Childcare Vouchers

If you know that you will have to return to work after Maternity Leave, you will need to use a nursery or childminder, and your employer offers the vouchers, register for Childcare vouchers with your employer AS SOON as your baby is born.

Your Employer will pay the Childcare vouchers whilst you are on Maternity Leave. Don’t wait until you return to work because you could miss out on an awful lot of money. If you register for childcare vouchers as soon as your child is born, and request the full amount (£243 a month), you could rack up £2187 in vouchers for the 9 months you are on maternity leave, or £2916 for the full year.

Even if you plan on handing your notice in at the end of your maternity leave, you should still register for the vouchers as I think they are valid for up to 18 months after you leave your employment. If you find a childminder that takes childcare vouchers you will be able to use the vouchers as and when you need childcare for the following 18 months. Handy if you need an afternoon or a day off occasionally as you won’t have to pay for the childcare!

If your employer doesn’t offer childcare vouchers there is some guidance from the HMRC website about this: This link also includes a link to a PDF with details about what childcare vouchers are.

Obviously, I’m not an expert on these things and you will need to double check with your employer as I am only basing this on my experience. It’s definitely something worth investigating though.

Weaning Ideas

These are some tips that I’ve picked up from other Mum’s with regards to things you might need whilst weaning your little one:

  • A high chair – If you don’t want to spend a fortune, Ikea do some really cheap but perfectly practical high chairs. However, I recently found the following article about them…Ikea Highchairs
  • At least three soft-tipped plastic spoons
  • At least three plastic bowls
  • Lots of large, wipe-clean or washable bibs (sleeved coverall bibs are great for when your baby starts feeding themslves and make sure they have patterns on. If they are white, it may look like you haven’t washed them properly!)
  • A food processor or hand-held blender to quickly whizz up purees
  • Ice cube trays or small lidded plastic pots for freezing individual portions. See the related post below about the Lakeland Oxo tot range. It’s expensive but I found it much better than the Annabel Karmel equivalents.
  • Wipes or cloths – E-cloths are expensive but are great as you only need water and don’t have to fork out on cleaning sprays too. They last for at least 300 washes.
  • A splash mat or groundsheet can be useful for protecting the floor
  • Little pots if you want to freeze single portions. Apparently PoundLand sell the Tommee Tippee pots x 3 for £1.
  • I highly recommend Annabel Karmel’s mini ice lolly set. You can fill the moulds with fruit or even savoury mush and then freeze it. When your little one is teething they might find it easier to use the lolly’s.
  • Visit your local Farm shop to see what organic produce they have available.
  • Check out Able and Cole or Riverford for their box delivery schemes in the area. Able and Cole do a Baby and Toddler box with appropriate fruit and veg.

Do you have any other hints or tips that you would like to share? Please add a comment below. Thanks!

Related Posts

Top Tip 16: Oxo Tot Ice cube trays for weaning

GPW: KiddieCubes

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Top Tip 12: Weaning Food (Frozen Fruit in Porridge)

Food: Feeding our children

Online Food Shopping

Amber Teething necklace’s

I was incredibly sceptical about the Amber teething necklaces. Someone at my Husband’s work recommended them to him and gave him the link so he ordered one. I thought it was a total waste of money and probably wouldn’t work. However, my husband isn’t the kind of guy to buy into “New Age B****ks” (his words, not mine) but the fact that he’d gone to such effort made me think I ought to at least try the necklace out on our little one.

Much to his delight, I’ve had to eat my words. I cannot praise this small necklace enough. You can totally tell when my little one isn’t wearing her necklace. Without it she’s grimbly, she dribbles lots more and she constantly has her fingers in her mouth pressing against her gums. With it, she’s a delightful, smiley, happy child. In fact, several people have commented that she’s one of the happiest babies they have met and I often wonder if it isn’t down to this little necklace.

She also looks very cute when she’s wearing it and is just in her nappy. Like a little Oompaloompa or Pygmy Tribal Warrior! Annnyway, I couldn’t recommend the necklaces enough. Just don’t lose it at swimming like I did so we had to buy another one!

Amber Teething Necklaces

One point I hadn’t picked up on but have just seen whilst reading the blurb is to: Avoid getting the necklaces wet and occasionally allow the amber to recharge by exposing to natural sunlight.

This is NOT a sponsored post and I’m receiving no money or any other perks for recommending Amber necklaces. 

Exercise Strategies for Busy Mum’s

Anyone who knows me knows that I am the LAST person to give any advice about fitness. However, as it’s a new year (how can we already be two weeks through 2012!?!?!) I thought I’d do a quick post on the strategies I’m trying to use. I’m having a bit of trouble making time to do exercise in an already packed schedule, but I am desperate to lose the extra baby weight because I can’t afford a brand new wardrobe!

Often I find it’s really difficult to carve out a dedicated hour to do some exercise. I’m trying to combine it with doing other things like going for a walk with friends instead of sitting in a coffee shop eating cake and drinking calorie rich drinks! I’m also trying to change my mindset to think that actually, exercise is really important for me because without it I’m not going to be as fit and healthy as I need to be to look after my family.

I use all the classic tips like, walking whenever I can, taking the stairs and not the lifts, etc. I’m also trying to do 10-20 minutes of yoga every evening. I don’t need to leave the house for this and I can fit this in at the end of the day. I have a yoga DVD (in fact I have a few fitness DVD’s, but this is the only one I can cope with at the moment!) which has exercise sessions that are all 10 minutes long. Doing small bite sized chunks means I’m more likely to do it.

I have a pedometer which I bought from Amazon. It cost me a tenner and it’s been an enlightening experience. I try to walk during lunchtime, even if its just for 15 minutes. I can average about 8,000 steps a day if I make a concerted effort but it’s normally between 5000 and 6000. You are supposed to do 10,000 steps to be healthy and 15,000 steps to lose any weight. Unfortunately I just don’t have two hours a day to dedicate to walking but I figure that something is better than nothing.

I have signed up to a dancing class. I have negotiated with my husband that when our little one is in bed I can have an hour on a Tuesday evening to go to a dance class. It starts at 8pm and finishes at 9pm, so by the end I am practically crawling out of the door, but without doing the class I feel sluggish all week. Initially I felt guilty about going out for an hour, but I’ve learnt that this class makes me a better Mum because I need this time to make this investment in myself.

We have also tried a few times for my husband to take my little one to the “Dad’s time” class that is on a Saturday morning in our local Children’s centre. It only costs £1 and he gets a bacon sandwhich for his trouble and the opportunity to talk to other Dad’s about the joys of parenting. I get a whole hour to myself which I use to dash out on my bike for 30 mins and then come home to relax in a bath. I have to admit that this one only happens once a month if I’m lucky, but I’m realising that once a month is better than never!

Having said all this, I do know the statistic that says that to lose weight it’s 40% exercise and 60% diet. I am trying my best to focus on my diet, but as a busy working Mum, sometimes the best laid plans fly out the window. I’m learning not to be so hard on myself though, sometimes I have to recognise that I’m only human and to be human means to make mistakes. Although, next time you see me happily munching on a cake, feel free to poke me in the ribs and remind me it all goes straight to my thighs :-D!

I’ve included a link below for exercise classes and events that happen in and around Basingstoke. If you have any strategies for exercise or know of any other classes, please add in the comments. Good luck with your fitness strategies for 2012!

Exercise for Mum’s

Other Relevant Blog Posts

My Meal Planning in 2012

Following on from yesterdays post about the joy of Slow cookers, I thought I’d follow up with a post about meal planning.

Meal planning is one of the things that helps our family keep on track and stops us from reaching into the cupboard and eating the quickest, easiest and normally most unhealthy, food we can find. I’ve been meal planning for several years but it was more a case of buying in food for the week and choosing which meal we wanted as and when. Now I’m back at work, we have less money and we have a baby, things have needed to be planned better. We’ve started to use the concept of having a certain type of meal each evening. Ours is:

  • Monday – Vegetarian
  • Tuesday – Slow Cooker (We have activities on Tues evening so we need something very quick)
  • Wednesday – Fish
  • Thursday – Pasta with homemade pasta sauce (we have more activities on Thurs evening so need something very quick here too)
  • Friday – Takeout/Dineout/Homemade Pizza/whatever we can find in the freezer
  • Saturday – I normally put in a fancy dish that takes a bit more time if we aren’t out and about
  • Sunday – Roast

This means that I no longer need to think about meals nor do I have to constantly answer my husband’s questions asking what we are having for dinner that evening. He knows that if it’s Monday, its vegetarian (his particular pet hate, but I think we are getting there slowly! What is it about some men and vegetables? lol). If it’s Wednesday it’s fish. Sometimes we chop and change Tues and Thurs so have a slow cooker meal on a Thurs instead of Tues. He knows that if he comes home on a Tues and the house doesn’t smell of slow cooked food, we are having pasta.

We use the MealBoard Application on iTunes as we both have iPAD’s (the iPADS’s have been our one indulgence in the past couple of years!). It allows me to add breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for each day. I love this because it ensures that we don’t waste that much food and reminds me to ensure that we have healthy snacks available. It also allows me to create templates based on one or two week’s existing meal plans, so I can just copy in a template for future weeks and move things around as I like. I don’t use the templates as often as I could because I like to keep as much variety in our meals as possible. You can sync the application to other Apple products which means that my husband can immediately check what we are having for dinner on any given day, and often he will start the cooking if I’m not back in time.

The MealBoard Application works for us but there are many other types of meal planning tools that you could use.

Using Meal Board and shopping online means that I can plan our meals and shopping in about 5 minutes now. I estimate that this planning gives me about an hour to two hours a week back with my family. Meal planning also helps me to ensure that we have at least one portion of fish a week, at least one vegetarian meal a week and that we are eating as much variety as we can.

I’ve enclosed a few links below that you might find interesting reading…

Sainsburys Meal Planning and Meal Ideas (I really like this site. They have some great recipes that are quick, cheap and easy to make).

Back to the Basics: Meal Planning I love Simple Mom’s website. It’s an American site but she has some great ideas and really appeals to my planning and organising nature.

Imperfect, Flexible, Doable Meal Blueprint

The six meal shuffle: extremely simple meal planning This is also an American website but Megan has some great tips and ideas.

3 Fail proof ways to stick to meal planning An American website but still some great ideas.


I love my Slow Cooker!!!

I realize how tragic that statement is, but at the moment, I really do love it. It’s helping my family eat healthy, nutritious meals that I haven’t had to slave over in the kitchen for hours. I believe that one of the most important things as a Mum is to ensure that your family are eating and exercising well. Both of these set your loved ones up in good stead for the future.

My Slow Cooker enables me to spend more time with my family doing fun things or going for walks and still enables me to feed them well. We had a small slow cooker that was suitable for two people but it never seemed to create enough food for a whole meal. Now that there are three of us I’ve upgraded to a much bigger slow cooker so that I can cook two meals at the same time, saving time, money and energy! We often have one half of the cooked meal for dinner and then I split the rest of the meal and freeze it to use for dinner another day or for lunch at work. We’ve also found that in the colder weather the slow cooker cooks the right kind of meals, warm and nourishing whilst being healthy and nutritious. It’s wonderful to come home to a kitchen that smells of yummy dinner.

I’ve done a lot of research over the past few months since falling in love with my slow cooker.  It’s amazing how many recipies can be adapted for the slow cooker.

  •  If you are cooking your meat for long enough, you don’t even need to brown it off first, just chuck it all into the pot.
  • I’ve read somewhere that in order for your slow cooker to be most cost effective you should use it on the low setting the majority of the time.

I know this sounds very organized but I think you need to be when you have children. A little bit of planning goes an awfully long way and anything that helps to decrease my stress levels is worth it!

Check out the following links which show the best slow cooker’s on the UK market and some easy slow cooker recipes to get you started…

Related Posts

It’s Slow Cooker Season, Yay!

Review: NorthDown Orchard Deliveries

Online Food Shopping

The Marshmallow Test – The Secrets of Self-Control in Children

I’ve been reading a number of Parenting Books in an effort to try to be a good parent. Not sure if it’s working, but I’ve read a lot of really interesting stuff. Enclosed is a link about the “marshmallow test” which I read about in “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman. Although this book was written by an American author his findings are still very interesting. The book was written over 40 years ago so much has been written about this test since.

The concept of the Marshmallow Test is that you place a marshmallow in front of a 4 year old for 15 minutes. The tester tells the child that if they can wait 15 minutes before eating the marshmallow they will be allowed two marshmallow’s, rather than just the one in front of them. Those children that were able to resist grabbing the marshmallow placed in front of them had better life outcomes.

This is the best link I could find which explains self control in children and links to the concept of the Marshmallow Test:

There has been a lot of research around this if you are interested in discovering more. I would recommend reading “Emotional Intelligence”. It is pretty heavy going though and one of the downsides is that the author doesn’t describe what you can do to help your child improve their self control (although I haven’t finished the book yet!). This is something I am researching and plan to do a future post on.

I thought this was fascinating and that some of you might be interested. Let me know your thoughts.

Related Posts

Library Membership 


Hampshire Library Annual Film Membership

All those questions you’ve been dying to ask your Toddler

Christmas!!!! (Food, Presents & Pampering)

Are you suddenly realising that it’s only 4 weeks to Christmas? Yup, me too. I’ve managed to book the Christmas food delivery slot today, but because I’d left it quite late (when did the 19th of November become late for Christmas bookings???) I didn’t get any of the slots I wanted. Ho hum.

I’m only just starting to think about Christmas Presents (children seem to speed up time because normally I’m way more organised than this!) but I think this year that I’m going to try to buy local as much as possible. The list below are some ideas of local places where you can get fantastic hand crafted presents. I’ve also included a few ideas that might help your Christmas go a little bit more smoothly.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions to share.

Christmas Presents

Butterflies and Cupcakes

A lovely family business that do some beautiful items. They operate from Tadley but can deliver depending on how close you live to Tadley.

The best items they do are:

  • Name Hangings that are priced at £1.50 per letter
  • Name Plaques (up to 6 letters or more depending in name) at £8.50 and includes an animal character E.g. giraffe, tiger, etc.
  • Christmas Stockings are £12.50 but take a while so last orders for them are the second week in December

Little Rosies Tea Shop (Elm Tree Garden Centre on the way to Tadley) has a shop attached to it with some really nice present ideas.

Basingstoke Discovery Centre “Our Shop”, town centre. Lots of original items including snow globes and wooden Christmas Tree Decorations.

Alison’s Wonderland, Viables Craft Centre. The shop is attached to the Parlour tea rooms so you can browse with a cuppa in hand. Alison is lovely and very friendly.

Ma Humbug’s, Viables craft centre. Quaint old school sweet shop who will make up sweet boxes for you. Yummy!

Pots2Paint, Viables craft centre. If you are looking for that unique present for the Grandparents then this place will be perfect for you. Check out their website for more details (click on their name and it should take you straight through).

Childhood’s Dream, Winchester. I know I keep raving about this little shop (see the NHM facebook page), but I love it! Lots of wooden, old school toys that retain their value so if your children look after them, you can sell them on easily when they grow out/become bored with them.

Local Mummy Businesses – A list of local Mum businesses in the area that make gifts that would be perfect for Christmas.

Christmas Food

Vegetable/Fruit Boxes

We use Able and Cole box delivery close to Christmas because they deliver right to your door, regardless of the weather conditions which is so worth the £1 delivery charge. They also do a Baby and Toddler box of Veg and Fruit. It can be quite pricey but at least you know you are getting good vegetables, etc. As well as fruit and veg they also deliver diverse things like mince pies, Ella’s baby food and organic cleaning products. They deliver right up to December 23rd. Riverford also deliver boxes to the area.

Local Farm Shops

There are lots of farm shops in and around Basingstoke. Check out the Farm Shop page on NorthHantsMum to find one near you.

Christmas Pampering

If you are already exhausted with the drama of “Christmas with Children” check out the Mobile Beautician Page or Mobile Hairdressers Page on NorthHantsMum. These wonderful ladies will travel to your house and pamper you in your home. Some of them are even being kind enough to offer you a discount if you mention NorthHantsMum!

Hope this has given you some inspiration. I will post up a few more posts about Christmas, but I’m sure you are being bombarded about it from everywhere else so I’ll try not to lay it on too thick.

Good Luck!