Simple fix: Treat day!

Every Friday is Treat Day for my kids.

I buy them a bar of their favourite chocolate each, and they look forward to it, counting down the days.

Prior to creating “Treat Day”, treats were out of control. Every time I went shopping, the kids wanted something, and treats were becoming more and more common. It wasn’t good for the budget, and it certainly wasn’t good for my kids’ health or their teeth!

If the kids are with me at the supermarket, they know there’s no point asking for goodies if it isn’t Friday, because only Friday is “Treat Day”. It saves a lot of nagging, and makes shopping so much nicer 🙂

I’ve recently added myself into the “Treat Day” routine too, as my own chocolate addiction was getting out of control again – just ask my partner!

Now I have to look forward to Fridays, right along with the kids! 😦

Sometimes, simple guidelines and a regular routine can make a huge difference – save a lot of money and make families healthier too.

Do you have any routines such as “Treat Day” for your family, or do you think having a “Treat Day” might help create routine for your kids and you?

chocolate

My favourite chocolate!

Healthy breakfasts: Don’t be a cereal offender!

Anyone who has ever had to clean a stuck-on, dried-out, dirty cereal bowl will understand why we don’t eat cereals with milk in our house.

Apart from being messy to clean up, cereals are also expensive, and not particularly healthy. Some are ridiculously high in sugar. I don’t think they’re good for our health or our budget.

We’ve moved back to older, basic breakfasts that people ate traditionally, before Mr Kellogg started selling his corn flakes a century ago. We’re also trying some foods that have never been a part of a traditional breakfast, at least as far as I can tell!

So I’d like to share with you some great breakfast ideas all of which I think are better options for families. All are budget-friendly, and easy to prepare.

Because life should be an adventure. And that includes breakfast!

  • Eggs. Two eggs per person, cooked any way. Add some toast if you want. You’re done! My son likes soft boiled eggs and soldiers, while I like my eggs poached (you can poach in the microwave in a mug of water) with a little table salt for flavour. Eggs are also great as omelettes, or scrambled on toast.
  • Vegetable tacos. Why not? Tortillas with cheese, cucumber and tomatoes in winter, plus a dash of salsa. In winter, we replace the cucumber and tomatoes with carrots, broccoli and fried onion. Yum!
  • Toast. My kids like toast for breakfast. My daughter has strawberry jam, my son has chocolate spread. I like vegemite. We keep our spreads limited to one choice per person – any more, and they’ll start cluttering up your pantry. Feel like something different? Try someone else’s choice for a change!
  • Porridge. The old-fashioned stand-by. Warming, filling and economical, there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of porridge on a cold winter morning.
  • Milkshakes! Breakfast doesn’t have to be solid food. Sometimes we like to just make up chocolate milkshakes and go. Add a scoop of protein powder or psyllium husk if you feel you need more bulk added.
  • Green veggies. I cook frozen spinach in a pan with some garlic salt and pepper. It’s delicious, and a really easy way to get my greens right at the start of the day. Green veggies are a great accompaniment to eggs too! Other options for hitting the green in the morning are broccoli florets steamed in the microwave with a teaspoon of sweet chilli sauce, or cucumber wedges raw, cold and fresh out the fridge in summertime.
  • Pancakes. Pancakes on a Sunday morning are one of our family’s traditions. Make them a tradition for your family too. You’ll find my pancake recipe at the bottom of this page. Pancakes are cheap and quick, and they fill my kids up until mid-afternoon.
  • Soup. Soup is a great breakfast food. We keep a stock of tinned soups to hand, and I also make soups from scratch and freeze them into portions. Either option works, and both are great for breakfast with some toast to dip.
  • Fruit. You can’t beat an apple or two for a portable, easy breakfast. Bananas and mandarins are great too.
  • Greek yoghurt with scroggin or trailmix. I like to put a spoonful of dry scroggin or trailmix into my fresh Greek yoghurt. The combination of textures and flavours is lovely, filling, and perfect to start the day.
  • Last night’s leftovers. We commonly eat last night’s leftovers for breakfast. Leftover pizza is my favourite. Yummmmm!

What’s your favourite non-cereal breakfast? If you’ve tried something new and wonderful, or you eat something comforting and traditional, let me know in the comments!

cerealoffender

Pancake recipe

Ingredients:

Serves 4.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cup milks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup self raising flour.
  • Spray oil.

Method:

  • Put frypan on medium heat and spray with oil.
  • While pan is heating, combine sugar, plain flour and self raising flour in a large bowl.
  • Add milk gradually, stirring to a smooth paste.
  • Crack eggs into mixture, and stir until the egg is well mixed in.
  • Pour a large scoopful of mixture into pan. Flip when top of pancake is dry. Continue cooking until done.
  • Serve and cook remaining mixture into pancakes.

Ending food waste – with suburban chickens!

Chickens are the ultimate Pets with Benefits.

Housing chickens. They’re cheap to house – I built my chicken “tractor” out of recycled materials and some pieces of wood for very little money. Their nesting box is a plastic crate nailed to the side of the shelter end of the tractor, and their bedding is hay – one bale of hay lasts all year.

You can see the egg hatch in this photo. The shelter end of the tractor is made from recycled swimming pool cover. The tractor has no mesh on the bottom so the chooks can graze freely.

You can see the egg hatch in this photo. The shelter end of the tractor is made from recycled swimming pool cover. The tractor has no mesh on the bottom so the chooks can graze freely.

Moving the tractor. If you have a portable coop like mine, or even use a rabbit hutch for your chickens (they’re ideal), you can give your chickens access to fresh grass every day, then just move the coop along when they grass is gone. Their droppings fertilise your garden, and the grass helps keep your chickens healthy.

Chickens for renters. If you keep a small number of chickens in a portable coop or rabbit hutch, they’re a suitable pet even for renters. Check with your landlord, but many of my friends rent AND keep chooks! Better yet, with a portable coop you can take your chooks with you when you move!

Feeding chickens. Chickens end your family’s food waste and cut down on garbage going out to the landfill. We keep an airtight container on the kitchen bench for everything we don’t eat, and it all goes to feeding our chickens every day.

Chickens will eat practically anything. Mine won’t eat avocado skins or pits, and they’re not so keen on carrot ends, but everything else (including leftover chicken!) goes to the chooks.

I have friends who also give me their food leftovers. They simply keep a bag in their freezers and, when it’s full, they give me the bag which I give to my chickens. This way, I rarely have to buy chicken food.

Food waste is a real problem in our society. Instead of buying cat or dog food, and creating a problem, why not keep chickens, and solve a problem of waste for your family and family friends? Our chickens live on the leftovers of three households, so they’re really doing their bit for the earth 🙂

My chicken tractor, which fits up to six birds.

My chicken tractor, which fits up to six birds.

Eggs for free! My chickens lay an egg a day, pretty much all year around. That’s not too bad for an animal that gets rid of my food waste problem too!

Natural insecticide! Did you know that families that keep chickens have fewer flies in their homes! It’s true. Chickens eat flies, and they’ll help keep other insect populations down.

Natures gardeners! Have a vegetable plot that needs digging over? Put your chicken coop on the plot a few weeks before you want to plant. The chickens will dig it over for you, and fertilise it with lovely chicken manure. Work done! 🙂

Choosing your chickens. When choosing your chickens, you may want to opt for a great egg-laying breed. Breeds vary a lot. Mine are Hylines, a smaller breed well known for laying daily. Google your breed before buying.

A hyline chicken, the breed that I keep. They're great layers - I get an egg a day most days!

A hyline chicken, the breed that I keep. They’re great layers – I get an egg a day most days!

This lapsed vegan-turned-omnivore is thinking maybe the vegans are right, after all…

My confession: I’m a lapsed vegan.

I was a vegetarian for a long time, almost five years, and then a vegan for ten years or more after that. I stayed vegan right up until I bought my own farm and it seemed crazy to buy tofu from China while we had our own organic lambs in our own farm, barely a few feet away.

So I became a meat eater again. What started as a “only our own meat” exercise gradually became an “all meat” thing, and before I knew it, I was an omnivore again.

Sayonara veganism.

Now I’m not one to criticise other people’s diets any more, although I certainly used to be that way. Maybe being a meat eater again has helped me gain some perspective. I hope it has. I hope I’ve mellowed.

But I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, we need to start eating less meat again.

However…

Maybe the hard and fast lines aren’t helpful. Maybe we need soft lines, soft focus, and an understanding that judgement and rules aren’t useful for anyone.

Maybe the way forward is to be kind – to ourselves, to others, as well as to the planet.

I love food, and I’ve come to really enjoy my meat again. But I can’t help thinking that we’re all eating way too much of it. Humanity’s endless lust for protein is killing not just the planet but us as well.

I’m hearing about the way our fisheries are collapsing.
I’m seeing the way dairying is killing our river systems here in New Zealand.
I’m seeing and hearing the way cattle are destroying the Amazon, which used to be the lungs of the planet.
I think we all just need to take a breath, own the damage we’ve done, and recognise that our diets are a significant factor in all this.

I think we need to change.

So I’m drawing a line in the sand. I’m going back. Not to veganism again, not yet. But to being vegetarian during the week, and to leaving meat for weekends instead.

It’ll require a re-schedule of our rotational menu, but I think we need to do this. Two days of meat should be enough for anyone. We can also have meat on birthdays or special events, if they fall in the week. But I think reducing our meat intake won’t hurt us, and will probably make us healthier.

That’s what I’m going to do. Because the only way to be the change in the world is to make the change we wish to see.

earth

New year fitness resolutions that work!

Happy new year!

So here we are, in 2016, and we’re all cringing a bit at the heavy food we ate over the holiday season.

The ads are on TV for every kind of weight loss program and fitness machine you’d care to name, right? And every time we even think about fitting into our tightest pants, we heave a sigh of regret.

That’s how a lot of us feel, anyway.

But before you go signing over your money to the next program that doesn’t work, take some time to reflect. Not on the fastest way to lose weight, but on what will work for you.

Consider me, for example. I hate running. I’m 45 years old, and I know enough about myself to know that I hate running, hate exercise machines, and there is no way in hell you’ll get me on an elliptical at the gym.

Sure, I could do it for a while, but inevitably I’d stop and stall, and the program would end.

Likewise, although I love to swim, it’s too hard for me. The nearest pool is a fair distance away, I’d have to book a lane, it’s expensive, and I feel insecure in my swimsuit.

On the other hand, I love to go for walks. I live in a relatively flat area, with lots of beautiful scenery and few cars. Walking is easy. I can take my music player, and I find it relaxing and enjoyable.

I also love lifting weights. I love the challenge, and I’m really good at it. My gym is close by, and it’s cheap and friendly for women.

Now, you might be different. You might love swimming or adore running, while hating the very thought of lifting weights or going for a walk.

What I’m saying is, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it, and keep on doing it. And the only way that will happen is if you genuinely enjoy it.

Tips for choosing a sport

Do you have good hand-eye co-ordination?

If you’re the kid who was picked first for teams at school, then yes, you probably have good hand-eye co-ordination. Consider ball sports such as soccer, netball, cricket, football, volleyball, tennis.

Do you prefer: Group activities or singular activities?

If you love being with others for sport, try team sports. If you don’t have good hand-eye co-ordination, try rowing, sailing, group dance, lawn bowls, yoga, judo, a bushwalking club.

If you prefer to work alone, consider billiards, swimming, running, weightlifting, sculling, archery, golf.

Diet tips

You probably already know what to eat, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are out. Marion Nestle explains them well at her blog:

  • Less than 10% of calories from added sugars (esp. sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages)
  • Less than 10% of calories from saturated fats (esp. meat)
  • Less than 2,300 mg sodium (esp. processed foods and junk foods)

It’s not rocket science. Just clear your pantry of junk and processed foods, drink water, and limit meat serves. Then make sure you bring lunch from home and cook dinner instead of eating out.

Follow these guidelines and those extra chocolates and cake will be sure to come off in no time! 🙂

10 tips for suburban sustainability

This is the third post in a series titled “100% sustainable – is it possible?”. I hope you enjoy my analysis of different lifestyles, their ecological impact, and the possibility of humanity achieving sustainability.

We’re selling our farm, and moving into the suburbs of a small town to live.

I’ve already talked about how small homesteads aren’t necessarily sustainable, especially when you factor transport into the equation. The next question is, can suburbs be sustainable?

I think they can, but it depends on a lot of factors. So here are 10 tips for suburban sustainability.

1. Localize, localize, localize. Even in a city, you can localize. Find hobbies and social groups that are close by. Use the local shops where you can, and local businesses. Share tools and household implements and knowledge with your neighbours – and get to know your neighbours!

Every suburb or area has its own unique “vibe” and identity. Become a part of yours, and become known as a local member of the community. Make sure your kids are known too. You won’t regret it.

2. Transport. Transport is the big one. No lifestyle is sustainable if you need a car to get you everywhere. Choosing a home that is close to where you need to be on a regular basis (work, schools, hobbies) is a huge factor.

3. The size of the home. Big homes use more energy in just about every respect. Consider lighting, for example: my home (the farm) has 33 ceiling lights. My friend’s small bungalow in town has just seven. My farm was built in the 1980s; his bungalow was built in the 1930s.

Houses may be built more efficiently now, but as time has gone on they have got bigger, and added more “features”. Extra rooms, bathrooms, porches and windows all use lots of energy.

In short, if you want to know if a house will send you broke before you buy it, count the ceiling lights and windows.

4. Choose the smallest home that will fit your needs. You’ll be happier, wealthier, and have more free time because you won’t be spending so much time cleaning and maintaining a huge home!

5. Search for the sun. When you’re house-hunting, take a compass with you. Find north. If you live in a cold climate, the more low north-facing sky you can see (in the southern hemisphere) or low south-facing sky you can see (in the northern hemisphere), the warmer the house will be in winter.

Sunshine will make a massive difference to your heating bills.

6. Thick curtains, rugs and insulation. Make sure your home, wherever it is, is well-insulated. It’ll pay for itself very quickly. Likewise, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains will keep the warmth in in winter and keep the house cool in summer. Floor rugs are also great for warmth, and can be cleaned and replaced easier (and more cheaply) than wall-to-wall carpet.

7. Use your greenspace. I’m continually surprised at the fact that, on our farm, most of our home-produced food comes from the small amount of greenspace just outside our front door. Plus our chickens, which turn food scraps into eggs.

Don’t think for a moment that you need a farm to be sustainable. And don’t underestimate the amount of food that can be grown even in pots, on a balcony.

Just in pots we grow: cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, lettuce and a variety of herbs. They provide summer salads and desserts in very small space. It’s easy to do.

Strawberry plants - plus a few flowers - on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

Strawberry plants – plus a few flowers – on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

8. How much is that doggie in the window? How much does your pet really eat? I’m not saying don’t have a pet, but do the maths before you take on a pet. And if you do choose to have a pet, go to the SPCA if you can, and give a lost pet a new home.

9. The Farmer’s Market. Check to see if there’s a local Farmer’s Market, and use it. you’ll save money and shop more efficiently. Locally grown produce is almost always better, and usually cheaper as well as more sustainable.

10. Get to know your local secondhand stores. Buying secondhand is much more sustainable than buying new. And don’t be afraid to pass on old, outgrown items instead of binning them.

Good food, simple food: 4 easy guidelines to live by

Eating as a minimalist. Have you ever thought about it?

I’ve never been a fan of food guidelines, but as far as they go, this is about as good as it gets for me:

goodfood

I want to suggest a few ways to simplify eating well in what seems an increasingly complex world. Every day there seems to be a new diet, or new guru, telling us what to do and how to eat. So much BS! I’ve found, over the years, that going back to the basics is the best way to keep away from all the insanity and stay simple.

Here are four easy guidelines to clear the clutter in your kitchen, and help put those ridiculous diets where they belong (in the garbage!).

1. Ditch the unhelpful food pyramids.

Governments seem to be crazily keen on food pyramids, and food categories. So for the last few decades we’ve had the trend of foods being neatly boxed into “dairy”, “meat”, “fruits and vegetables” and “grains”.

The problem with that, of course, is that so many foods are a mix of groups. Better yet, a lot of foods we’d think of as one thing are quite the opposite.

Take those single serve yoghurts, for example. We’d think of them as “dairy”, which means “healthy” in most peoples’ minds. But they’re usually junk food, with most of their calories from processed sugar. May as well give your kid a chocolate bar and have done with it.

26g of fat? Yep. I'd call this junk.

26g of sugars? Yep. I’d call this junk.

I like thinking of food as “real” and “fake”. If it has a brand name and a package, it’s probably fake. If it comes in its own packaging or is edible as is right from the ground, like an apple or a stem of broccoli or a piece of fish, it’s real. If it needs refrigeration and consumption within a few days, it’s real. If it will keep for years, it’s probably fake.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Honey from the tombs of the pharoahs is apparently still edible (although I wouldn’t want to eat it) 3000 years later.

And home-preserved fruits and vegetables are real food too, although they’re often very high in sugar or salt (ever made jam? I have – and poured KILOGRAMS of sugar into my jam pan in the process!). Just because something is home-made doesn’t mean it is good for you. The world is full of fat home bakers, all convinced their treats are “healthy” and their genetics (or bad luck?) are putting the pounds on them instead.

2. If it lasts forever, or has a very long shelf life, it’s probably not good for you.

When McDonalds burgers can last for years, I’d say eating them regularly probably isn’t a good idea.

12yearold

3. Classify eating out as “junk food” in your mind. Always.

As for eating out, I classify it all as junk food. There’s been a big shift towards restaurants attempting to make their fare healthier, but the fact is that when you eat out, you can’t control ingredients OR the energy levels of the food you’re eating.

Over here in Dunedin, Pita Pit is becoming popular as a “healthy” choice for lunch. But a typical pita wrap will set you back between 700 – 1000 calories – about the same as a KFC burger, fries and drink combo. You think you’re making a good choice, and wondering why you’re losing the battle of the bulge.

It’s a no brainer when you do the maths. For me, as an active bodybuilder, one pita wrap takes up over half my calories for the day, and three days worth of fats. If I ate there every day, I’d soon look more like a sumo wrestler than a bodybuilder! And pita pit is one of the better places to eat out. If you prefer a place with noodles, stir fries or burgers, you’ll be eating even more calories, almost certainly. This is why the only way to think of eating out is to consider is all as junk, and not healthy, not ever.

4. Eat and cook at home. From scratch.

I’m convinced that the number one reason we have an obesity and health problems epidemic on our hands in our society is because people are eating out more than they eat at home. We’ve given up responsibility over our food and, consequently, our own bodies.

I’m also convinced that the depression epidemic we’re seeing is directly related to poor diet.

When you cook meals at home, you can see what you’re eating and what goes into it. I don’t believe we all have to be great cooks (I’m not!) but a basic meal which includes a fair amount of veggies (especially green ones!) is something we owe our kids, and ourselves.

I think we should be bringing back cooking lessons into all schools, and that we, as parents, should be teaching our kids how to cook food and prepare it safely. My kids (age 10 and 8) can both make their own lunches and breakfasts, and they’re learning how to cook dinners. And as a last word – boys need to learn how to cook too! 🙂

All kids need to learn to cook - boys too! Image from Camelot Day Nursery.

All kids need to learn to cook – boys too! Image from Camelot Day Nursery.