Sunday, 28 August 2011

What to Buy for Baby: Top Ten

 Walking into the baby shops can be overwhelming.  You actually need quite a lot of stuff for babies. But just think how much stuff you have.  I bet your closets, drawers, and bathrooms are chock full of stuff.  Your baby won't need that much, but there are a few specialty items you will have to get.  Here are my top ten recommendations:

1.  Baby nail clippers and a foam nail file (found in adult section of the drugstore).  Clippers leave nails too sharp so it is good to file them.  And toenails are best filed because they are hard to cut.  Baby scissors are always too big for nails--good for hair though.
2.  Muslin squares/burp cloths.  You will use several every day for quite a few months.  So buy lots,  Cheap white ones will do.  Buy a dozen if not two .
3.  Flannel blankets, knit blankets, every kind of blanket.  You will get through a few of these each day too, because babies spit up and they smell sour quite quickly.
4.  Clothes---well, this will depend on your washing.  If you have your own washing machine and can use it regularly, then you will need fewer clothes.  If you need to go to the laundromat weekly, then you will need more.  Babies only need sleepsuits, onesies, and a couple of sweaters and hats for the first three months.  You can put your baby is special outfits, but you don't need to.  If it is summer, then your baby will live in the onesies during the day and a sleepsuit at night.  I love handmedowns.  They grow out of clothes so quickly!  If you are buying things I suggest that you wait until your child is born.  Most people who have given me things have given me a pile of stuff with the tags still on they never used because it was the wrong size, season, or surplus to requirements. 
5.  Toiletries---You should not use any lotions, soaps, or wipes on babies until they are three months old.  So in the beginning you need cotton balls and a little bowl for warm water to wash your baby.  If your baby has dry skin you can use a little bit of coconut oil or light olive oil on their skin.  After that, try for the mildest, gentlest products.  I prefer organic, paraben free products.  They don't use much, so even a bottle of organic baby soap is economical.  Babies "should" be washed with a washcloth daily and bathed twice a week until they are crawling.  You can clean their eye area with cotton and boiled-then-cooled water every day.  Their ears clean themselves.  I don't use lotion on kids until they are three or so.  Even after that, olive oil still works nicely.
6.  Somewhere to sleep.  In the UK, it is recommended that your baby sleeps in your room in a cot (crib) for at least 6 months.  Babies like the comfort of being near people and hate the quiet.  You do not need a cradle or small cot by the bed, but they can be handy.  My son slept in my bed for the first year or so.  My daughter likes her cot well enough and I do feel this is the safer option.  Buy three sheets for your cots/cradles, etc.  And a few blankets or sleeping bags.  Babies should not have duvets, pillows or toys in their beds. There is a lot of debate about bumpers.  I didn't use them, but you may want to research that a bit before you decide.
7.  Changing table.  Some people just use a changing mat downstairs.  Or the bed.  I find a changing table is better for your back.  And considering how much poo and pee ends up on my changing mat, I would never change a baby on a carpet or bedspread!  NEVER leave a baby on a changing table EVER!!!
8.  Bottles and breast pump.  I loved Tommee Tippee, but only have four bottles since I breastfed my son.  I will need to pump quite a bit since I will going back to work when my  daughter is 6 months old.  Their manual pump is quite comfortable, but an electric one is useful if you need to pump quite often.  They have covers which fit their bottles, so you can pump milk straight into the bottle, pop the cover on and freeze it.  Make sure to label it though!  Check out your local guidelines for how long you can store breastmilk in the fridge and freezer.  (They change the rules frequently).  I cannot advocate the use of any formula because I haven't used any and I believe any powdered milk product to be bad for any one's health.  (Check out more about this at the Healthy Home Economist.)  You can sterilise bottles, etc in a pot of boiling water, but a steriliser is really handy.  And you can take it with you if you work or travel.
9.  Toys.  You will only need some teething keys or things like that until the baby is about four months old.  Then some rings which link together and attach to the bouncy chair bar and car seats are really great.  Babies can chew on them and not lose them.  Check to see if they can be sterilised though.  
10.  If you believe in using conventional medicine, then you will also need to have on hand some infant paracetamol and ibuprofen.  And some spoons or dispensers.  In the UK these products have guidelines on how to use them, and sometimes doctors will advise you how to use them outside of these guidelines.   You might also want to get some allergy medicine.  Again, you won't be able to use it until the package says you can, but when your child is having an allergic reaction to something you won't have time to run out and buy it.  The only other item I have in my repertoire is the one I use the most:  saline nasal drops.  They are great for clearing out blocked noses.  Generic brands of all of these are exactly the same as the name brand versions (by law), and you can save yourself some money here.  The name brand items may have a different flavour, packaging or spoon with it. 

Monday, 22 August 2011

Best Baby Buys...and the Worst

Kids can be quite expensive what with all of the equipment you need, nappies, clothes and the TOYS which seem to take over the entire house.  When I had my son (nearly five years ago now), I wasn't sure if I was going to have more children.  So I wasn't sure if I wanted to have "investment " pieces to last several kids or just items to hand down.  I think that it is always better to have things which will last---better for the environment--but not always easy on the wallet!  Here are my top buys and the things I wish I had done differently now that my daughter is here.

1.  Nappies--I used a few different types of cloth nappies.  My favourite with my son was Motherease One-Size shaped nappies with different size covers as he grew.  This seemed a more economical choice at the time.  However, I now feel that I might have been better off with a sized, shaped nappy.  It is more expensive to purchase new nappies and new covers every few months, but with two children it is easily cheaper than disposables.  The one-size are too big and bulky on a baby until they are 5 months or more.  Another, cheap option would be to use pre-fold such as Bambino Mio.  I didn't like these with my son because the covers got poo on them all of the time, but buying more covers is easy and still cheaper than disposable.

2.  Swings and Things--I was totally convinced that I needed a swing and found an inexpensive one on sale for about £50.  Well, my son did not care for it much.  I lent it to three other families and their kids had mixed reactions.  When I dusted it off for my daughter the cat peed in it and she has never tried it.  So, it was a bit of a waste.  Many kids love them and I think that before you shell out the cash you might try your child in a friend's swing.  Or borrow one.  They are also quite robust, so you may well get a good one second hand. 
As for bouncy seats.  I didn't have one for my son and wish I did.  He hated being put down, actually, but there are times when you are in the shower, cooking, etc when you need to put the child down.  (I wish I had put him in a wrap sling, but I don't know how I could have stood over a hot stove with him strapped to my chest anyway).  I have borrowed two bouncy seats for my daughter and they are fantastic.  You need to have a place to put a baby down safely in most rooms of your house.  So, either carry a bouncy seat around or have a couple.  The songs and vibrations are not necessary if you are interacting with your child.  The less expensive ones are fine in my opinion.

3.  Clothes--I use used clothes for the most part for the kids.  Babies grow out of clothes every few months, so it is silly to spend much at all.  Everything I use gets passed on to other families when I am finished as well.  You can get used clothes from friends, people you meet at playgroups, or cheaply from charity shops.

4.  Pushchair/Stroller--You can spend as much as you want, but you don't have to spend much.  Here is where it is very good to read reviews on websites!  I do advise people to get one with a large basket to hold our shopping and all of the stuff you have to carry around with you.  So many folks tell me they don't want to carry a lot and then regret it.  My pushchair was part of a travel system with a car seat.  I chose a lovely brown colour suitable for boys and girls.  However, the padding is coming off and I can't fix it.  And part of the car seat is broken, so I have had to borrow one from a friend.  It fits in our pushchair sort of.  So, if I was going to do it over, I would read reviews, choose a travel system, and make sure it has plenty of storage.  I also love my cup holders.

5.  I wish I had bought...  A glider or rocking chair, a Jumperoo (my son loved a friend's), better quality toys (we have a lot of cheap, but broken ones now)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Kitchen Sink Soup

This soup got me through university and is still quite useful when you have a bunch of vegetables hanging around and no inspiration.  I hate wasting food, so when I have bits and pieces leftover, I just throw them in a pot.  There are no fixed rules with this soup.  But here are a few general  guidelines for making a tasty soup.  This freezes really well or lasts two days in the fridge. 

1.  Start by chopping 1-2 onions (any kind) and frying in a little olive oil in a large casserole/soup pot.  Add some chopped garlic.  Then any of the following:  chopped celery, chopped carrot, and chopped (raw) root vegetables--potato, parsnip, etc.  Stir until the veg are softened.
2.  Add some homemade stock.  If you don't have homemade stock, then add a stock cube, gel or liquid with the appropriate amount of liquid. 
3.  Now is the time to add vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini), green beans, peas, corn, etc.  Think non-leafy veg which grow above the ground.  Cook until soft.  Add canned or cooked beans, cooked chicken, meat, seafood.......The last things to go in are spinach, lettuce (yes!--the only way to use up lettuce that I know of), herbs, and cooked leftover veg including potatoes, etc. 
4.  You can season with spices, spice mixtures, herbs, coconut cream or coconut milk.  Taste the soup using a new, clean spoon each time.  If it tastes nice, then eat it.  If not, then add something to give it zing. 
5.  I prefer to use a stick/immersion blender to blitz my soup a bit, but not completely smooth.  Serve with your favourite accompaniments.  (Sourdough bread with butter is our fave.  But you can also use a dollop of pesto, croutons, toasted seeds, or even popcorn sprinkled on top).

(Today's soup was made using:  1 red onion, 1 white onion, 2 cloves garlic, tbsp olive oil, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk, 1 can of corn, 1 courgette, 1 leftover baked potato, 1/2 head lettuce, 1 tin haricot beans, homemade chicken stock.  We did not need additional flavouring because the stock was made from a roast chicken I made using a wonderful Middle Eastern Spice Blend.  This soup really packed a punch.)

**Please note:  Although this is a great way to use up excess or even old produce, do not use food which is moldy, or lettuce which is brown.   These can be really hazardous to your health.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Coconut Ice Cream

Since dusting off my ice cream maker a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about trying to make some coconut ice cream.  It is hard to find in the shops, and when you do, it is so full of STUFF.  You know what I mean.  Ingredients we can't pronounce.  Although it can be yummy, it often has artificial flavouring as well. So if you are up for a more natural coconut flavour give my version a go. 

You will need:

2 cups of whole milk (or cream if you prefer)
31/2 cup of raw or natural sugar
1 can of coconut milk

1.  Stir the sugar and milk together until the sugar is dissolved.  This will take a few minutes.
2.  Stir the coconut milk in until fully blended.  You can use a stick blender for this.  Taste the mixture if you like.  It should taste a little too sweet, because your final product will taste less sweet than this once frozen.
3.  Pour this mixture into an ice cream maker, or into ice lolly molds.  You can pour it directly into a container and freeze, but the final ice cream will be quite icy. 

Eggy Rice

When we are in a hurry and the fridge is bare, we find ourselves inventing dishes.  Tonight I went for this,a variation on Egg Fried Rice (another quick favourite of mine). 

You will need:

olive oil
leftover rice (any sort)
1-2 eggs per person, beaten
salt and pepper

optional:  chopped onion, and/or other veg

1.  Fry a bit of olive oil in a pan and add the rice to warm up, stirring frequently.  Fry the veg if using.
2.  Add beaten egg.  Stir as you would scrambled eggs for two minutes, then flatten in the pan.  Turn or flip the mixture over and cook until the egg is thoroughly cooked.
3.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with vegetables if desired.