More no sugar snacks and desserts for children (and adults!)

layered glasses IMG_7763

We have recently removed a lot of sugar from our diets. The original aim was to avoid all sugar but we have now settled on a workable arrangement for us. I am using honey, fresh, stewed and dried fruits and real maple syrup to sweeten the baked items and desserts that I make and we are all enjoying them. If visitors bring something sweet we go ahead and enjoy it and the same goes while we are out. I have noticed that some things we would have previously enjoyed are now too sweet and don’t taste that good anymore. Chocolate however has not lost its attraction!

Here are some of our treats and creations that have been a hit recently.

fig nut layered parfait glasses IMG_7572

Parfait or tall glasses filled with layers of anything really – they just look so cool! We like:

  • stewed apple, plums, pear etc.
  • natural yoghurt with a little honey or maple syrup
  • whipped cream or double cream or creme fraiche
  • gingered cream (Just add a little ground ginger before beating)
  • date ‘n’ nuts (Throw 2 cups of mixed nuts and 1 cup of dates or other dried fruit in your food processor and pulse until combined and chopped as fine as you like it. A good way to eat nuts like Brazil nuts that no one really likes but are so good for us.)
  • fresh fruits (These figs were from my Mum’s tree – delicious!)
  • cream cheese (or marscapone cheese) whipped/pureed with honey, maple syrup or fruit puree – fresh, stewed or dried made into puree.)

strawberry dip pikelets IMG_7134

Pikelets with toppings. Any of the those listed under parfait glasses are good, along with:

  • honey syrup (half to 2/3 honey, 1/3 to half hot water. Mix together and pour over pancakes or pikelets liberally. Kind of like maple syrup but without the huge cost. Covers the pancakes or pikelets so much better than straight honey and we go through much less. Everyone still feels like they get a good soaking but actually use so much less than they would if spreading straight honey.)
  • maple syrup (of course!)banana butter pikelets IMG_7100
  • banana butter (pureed banana with or without vanilla)prune butter pikelets IMG_7099
  • prune butter (place prunes in a glass bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover. Allow to sit and soften before pureeing.) Tastes better than it sounds but be careful not to eat too much – we all know what prunes are good for!!
  • apple sauce (Stew apples and puree)
  • strawberry dip (Fresh strawberries pureed with a little cream or yoghurt)
  • pumpkin dip (see below)
  • any kind of stewed fruit

pumpkin dip IMG_8104

Pumpkin dip. Yes, it sounds terrible but it was really very tasty. Sweet, not savoury by the way as my children were quick to clarify with me when I served it. Mix together 1/2 cup cooked and pureed pumpkin, 1 cup cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup (or more to taste), 2 tspns vanilla, 1/2 tspn ground cinnamon, 1/2 tspn ground ginger, 1/2 tspn ground nutmeg and 1/4 tspn mixed spice/allspice. (Or just use 2 tspns pumpkin pie spice)

apple pie IMG_7753

Apple pie. I know, I know -it looks like meat pie but I assure you it was fruit and much yummier than it appears! I often use the mixed nuts/date mix from above with unsugared stewed fruit to make pies. I will be experimenting with soaked sourdough pastry soon to make it even more healthy.

pistachio fig scroll biscuits IMG_7735

Scroll biscuits. Yet another use for my date/nut mix! This time I used figs in place of dates, added some honey and cinnamon and processed it smooth to make a paste. The dough is 2 cups plain flour, 2 tspns baking powder, 1/2 tspn salt, 1 tspn vanilla, 1/3 cup melted butter and 2/3 cup milk or water. Mix together to make a dough and roll out into a rectangle. Spread with the nut mixture and roll up (jam roll style) before slicing and laying flat to bake.

no sugar biscuits IMG_7090

No-sugar biscuits. I am trying a bunch of recipes from the internet. So far they are all just ok. Most use banana puree and/or dates & dried fruit to sweeten them but turn out soft. They are satisfying hunger wise, but don’t give the crunch I am after in a biscuit. The kids don’t care though! If you have any great recipes, I’d love for you to share them.

nourishing traditions 9780967089737Soaked sourdough crackers. After reading Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” we have made several changes to our diets and taking a sour dough class recently really helped me finally get started with sourdough bread baking. I made a double batch of this recipe and they turned out great. Make sure you roll the dough very thin though to get crispy biscuits.

fruit bread sourdough IMG_8065

Sour dough fruit toast. Mixed fruit, nuts and spices make a great homemade fruit loaf. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread baking. I have just used this loaf to make a bread and butter pudding for dessert which was gobbled by all and all the fruit butters from above work well with this too. Or simply toast and spread liberally with butter. Mmmmm.

Nutballs are our latest favourite and these are almost chocolatey in taste. They turn out differently every time but we haven’t had a bad batch yet. Use the food processor to munch up 2 cups of mixed nuts with 1 cup of dried fruit. Add 2 cups of rolled oats, 1 cup of desiccated coconut, 1/2 cup seeds of choice, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1/4 cup honey and process until a “dough” forms and it starts to stick together. Use a dash of milk/coconut milk etc if needed to make it stick but don’t get it too wet. Tip the mixture out and roll into balls or press into a lined lamington tin to cut up later if you are feeling lazy. Can be rolled in coconut if you like.

Smoothies/milkshakes are always popular. Chuck in any kind of milk, banana, fruits, vanilla, yoghurt etc etc. I never follow a recipe and everyone always drinks them.

apple burgers IMG_7067-001

Apple burgers are fun. Spread halved and peeled apples with nut butters and press into seeds of your choice. A bit fiddly, but well-loved. Personally, we have never had to coerce our children to eat fruit. Spending hours making fruit kebabs to entice fussy fruit eaters is never on the agenda. They are lucky if I remove the core before I toss them an apple and tell them to wash it themselves! These apple burgers come out when I want hurrahs.


Easy home-made no sugar icecream

No weird ingredients, 5 minutes to make (plus freezing time) and no sugar or other additives. Oh, and very tasty too! This “icecream” fools everyone I serve it to and they can’t believe that there are only two ingredients. Great for a healthy no sugar snack for the children, morning or afternoon tea or for a casual dessert when you have guests.

Simply peel a bunch of bananas (I did about 8 small bananas), wash and hull a punnet of strawberries or a couple of kiwi fruit and throw them in the freezer for a few hours. When you are ready to serve, process a quarter of the mixture at a time in the food processor, blender or thermomix and there you have it – pink or pale green icecream that is as delicious as it looks. You won’t believe there is no sweetener or additives of any kind. This amount of fruit topped about 14 cones with the equivalent of a generous icecream scoop ball of icecream. And best of all, it has a wonderful creamy flavour that really does taste like icecream. No leftovers here!

I imagine you could add pretty much any other fruit you like for a different flavour as long as it is approximately 2/3rds banana . A dash of vanilla tastes good too. I have found that it is easier to mix if the bananas are taken out a little bit before you need them so that they are not quite rock solid, but I have also mixed them straight from the freezer as well. Adding a little natural yoghurt or cream helps get the mix blended when they are rock hard.

The kids enjoy the cones in particular so look for some with low sugar and no harmful additives. When guests pop in unexpectedly there is always something special to pull out. With a birthday around the corner I am going to experiment with layering several different flavours to make icecream cupcakes or perhaps icecream sundays. With a sprinkle of nuts and coconut curls on top they should be a hit.

Other posts you may like:

   No (or low) sugar snacks for kids

Hospitality V’s Entertaining

Are you hospitable or do you like to entertain? At first glance it seems like the same thing but it really isn’t at all. There is a difference between showing hospitality and entertaining.

Setting out to impress others, to have everything perfectly presented, to give a favourable impression – that is entertaining. Showing hospitality is bringing others into your home, making them feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed. Hospitality is sharing what you have willingly and joyfully. It doesn’t necessarily mean fancy or spectacular, but it does mean loving.

I have read several life stories from people who grew up with a crowd of visitors around the table for Sunday lunch. Their parents made it a habit to invite friends, family,  missionaries or travelling speakers, the new family at church, someone living away from family or an elderly person without transport into their home each week. I love the idea of my children being exposed to many different people and experiences within the safe environment of our home and having the opportunity to serve and show hospitality themselves to the extent that they are able. To hear the stories and experiences of a missionary at home on leave, to listen to a pastor talk about his experiences, or show friendliness to children from another family – what valuable and inspiring life experiences they would gain.

With a new baby and 5 other young children, I have to face the fact that having a mob of people around every weekend is difficult right now. Getting the house tidy and preparing a nice meal is not always easy to do. Especially if I am trying to entertain. But I can show hospitality. We can invite a family to stay for dinner after bumping into them while we are out, call someone for an afternoon drop-in and simply sharing what we already have prepared or have friends come back after church for a slap together lunch or even take-away pizzas to share at the park together. We can all show hospitality regardless of our situation and it is biblical that we do so – God tells us to do it!

When I really get down to it, most of the reasons why I do not show hospitality is because I am actually aiming to entertain. I feel the need to make sure the house is perfectly spotless, the dinner is fancier than usual (and complete with entrée and dessert) and the table-ware is coordinated. The children must look and act perfectly and for that matter, eat with wonderful manners. If I can take a step back and get past my pride, most of the reasons why I don’t go ahead and ask someone around can be quickly overcome when I simply seek to share life with others, rather than impress them.

Here are a couple of practical tips to help make hospitality more doable.

  • Plan ahead I try to have meals, desserts and fancy bread cooked and frozen that can be reheated when I want them. With the quick addition of a fresh salad, dinner is on the table.
  • Train the children to set up All the children can play a part in helping to set up. If they regularly do the same job for visitors you can train them to do it well and then simply ask them to do it with out supervision once they know how. Many hands make light work.
  • Have a house cleaning system Whether it’s a little bit each day or all at once on Saturday morning, everyone pitches in to get the house looking clean and tidy so that an overwhelming job is not ahead of you when you decide to ask people around.
  • “Visitors Coming” Scramble. Assign quick tidy-up the house jobs and practice doing them regularly so that when someone calls to tell you they are in the neighbourhood and want to drop around you can muster the troops and tell them it’s scramble time! Everyone dashes off to do the most important surface tidy jobs that make the house look vaguely presentable in the 10 minutes it takes for the visitors to arrive. That might be checking the condition of the toilet, cleaning off the kitchen table and bench, floor tidy-up or whatever else is likely to most need attention in your house. Even if the visitors are in the driveway before you know about them, you can have an emergency scramble. It’s amazing what can be done in the one minute it takes for people to get from the driveway to entering the front door if the children know what they are trying to achieve.
  • Train children to be hospitable. Teach them to ask visitors what they would like to drink, to carry a tray of nibblies and offer it around, write down tea and coffee orders, offer to take coats and bags etc.
  • Feed young children ahead. While we usually try to have everyone eating together, if the meal is going to be much later than usual it often works better to feed the younger children at their usual time. When the adults sit down to eat they can then choose a couple of extra fingerfood items or perhaps eat their dessert. Hungry, demanding toddlers do not make showing hospitality easy. If the meal I am serving to the guests is likely to be unpopular with the little ones, I simply have something else in reserve for them, even if it’s just toast. I try to make sure that the whole meal is child-friendly so that we can all enjoy it, but there are times we want to serve those spicy curries that I know the kids will not eat happily. I am not going to have a battle over food in front of company if I can help it.
  • Ask your visitors to help. In almost all occasions visitors are more than happy to help while you are getting the meal sorted out. Holding a baby, chopping up the carrots or any other small task is easily done and for someone who may be feeling a little bit unsure of themselves, it gives them something to do,  takes off the pressure and makes them feel at home.
  • Accept visitors’ offer to contribute to the meal. When we have a slap together occasion and people ask what they can bring, we usually say bread or softdrink or something similar, knowing that they can easily swing past the bakery or corner shop on the way over. With more advance warning, I might ask them to bring a salad, knowing that it’s the last minute preparation that can be difficult for me to do.
  • Visitor menu. Make a list of quick and easy meals (complete with sides and desserts) that you can throw together quickly and easily from ingredients you usually have on hand. That self-saucing pudding that takes 5 minutes to throw together goes on the visitor menu list and can be prepared without fuss at the last minute.
  • Have a visitor rotation. Perhaps designate one weekend a fortnight for family, the following weekend for friends, new people from church etc. We find family very easy because they are extremely relaxed, will help out when here and are happy to share whatever we would normally have. I still try to make it a little special, but when we’ve organised nothing ahead, I can still have family stay at the last minute with no idea what we are going to have and not find it a big deal. We’ve all made it clear that eggs on toast will do if that’s all there is! Asking people over every weekend (other than family) is too big a load for us right now.
  • Don’t forget date nights. Your husband should be your priority so don’t forget to plan special nights with him (See stay at home date night ideas here.)
  • Picnics. In fine weather, meeting other families at a park takes off the pressure of needing to get the house respectable. Picking up a couple of hot chickens on the way and making salad and rolls or many other very simple picnic ideas makes this an easy option.
  • Pot luck dinners. Having everyone bring a part of the meal is an easy way to have large groups around without the expense or hassle of cooking huge meals. Everyone contributes and all you have to do is provide the meeting place and accessories.
  • BBQ’s. An Aussie cliché but so easy. Everyone brings their own meat and we provide the salads. If many large families are coming, we ask them to bring a salad or dessert to share as well. I can prepare the nibblies, salads or whatever we need ahead and the men are happy to stand around chatting while they cook it on the day, leaving me free to feed a baby or look after the guests.
  • Small children timing. We find it easier right now to get together for breakfasts, morning & afternoon teas, or in the afternoon followed by an early dinner. Avoiding nap times and getting the children to bed at a reasonable time stops us having to suffer through over-tired children who are unable to get their responsibilities and school work done for the next 3 days.
  • Theme meals are easy to put together. A bring a pie night is fun (sweet or savoury),  soup and rolls lunch (I do soup, everyone else brings fancy bread and stir-ins for the soups), fondue (I do the sauce – including dessert fondue – and everyone brings a plate of food to dip), salad and rolls, make-your-own pizza, hamburgers, gourmet hot-dogs,  or whatever else suits your fancy and is easy to prepare.

More pantry mixes; almost instant meals and snacks

Our latest blessing is 3 weeks old today and while my husband is still on holidays and the children are having a break from school for Easter I have been making up and trying out some more pantry mix recipes. I am loving being able to get a meal ready in a matter of minutes, especially when I’ve left it all too late to put anything fancy together.

My absolute favourite so far is the onion soup mix. I love dip made from a packet of French onion soup mixed with sour cream but I don’t like the additives and nasties that come with the shop bought product. This home-made mix tastes the same as the commercial version and I know exactly what’s in it. There are so many quick and easy recipes that use dry French onion soup in a packet as a base that I had previously crossed off my list that I can now go back and add to my weekly menus. VERY pleased with this one!

Another base that is used in a lot of quick recipes is cream of chicken (mushroom etc.) soup in a can. Another selection of easy meal ideas that I love for the convenience but haven’t been using because of the additives in commercial soup products.  I’ll have to play with the amount of water to add to the mix for cooking because I didn’t factor in the thin soup noodles I added to the mix (I wanted chicken noodle soup in a cup) and they soaked up a lot of the liquid and by the time I served it it was too thick. Taste was still good but a bit gluggy. Still a keeper though as I’m sure with a better water ratio it will be fine.

Layered soup mix in a jar (Friendship soup mix) was next on the list. Again, 5 minutes to put together and pop into the slow cooker. Taste is great but it’s more like a thick casserole than soup. We are going to use it to make stuffed potatoes, put on top of rice and in tacos.

We tried the butterscotch pudding mix and I was disappointed to find that it tasted like a bland custard mix. The kids still liked it though. The chocolate pudding mix is still a favourite but I won’t bother with the butterscotch mix again.

The last one I’ve tried is corn bread mix. So quick and easy; 3 minutes total! Add oil, egg and water to the mix and tip into a cake pan. 15 minutes later fluffy cornbread is ready to eat. This will be great in winter to have with hot soup for lunch. We had it buttered fresh from the oven and it was delicious.

There are many more ideas out there and I will explore some in the future, but I’m done for now. I have several containers of nearly instant meals and snacks just sitting in the pantry and I’m sure these will be well used in the busy weeks ahead.

No (or low) sugar snacks for kids: Morning and afternoon tea snack ideas

I do not remember why the children are eating cereal in their PJ's on the floor! There must have been a reason at the time!

My children have bottomless stomachs in the morning. It seems like the last bite of breakfast has only just disappeared when someone will be asking me “What’s for morning tea, Mum?” By the time I have planned breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, It’s a real stretch to think of snack ideas on top of that. They are however, very important to the short people I live with and they have failed to catch on to my preferred method of simply having an early lunch. Besides that, the general happiness level drops dramatically and seems to be inversely related to the hunger levels, particularly with the toddlers and girls in the family.

So, this brings me to today’s quest to make a list of healthy, low sugar snacks that don’t fill them up too much and take very little time and effort to prepare. I don’t mind putting in a little preparation ahead of time if they can be kept in the fridge or pantry and simply dished out as the children head outside to play. Even better if one of the older children can get them out for me as I am usually feeding a baby at this time. Otherwise, it’s got to be nothing more taxing than spreading a little peanut butter or it just won’t happen.

I would love to hear your ideas so please leave a comment. Fresh inspiration from other Mothers is always appreciated. Here’s my list so far:

  • savoury cheese crackers (recipe below)
  • celery boats (celery with peanut/nut butter and sultana sailors or cream cheese)
  • apple slices spread with peanut/nut butter and pressed into sesame (or other) seeds
  • juice pops
  • pikelets (I make a huge batch and freeze them in packs of 6. They heat up beautifully in the toaster if I’ve forgotten to defrost them. Nan’s recipe below.)
  • mini muffins (fruit based or savoury cheese and chives etc. I try to have a stash in the freezer already sorted into bags of 6 to whip out on the spot.)
  • mini cheese, pumpkin or plain  scones from bisquick mixture. (Baked ahead and frozen.)
  • banana and apricot bliss bombs (recipe below)
  • bliss balls (I haven’t tried these yet but they are on my “to do” list. They seem very healthy and it says they can be frozen.)
  • lettuce leaves spread with peanut butter, sprinkled with sultanas and rolled up. (Tastes better than it sounds!)
  • crackers with nut butter, cheese, Vegemite etc.
  • sugar free 4 ingredient banana oat bars
  • fruit salad, fruit kebabs or just plain ol’ fruit
  • veggie sticks (crudites) and dip (I love this and so do the older children but the toddlers don’t do carrot and celery sticks so well just yet! I refuse to serve 2 different snacks so this is out for now.)
  • trail mix (We can’t serve this as the toddlers can’t eat the whole nuts and certain other children’s tummies can’t handle too much dried fruit.)
  • air popped popcorn (We were given a popcorn maker as a wedding gift and at the time thought it a very strange present. It mouldered away in the back of the cupboards for many a year until we had a gang of children who loved to scoff popcorn. All of a sudden it became one of our favourite machines. Glad we kept it!)
  • plain rice cakes with avocado, Vegemite, nut butters, cream cheese, cheddar cheese etc.
  • toothpick with cheese and pineapple or olives and cheese
  • milk shakes
  • yoghurt (I use natural with fruit puree stirred through and maybe a dash of honey.)

Savoury Cheese Crackers
250gms tasty cheese
¼ cup butter
1 ½ cups sifted flour
Optional: (In dough) ¼ tspn pepper or chili powder, taco seasoning, pizza herbs, vinegar (salt and vinegar) plain or seasoning salt to sprinkle

 Cream cheese and butter in food processor.
 Add flour gradually and optional flavours.
 Pack dough into a ball (it will be crumbly)
 Divide dough into 3 parts and shape into logs about 3 cm in diameter.
 Wrap each log in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
 Slice into very thin wafers, sprinkle with seasoning if using and bake at 180 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden.

Source: adapted from Recipe Zaar #108486

Banana & Apricot bliss bombs
2 soft bananas – mashed
8 dried apricots – chopped
1 cup coconut
2 tblspns ricotta/cottage cheese.
 Mix all ingredients.
 Roll into balls and coat in coconut.
 Refrigerate until firm.

Nan’s Pikelets
1 c SR flour (or plain flour plus baking powder)
½ cup soured milk (add 1 tblspn lemon juice and let sit for 15 mins)
3 tblspns sugar
1 egg
1 rounded tblspn melted butter

 Sift dry ingredients and mix wet.
 Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, beating with a wooden spoon as you go.
 Cook spoonfuls in buttered frypan over med heat.

Quick food for busy families: Pantry mixes and (nearly) instant meals

With an 11 day old baby in the house, time for leisurely cooking just doesn’t exist. As part of my quest to prepare for our new baby ahead of time, I have a fully stocked freezer full of meals. As much as possible however,  I am saving them for when my wonderful husband goes back to work and I have to face the reality of homeschooling and running a household of 8 with a newborn in the mix.

My latest find to assist with menu planning and being able to throw a meal together in minutes has been pantry mixes. This is a totally new concept to me but I love them. There are so many mix recipes that can be made up in bulk ahead of time and either stored in the pantry, fridge or freezer. When you are ready to prepare the recipe, the addition of just a couple of simple ingredients in no time at all creates a freshly cooked meal or snack.

Today’s lunch (in the photo above) literally took 10 minutes and that includes getting everything out of the fridge, making the cheese scones, cutting up the fruit and cleaning up the mess. My kind of cooking! Not to mention that they are super tasty hot from the oven. As I try each new bulk mix I will blog about the successes so today here is the link for baking mix (bisquick) which takes 10 minutes to put together and sits in the fridge waiting to be made into all manner of yummy things. So far I’ve only used it for scones (biscuits) but there are numerous recipes that use it as a base. (Scone instructions under the basic mix recipe at the “baking mix” link above.)

My other new favourite is a pantry mix for brownies. In less than 5 minutes I can whip up a batch of delicious brownies and have them ready for unexpected visitors, take them for supper when I remember an hour before I am supposed to leave or just make them for the fun of it. The mix itself again takes about 10 minutes to mix up and sits in the pantry waiting for the addition of 3 wet ingredients to turn it into fresh brownies.

Another great benefit of these recipes other than the time-saving factor is that my 8 1/2 year old is quite capable of mixing them up independently. The first time through I keep an eye on proceedings and from then on he is on his own. I slide them into the oven and 20 minutes later we have hot brownies.

I have a huge list of recipes to try that I am slowly working through. Last night I used one of my pre-prepared bags of seasoned rice mix. I had already diced and browned bags of sausages, bacon and chicken and put them in the freezer and stocked up the frozen mixed vegetable supply. We were out in the afternoon and arrived home with no meal ready, a hungry baby and 5 children who needed to get through the shower. All I had to do was dump the pre-measured seasoned rice into the rice cooker, fill with water, add a bag of cooked diced meat and a cup or two of mixed frozen veg and it was  done. Dinner was ready 20 minutes later with less than 5 minutes of preparation required.

We followed it up with some chocolate pudding from our pantry which looked and tasted almost exactly like Yogo from the supermarket “only better” according to the children who raved about it. This one required about 10 minutes to actually cook it (it requires stirring) and a little while in the fridge to cool it down and set but we went off and did our family devotions while we were waiting and came back for dessert. Delicious and definitely a keeper. It could easily be done earlier in the day and served whenever you need it.

I am definitely hooked on the pantry mix idea and will be seeking to have a store of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods sitting at my fingertips for days when I just don’t want to cook can’t do anything else or my older helpers want to prepare a meal to bless us all (and get the rave reviews and pats on the back that always accompany their efforts!)

Preparing for a new baby: menu planning

A new baby on the way always prompts me to think about the areas that will need re-organising to make life as easy to maintain as possible. A small amount of preparation now goes a long way towards surviving enjoying life with a new baby after the birth! One area that usually gets tweaked is shopping and menu planning.

Menu planning saves me time: I remember to defrost the meat the night before I need it, I can quickly do a little prep towards dinner when I have a spare 10 minutes and I am not flapping around trying to come up with something to cook at the last minute. It also saves me money: I only buy what I need at the shops, I use what I have before it goes rotten and I am not as tempted to go running out to grab take-away at the end of a hard day. We also eat a more interesting and varied diet rather than dishing up the same old standby meals every week.

I have a bunch of lists and planning proformers that I print out and use to do my planning. They are in Word documents so feel free to print them out and alter them for your own personal use. They are not fancy (most are in black only because I don’t want to use up a bunch of coloured ink every time I print them) but they do the job.

Monthly menu plan. The 3 colour strips per day are for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do not pre-date the planner so that I can use it for any month without having to make changes. I simply add the date in the corner of each day as I fill it in. I do plan all daily meals, however menus are very flexible and meals often do not match the day that I plan them for.

Weekly menu planner.  7 day planner for all meals plus morning and afternoon tea.

Index for menu planning. I have listed all the recipes I regularly use under meal types so when I sit down to plan a weekly or monthly menu I don’t have to search through recipe books.

Fruit and veggies shopping list. I print this out, cut it into strips, punch a hole in each one and hang them from a string inside the pantry door.  We shop for our fruit and veg separately to our regular groceries and when we want a list we rip one off and tick what we need.

Weekly groceries list. Again, I print this out, cut it into strips and quickly tick off what we need before a trip to the shops. I also have a pad on the fridge where we write items that have run out or are about to run out, or new items we need to remember.

Freezer stock-take list. This stays on the front of the freezer. As I add an item, I write the quantity on the stock-take list (adding a “1” to represent a meal amount) and when an item is removed, I cross it off. e.g. mince 1 1 1, chicken breasts 1 1  etc. This allows me to see at a glance what needs to be re-stocked when I am planning my shopping list, without scrabbling around in freezer drawers. It also helps me to use what I have first, rather than double up or buy unnecessary items.

The other thing I am doing is cooking heaps of bulk meals and freezing multiple dinners so that I have a couple of weeks worth of meals for after the baby comes. I have also cooked a heap of foods (meat balls, pizza, scrolls, sausage rolls, quiche etc) that can be plopped out to defrost with some fresh fruit or salad added to make a complete lunch. These are all cut into single serves so I can defrost only what we need for one meal at a time. Morning and afternoon teas are also stocking up. Again, all cakes, slices etc. are cut into small individual serves that can be pulled out and defrosted in a few minutes on the bench.

I don’t necessarily use these frozen items for straight after the baby’s arrival as my husband has holidays then. When he goes back to work for the first time is when I love the stocked freezer.

What’s for lunch Mum?

We’ve all heard it before; get organised and menu plan! Save time and money and get rid of the daily headache of thinking about what we are going to prepare for dinner half an hour before we should be serving it.

I have menu planning systems (weekly, monthly, shopping) and I do use them (most of the time!) but I was finding lunch particularly difficult to wrap my head around. I wanted it to be quick and easy but not just bread, bread and more bread. There were also occasions when I needed to pack lunch boxes and I didn’t want them to be nothing but sandwiches either.

My favourite lunch is what we call a ploughman’s plate. Sounds fancy, but all it means is that I pull out all the fruit, salad, veggies, cheese, left overs, cold meats or anything else I can spot laying about the fridge, cut it into pieces and arrange it on a plate. That works great when the fridge is stocked, the fruit bowls are brimming over and there is plenty of choice, but by the end of the week this is not a good option.

I decided to sit down and make a list of as many lunch ideas as I could come up with, barring leftovers and hot meals. Much of my list came from the excellent resources at Meerilinga plus a few ideas of my own.

I have printed it out, laminated it and taped it to the pantry door for inspiration at the last minute and to use when making up my shopping list for the week. You will find a printable version here.

Recipes and food: Kids in the kitchen

Running the food processor is a job I often give to the youngest. They love to feed ingredients in the shoot and be in charge of turning it on and off.

One of my goals as a parent is to teach all of my children every aspect of running a household, with the aim that by the age of around 14 they would be able to independently manage their own household if necessary. I will not expect them to actually be doing all of it at once by that age, but they will have been fully trained in all areas to a point of competence; something I’m sure  their future husbands and wives will appreciate.

What does that look like now? Each child has their own personal responsibilities (chores) that contribute to our family. Personal care and general cleanliness, emptying dishwashers, hanging wet clothes, cleaning toilets and the like. Young children start on the easiest jobs and move on to the next level of responsibility as they are able.

Each child (bar the toddlers) also spends time in the kitchen with me; sometimes one-on-one and sometimes all three at once. They learn how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, make a range of meals and baked goods and assist with general meal preparation. I try to give them experience in preparing everyday food as well as special occasion food.

Another great job for the younger children is washing fruit and veggies. They usually get wet, but it allows even the youngest to feel that they have contributed to the meal.

By 5, my eldest could make a batch of muffins completely independently (bar putting them in the oven). He had learnt step-by-step how to read a recipe, take out the ingredients and equipment, measure and mix, spoon into pattypans and tidy up after himself. The girls were not quite at that point by the same age, partly due to reading skills not being at the same level and also due to me not having as much time to spend with them teaching the skills. They do however love to cook and are learning the same valuable skills, albeit a little slower!

Ideas for the youngest:

  • wash the fruit and veggies
  • feed pieces into the food processor or juicer
  • collect ingredients
  • stir mixtures (you measure, they tip in)
  • peel easy veggies like carrots
  • cut with a butter-knife (thin sticks of fruit, cheese or veggies into cubes or smaller pieces)
  • pull tops off cherry tomatoes and strawberries
  • tear lettuce for the salad
  • share ingredients onto dinner plates for a meal (great for counting practice)
  • roll mixture into balls (biscuits, meatballs etc.)
  • thread fruit, veggie or meat cubes onto skewers
  • dip chunks into flour, egg or breadcrumbs
  • taste test recipes (my children’s personal favourite!)
Recently we have spent more time with all three children together working production line style to stock the freezer for upcoming Christmas events. (We will be organised this year!!) They are rolling meatballs, threading chicken onto skewers, crumbing fish and baking biscuits, slices and cakes to freeze already sliced. When we need to provide afternoon tea, suppers, meals and the like, we can simply pull out the required amount of each item and defrost or heat then serve.

With several little ones underfoot I dislike any recipe for visitors that has to be made just before serving. I would much rather do the work ahead of time and enjoy spending time relaxing rather than in the kitchen.

Cooking is a skill that every adult should have and it is a saying in our house that “anyone who can read can cook.” We may not all love to cook, but we can all learn to do so to the point where we can put a nutritious meal on the table to bless our family and others. Pull out those cooking books and get cooking!

Recipes and food: Snacks – juice pops

Showing off their banana milkshake juice pop moustaches. (We call them juice pops regardless of the ingredients!)

Now that the warm weather is here again, it’s time to dust of the frozen popsicle molds and make some juice pops. These are so quick and easy to make (I can even ask the older children to do them for me) and keep almost indefinitely, so there is always a snack sitting in the freezer ready to go. I like the fact that they are not too filling as some of my smaller eaters don’t need much of a snack before their appetite for the following meal is affected. Also, if I make the ones without sugar syrup in them, they are a healthy snack that even the toddlers love.

I should have put a bib on!

What do you need:

  • A mold (shop bought popsicle molds, plastic cups and popsticks, plastic cups and teaspoons, or scooped out orange halves and popsticks.)


  • juice of any kind with fresh fruit chunks
  • pureed banana and coconut milk
  • milkshake mixture
  • pureed rockmelon, sugar syrup and a twist of lime
  • left-over softdrink
  • pureed berries or fruit and sugar syrup

Simply puree your ingredients, fill the mold (adding fruit chunks to the bottom first if desired) and freeze. Adding sugar syrup to the juice pops helps prevent ice crystals forming, however I usually don’t include it to keep the children’s sugar intake down and they love them anyway!

Sugar syrup:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 strips of lemon zest

Heat the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved. Remove zest and add to puree of choice before pouring into molds.