Feeding Our Family and Monthly Meal Planning – What works for us.

Over the last few years when I have talked about monthly meal planning and shopping or the way that we eat as a (fairly) big family and on a tight budget people look at me like I’m a teensy bit crazy.

Um … they’re probably right.

But – then I get a bajillion questions and I feel like I never get to answer them completely.

So here, in one place, I’ve brought it all together.

How we plan and how we approach food and feeding at our place.

Please let me be very clear – I know this won’t work for everyone. But this is what works well for us. There are 6 of us. My husband works full time, I juggle a couple of jobs. We both volunteer with our Church and sports. We want to fit in exercise and gardening and then there is allllllll of the stuff that comes with 4  VERY active children! And on top of that – we also have food allergies and sensory issues to deal with so eating out or grabbing food on the fly doesn’t always work (or suit our budget!).

Firstly. I write a menu and do a grocery shop for a monthIt looks a bit like this (actually at the moment, it isn’t footy season so it’s missing a weekend game and 2 training sessions!!):

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Our menus change with the season and what is growing locally

You can check out this previous post about how I actually shop and budget.

You don’t feel like the thing on the menu for that night? No worries – There are 20 other meals to choose from, so switch it up!

I talk to the kids as I’m writing it and we all give ideas as a family about what we like and are enjoying at the moment – they feel included and it helps me when I’m stuck for ideas!

It makes sure that it takes into account what activities we have on each day, what our work loads look like and any major things on that month. No good planning a 3 course meal for dinner and then only having 20 minutes at home in between gymnastics and jujitsu to make it!

You’ll see that we have a deliberate plan to eat left-overs (usually Sunday night) so that we don’t have food waste.

How do we eat as a family?

  • We try to eat foods that are largely unrefined. And with a heavy emphasis on plant based foods. Fruit, veg, beans and lentils, nut and seeds, whole grains etc. Processing in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but we try to avoid too many ultra processed foods.IMG_20191017_175142_869
  • We eat a rainbow – of natural colour! Lots of variety, fruits, veg and all manner of plants – raw, cooked, hidden and visible. Make it a challenge to eat the most colours and variety. Don’t forget that frozen veg and tinned beans etc can be a great, simple, budget friendly option to help you out here.

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    Choosing variety and colour!
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Literally turning platters into rainbows!
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So many ways to eat green!
  • When we eat meat we don’t have huge portions and we don’t make it the focus of the meal – more like a side. And we bulk up the  meal with mushrooms, beans and veg as much as possible. It is very easy to get enough protein in the western world, but as a nation we don’t do well at eating enough veg or getting enough fibre (so critical to our health and wellbeing) so this is a good way to encourage it.

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    Veggie Bolognese – mushroom and lentil style
  • As parents, we are in charge. We make the food decisions in our  house. I absolutely get that this one is controversial. And if you are going to make changes to align with this – it will take time and there will be resistance. And yes, I completely understand that this will change as the children get older (they range from almost 6 to 11.5 right now). But, I have a better idea of what their nutritional needs are. If there is food that I don’t want them to eat, I do not buy it. It’s too hard to have it in the house and then have to police it. (Same goes for me and icecream – we do not keep it in the house because it is my downfall!!!)
  • We subscribe very much to a ‘We provide, they decide’ approach to eating. You can check out more from Ellyn Satter  about the division of food responsibilities. This does mean that our children have the right to decide if they eat and how much they eat of the meals provided. BUT there are NO alternatives. The family meal is the family meal. This removes pressure and battles from meal time. There is no coercion around food or finishing everything on their plates. We model the food and eating behaviours we want them to share, and over time they learn to trust and listen to their bodies, serve themselves and and make good food choices. We do a lot of placing everything in the middle and letting them serve themselves. Below are rice paper wraps, fish wedges and salad, Mexican wraps/bowls plus nuggets and veg

 

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They learn to love their food!
  • We are aware of our kids likes/dislike and food preferences around textures (due to SPD) etc – But that does not mean that we simply stop serving the foods that one of them dislikes. We do talk to them when we’re creating our menu. Then they know that there is lots of food coming up that they do enjoy. If we are serving a meal that we know is not a favourite, we make sure that there are some things on the plate that they are comfortable with. If we are serving up a new meal (and one I suspect will not be well received!) I make sure that a small portion of it is on the plate (simply having the food near them helps with exposure and familiarity) but kept a bit separate from the other familiar food. Below is when we introduced mushroom stroganoff – all in one for the adults and separately, without pressure for the kids.

 

  • We encourage our kids to be involved with food, right from growing our veggies and helping with the gardening to helping us to prepare and serve the food.

 

  • We allow and encourage food exploration. Touching, poking, licking, sniffing … all fine (at our home dinner table!). Also we talk about our food in a way that removes pressure: What colour it is? Does it crunch or squish when you bite it? It is different cooked to raw? Can you write you name with it or make a face?
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Mum! Listen to this crunch!
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Wonder who is responsible for this one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Food is not ‘good or bad’. It is not a moral choice. We do talk about what food gives us and how it makes us feel – this food will give me lots of protein and help me build up my muscles. This food will give me good energy to get through a long gymnastics session. This food has lots of fibre and it will help me to poop (a kids favourite!). If I eat too much of this food my tummy doesn’t feel good. We also talk about our favourite foods and our special memories around food – after all food is about far more than just nutrients!
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Muscles from our Hulk muffins
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Christmas Food with my extended family – my very favourite celebration!
  • We keep food really simple. We eat a lot of food that looks like this (you’ll see in our menu that we call them ‘serve yourself platters’):
  • There is no ‘snack box’ in the pantry filled with packaged and ‘easy’ snacks and the kids are not free to just help themselves whenever they want. There are defined meal and snack times. After which the kitchen is closed. This helps them to learn to listen to their bodies and actually be ready to eat properly at meal times. Kids (and adults!) don’t actually need to graze all day long. Of course there are times when then there needs to be an exception – if they ask, they know they can usually grab an apple or a carrot.
  • We cook in bulk and freeze. There are deliberate left-overs to make filling lunches and batch cooking allows the main part of the meal to be used in different ways, with very little effort on my part!
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Veggie egg cups ready for the freezer
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Bulk Mexican Chicken – this will portioned into the freezer and become wraps/bowls, enchiladas and tacos

Bulk bolognese gets turned into a 2nd meal of empanadas

  • We make school lunches the night before, for kids and adults alike. No exceptions. I cannot even fathom the stress of making 6 lunches in the morning whilst getting ready for school and work, getting washing on the line and starting dinner. Eek! Made the night before I have space to think about it, make sure is is varied and I sleep easier knowing is it one less job in the morning!
  • We snack plan/prep. As well as having a meal menu, we always have snack basics in the house ready to go.  It means that we can eat well with little fuss. Our go to snacks are lots of veggies and fruit then we add things like hummus, yoghurt, bliss balls, roasted almonds, hard boiled eggs, pikelets and popcorn.

 

 

So there is it.

We plan, we prepare, we eat simply, we eat variety that is heavily plant-based.

Importantly, our kids are involved with the food at all stages but we do not pressure them about food or force them to eat it. Parents decide what’s on offer, we give them opportunity to serve and explore, we model healthy eating behaviours but food is not a battle ground!

If you have made it to the end … well done! I know it seems confronting when you see it all  together. Can I encourage you if you are feeling overwhelmed to start simply. Pick one thing and go for it. Small changes really add up over time. Get your family involved and work on it together!

Good luck – I’m always here to answer questions!

J x

Washing, bathing and cleaning in an Itchin’ house

Sadly, lots of kids with food allergies also have related conditions such as asthma, eczema and hayfever. We have all 3 of these in our house, which we have learned to manage fairly well.

On top of this, our Mr 3, Harry, has a very serious allergy to some cleaning products and certain chemicals. After a particularly scary reaction and a race to the emergency department just after he turned one we were given an epi-pen, which we carry at all times. However, we have since discovered that he is a super sensitive little dude and that even a visit to a recently cleaned public loo or a change in sunscreen can leave him crying in pain from the nasty burn type reaction that spreads over his body from contact.

So I wanted to share with you some of the ways that our family washes, bathes and cleans, whilst managing these allergies.

*Please keep in mind that I am NOT a doctor or dermatologist and am not suggesting that the things that work for our family WILL be the answer for yours – but we have had a long journey to work out these things and I’d love to think that it might give you a place to start if you also have an Itchin’ household that is not restricted to the Kitchen. Additionally, we are not in any way paid to endorse these products!!

My 3 beautiful reasons for changing the way we do things!
My 3 beautiful reasons for changing the way we do things!

Vaccuming – Since dust mites and dust are an asthma trigger for us, and we have 3 little people and dog inside (!!), I vacuum twice a week. We have pulled up all carpet and put down bamboo and we don’t have cloth blinds/drapes to eliminate as much as we can.  Lots of vacuums just stir up dirt and blow it back out again so a really good vacuum is helpful. We installed a ducted vacuum system (which you can do yourself if you are handy, like my husband, to save big $$) which means that the pipe goes straight to the motor outside in the garage and there is no dust re-circulation. I know lots of other allergy sufferers who swear by their Dyson’s too.

Dusting – I use a damp or electrostatic cloth to avoid stirring up dust. I dust weekly to keep on top of it – we live in an area where there is still quite a bit of house construction so it gets really dusty!

Mopping – When I had a tiled floor I had a great steam mop. Loved that I could get a really clean floor without any chemicals. Sadly, steam mops are a big no no on wooden floors so I have recently purchased a Norwex microfibre mop that I use with plain water. Enjo also make a similar product and there are other less expensive versions available at the supermarket.

General cleaning – Orange oil, bi-carb soda and plain white vinegar are my new best friends. I haven’t always been a fan of this type of cleaning product but as I have tried to protect my family I have also been convicted of the need to protect our environment (and our household budget as a bonus!). I use about 10 drops of orange oil in water mixed in a spray bottle to clean the bathrooms, toilets and showers. As opposed to tougher chemical cleaners, you do need to do this more frequently because it isn’t as good at cleaning up a scary build up of mould and grime, but if you keep on top of it weekly, it works well. Bi- carb and warm water is a great cleaner for most things, use it as a paste if you need more of a cream type scrub or mix with a small amount of vinegar if you want a fizzing clean. Works for cleaning kids bath toys, un-blocking drains, and de-scaling your iron and kettle. It also works for getting smells (like pet wee or vomit) out of carpets . I do have to confess that I still use a bit of bleach on the inside of my toilet bowl – it is away from contact with Harry and those ingrained ideas about germs are very hard for me to completely ignore 😉 I use white vinegar in my dishwasher as my standard rinse aid and if I run out of the dishwasher detergent I use a heaped tsp of bi-carb and 3 drops of orange oil – works beautifully!

Two of my best cleaning friends
Two of my best cleaning friends

Washing clothes and nappies – My favourite washing detergent is called ‘Rockin Green’. I haven’t found it in a supermarket yet but it is easy to order on line with a Google search. It is totally phosphate free and also free of enzymes and optical brighteners. It is particularly amazing if, as we do, you wash cloth nappies. If I don’t have the Rockin Green, I use a standard sensitive washing powder, but I use only about 1/3 of the amount specified on the pack and often do and extra rinse too. As a pre wash for cloth nappies, a teaspoon of bi carb is amazing. I also sprinkle a tsp of bi-carb into the bottom of the nappy bucket to help absorb the smells.

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Bathing – Any kind of detergent is out for Harry, so we bath the kids nightly in warm water and a few tablespoons of Dermaveen Oatmeal Bath and Shower oil. If they are out at another house it is just plain water and a face-washer. A couple of drops of food colouring in the bath turns it a great colour if you want to make it more interesting. The oatmeal oil is beautiful and moisturizing and it is lanolin, paraben and fragrance free.  Because I am in so much contact with the kids, I also use this to wash myself.

Skin care after baths – To keep on top of the rashes and scaly skin we need to make sure the kids are very regularly moisturized. We use Dermeze Ointment. It is a soft white paraffin and quite thick, but it works wonders for sore and sensitive little bodies. We also use organic rose-hip oil on sore spots if they’re not bad enough to require the really strong medicated creams we also have. Dermaveen also make a nice thick eczema cream that is lovely and relieving and not as greasy if you aren’t so dry or itchy.

Bath time and after bath skin care
Bath time and after bath skin care

Nappy Rash – This has been a big difficulty for Ellie as well as Harry, so after lost of bleeding bottoms (after only 1 acidic nappy) and doctors visits, we seem to have a routine that clears it up fairly quickly. We avoid commercial wipes and use warm water mixed with a tsp of bi-carb and wipe with a soft, chemical free, make up pad.  Then when it is particularly bad, we use Hyrdozole cream (from your Pharmacist, it is a anti-fungal mixed with a cortisone) and then after a few minutes, use a very thick layer of Nappy Mate paste over the top (this was developed at the Children’s hospital in Perth for kids who were admitted to hospital with Nappy Rash, and is very thick and can be quite tricky to apply but it is by far the best healing barrier cream I have ever come across). Also let those bottoms air as much as you can … fresh air and a bit of sunshine works wonders!

I realize that all written down in one place, this looks like a lot to change – but be assured, we have done this gradually and it’s now just second nature.

Keeping your kids safe and well is always a big challenge – Good Luck and please let us know if you have any other tips for managing these things in your Itchin’ house.

Tips for having a successful weekend away

“How many sleeps Mum?!”

We fielded that question for at least 10 days – the kids were super excited about our weekend away in the country, and so was I. There was some trepidation on my behalf though – having kids with allergies makes travelling quite a bit harder and requires some forward planning – but I think my preparation made our weekend a great (and allergy safe) one.

Before you go:

– think about where you are going and staying –

  • What type of accommodation are you booking? I think self-contained is a great idea for families with food allergies. It doesn’t give the cook as much of a holiday but it certainly reduces the risk.
  • Is there a hospital in the vicinity? This is something to think about if you are dealing with anaphylaxis. We had a district hospital nearby and I knew we were only a short air-lift to Perth.
  • What activities will you do that could be risky? We were staying at a farm where we would be feeding animals – I made sure I remembered to ask the farmer when we arrived if there were nut products in the feed – there was, so we were able to help our kids adjust to the fact that they coudn’t feed certain animals and the farmer was fabulous too – he let our kids feed the other animals so they didn’t miss out.
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Feeding Katie the Kangaroo

– plan your meals –

  • Dinner – I planned our menu for the weekend and froze two dinners/partial dinners from our meals in the week so that I didn’t have to cook much while away. We had soup and rolls the first night – all I had to do was reheat the soup and put the rolls in the oven for 5mins. The second night I used the leftover taco mince I had frozen in a pasta bake – so I cooked pasta and added some grated carrot, cooked broccoli (just throw it in the pot of boiling pasta 5min before it is finished) and then I took Jemima’s portion out before sprinkling cheese on top and baking in the oven.

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    Ready to bake my Vegan Chocolate Fudge Cake – thanks to RetroMummy
  • Snacks – I brought fruit and dip and crackers (as well as baby snacks)  but I also baked a cake for us to have as a treat (see here for the recipe). Very exciting for the kids!
  • Lunch – we planned to have bakery lunches as we knew there was a bakery in the town. Those who could had pies and Jemima had hot chips as the bakery wasn’t as well stocked as we had hoped. Very thankful for the humble hot chip! The one thing that could have gone wrong was that the pie Cohen chose didn’t end up being the one he got (the lady picked up the wrong one) but we didn’t notice until he was a few bites in. That made us very thankful that there hadn’t been a satay pie or something and that we will need to be more careful next time!
  • Breakfast – we had special “holiday” cereals that we don’t normally allow at home. 2 days of Coco Pops and Nutrigrain was super exciting for the kids and easy for me. Emmalyn was very happy with her Weetbix still especially with the view of the alpacas out the breakfast window.
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Saying hello to the duck who was after our breakfast!

– Make a list

  • My Mum always wrote packing lists so that’s what I do too. I write it a couple of nights before so that it’s in the back of my head and I am less likely to forget something come packing night.
  • Don’t forget your medications. As well as our regular emergency bag (epipens, asthma prevention meds and ventolin), I make up a little first aid kit including Panadol, Nurofen, Redipred (that’s a prescription one so only if you need it), our extra epipen, bandaids and Paraderm Plus (an antiseptic, anaesthetic and anti-itch cream – covers lots of bases).

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    Out collecting rocks and feathers

While you are there:

– Activities

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Fresh sour dough with lemon infused olive oil
  • With little kids, not doing much driving is the best choice for us so we enjoyed being a walk into town (that option had made the accommodation very appealing) and spent time exploring the farm, feeding the animals, playing in their playground and made one drive out to an olive oil company for a parents’ choice activity – yum!
  • We continued with our regular rest routine as Emmalyn needed to sleep anyway and the kids (and us!)love their downtime.
  • We enjoyed not having anything else to do and having my husband around without work needing to be done was great.
  • We brought a couple of toys each as we planned to be outside most of the time. The best one for the older two was Jemima’s Lego briefcase with a couple of extras. How great is Lego?!

We had such a wonderful weekend away – hoping we can do it again soon!

Menu Planning and Keeping my sanity!

Several times in the last 4.5 years on our food allergy journey I have made mistakes or oversights that have led to my kids having reactions … and trust me – it feels awful 😦

So I wanted to share with you some of our tips for how we cope in our home in the hope that it might help you too.

Menu

  • Have lots of safe snacks on stand by. Individually wrapped and frozen slices, muffins and breads are really handy. I always have some fruit or rice crackers in my nappy bag so I can feed Ellie if we get caught out somewhere for longer than I had expected.
  • We all eat the same thing at meal time as much as possible to avoid cross contamination (and it’s easier for me!)
  • We all use Nuttelex instead of butter or margarine so that there aren’t any remnants in spread jars.
  • Different face-washers each day for Ellie and the boys so that we’re not wiping allergens on her if the boys have been eating them.
  • Will’s allergy to most nuts is potentially life threatening so, as a blanket rule they are not allowed in the house, and Harry isn’t allowed to eat them when he’s out because he’s in such close contact with Will (we may need to rethink how we deal with this one as they get older).
  • Always check labels on packaged foods – ingredients change, even between versions of the same brand (eg plain or grain packet bread mix). I recently made the mistake of buying a home brand version of a cereal that is normally fine for Will only to have him break out in hives after eating only a tbsp. Turns out the home brand version had vitamin A extracted from peanuts in it!
  • I don’t love doing dishes so I try not to use 2 lots of utensils when cooking, so if we aren’t eating exactly the same thing, I tend to do Ellie’s first. Eg, drain the GF pasta first then use the same drainer for the regular pasta afterwards, or cut Ellie’s bread on the bread board and then when hers is on the plate, do the regular bread next.
  • Baking paper in the sandwich press is easily switched so that there’s no contamination from crumbs or cheese etc.
  • Make sure faces and hands are washed after meals and snacks and before kids play with toys.
  • Lastly we talk to our kids regularly about allergies. The boys are 2 and 4 and they know to always ask about nuts and eggs before they eat food from anyone else. Fortunately (in some ways) Ellie’s reaction to some things are quite instant so they have seen the welts pop up when they kiss her after drinking milk etc. And they know not to feed her anything unless they’ve checked with me – and even tell their little friends when we are out and about.

Do you have any other allergy survival tips to share?

What’s in Jessie’s kitchen?

This post is to help give you an idea of the kinds of things you might need/want in your kitchen if you are a family with multiple food allergies who is looking for what you CAN eat!

After a horrible mouse plague when we lived in the desert (we’d sometimes kill more than 20 in a night inside!!), my husband agreed that everything needed to be airtight – so you can check my fridge and pantry out below:

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Nuttelex: We use Nuttlelex (a vegan butter) for the dairy free option. But we try and keep it to a minimum. A separate knife is always used here.

Butter: Plain butter without additives for the non dairy free.

Milks: Full cream cows milk for Peter and the boys, and Ellie and I use mostly oat milk but also rice and almond milk, depending on what it is we’re cooking/drinking.

Yoghurts: Homemade dairy and homemade soy.

Eggs: 5 of the 6 of us can eat eggs now (YAY!). These mostly come from friend’s chooks.

Cheese: Dairy Cheese and Bio Cheese

Dates: Medjool dates – I buy them in bulk as they are the base for soooo many things we make.

Dips and spreads: Cream Cheese (soy and dairy), sunflower seed butter& hummus,

Herbs/Spices: minced garlic, ginger and chilli, coconut aminos

We always have loads of fruit and vegetables on hand for easy snacks.

Frozen stuff: I am lucky enough to have a big freezer. It is spilt in to 6 labelled drawers (yes, I’m a massive nerd!).

Drawer 1: Breads and scrolls, pizzas and savoury muffins. These are in zip lock bags, to pull out easily for lunch-boxes.

Drawer 2: Baked goods and sauces. These are all the cakes, muffins, pikelets, frozen pastry or raw pie crusts etc. Also home-made gravies (in reusable squeezey pouches), jars of salsa, apple sauce and tablespoons of aquafaba.

Drawer 3: Meat. I buy for a month at a time based on our menu and portion it out and label it before freezing.

Drawer 4: Pre-made meals. I cook in bulk and freeze the left overs.

Drawer 5: Frozen fruits, herbs. Peeled, overripe bananas, peeled and seeded avocados and mangoes, berries, and extra herbs from my garden.

Drawer 6: Frozen Veg – peas, corn, spinach, green beans etc.

In the pantry we have:

Flours: Lots of different kinds but we largely use spelt or a GF mix. 20151023_212005

Sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, golden syrup, rice malt syrup, coconut sugar, also icing sugar for cakes.

Carbohydrates: We use mostly brown or wild rice, but also quinoa, corn cous cous and a mix of GF pasta, spaghetti and Slim Pasta.

No egg: an egg replacer made by Orgran

Cereals: Mostly we have porridge made with plain rolled oats, but we also make our own muesli (with a mix of seeds and dried fruits) and have some Freedom Foods cereals (at the moment we have the Rice Puffs). Also rolled quinoa and polenta. Plus GF weetbix and Oat bran flakes.

Condiments etc: salt and pepper, spices (galore!), tomato, bbq, (homemade) sweet chilli sauce and coconut aminos. We use balsamic, red wine, white and apple cider vinegars, Massel stock powder (chicken, beef and vegetable style). The oil we use is mostly olive oil but also occasionally coconut oil or rice bran. I make my own Mexican Spice mix and French Onion Soup mix. Nutritional yeast features heavily too.

Spreads: Honey/maple syrup, vegemite and of course there is always a huge jar of Sunflower Seed Butter

Dried fruits: Sultanas apricots and prunes are the staples.

For baking: GF baking powder, bi-carb, glucose syrup, vanilla bean paste, cocoa/cacao.

Seeds and nuts: the regular seeds are sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds. Our regular morning tea snacks are a mixture of almonds that I dry roast, dried chick peas and dried broad beans, as well as a small sprinkling of dried fruit. In winter we have a soup mix that I make up with red lentils, yellow and green split peas and barley. Safe nuts in our house are almonds and walnuts.

Crackers and biscuits: Multi-grain rice/quinoa squares, and wholegrain sa-ka-ta rice crackers. Biscuits are normally home-made but we keep a back up packet of Macro’s ginger nuts too.

Tins: Beans and legumes, coconut cream and milk, bbq baked beans. Crushed tomatoes. Tins of salmon.

Special treats: Organ makes a good custard powder. Mini marshmallows or Sweet William chocolate or choc chips, also FreeFrom Cake mix is often on standby. Popcorn kernels – so cheap and easy!!

If they are available, for all that I buy, I tend to go for organic, preservative free and Australian grown/made where ever possible.