Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Minimize lunchbox packaging - Zero Waste Week

Did you know it's Zero Waste Week?  I'm proud to be an ambassador for this movement, and to help by sharing tips and ideas on how we can all work towards reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfill.

The theme for this year is 'one more thing'.  By now most of us are pretty savvy and recycle our rubbish at home, take our bottles to the bottle bank and probably use reusable bags in favour of plastic ones.  But there's always a little more each and every one of us can do.

Ambassadors will be sharing our individual pledges of the one more thing we've promised to do.  Will you sign up and pledge to do one more thing?  A small change in habit or behaviour can make a big difference.

My pledge is to try and reduce the amount of rubbish in the school lunchbox. To steer away from those individually pre-packed items and to try and go waste-free by not using wrappings, foil or disposable pots.

I took this photo of a week's worth of rubbish collected from my daughter's school lunchboxes.  Dinners principally made using the 'lunchbox' items the supermarkets flaunt at us - particularly at back-to-school time. From what Ruby tells me, most of her friends have similar kinds of items in every day.

I was shocked!  Look at it all.  Wow.

This doesn't include the daily fruit peelings, trimmings and cores etc because those go to compost.  It also doesn't include sandwich making stuff because I'm going to continue making sandwiches most days and because things like bread, cheese and ham etc are used by the whole family and not just for Ruby's lunchboxes.

So let's see how much waste we create if we avoid the individually packaged items.  Here's the equivalent waste from the following week when I ditched the pre-packed lunchbox foods.  Are you ready?

A big difference huh?  Amazing in fact.

So how did I do it?

Here's an example of the type of lunchbox I made being mindful of packaging.

I switched multi-bags of individual packs of crisps for one large bag which I put in a washable lidded pot.

I made yoghurt at home and served it in a washable lidded pot too.

I switched pepperami's for slices of chorizo.

I switched packaged cake, cereal bars and biscuits for homemade flapjack or cakes made in washable silicone cases.

I used leftovers more effectively from the previous night's dinners.

I used homegrown fruit and veg where possible - no packaging at all.

I switched Babybels and individual portion wrapped cheeses for one family pack of cheddar and included chunks of cheese in her lunchbox.

I never use clingfilm or foil to wrap food or sandwiches.  Providing you use a sectioned lunchbox or separate containers, there's just no need to.

Juice cartons were swapped for a reusable bottle of water or squash - I used homemade cordial so no waste at all.

OK, I'll admit, all this homemade stuff does ultimately have some waste, but an empty flour and sugar bag once a month or so is WAY better than before.

My top tips for zero waste lunchboxes:

Alternative containers:

Invest in a Bento style lunchbox and a few little pots or silicone cake cases.

Personally, I love the click-lock bento box by Munchkin and the Simesta lunch box is our current favourite because it includes a drinks bottle.  It's available in most supermarkets for between £4-5.

You can pick up small plastic lidded pots cheaply and they will last and last.

Alternative foods:

Don't be seduced by the supermarkets.  There's is absolutely no need for you to buy mini packs of cocktail sausages, nets of pre-packed cheeses and individually wrapped snack packs.

Use leftovers creatively.  Ruby loves it if we ever have a takeaway as she gets rice; popadoms; prawn crackers or naan bread in her box!  Cold rice with a handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn is a favourite, as are cold sausages or cold Yorkshire puddings with some leftover roast beef inside.  I also use batter leftover from yorkshire pudding etc to make fritters which are a great alternative to sandwiches.

Use what you have in your fridge or cupboard rather than buying items especially for lunchboxes, as they'll often have excessive packaging.  Things like crackers, breadsticks, popcorn, rice cakes and even cereal make a welcome addition to a lunchbox and don't have anyway near the packaging of specially produced lunchbox fillers.

Make your own jelly, mousse and yoghurt and serve in washable containers, this will create a fraction of the waste.

Why buy a plastic bag filled with mini boxes of raisins or dried fruit when you can make up your own portions from your baking goodies?

Make your own treats.  I bake a batch of simple buns or flapjack on a Sunday afternoon, when the oven is on for our roast.  It takes hardly any extra time and the cakes will keep in a tin for the whole week.  I'll make up a small batch, add raisins or cocoa powder to half so there's some variety and maybe make up a tiny dollop of icing to decorate the cakes each day as I go so she's got something different looking every day.

Alternative fun:

One of the biggest reasons we get suckered into buying that kind of stuff is probably because we think it makes their mealtimes more fun. Oh and peer pressure too because so-and-so always has them.  But there's lots of other ways to make your child's meal more appealing than a character-emblazoned plastic wrapper.

Use washable food picks like the ones from Eats Amazing, to add character and fun to the meal.

Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, wraps and biscuits more appealing.

Add a small plastic toy to the box, that way they can have their favourite character, without the packaging waste.  I have a box of 'props' I use for lunchboxes.

Try themeing the lunchbox.  I often do this and Ruby loves it.  I've done country themes; Disney themes, sports themes, even a beach theme!

So, lets just look at the benefits of reducing the lunch box waste shall we?

I don't mean just the environmental benefits.  We all know the reasons why we should reduce the amount of rubbish we produce (and if you don't then you really need to head over to Zero Waste Week to take a read!)

No, I mean the other benefits to approaching lunchboxes this way...

  • Your child will have more variety.  Buying a multi pack usually means they are going to get the same thing for the next 5 days.
  • They are more likely to try new foods.  Bento style boxes with lots of different foods, presented well, encourages them to try different things.
  • They will be more independent.  No more having to ask the dinner ladies for help to open those pesky packets all the time.
  • They will spend more time eating because they're not wrestling with packets and lids.  This should mean that they'll actually eat more food rather than running out of time so less wasted food.
  • Using your leftovers creatively and baking your own means you should save money.
  • You'll undoubtedly be giving healthier options and you'll be fully aware of what's inside the food.
  • They will finish their food faster, giving them more time to play outside, run around and get fresh air - perfect!

So, have I convinced you to ditch the individually packed items?  Will you try and reduce lunchbox waste this term?  Maybe you already have and have tips to share?

Or perhaps you'll pledge something different for your One More Thing?  I'd love to hear.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What does your front door say about you?

Our front door is black.  It was this colour when we moved in and we haven't got around to changing it.  A black door is said to suggest authority; seriousness; order and reservedness.  Certainly those are the kind of traits you would expect for somewhere like No. 10 - probably the most famous front door in Britain (regardless of whether the current, or any previous incumbents live up to that or not).

I guess that's right.  I mean, how seriously would we take a PM who lived behind a cerise door?

But are these character traits for me?  Well let's take a closer look at my door.  It's more than just a colour.

Abandoned scooters entangle unsuspecting postman with their handles.  Not just one scooter, but two.  I don't know why, since there's only one child living here, but why have one scooter cluttering up your porch when you can have two? And then there's the discarded boots of all shapes and sizes.  Remnants of family walks, encrusted with mud, kicked off at the door, which we've meant to return to and clean but somehow never get around to.  There's a collection of sticks, some of which should more accurately be described as branches, that the dog has triumphantly carried all the way home from the wood, resolutely refusing to let go.  There's pine cones and smooth pebbles, treasure found on days out which seemed the most beautiful items in the world earlier, but somehow I now don't quite want to come over my threshold, so they languish on the doorstep for months on end.  I can't quite get rid of them either so they exist in the limbo of the storm porch.

Often there are parcels tucked behind all this detritus of daily life, left by lazy delivery drivers who can't be bothered to wait for me to come to the door. The newspaper is shoved annoyingly halfway through the letter box by the monosylabic newspaper boy, inviting the cold wind to come howling through and into our hall.

There's sticky fingerprints at child height, and unpolished silver door furniture - yet another job that never seems to make the priority list. There's the doorbell which hasn't worked for months because I never remember to buy the correct battery to replace the dead one.  Those in the know bang the knocker, and those not privy to this information - the door-to-door salesmen, Jehovahs Witnesses and political canvassers never get answered because I live in blissful ignorance that they were ever there.

But this is the door where I stand, laughing and chatting with friends who gush "I'm not stopping, got loads to do" and then proceed to spend half an hour on my doorstep chewing the fat.  This is the door that gets thrown open wide to family and loved ones, the welcome message on the doormat a true and heartfelt sentiment extended to most.

This is the door that my daughter rushes to when her Daddy gets home from work, hurling herself at him for bear hugs.  Provided there's nothing good on the telly of course.

This is the door that the dog sits behind.  Excitedly welcoming our homecoming as enthusiastically when we've popped to the shops for five minutes, as when we've been out all day, her mouth holding a random shoe and her tail banging the radiator in delight at our return.

This is the door that keeps us safe and sound.  That looks after us.  The door to a house of love and laughter, of arguments and irritations, of mess and too much stuff.  A family.  My family.

What does your front door say about you?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Disney Frozen Party Ideas

We recently threw our own Frozen party - no reason, just because - well who doesn't want to celebrate the awesomeness that is Elsa and Anna?

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a few ideas of mine and some of the best the web has to offer in case you're planning your own Frozen inspired birthday party.


I used these lovely free printable invites from 31 Wife Fo Life.  But I also love the 'do you want to build a snowman' idea from Mummy Mummy Mum as an invite - we did these as party favours too.


We bought mini  flavoured water bottles and removed the labels.  Then, I cut out replacement sleeves from some Frozen wrapping paper and used a glue stick to attach.  I coloured the water with the teeniest tiniest drop of blue food colouring (use a pipette or old kids' medicine dose syringe to control the drops!)

Or for a somewhat healthier option, Here Come The Girls has some adorable Olaf juice cartons.


If your party is going to involve watching the movie, then popcorn is essential!  I made some popcorn buckets (see my tutorial) using some more of the Frozen wrapping paper, and left a huge bowl out so they could refill.

We also made cake pops using the same clever no-bake method that Here Come the Girls uses.  It's a great excuse to break out the old Christmas sprinkles!

We had sandwiches cut with snowflake cookie cutters, and because I was feeling guilty about the distinct lack of fruit and veg, we had Olaf noses (carrots of course).  We also made some crispie snowballs - use white chocolate and cereal to make a Frozen take on the old classic.  Sprinkle with blue edible decorations.

If you're feeling more ambitious with your sandwiches, Mummy Mishaps has some amazing Frozen inspired sarnies - Love is an open door sandwich is genius.

Party Games:

Lots of traditional party games can easily be adapted to make them more Frozen:

Pin the tail (or antlers!) on Sven
Musical Ice Statues
Stuck in the Ice (a game of tag like Stuck in the Mud)

I made some very quick and easy bean bags, decorated with felt snowflakes for a throwing game.  You just need a bucket or a hula hoop to throw into, and score points.


There are lots of free printable colouring sheets available at Better In Bulk

You could try some no-cook play dough and build your own snowmen like over at Jennifer's Little World. She also shares this lovely idea for making reindeer antlers.

Speaking of headgear, Mummy Mummy Mum has a beautiful Elsa crown, and Kids Chaos these adorable paper cup crowns.


If it's a birthday party, then of course that wouldn't be complete without a cake, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one (or should that be two!) as stunning as this by Here Come the Girls.

Party favours and bags:

There's a myriad of Frozen stuff on the market now, but you can still make your own bits and bobs to go in party bags.  We added some cake pops wrapped in cellophane with a pretty blue ribbon, a DIY snowman kit made of marshmallows, some edible eyes and a sugar carrot cake topper.  Ruby also made some simple bag charms by threading pale blue and white or silver beads onto yarn and attaching them to a keyring.

You can also buy thrifty favours such as packs of temporary tattoos, Panini stickers and Frozen inspired coloured loom band packs which won't break the bank.

What other ideas do you have?

Friday, 15 August 2014

How to make fabric cutlery rolls - perfect for picnics and BBQs

I recently found the perfect fabric for this project I'd been meaning to do for a while.  A set of 4 linen place mats in a charity shop for £1.50 and they were crying out for a bit of upcycling!

Of course, you can use any fabric for this, but the beauty of using place mats is that they are the ideal size and they are already hemmed and finished, so there's minimal sewing.  This took me about half an hour to make all four from start to finish.

First take your fabric (portrait way up) and fold about 1/3 of the way up. Press with an iron.

Then pop in your cutlery and see where you want to sew your channels.  Mark with pins or dressmakers chalk - love this fabric, it already has lines to follow!

Cut a length of ribbon long enough to tie around when the fabric is rolled up, fold it in half and tuck inside between the two layers of fabric, hanging out on one side.

Stitch along both edges, and where you have pinned to hold your knife and fork etc.

When you've finished, add your cutlery and a napkin then roll and tie.  You're ready for your alfresco dining!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Get Ready for Back To School with Stuck On You - a Giveaway

Well, the holidays are zooming by and it's time to start getting all the new uniform, lunchboxes, book bags and shoes ready for the first day back.

One of the most hated jobs has to be sewing on name labels, but thanks to Stuck On You, life just got so much simpler.

They offer a wide range of personalised items including iron-on clothes labels and stickers.

Choose from tonnes of gorgeous background designs, chose the pack set you want, enter the name and your order will arrive by post.

Their value packs offer great value for money and we've been trying out the 'designer' set.  For £27.99 you receive 50 iron on name tags, 50 name stickers and a personalised bag tag.

(Apologies my photos look strange, but I don't refer to Ruby by her full name here so I've blanked out part of the label with her surname on).

The clothes labels are so easy to affix, simply iron on a medium-high setting for a few seconds, holding the parchment paper which is included, over the label.  Hey presto, you're done.  No more stitching, no more getting high on indelible markers writing out names!

The stickers are really useful for lunch boxes; water bottles; pencil cases; glasses cases etc etc and the book tag is really fun - not that we have that much more room for hanging anything else off it!

The print quality is great, as is the range of designs. We're really happy with our goods.

Stuck On you have such a huge range of items from stationery; lunch bags; laundry bags; toy storage; puzzles and party packs so you'll be pleased to hear I'm giving away 2 £25 vouchers for 2 lucky winners to spend on whatever they fancy.

Simply complete the rafflecopter below by midnight on Wednesday 20th August to be in with a chance of winning.

Two winners will be chosen at random from all eligible entries, and notified within 14 days.  The prize will be provided and fulfilled by Stuck On You.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided with a pack as described for the purposes of this review.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sky Sports at the Sky Studio O2

From now until the 28th September, sports fans young and old can try out their skills, have photos taken with their favourite stars and have a go at presenting the latest Sky Sports news.

This free event is open every day, and you'll find it located just inside the entrance to the O2 arena - if you're local or in the area, it's worth popping in and spending an hour or so there.

The activities are aimed at children aged 6 and over, although I'd say 8+ would probably get the most out of it, my 6 1/2 year old found some of them too challenging, but she had fun nevertheless.

It's a great way to try out unfamiliar sports - why knows, it may reveal a hidden talent?

Ruby got into the Ryder Cup spirit by taking a few swipes at the 17th at Gleneagles.  Take your swing then watch as your shot is mapped by computer generated image on the screen. Other than a bit of crazy golf on holiday, she's not really played any golf, so she was pleased to get some tips.

She loved taking shots at the Soccer Am shoot out - there are 4 different levels depending on age, and if you score you can win yourself a coveted Soccer AM T-Shirt - we spotted a few people young and old wearing theirs with pride.

The basketball area was very lively with lots of people taking turns, although Ruby thought it was "too high for her"!

Sadly the Team Sky Time Trial Pinarello bikes were out of action when we visited, so no work-out for me, although I did get quite competitive testing my reactions on the Batak - top tip to the mums: don't try it whilst wearing a boob tube!

The F1 simulator cars were a big draw, and with only one in operation they attracted quite a queue. Unfortunately, even with adjustments Ruby's feet were miles off the pedals so we teamed up, with her steering and me operating the accelerator and brake with my hands - lets just say we won't be entering a rally anytime soon.

We really enjoyed the green screen photo booths where you can have your picture taken with various sports personalities or presenters.  Simply take a card, scan the QR code, choose your background and smile.  The snaps are then all available to download and print or share when you get home.

Ruby also tested her presenting skills in a mock-up studio.  Perched behind the news desk, the auto cue rolled and she was filmed delivering the latest Sky sports news. This is also transferred onto your own QR code, and you simply enter a code number into the website to access your filmed clip.  She was a bit phased by the amount of writing, and this is best done in pairs, but I witnessed some amazingly animated older kids really getting into it - I think these are going to be the news reporters of the future.

So, if you have sports-mad kids (or partner), or just want to get your family more excited about sports, pop down to the O2 and join the fun.

Details: travel by tube to North Greenwich.  The O2 is a couple of minutes stroll from there.
Open: Every day from 11am-7pm until 28th September
Cost: Free
Further info: http://www.Sky.com/TheO2 

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