Friday, 23 May 2014

Toddler cooking (2)

So we've carried on cooking and Doof is enjoying it more and more. It's lovely seeing how he learns different skills every time we make a new dish and it's nice to have a 'sitting down' activity to do together now that he spends most of his time running around like a Duracell bunny!


Chocolate Easter nests

Toddler age: 18 months

Ingredients: large bar dairy milk, cornflakes, mini eggs to decorate 

Equipment: saucepan, mixing bowl, wooden spoon, spoon, cupcake cases

1. Break up chocolate into saucepan and slowly melt over gentle heat 
2. Pour melted chocolate into plastic bowl
3. Add handfuls of cornflakes and mix well. Keep adding handfuls until all the chocolate is all soaked up on the cornflakes 
4. Spoon mix into individual cupcake cases
5. Add decorative toppings (we used mini eggs)
6. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours if you have time - this helps the chocolate set, especially important if you haven't used a 'binder' like golden syrup

 What did Doof enjoy doing?
- adding handfuls of cornflakes to the chocolate bowl
- mixing the ingredients together
- laying out the cupcake cases
- spooning the mix into cupcake cases
- adding the toppings (rather suspiciously one Easter nest ended up with a lot more mini eggs than the others... I think D was hoping that was going to be his nest!)

What was Doof not interested in or unable to do?
- I didn't let him help with either breaking up the chocolate (too difficult for his little hands as it was straight from the fridge) or with melting the chocolate (he's still too young for me to want to have him anywhere near a heat source and I was doing it on an Aga so all the surfaces were hot!)

Note: we made a really simplified version of this recipe to make it more Doof-appropriate. You can also make it more "gourmet" by adding butter and golden syrup to the chocolate. Or even try using mint or orange-flavoured chocolate for a little twist :)


Chicken quesadillas 

Toddler age: 19 months

Ingredients: tortillas (we used the mini ones from M&S as they were perfect toddler size), ripe avocado, red pepper, sweetcorn, cooked chicken, 2 spring onions, cheddar cheese, tomato salsa (we used ready made from a shop), creme fraiche, olive oil spray

Equipment: spoon & fork for scooping and mashing, plastic bowl, cheese grater, frying pan, heatproof spatulas x2

1. Cut the avocado in half and scoop the inside into a bowl. Mash up with a fork
2. Cut half a pepper into thin strips and top/tail a few spring onions, removing the outer layer
3. Grate a large portion of cheddar cheese
4. Using blunt knife cut up the spring onions and pepper strips
5. Shred the cooked chicken pieces into small bits - around 1-1.5cm in size, shape and regularity doesn't matter!
6. Arrange all the ingredients in small bowls or plates within reach of your toddler - grated cheese, diced pepper, chopped spring onions, sweetcorn, shredded chicken pieces, salsa - this is why I find it much easier cooking with D sat on the table rather than in his highchair...
7. Pick a tortilla, cover half with salsa and then add a mix of ingredients - if your children are older they can try to keep the ingredients on one half, or if they are younger you can just shuffle all the ingredients onto one half when you fold the tortilla in two! 
8. Try to keep about 1cm of clear margin around the tortilla edge with no ingredients on as this will reduce spillage out of the sides when cooking. Easier said than done with a toddler but even with fully open sides they still tasted delicious :)
9. Spray a frying pan with cooking oil and heat. Then add the halved tortilla and cook for around 2 minutes. Turn the tortilla over carefully (I used 2 spatulas) and cook the other side the same - the cheese should be melted inside
10. Cut into triangles and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche they can dip into

What did Doof enjoy doing?
- mashing up the avocado
- chopping up the spring onions and pepper
- sprinkling all the ingredients onto the tortillas
- sampling everything as he was going!

What was Doof not interested in or unable to do?
- I didn't let him grate the cheese as I think he is too young
- he needed some encouragement to get approximately the right proportions of ingredients in each tortilla and to keeping adding things rather than just eating everything as he went along!
- I didn't let him help with the cooking as I think he's too young to be safely around a lit hob

Although D did a lot of sampling when making these I was very happy with that as I think it's really important for him to play with raw unprocessed food, see what it feels like, taste it etc. His face after trying raw spring onions was fantastic - and the experience didn't stop him from immediately trying the avocado afterwards!! 


Hope you enjoy these recipes if you try them - you can see what else we've made here. I'd love to see anything you make with your toddler so please link up below or leave a comment :)

Friday, 16 May 2014

Our first bloggers “event”

Last week we were invited along to London Zoo for the launch of Maynards Discovery Patch app and a creativity workshop. It was the first bloggers event we had ever been to so although initially a bit nervous it was a really fun day.


During the morning workshop there were 3 “stations” each of which had a different theme or focus for learning. Unfortunately I missed one of the stations as Doof was a bit too young to happily sit and watch the children’s entertainer they had provided and after he fell over and bished his forehead he needed some mummy cuddles and a sandwich. Everyone was so friendly though and didn’t mind when I slipped back in for the last 2. In case you are interested here is a rough summary of the 3 different areas and how they can be used to introduce fun and creativity:

-         The magical cave of Myths and Monsters was about story-telling and the use of a basic format with location/time/hero/villain. You can try starting a story and letting your child finish it, or take it in turns and alternate sentences to get a much more varied (and often crazy!) story than you could think of on your own. I’m really looking forward to when Doof and I can do this – it will be so interesting to see what his imagination is like :)
-         The Doctor’s surgery of body bits involved us playing with foam objects and demonstrated how easy it can be to make up fun games with everyday objects. This is something we do with Doof all the time – it helps with his imaginative play (pretending objects are things they aren’t), is a form of sensory play (using a range of textures, shapes etc) and encourages language development as we talk about different things he is exploring.
-         The safari animals game was designed to encourage imagination and self-confidence. Picture flashcards can be used as a prompt to act out the animal (this could even be fun for adults to play after a few glasses of wine…) or describing something about them. This is a particular favourite of ours (albeit in a very basic form at the moment!) as Doof is really into animal noises at the moment so we have lots of fun pointing out animals in books and as I say the actual name, he then makes the appropriate noise :)

One of the best bits about the day was how all the things Maynards talked about can be used day-to-day. When thinking about games to play, activities to do or just how to approach a mundane task in a more exciting way for a child – incorporating some of their ideas can make everyday life much more fun.

The final thing they introduced us to was the new Explore and Play app which uses augmented reality to make the surrounding environment come to life with interesting images and facts. We’ve especially enjoyed playing with the app and our favourite one is the animal version – although Doof is too young to understand the app at all that hasn’t stopped him charging around the park with a bag of Maynards in one hand (so we can scan the packet to pick up more clues) chasing after us as we try to collect bits of animals on the screen!

London Zoo

And finally, after the workshop, we then got to wander round the rest of the zoo – it was the first time we’d ever taken Doof and I did wonder if he was a bit little to really enjoy the animals… but he loved it! His favourite bits (as deducted by the amount of flapping and/or clapping he did!) were the butterfly house, the penguin pool, the giraffes and all the different monkeys. He also had fun in the children’s petting zoo with the massively furry goats but I was barred from that bit due to Doofling being on board :(


We enjoyed it so much I’m even thinking of getting an annual membership once my maternity leave starts – we would only need to go 3.5 times in a year to make it worthwhile which I think is definitely likely seeing how much Doof enjoyed his first visit :)

Disclaimer: I wasn’t paid for my involvement in this workshop but we did get free entry to London Zoo

Monday, 12 May 2014

Flying with babies

We've done 2 long-ish flights with Doof now - one to Vegas at 5 months and one to Boston at 13 months. I keep seeing people asking for baby/toddler flight advice so thought I'd finally share our thoughts/opinions.


Young babies (0-6 months) - i.e. pre-crawling/walking

Their lack of mobility and smaller size make young babies pretty ideal travelling companions. Unless you're hoping for the chance to sleep for 8 hours or watch a couple of uninterrupted movies...

Top tips:

1. Follow routine for bed

If it's a night flight then stick with your usual routine - we stuck to the same old:
meal, bath & nappy change, into pyjamas, breastfeed, swaddle and bed. The only difference was a bit of imagination at times. So the "bath" was actually a wash with wet wipes in the plane loo and the swaddling was more of a token effort as there wasn't much room for D to move in the bassinet anyway. The most tricky bit was the whole "blackout room" bit as even when the lights are off in the plane there are still some lights on and Doof was actually ready for bed long before the cabin lights went off!! So instead we rigged up a cover for the bassinet with one of his giant muslins and a couple of airplane blankets. I obviously would never have gone to sleep myself with him covered like that in case they fell in on his face etc but they were a godsend until the cabin lights went off and then I took them away. Sticking to his same routine definitely helped Doof realise when it was time for bed despite all the new things he'd seen and done that day

Giant muslins are an essential part of life with a baby!

2. Stick to your time zone

Different people will tell you different things. We stuck with our original time zone until we reached our destination. So when flying London to Vegas we stuck with GMT during the flight and only changed to American time when we landed. The main reason for doing that was it's much easier to keep Doof in his usual routine timing-wise - he was always going to need food after 4 hours followed by a sleep followed by a play etc. So the actual time made no difference except when it came to "bedtime". And again here it was much easier to stick with the current time as he was tired at that clock's bedtime so it would have been pointless to try and 'switch' him to a completely different time zone in advance. We also banked on the fact that he wouldn't sleep for nearly as long "overnight" on the plane as he did at home in his cot, so when we landed in Vegas in the early afternoon he hadn't actually had a full nights sleep so was happy (ish!) to go to bed again a few hours later. 

3. Use the bassinet

If at all possible reserve the bulkhead seats and request a bassinet from the airline ahead of time. At this age nearly all babies will still comfortably fit in bassinet - whether it's to sleep or even just to lie them there when you need some hands free time (bathroom break, to eat supper etc). Be aware though that every time there is turbulence and the seatbelt sign goes on you do have to take baby out of the bassinet and strap them to you - very annoying if you've just got them to sleep, but safety first and I completely understand why they have that rule

Just fitting in the Virgin cot at 5 months

4. Breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding then wear an easy-access top and breastfeed during takeoff and landing. Doing this helps their ears to "pop" (or the pressure to neutralise) - thus avoiding the horrible ear pain unequalised ears can cause. I also offered a BF whenever Doof looked like he might vaguely want one as the air can be quite dry on planes and it can make you, and your baby, more thirsty than usual

5. Don't skip meals

We had only just starting weaning Doofy and I wasn’t sure whether there was any point in bothering to take purees, bowls, spoons, bibs etc on the flight with us as he was still getting most of his nutrition from milk. I’m really glad I did though as the whole process of getting him ready for a meal, him eating and then tidying up afterwards entertained him for at least 20 minutes (and it was only an Ella’s kitchen mango breakfast pouch!).

6. Carrier for pacing up and down 

I can’t even express how valuable our Ergo was. Even if the holiday was the only time we ever used it (which isn’t the case at all) it would have been worth buying! It was great for the airport – carrying Doof around easily without having to worry about having a bulky buggy to manhandle and was perfect for when we arrived at the other end – we didn’t even take a buggy with us on this holiday. But on the flight… I definitely couldn’t have lived without it. Our flight back to the UK was a night flight so no problem with Doof sleeping but our outbound one to the USA was during the day and there was no way he was going to lie napping in the bassinet when there was exciting daytime “stuff” to do L but after 10 minutes walking him around the emergency exit area/galley in the carrier and he was fast asleep. The only downside was I was too scared to sit down in case he woke up but it was no big deal as I just loitered in the bulkhead and read my book standing up!


Older ones (10-18 months) - i.e. cruising/toddling

The combination of increased activity, knowing what they do (and most definitely *don’t*) want to do and the fact that they are no longer satisfied by just being plugged onto a boob for hours on end means travelling with toddlers needs a little more preparation.

Top tips:
1. Small toys

Doof was still too young to really be interested in watching the inflight TV (but I imagine this must be worth its weight in gold if your kids are into TV!) so instead we had to think of other things to entertain him, especially as one of the flights was a daytime one. I packed a small drawstring bag with lots of small toys (all his happyland farm animals came), a few cars that he could push around the floor and 3 hardboard books that we could either read together or he could flick through on his own - due to limited space in carry-on luggage, size was definitely a prime concern. I tried to only get one toy out at a time and when it was time for a snack or meal I put all the toys away so we could then make it a game when they came out again. I’ve heard other people recommend wrapping lots of little presents up so the child gets to unwrap each one separately – this sounds like a great idea for a slightly older toddler or child (and also means if they happen to look inside the toy bag it will still be a surprise what toys are in there!).

The 3 minutes during which he was entranced by "Finding Nemo". Sadly didn't last long!

2. Familiar food

Bring food with you from home if possible. Although some flights say they provide kids meals Doof was not given one on either of our flights – I’m not sure whether that’s because the airline messed up or because he was under 2 and didn’t have his own “seat”. The main reason I decided to bring food with me was in case he didn’t like what the plane offered (and hungry toddler = very grumpy toddler!) but I was even more glad I had when I realised they weren’t going to give him any! So for the journey from London to Boston I took a cheese sandwich, “pudding pouch” and cereal bar for one meal and a “main meal” pouch, “pudding” pouch and a banana for the other. For the journey back I bought similar food from Wallmart and Doof seemed equally happy with that. You can always supplement what you bring with anything on the plane that you think they will like - Doof ate most of my bread roll but to be honest there wasn't much else in the inflight meal he would've happily eaten.

3. Snacks, water cup for takeoff

Takeoff can be the hardest bit, especially if there is a long taxi, as toddlers don’t tend to like being strapped to your lap, unable to get down to explore… As with most boys I found the way to Doof’s heart (and therefore the best way to keep him quiet) was with food! I had a bag of organix crisps and he slowly snacked on those over about 20 minutes. I think he really enjoyed the novelty of being allowed access to a whole packet and this definitely helped distract him. The other critical bit was his water cup so he could suck on that to help his ears “un-pop”.

4. Own seat!

This is a no-brainer obviously but most people enjoy taking babies on holiday precisely because they don’t have to pay for a separate seat for them. We were lucky enough for there to be a spare seat next to Daddy on one of the journeys though – awesome result!

5. BA carseat

BA have a “car seat” which you can use for toddlers too big for the bassinet. It sits up on the same shelf that the bassinet does and is a really useful place to park your toddler when you’re eating, just need to stretch your legs out or (added bonus if your child does this!) when it’s time for their nap. Sadly Doof didn’t sleep in his at all – we resorted to the Ergo again (see baby tips above) – but if he had it would have been in a perfect location – keeping him off the floor, within easy reach and sight, all whilst still allowing you the ‘luxury’ of all the legroom that your seat affords… To use this, as well as the bassinet, you do need to make sure you reserve a bulkhead seat though (or if the airline screws your reservation up, like they did with one of our journey legs, hope that there are some very nice other passengers who are happy to trade seats) as the shelf they sit on is only available in those seats.

He only really sat in this seat long enough for me to take this photo :(

6. BA bassinet bigger than virgin

Obviously this might not help you if you’ve already booked a flight but it’s useful info to know if you’re still choosing a carrier. Doof aged 5 months just fitted in Virgin bassinet. Doof aged 13 months managed to squish into BA one!

Just squidging in at 13 months...

7. Make up the milk when you first board

If you are still using formula milk then have a pre-measured amount in a small container and ask the cabin crew to fill your beaker/bottle with boiling water as soon as you board. Make up the milk straight away and then stash it somewhere – by the time you need it, it should have cooled to a nice temperature and you don’t have to stress about running it under cold water/dumping it in ice etc. By the time we flew Doof was actually on cow’s milk but I thought it would be much easier to do the above for the flight rather than trying to find fresh milk after going through security and it actually worked really well. I had small 100ml containers I’d used for expressing in the early days – a perfect size for the amount of formula needed for a 180ml Tommee Tippee cup :)


I hope some of these tips are helpful to anyone else thinking of long distance travel. On our next transatlantic flight Doof will have just turned 2 and Doofette will be 3 months so anyone with tips on how to manage two children please comment below!!

Happy travelling :)

More tips for a cake smash

Further to my earlier blog post here are some other tips and tricks I picked up when preparing for Doof’s cake smash. I carefully scribbled them all down on scraps of paper and realised I should actually record them properly – even if only so I can remember them for Doofette’s first cake smash next year :)
  1. Think about colour and texture when choosing a backdrop. You want a colour that compliments or contrasts with cake and outfit colour without being too overpowering – a bolder colour for the cake/outfit with a more muted background often looks good. Cloth or paper makes a good texture – avoid anything shiny (such as plastic tablecloths) as these will reflect the light in large bright spots if using any artificial lights or a camera flash

  1. If you are shooting inside and the light is not that great then hang white sheets around any nearby walls/furniture to bounce the light

  1. Take photos from all different perspectives – e.g. from the front, angled, from overhead and also focus on smaller details such as baby’s toes, hands and mouth.

  1. If your baby is more mobile and likely to stand up/walk around then think about putting the cake on a stand or small stool to raise it to nearer their level

  1. Keep extra decorations nearby so you can add extra to the cake during the smash

  1. Consider adding whipped cream to top of the cake to make the icing more inviting and messy once baby starts to play with it. And if you’ve iced the cake in advance then make sure you remove it from the fridge at least 6-8 hours in advance so both the icing and cake have time to warm up and soften

  1. Have a spoon or cake cutter to hand just in case baby needs some encouragement to break into the cake

  1. Pick the colours for the cake carefully – both the inside and icing – you want  ones that will contrast with both the background and the chosen outfit but might want to avoid too much red (could look like blood!) or brown/chocolate (you can imagine what that might look like if smeared everywhere!)

  1. Don’t go overboard with background decorations. A banner or few balloons may look nice but too many different items can make the background look cluttered, distract from the main focal points (cake/baby) and may also take the baby’s attention away from the actual cake

  1. If using a DSLR (which will give the best images if you have one as it allows you to change the settings depending on light etc) then use a single lens and have all the settings ready before you start – there will be no time once baby has started on the cake! Check all the settings on the background with the baby in the foreground (this is a good chance to get some pre-cake baby photos) and remember once baby starts moving you will likely need a fast shutter speed which will limit how much light gets in

  1. If your baby like particular treats (e.g. cheerios or banana chunks) then you could put some on top of the icing to entice them to dig in. If they haven’t been allowed cake before they may not recognise it as something nice and so may be reticent about getting stuck in

  1. And lastly – every baby is different in how they respond to the invitation to get as messy as they like with a large cake. Doof was quite used to getting messy with his normal food but was still quite shy about digging into a whole cake. To maximise the chances of your baby having fun though I’d recommend encouraging them to play with food day-to-day (which is what dieticians and paediatiricans advise you doing anyway – to improve their motor skills, independence and a healthy attitude to feeding) and engage them in “messy play” activities so they aren’t overwhelmed by a cake with mile-high icing!

Have fun!!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Creative play (1)

Now I'm back to working full-time I do miss those long lazy days of maternity leave when Doof and I had all day, every day to ourselves and could do whatever we liked, with seemingly endless time to fit everything in (FYI this is much easier if you have a baby who wakes at 6am every day... Hmmm). 

So when I have days off now I like to spend them with Doof, both just chilling out enjoying his company and also exploring new things together.

Recently I came across some amazing bloggers who have so many inventive ideas for creative/fun/sensory/messy play. After initially finding one, I then found more and more and more - and with them a whole host of lovely things for Doof and I to try together. There are way too many great ones to name them all but some of my favourites are:

Here are some of the activities we've had fun playing with in the last month:
(Some ideas came from me (but definitely not all as I seem to lack imagination!! Lol), some from a mix of lots of places/amalgamating a collection of thoughts etc and some from a specific blogger - who I always try and link to/credit if I can remember where I first saw the idea)


1. Couscous sandpit

There are hundreds of different things you can use in a "sensory bin". At the moment I try to only use edible materials as Doof is very capable to tucking into anything at any time! As a result I thought couscous was a pretty perfect substitute for sand (apart from the not-being-able-to-stick-together-to-make-sandcastles...). Doof doesn't have a sandpit at home and our garden is too small to house any sand/water pits/activity tables etc so I loved the idea of having a makeshift box we could bring out whenever the weather is nice and he feels like a play.

What we used:
- large cake tupperware
- 1kg bag of couscous
- selection of beach toys (e.g. rake, spade, small bucket)
- selection of toys (e.g. Plastic animals, cars)

So when we had a nice sunny day I put out the couscous tray and all the extra bits on the playmat outside. I showed Doofy what was there and then let him explore. Firstly he was very excited by the rake and spade. Then he tried to fill the bucket up using the spade (this was rather difficult due to the large size of the spade and small size of the bucket!). Next he had fun sprinkling the couscous between his fingers, making couscous rain and burying the animals.

In all he played in his couscous pit for about 10 minutes - which is quite a long time for his attention span!! Then when he had finished I just swept up any spilt couscous back into the tub and then poured it all into a ziplock bag so it's ready for use on another day - super easy :)

2. Rice crispie bin

I decided to try a bit of a variation of the sensory play above and so made a hide-and-seek version.

What we used:
- large box of rice crispies
- empty cardboard box (just happened to be the only thing that was roughly the right size)
- selection of animals/toys

First I got Doof to put all his animals into the box (a good excuse to practice animal noises and encourage tidying!). I then opened the cereal packet and helped D pour all the rice crispies into the box. I'm sure older children could easily do that on their own but Doof's aim is not perfect and I didn't fancy finding crispy bits all over the floor for the next week...

Doof really enjoyed fishing around for the animals, trying to find any that were buried and sampling a fair few rice crispies along the way! It may not have been the greatest idea to do this activity just before lunch when D was already hungry!! Once he had found them all, we reburied them and he found them all again J He happily played for 15 minutes until lunch was ready and I think he would have played for even longer if I’d given him a few more props like a spade or bucket. I thought I’d keep it quite simple though as we only had limited time before lunch.

At the end we had fun tidying up too - Doof took all the animals out and then used a big spoon (actually a vegetable drainer!) to shovel the rice crispies into a ziplock bag. This bit was quite messy with lots of spillage so I'd recommend doing it while still on the playmat/whatever surface is easy for you to sweep clean! We did the whole activity sitting on a sheet so when he was finished I could just pick the sheet up and tip the crumbs/crushed up crispies straight into the bin :)

3. Making Easter cards  

This idea came from Nuture Store - and Doof loved making these cards almost as much as his grandparents enjoyed receiving them :) I also loved the fact that making them involved a while range of different activities – painting, sticking, colouring etc – the variety kept Doof’s attention much longer than a single activity usually would.

What we used:
- coloured card
- rabbit picture (via link)
- chick and sheep cookie cutters
- paints and felt tips
- black/white wool

First I printed off a sheet with the rabbit templates and then let Doof loose with a selection of paints and brushes. He loved sitting at his new little table and painted 3 lovely multi-coloured rabbits. I then cut round the rabbits and Doof spread glue on the back of each and stuck one on the front of each card. Inside each card we traced around a chick cookie cutter on one side and a lamb cookie cutter on the other (D tried to help a bit with this but it was really far too fiddly for him). He then coloured in the chicks with felt tips – on one he even managed to accidentally draw a pretty realistic-looking wing! I then cut some long lengths of wool which he then stuck to the lambs (this bit was a bit messy as we had to use PVC glue to make it stick…). The finishing touch was adding a pompom as the rabbit’s tail and writing a message inside :)

We spread this activity out over a whole afternoon which was perfect for Doof as it meant he could spend as much time as he liked on each separate portion and we had little “play breaks” in between so he didn’t feel at any point that he was *having* to do a particular thing. Of course if your toddler if more focused or a bit older they could make these cards in a much shorter time period!!


If any of these have given you ideas for future play then we’d love to hear about what you get up to and if you have any other ideas for us to try then please leave a comment as I’m always happy to have new inspiration

Next month I’ll post about what new activities we’ve tried :)