Healthy lolly bags for kids’ parties

We’ve all been there.  The kids go to a birthday party, load up on sugar, additives and deep-fried junk food and then as a special treat, are given even more sugar and additive-laden lollies and treats to take home.

More and more parents are becoming aware of the health and behavioural impact of allowing our children to eat these kinds of foods, and are taking action to limit their intake of such items.   Families are now much more familiar with dietary requirements such as gluten, dairy additive and egg intolerance, and are having to change the family diet accordingly.

In addition to the sugary treats, most lolly bags also have some sort of miniature toy, gadget or novelty item included.  These often consist of cheap plastic items that fall apart the first time they are used, or ones which are choking hazards or made with toxic materials.

So how do we, when hosting a children’s party, provide the expected lolly bag with healthy alternatives which will still be attractive to kids?  There are lots of options, which are not only healthy and environmentally friendly, but are also delicious and lots of fun!

Edible options:

  • Natural and organic lollipops, lolliess and jellies from companies such as Yummy Earth (just search online for local distributors)
  • Homemade mini-muffins or mini-cupcakes, made from healthy ingredients.  These can even be decorated to match the theme of the party.
  • Homemade muesli bars – these could be wrapped in gorgeous paper or fabric with ribbons to dress them up.
  • Dried fruits, also packaged in themed or decorative wrappings (think mini-tulle bags, decorated mini-boxes etc.)
  • Homemade cookies or gingerbread men (or women) – there are thousands of recipes online to make your own healthy cookies.

Toy / Gift options:

  • Fairy wand / tiara
  • Tiny terracotta plant pots with some herb or flower seeds.  If you’re particularly creative you could even hand paint each one, perhaps with the birthday child’s name as a keepsake.
  • Glow sticks
  • Handmade bead jewellery
  • Handmade hair clips (bows, sparkles – use your imagination!)
  • Finger puppets (knitted or made from felt)
  • Juggling balls
  • Mini art kits with pencil, tiny sketch pad and crayons
  • Homemade play-dough
  • Mini-photo frames (you could take instant photos of each child at the party and present them with a picture to put in their frame)
  • Handmade paper windmills (my 13 year old still has fun with these!)
  • Pencil toppers
  • Diecast cars and trucks
  • Bubbles
  • Colourful bandanas or headbands

Packaging ideas:

  • Coloured cardboard noodle boxes, or save money by buying plain white ones and decorating them yourself with stickers, ribbons etc.
  • Mini tulle or fabric drawstring bags (like those used for wedding bonbonnieres)
  • Coloured or decorated paper bags
  • Paper cups, perhaps ones decorated with the theme of the party, then wrapped in coloured cellophane

Just a little bit of imagination and creativity on your part is all that is needed to make sure that your party guests leave with something extra special, which is both healthy and fun!  Some of the ideas, such as the plant pots or photo frames could even be used as a group crafts project during the party – the kids decorate their own and then take them home.

For more fantastic ideas on frugal and eco-friendly birthday parties, visit Eat at Dixiebelle’s fabulous blog.

Composting your household waste

With issues such as the environment, sustainability and self-sufficiency growing in importance these days, many households are trying to do their bit by growing a few herbs and vegetables in their own gardens.  Most also seem to be focussing on organic methods of growing vegetables, avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the home garden.

A very important part of any organic vegetable gardening is compost.  Compost consists of broken down organic material, which replenishes and improves the quality of the soil, thereby leading to higher quality and volume of produce.

It is very simple to create your own compost from household waste, recycling it back into the garden to produce the next crop of delicious home-grown fruits, vegetables and herbs.

I use a plastic compost bin purchased from a local hardware shop, however it is very easy to build your own out of scraps of wood, wire or brick.  If making your own, aim for something approximately 3 ft X 3ft X 3ft in size.

All composts require a combination of “green” or “wet” materials, such as grass clippings, fallen leaves, kitchen scraps and so on and “brown” or “dry” materials, such as straw, newspapers, fine twigs and so forth.

A layering system works best.  Start with a fairly thick layer of straw, fine twigs or wood chips to allow some drainage.  On top of that, add alternating layers of green and brown organic materials. You also don’t want your compost to dry out, so keep it damp, but not soggy.  To avoid nasty smells and vermin visitors, ensure that food scraps are covered immediately.  My own preference is for a thin layer of damp newspaper or garden soil.  I keep a small covered bin in my kitchen specifically for compost materials, and wait until this is full before adding to the compost bin.

Items great for composting include:

  • Fruit and vegetable peelings, cores etc.
  • Egg shells
  • Tea and coffee grounds
  • Grass clippings
  • Pulled weeds (just be careful not to use weeds that have already flowered, or you risk seeds surviving within your compost)
  • Fallen leaves (These are particularly fantastic, as I’ve found they break down very quickly)
  • Pet or human hair and even the contents from your vacuum
  • Certain animal manures, such as chicken, horse, sheep and cow (avoid dog and cat faeces, as well as that of other meat-eating animals)
  • Tissues, newspaper and scrap paper (I avoid glossy coloured paper as the inks can be toxic)
  • Ash from a wood fire

Items to avoid in your compost:

  • Oils (including kitchen scraps cooked in oil)
  • Meat and dairy products
  • Any treated wood products (these can be highly toxic)
  • Bread
  • Very thick / woody cuttings (these take far too long to break down)
  • Anything that has been exposed to chemicals or pesticides

Composts also require occasional airing to prevent them from going smelly, and to encourage the breaking down process.  I use a large garden fork every now and then to turn and air my compost.  You can buy specially designed hooks and similar, specifically for airing compost.

The bin I purchased has opening flaps at the bottom, so I can scoop out broken down compost from the bottom while continuing to add to it from the top.   Some people prefer to have several composts on the go at once, so that they can use one that is ready, whilst having another underway.  It all comes down to how much waste your household puts out, and how much space you have for composting.

Sneaking vegetables into fussy children!

My children are irritatingly picky when it comes to eating their vegetables.  I’ve tried bribery, threats and repeat attempts all in the vain hope that they will suddenly come to their senses and start loving veggies the way I do.

So far nothing has worked except disguise and deception.  I have resorted to grating or finely chopping a wide range of vegetables and hiding them in dishes I know they love.  The frittata below is one of our family’s all time favourites.

Ingredients:

8 large free-range eggs

¼ cup milk

1 cup grated cheese of your choice (I usually use cheddar with a little bit of parmesan added to it)

1 tsp olive oil

2 cups grated or finely chopped vegetables of your choice.  Examples:  zucchini, carrot, corn, sweet potato, pumpkin, squash, eggplant, onion, garlic, squash, chard, spinach etc.

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat grill in oven to medium-high temperature.

Whisk eggs and milk gently together in bowl, stir in half of the cheese and all of the vegetables.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in medium – large sized non-stick frying pan, preferably one with metal handle, not plastic.

Carefully pour egg mixture into pan.

Cook on medium to low heat until the frittata is nearly set, but still quite liquid on the top.

Remove pan from heat

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and put pan under grill until frittata is firm and cheese is browning.

Remove from oven and slice

Suggestions:

Serve with salad and garlic bread, or add your favourite finely chopped meat (ham, bacon, chicken), or try different varieties of cheese for new flavours.  The frittata is also lovely cold served in lunchboxes or on picnics.

Try getting your children involved in choosing the ingredients and making the frittata – all kids seem to love whisking eggs.  My 10 year old son is very proud that he can make the entire dish on his own, so let yours have a go (properly supervised, of course).  They’re much more likely to eat something they created themselves.

Friday night pizza night

Damnit all, I’m going to go a bit gourmet on my veggie pizza tonight.  I think I’m going to head down to the markets and buy a heap of capsicum and chili and roast, peel and slice them all up for future use.   Along with some red onion, lots of garlic, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes, they will be just lurvely on pizza.

I’m still trying to work out what to put on the kids’ pizzas.  They like pineapple, so that’s ok, but I can’t seem to come up with anything else that they’re likely to not pick off!  Maybe some corn, or maybe if I roast some eggplant I can trick them into thinking it’s meat.

I also thought I’d share my pizza dough recipe, as it’s just too easy, and reliably consistent in quality…

… as long as you have the Marvel That Is The Kitchen-Aid Artisan Mixer lurking in your kitchen somewhere.

500g bread/pizza dough flour
2 X sachets yeast
50 g olive oil
320g tepid to lukewarm water
1 tsp salt

Chuck all the dry stuff in the mixer bowl, give it a quick spin, then with kneading hook going at speed 2, gradually add in the olive oil and water until dough forms a ball on the hook and goes round and round in a satisfying manner.

Continue this for about a 1 – 2 minutes until it looks lovely and smooth and stretchy. Squoosh into a sort of ball-like blob in the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour or so until it’s roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the centre of the ball-like blob to get all the nasty CO2 out, then scrape out onto lightly floured surface and give a quick hand kneading – just a minute will do.

Divide into pizza-sized bits and leave to rise for another 15 minutes or so.

Flatten out onto pizza pans and put all the stuff on top.

Cook!

Eat!

Be Merry!

The first week of intense vegefication.

Well, it’s Thursday, and we’ve embarked enthusiastically on our Eat Less Meat September challenge.  I’m trying to take it a bit further personally, and am actually eating no red meat or poultry at all, only fish.

Here’s what we’ve had this week:

Monday – Stir fried veggies with noodles

I was a bit disappointed with this, in that it quite simply didn’t fill me up, even thoughI had quite a large bowl.  Maybe it’s just a matter of time as my body adjusts.  It was tasty, though!  Z did reasonably well with it, too, although she did have to shut her eyes on any forkfuls that had obvious glimpses of green!

Tuesday & Wednesday – Red lentil lasagne

This was actually really good.  I simmered up the dried lentils for a bit too long at first, so it turned into a sort of beige mush, but it turns out that made it a sneakily good substitute for mince!  I browned some onions and garlic, chucked in finely grated carrot, zucchini and sweet potato, then threw in the lentils, a tin of kidney beans, some baby spinach, thenadded a few tins of crushed tomatoes, some paste, seasonings and all that, and let it bubble away.  I used ricotta in place of cheese sauce and lasagned the whole lot up.  It was surprisingly yummy, and the kids ate it without a single complaint.

Thursday:  Pan fried snapper with lime, rice, carrot sticks and salsa verde

Also a bit hit.  For the kids I mixed up a tiny bit of the salsa verde with some plain yoghurt and dabbed a blob on the fish.  They were impressed, and so was I!

Tomorrow, being Friday, is always pizza night, so I will be limiting our toppings to veggie only.  Easy for me, as that’s all I ever have, but am going to have to put my thinking cap on to come up with a substitute for the meatloving kids!

Eat Less Meat September

Eat less meatI’ve taken the challenge issued by Dixiebelle from her Eat At Dixiebelle’s blog (the mere sight of which will make you hungry, I promise) to make September an Eat Less Meat Month, as well as Fair Trade Chocolate Month.

I’ll be honest, I hardly ever eat chocolate, so this part of the challenge won’t be a problem at all, although I’ll have to be vigilant on the occasional choccy treats the kids may have.

The Eating Less Meat will, however probably live up to the word “challenge”. I happen to love legumes, pulses, vegetables and tofu, and would quite happily live on them. My children, however, are another story. The mere sight of anything green on their plates guarantees an instant whingy chorus of “Mu-u-u-u-u-u-m! Do we HAVE to eat the (insert name of offending green item here)!

It’s still something I want to do for a huge range of reasons, most of which are already outlined perfectly on Dixiebelle’s site, so I won’t go into too much detail. Personally, though the main benefits for me and my family are as follows:

Health – I’m determined to put a bit more effort into coaxing my stubborn offspring gently along to a healthier diet, one that includes a much wider range of fruits, vegetables and legumes than they currently tolerate.

Cost – As a single mother who is fully expecting to be fired later today from her most recent part-time job, this one’s fairly obvious. As I nearly only ever buy free range, organic meat anyway, it can get pretty costly. Lentils, by comparision, are nearly free!

Environmental issues – Many more of the planet’s resources are required to raise livestock for meat than are required for vegetarian alternatives. More information available on Dixiebelle’s blog.

Education and awareness of all the above points for my children. I hope they will learn something by this little challenge. They are going to be invited to assist with meal planning, shopping and food preparation, and I’m hoping they’ll take a little interest in the “why” of the whole exercise as well. That may be a little hopeful on my part, but it’s worth a shot! During the same month we will also be planting our home veggie garden, which will round out the experience for all, I hope.

My next step is to mealplan my first week, which I’m hoping to do after work today (unless I do actually get fired, in which case I’ll be too busy drowning my sorrows in a vat of wine). Again, I’m counting on Dixiebelle to help me with this, as she’s already put together a few weeks’ worth of menu suggestions and hey, why re-invent the wheel, right?

Stay tuned for screams of horror from the mini-Tiaras as they realise what September holds for them!

One Million Women making a change

I was just reading Kebeni’s lovely blog Looking out a broken window, and her most recent post is about a fantastic initiatiative of one million women committing to take action on climate change. What a great idea! I’ve joined, and I hope some of you will as well.

158664_1MW_BusinessCard_55x90_14-1

Here’s a brief blurb taken directly from the organisation’s website, and thanks again to Kebeni for sharing the concept!

The Campaign

1 Million Women – A campaign of daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers – Committed to protecting our climate, our communities and our future, leading change for the better. Our goal is to inspire 1 million Australian women to take practical action on climate change by cutting 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse pollutant causing global warming. Every woman who joins has a personal goal to cut 1 tonne of CO2 from their daily lives within a year of joining the campaign. Here on our 1 Million Women website you’ll be guided through ways to cut your 1 tonne, and to track your progress as you go along. You don’t have to be an expert on climate change. Just join up and we’ll guide you every step of the way. 1 Million Women – a million tonnes of CO2. It’s a huge challenge. With your help we will make it happen.


Itching to play in the dirt!

The weather here in Perth is still 100% winter. It’s raining constantly, usual winter temperature, wind howling as only WA can, and yet some part of me has picked up a case of spring-time itchy fingers.

In addition to the biological welcoming of spring, doing some blogsurfing around some amazing home veggie gardening, sustainability and generally all-round-greenie blogs such as Down To Earth , The Crone at Wits End and Scarecrow’s Garden really got me motivated.

Yup, spring’s a-comin’ and I’m feeling the need to grow my own food.

I gave it a bloody good go last year. I grew a lot, I failed at a lot and, sadly, threw out a lot. I went a bit mad on planting seeds with little thought of timing, storing and the all important will-my-kids-eat-it factor.

One of my most resounding successes last year was coriander, some of which bolted to seed, dried out completely and is still in its styrofoam container hidden round the side of the house. My excuse for this is that I can obviously use the seeds this year. Lessons to be learned this time round, though, to time my plantings so I don’t have 30 kilos of coriander all ready to use at the same time. I must also get a more heat resistant one than last year. Bugger. There goes my idea of using the seeds up!

I also had some impressive cos lettuce, which ended up getting thrown away, because in my excitement of carefully cultivating the Most Amazing Cos Lettuce Ever Grown in Toy Boxes, I forgot that I don’t like it, and neither do any of my kids.

The tomatoes, as always, did famously, and, in related news so did fruit fly. Fruit fly was the bane of my last summer. Bastard, buggery little evil bugs, they are. My garden is completely organic, so all I could do to compete with the evil ones was a homemade garlic, chili and pyrethum (never could spell that word) spray which, when sprayed on the tomatoes offended every dog and cat within a 2 km radius. It failed to deter the fruit flies much, though.

My leeks were fab, the spring onions are still growing since last summer. I could say that I left them in there as a botanical experiment to see what would happen, but that would be an outright lie. I just couldn’t be bothered moving them.

My more epic fails included items from the cucumber / squash / zucchini sort of families. They grew, oh yes they grew. But they were, um, odd. Their very shapes made my boys giggle and my mother avert her eyes at the sight of them. I have burned all photographic evidence, but take my word for it, cucumbers were not meant to look like these.

Anyway, I plan to look at last summer as a bit of a learning experience. A Very Expensive Learning Experience! Ah well, if I’ve got a few things learned, a well-established compost heap on the go, lots of containers already full of potting mixture and had oodles of fun with dirt under my nails, then I consider it worth it.

This year? Well, the biggest difference is that I’m flat out refusing to buy punnets of seedlings from commercial nurseries. A little bit of research has proven that the DNA in these little things has been manipulated to within an inch of its life, and that’s not what I’m after at all. I’ve discovered the heady joys of Select Organic Seeds and will be ordering some lovely heirloom varieties of seeds from there.

And I’m excited! Dirty fingernails, here we come!

What’s it all about?

earth

It’s about caring what sort of world my children are going to be stuck with.

It’s about doing my part to make that world a better one.

It’s about teaching my children why this is so important.

It’s about a healthier, more vibrant lifestyle.

It’s about trying not to trash the planet on which we live.

It’s about respect.

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