Back-to-school packed lunch ideas for all!

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It’s back to school for us today and I think by now most of the country will have returned. I’m not one of those parents counting down the days to the end of the holidays, I actually love having them at home and we’ve had an awesome summer so I’m sad that they’re not here today however they were happy to go in and left with a smile on their face so it’s all good!

It does of course mean we’re back to making packed lunches, a task that is a bit love/hate for me. I’m always quite pleased with my lunch efforts and they enjoy them but sometimes I have a real bad case of the cant-be-arsed about me.

The biggest challenge when making packed lunches is making sure there is enough variety in there and I love to mix it up. These days I keep a stock of supplies in the cupboard and fridge for when inspirational thoughts evade me. It also helps to keep a list.

Just in case you also struggle with ideas for packed lunches I thought I’d share details of what ours normally consist of. Okay, there’s nothing completely off-the-wall here but when you’re lacking in inspiration, this might help.  I have a fussy eater, thought he is becoming better with his food choices every day and his saving grace is that he loves fruit and veg. I’ll put a disclaimer right in here – I’m not a food snob – and I happily turn to tinned fruit when I have no fresh to hand as it’s easy to keep in the cupboard for those times when the bananas have gone brown and the apples are starting to walk out the door.

As I mentioned above, I think the key is variety and therefore I tend to put lots of little bits in of different things to keep them interested, and that seems to work well for us.

  • Sandwiches – I use a variety of different breads for sandwiches – sliced bread, tortilla wraps, mini pitta breads, bread rolls, croissants, cream crackers, bagels and stick to basic fillings such as ham, cheese, jam, chicken, grated carrot & cream cheese etc.  Despite how much my daughter begs I never  put egg in a school sarnie, or onion. Nobody needs that going on next to them when they are chowing down.
  • Sandwich Alternatives – Only occasionally, and only ever for one as fussy boy would never entertain it but we might do a pasta salad, rice salad, cous cous or something like a small prawn cocktail salad. a big wedge of quiche is also a regular feature.
  • Vegetables – There is always some type of vegetable portion in the lunchbox, in addition to any salad that may be lurking in a sandwich. This is normally carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, red pepper sticks or a pot of tinned sweetcorn (which is probably their favourite).
  • Fruit – Easy-to-eat fruit is the key here or it just doesn’t get eaten. We stick to berries and chunks of fruit like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon chunks, grapes, pineapple chunks and then tinned fruit like mandarin segments or tinned peaches. I also pop in dried fruit like raisins and apricots and the only “whole” fruit I put in is a satsuma or a banana. Never an apple or pear – I get big complaints about this!  Much to my children’s annoyance, they’re no longer allowed kiwi in school – their ultimate favourite fruit.
  • Other Snacks – I often turn to other snacks to liven it up a bit. Generally there’s always some kind of cheese in there, normally cubes or Red Leicester or Cheddar (for smaller children cut this into shapes with small cookie cutters) and then there might be something like a sausage roll, mini pizzas, cold cooked chicken nuggets, cocktail sausages, breadsticks, pretzels, scotch eggs, popcorn, coleslaw and whatever else might be nesting in the fridge.
  • Dips – Depending on what snacks are in the lunch box, my children might find a dip. This could be ketchup to go with cocktail sausages or chicken nuggets, sour cream, mayonnaise, hummus or cream cheese to go with veggies.
  • Yoghurt/Jelly – I generally always put in a yoghurt, only a small one like a yoghurt tube. If they’re lucky they might find a jelly in the lunchbox and Sainsburys also do jelly tubes which went down well.  Sometimes my daughter will like a custard pot in there but my son would rather starve than eat that!
  • Cake – I don’t care what school or experts say, there is always a small cake or biscuit in a lunch box. So long as it’s a balanced diet, who cares? Normally I’ll go for something like a muffin, flapjack, gingerbread biscuit, mini roll or maybe just a cereal bar.
  • Drinks – The children have water bottles at school so a drink isn’t strictly necessary but I always put in a carton of pure juice – either apple, orange and pineapple – as it’s another portion of fruit.
On Fridays which is ‘treat day’ at school, I will put a bag of crisps in and they might get slightly nicer cake!

I’ve read all the recent articles about healthy lunches and do you know what? I. DON’T. CARE. Judge me if you like but life is too short not to eat cake. My children have a healthy, active life with a well-balanced diet. Just because they eat a cake with their packed lunch does not mean they are going to be giant obese monsters with bad teeth.

And finally my biggest tip, especially if you’ve got yoghurt munchers, is put in a small sandwich bag for rubbish and a napkin to mop up any spills. School tend to like to send the rubbish home so you can see what has been eaten but yoghurt often seeps out and by encouraging them to wrap up the rubbish those insulated lunch bags stay cleaner and less whiffy!

I hope you find that a little helpful in some way. I don’t go overboard, it’s all pretty simple and basic but I just try to mix it up.

I’d love to hear any of your hints, tips and ideas for packed lunches so please do share in the comments, I am always looking for new ideas myself!
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Sausage and Baked Bean Casserole

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Now it’s September my mind has started to turn to more autumnal meals. I’m pretty sad about summer being almost over, I truly love it and do suffer a bit with the seasonal blues but one thing I do love is autumn/winter cooking.  There’s nothing better than a bit of comfort food and a nice warming casserole sums up autumn perfectly for me.

Sausage casserole used to be a regular in our dinner rotations however for whatever reason, it’s dropped right off in the past few years, but I am bring it back!  I think I’ve avoided it due to my fussy child – I hate having to make two separate dinners though inevitably it’s something I do several times a week.  I am trying to encourage him on though and he actually ate a plate of this tonight so I am super proud of him, it’s way out of his comfort zone but there’s nothing not to like here.

To me, this is the perfect family meal, served up with a big pile of peas and cheesy mash. I used Richmond Sausages as they are cheap and cheerful and hands down my favourite sausage ever. I’ve tried all manner of gourmet sausages, but the posher they are, the lumpier they seem to be, and I just don’t like them all gnarly.

The recipe here serves 4.

Sausage Casserole

Ingredients

olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
12 thick sausages
400g tin of baked beans
250ml vegetable stock
400g tin chopped tomatos
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of mixed herbs
salt and pepper to season

Method

Gently heat the oil in a deep pan. Add the diced onions and garlic and fry until softened and starting to colour golden.

Add the sausages to the pan and fry for a couple of minutes until brown.

Next add the baked beans, vegetable stock, chopped tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and herbs to the pan. Gently stir to mix and then bring to the boil.  Allow to simmer for 20 minutes.

Season to taste.

It’s ridiculously simple, but oh-so-tasty. Definitely going to be a regular occurrence this winter!
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The Bad Parenting Olympics

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(The above picture has little to do with the actual post other than I reference Elsa and a goat, I thought it was apt.)

I know, I know, I’ve not been here very much at all, and the first thing I do is rock up with a big ass rant. I’m sorry for that (I’m not sorry really but it seems the right thing to say) however there’s something that has just been getting my goat recently and I need to do an Elsa and LET. IT GO.

Here goes…

Recently I have got to thinking that there seems to be some sort of oneupmanship (thats a word right?) of’ ‘bad parenting’ occurring. (By the way, that’s not ME calling anyone a bad parent…).

Facebook seems to be a constant trail of posts, groups and pages of people, generally woman, trying to out-do each other in the bad parenting stakes or quest to show the dark truths of parenting.  It seems very popular right now to put parenting down and WOE betide anyone who would like to break rank and post positively about parenting.

I’m part of several parenting groups on Facebook where people rant about others perfect little lives, with their perfect little children and joke about how behind the scenes everything is probably less than perfect, and that Cuthbert and Doris are probably screaming nightmares to deal with and mummy probably injects valium into her eyeballs while her husband is shagging his secretary somewhere.

Haters gonna hate of course but why is it terrible to post and share the positives about your life and parenting?

Now I am not saying that I am not guilty of this, I have of course been known to crack open the Pinot before the clock has even struck 5pm and yes, I use DANTDM as a babysitter from time to time, while I am more than likely busy catching up with friends lives via Instagram or messing about with Snapchat filters (rainbow barf FTW!) We all do it. But why, why, has it become the IN thing to make ‘funny’ remarks about how hard and shit parenting is all the time.

I generally try not to post about my children too much, and certainly not in a negative light. Imagine if they read it one day? But more to the point, for me, parenting really isn’t that hard or shit for 99.9% of the time. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones or maybe I am kidding myself as I have seen it suggested on other groups.  My children are well behaved, polite, interesting, funny and generally a joy to be around but now I feel like I can’t say that. I feel that I almost have to LIE!

As I sit here typing this rant, my 9 and 10 year old are sitting opposite me at the kitchen table, designing covers for their summer scrapbooks. I have a cup of tea and a piece of Red Velvet cake and I am immensely enjoying the school holidays. but I can’t say that in public, can I?

I have always sucked at sports and it seems I suck at this one too!

Clearly, I am totally alone in these feelings as these types of pages have tens of thousands of “likes” with mummies everywhere fawning over each and every new hilarious meme, and that’s okay, I don’t mind being the lone voice in the crowd.

Would love to hear others thoughts on this…

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Still here….anyone else out there?

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Is there anybody still out there?

To my absolute horror, I realised this week that it was nearly two months since I blogged – that is totally unheard of for me, I’ve been blogging on and off for years, and normally several times I week, however I’ve just totally lost my mojo recently. Of course, we can all agree that the middle of a heatwave is not exactly the ideal time to try and refind it but I  do need to get myself back into gear.

I have SO much to blog about so content is not the problem, it’s just been a basic lack of time and a distinct lack of energy at the end of a long working day – which is normally followed by an abundance of children’s activities, housework, personal admin etc. I used to have so much more spare time.  I miss my spare time. I miss watching TV!

That’s not to say I am not having any fun at the moment – we’ve been doing lots of fun stuff – it’s just that doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit in front of the computer, which I guess is the way it should be.  Life is for living.

“Work hard, play hard” pretty much sums up my life right now.

Truth is, recently I have also felt a little anxious about all sorts of stuff and my thoughts have been consumed by the bigger things like Brexit, terrorist attacks, the economy, the state of politics – all hugely important stuff but not stuff I want to start blogging about! It’s kind of felt like there were more important things out there to be worried about, which of course, there is.  Though I’ll be completely honest, and in recent days my attentions have switched to Pokemon GO and the #taylorswiftisover hashtag. (I never said I didn’t enjoy procrastination!).

I do need to regain my ‘release’ though, which is what blogging was/is for me.

If you’re still out there, reading, please do leave me a comment below, leave me a link to your latest blog post so I can go have a read, let me know what’s been going on with you so I can catch up. I’m so totally out of the loop!

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Review: Vax Air Cordless Lift Duo

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I know, a vacuum isn’t exactly the most exciting of household appliances however I think everyone would agree that if you have carpet, it’s an absolute necessity, especially when you have pets and children, so when my 12 year old vacuum died a slow, agonising death it seemed like some sort of divine intervention* that Vax chose that moment to get in touch to see if I’d like to review one of their products.

*Yes, I am pretty sure the Gods don’t have anything more important to be dealing with right now than my cleaning needs.

I was sent the Vax Air Cordless Lift Duo. I admit, I was a little more excited about this than I should have been because ERM hello – cordless! My only experience with cordless cleaners so far had been with the handheld variety, of which they always seem to be a bit lacklustre on the vroomph (technical term) so I was keen to see how this new product stacked up.

A few facts about the Vax Air Cordless Lift Duo first.

  • It has a lift out cylinder which detaches from the main body.
  • The battery delivers up to 60 minutes of long lasting cleaning power.
  • It has WindTunnel3TM technology
  • LED headlights
  • Ultra-lightweight (just 5.1kg)
  • Boost mode

(I don’t pretend to know what WindTunnel technology is but it’s to do with providing three channels of suction across the width of the floor.)

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What is in the box? The Vax Air Cordless Lift comes with 2x Lithium Life Batteries and a charger and a 2-in-1 dusting brush/crevice tool.

I like that you get two batteries in the box, it’s the kind of thing I expect companies to persuade you into buying so it’s good that there are two supplied – it means I can have one on charge while I am using the other one, though in fairness the battery lasts a really long time so it’s not strictly necessary!

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And the battery already comes with some life in it, meaning you can get going straightaway!

Let me just tell you, I love this vacuum. LOVE IT. It has changed my life, not least because it’s so light and easy to use that my 9 year old son has decided that he likes doing the vacuuming!  But seriously, it’s so light and nimble.  My mother-in-law who is nearly 70 struggles with her vacuum so I am thinking one of these would be perfect for her – no wires to trip over either.

The fact that you can detach the cylinder means that it is a dream to use on the stairs. If I thought it was light before, when you’re just carrying the cylinder it’s a breeze! Again, my children now help with this as they can easily manage this on the stairs – of course, I don’t advocate child labour – they’re doing it for a pocket money top-up!

Having previously used another brand (known for it’s suction) I did wonder how it would fare in this department. I have to say I can’t notice the difference – this has a decent amount of suction and if you employ the boost function, it’s really powerful – I tend to use that on the high traffic areas only as the normal setting is perfectly fine.

The LED headlights though? Who knew you’d even care if your vacuum had LED headlights but I tell you what, I flipping well love them!

All in all I can hand on heart say that I love this product and it’s become my new best friend. I actually find I hoover more now because it’s so much easier to whizz around with than my old heavy, cabled contraption. I doubt I will ever go back to a corded vacuum again!

Before I go…I’ll leave you with this beautiful image. I had to take a photo of the bottom brushes purely because I knew it was a view I would never see again. Long hair problems.

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You can buy the Vax Air Cordless Lift direct from Vax where it is currently retailing at £229.99 with free delivery and a 6 year guarantee!
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