sure ain't being filled with Cosmopolitans on a regular basis). Whatever you feel is safe or you don't mind being knocked over.

3. Break up a biscuit or part of a biscuit into the bottom of the glass. I have used ginger biscuits, shortbread or even boudoir fingers. Just a bit.   

4. Top with spoonfuls of yogurt, however much your child is likely to eat.

5. Sprinkle a few chocolate sprinkles on the top.

Voila.
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