The Parenting Children Course

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TPCC_stackedbirofor-kchshop-1024x992Last weekend Pete and I went on the first session of a parenting course put on by my church.  I know – it sounds like something you get sent on by social services when you’re not doing a very good job at being a parent, but in reality its a course that helps parents to equip their children for life.  It covers 5 topics over the course: ‘Building Strong Foundations’, ‘Meeting our Children’s Needs’, ‘Setting Boundaries’, ‘Teaching Healthy Relationships’ and ‘Our Long Term Aim’.

I found the first session really interesting, and pretty entertaining (there were some very funny snippets from children and parents on the DVD).  The format included a couple of DVD slots, some exercises to do with your partner, and then some group discussions.  The DVD is led by Nicky and Sila Lee, a frightfully posh couple from Holy Trinity Brompton church in London who have a lot of good stuff to say, and lots of parenting experience and wisdom to share, and although the course is made and run by churches, it is accessible to everyone irrespective of faith.  The main point I took from session 1 was that family is a place for support, fun, to learn right and wrong, and to learn to relate, and that there are lots of things that can snatch our time away from our family.  I’d like to try to change the way I do things so that when I’m spending time with the children I’m fully present, but I know that I still need to get things done at home too so I’m still trying to adjust the balance. I may need to start limiting the time I spend on my phone or the computer so that I can have some more time with the children where they have my full attention (unlike right now as I’m typing this blog post whilst bouncing Jacob in his chair with my foot and Natalie’s sitting next to me watching cbeebies!) – it’ll be a process!

I’d definitely recommend the course to any parents, whatever stage you’re at – I think it’s really important to invest in your family as the things you do while your children are young will help to shape the adults they become.  You can watch the Parenting Children Course Promo Video here, and if you’d like to attend the course in future you can register your interest by emailing office@emmanueloxford.org and telling them you’d like to be informed of the next parenting course.

Alongside the Parenting Children Course, my church also regularly runs The Marriage Course (watch the promo video here).  Pete and I did this last year and got a lot out of it – it’s advertised as an MOT for your marriage, and we found it really helped to re-focus us on our relationship since having children as our attention had been mostly on being parents. If you’d like to know more about this course there’s some information here.

We’ve already started to do some things differently since the first session of the Parenting Children Course.  At bedtime we’ve started asking Natalie 2 questions: ‘What was the best thing about today’ and ‘What was the saddest thing about today’, which we’ve found is a nice way to reflect on the day and gives her the space to talk about her feelings.  We were also encouraged on the course to introduce a family ‘date’ night into our routines, so we’ve got our first date this evening after dinner where we’re all (well, all except Jacob) going to spend some time drawing pictures of our family.

The other night Pete and I started to make a list of other activities we can do on our family date nights and here are a few we came up with:

  • playing a game together (such as Hungry Hippos)
  • watch a film in mum and dads bed with pjs on just before bedtime
  • cook a meal together
  • scavenger hunt
  • make ice cream sundaes
  • go for a family walk
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We’re planning to make a Family Date Night Jar similar to this one so that we can pick an activity each week to do as a family

Do you already have a regular family date night?
What sort of things do you do for fun with your family?  Let me know in the comments!

Eve, xx

Link love

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Following the birth of my daughter, I’d have to credit my discovery of a massive network of ‘mum and dad bloggers’ online with helping me retain much of my sanity. It was wonderful to read online stories of people who were either experiencing what I was experiencing, or who had come through it all and found their way out of the other side.

Some bloggers I love for their humour, some I love for their unflinching honesty, and some for their courage to say what I’ve never been able to find the words to say.

So here (in no particular order) are some of my favourites:

Amalah

Amalah is Amy Storch, a north American mum of three boys. I first came across her with her brilliant pregnancy calendar on the Alphamom site. I’ve followed her adventures ever since. She is one of those bloggers whose sense of humour always shines through whatever she writes, and frankly if she can manage 3 boys under 8 then surely I can manage one toddler (er…right?)

Life with Jack

Jack is the son of blogger Jessi. He was born at 23 weeks and this blog has followed his adventures ever since. Jessi writes with such honesty about Jack, his struggles, his victories, and the impact his prematurity has had on her and her family. It is a blog with a wonderful heart, incredibly bravery and optimism and illustrated with Jessi’s photography of her home state of Montana.

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Slugs.. is a blog written by Kat, an American who now lives in Scotland with her family. Her blog is strongly craft focussed, and she is currently running an online ‘crochet camp’. Her blog posts are always accompanied with lovely retro-style photography – this blog really is a feast for the eyes (and will make you wish you could take photos like her).

Motherventing

Motherventing (or ‘MoVo’) from Bristol is sweary. Very sweary. And crude. Her blog tagline is “Taking all the fluffy aspects of parenting and totally shi**ing all over them”. And I love the honesty. The honesty that some days being a parent is mainly about getting shi**ed all over. You’ll love or hate this blog 🙂

Any great ones I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments

Helen

When the naughty step loses it’s power…

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We thought we had discipline sorted with our 2 year old daughter, considering she’s generally well behaved and polite with the odd misbehaviour that could be corrected by way of the naughty step (it was working so well that all we had to do was threaten a stint on the naughty step and we’d get an apology!). However, since the end of June when our baby boy arrived, the naughty step seems to have lost its effectiveness!  Recently when returning to the naughty step at the end of a time out and asking Natalie if she knows why she had to sit there, she accusingly points her finger at us and replies “YOU put me here”.

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The lovely new addition to our family that seems to have bought out the little monster in our daughter

So, having to manage 2 children at home on my own, I’ve been forced to think recently about how to get Natalie’s behaviour back on track.  I know it’s completely normal for children to play up more when a new sibling arrives – they’re missing the undivided attention they used to have, and are probably tired and a bit more grouchy than usual due to more nighttime disturbances. However, if I ever want to get out of the house with 2 children in tow, I need more compliance and less backchat, tantrums and downright defiance. I’ve been finding that every day I’m at risk of breaking my neck tripping over toys, or losing Jacob in a sea of dressing up clothes, puzzles and knitted vegetables!

I did some research via pinterest to get a bit of wisdom about combating bad behaviour and here are a few gems I found:

Tactics

  • Get down to their level when you tell your child off, stay calm and try not to shout – this  way they’re more likely to listen to you.
  • If you ask your child to do something, give them chance to process it and get up and do it before you ask again. Sometimes we are too quick to jump in and tell them off without giving them time to do it. Count to 10 before you ask again if you need to – I’m guilty of this, I’m generally not the most patient person in the world so this is something I’ll have to work on myself.
  • Set clear expectations – Natalie loves books so maybe I’ll try and make a book or poster to show the ‘house rules’ (eg. sharing, being kind, being polite, being helpful, listening etc.)
  • ‘[dont] Use meaningless threats that would never be followed through on. This is one I observe often in public places. Picture with me a mom trying to leave the park…”Okay Bobby it’s time to go”… wait 2 minutes…”Okay, Bobby I’m leaving.” “Bye, Bye Bobby.” Mom is waiving as she heads to her minivan. I’m always amazed at this and here’s why.  Little Bobby knows just as well as I do, that his mommy isn’t going anywhere.  He’s more than willing to call her bluff.  Unless you’re crazy enough to get in your van and drive away, don’t tell your child that you’re going to leave him at the park.  He’s too smart for that.  Don’t tell them that you’re not going to take them to Disneyland after you’ve bought the tickets. When we use crazy threats to trick our kids into obeying and we are unable to follow through on them, it discredits us as parents.  Instead, be reasonable.  Be consistent. Be fair.’ {source} – I’ve been guilty of this one too!
  • Parents often torpedo their discipline efforts by giving vague, conditional commands and not giving kids enough time to comply with them, says Dr. Verduin, who practices parent-child interaction therapy. When crossing the street, “A bad command would be, ‘be careful.’ A good command would be ‘hold my hand,’ ” he says. {source} – Fair point! Its important to remember that I’m talking to a 2 year old and she may not understand the concept of ‘being careful’ and ‘being patient’, so I need to translate those into words that she can understand and obey.

Bribery

  • Sticker charts for good behaviour with a reward at the end of the week if enough stickers have been earnt – Natalie loves stickers so this could work.
  • The promise of a sweet after dinner if behaviour has been sufficiently good throughout the day – this works to a point, although once you’ve mentioned that there wont be a sweet today because of a particular incident there is no longer an incentive to behave that day!
  • A pompom jar (you could also use buttons, beads or marbles) where a pompom is added to a jar for acts of good behaviour and when the jar is full a special treat will be awarded. You can also deduct pompoms for bad behaviour – great as its a visual reminder for Natalie to behave and she looks very proud whenever she is awarded a pompom for a good deed (eg. sharing, eating a meal well, being kind, tidying up toys , doing as she’s told etc.).  This option is a good combination of praise for good behaviour and a bit of bribery.

Confiscation

  • Take away favourite toys for a week – I tried this and after an hour Natalie had forgotten all about that toy! I also found that the pile of confiscated toys started to clutter up the unreachable areas of the house!

Praise Good Behaviour

  • Parenting experts recommend choosing what you want to have happen, rather than what you want to prevent. Praise those behaviors to reinforce them. When a child is failing to obey or behave, “Parents should use mild negative consequences (a short timeout or verbal reprimand without shouting).
  • Ignore negative behaviour – I’m not sure how this would work for me – I think if I ignored the fact that Natalie refused to tidy up her toys she would quite happly keep making a mess of the living room!  I suppose this would be more effective if your child was misbehaving to get your attention.
  • We pay more attention to when kids misbehave than when they act like angels. Dr. Kazdin recommends at least three or four instances of praise for good behavior for every timeout a kid gets. For young children, praise needs to be effusive and include a hug or some other physical affection, he says. {source}

We decided to go for the pompom jar (a method we know worked for our neice) and the naughty step for now and the combination of the visual reminder of the jar and the lack of attention provided by the step seem to be working at the moment.

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The pom pom jar!

I’ve also been thinking about where some of Natalie’s ‘bad’ behaviour comes from, like the way she snatches her toys out of her friends’ hands shouting ‘it’s mine’ whenever they come round to play – and I had a lightbulb moment when I took my sunglasses out of Natalie’s hands and caught myself saying ‘give them back please because they’re mummy’s and they’re not for you to play with’.  Obviously there’s the difference that sunglasses are highly breakable in the hands of a toddler (I’ve seen 2 pairs bite the dust that way), whereas toys are toys, but I doubt a 2 year old can recognise that subtlety.  Is a toddler’s not wanting to share really an act of naughtiness? After all, the toys are theirs.  Should we try to train our toddlers into sharing or does it need to be something they decide to do themselves?  I suppose all we can do is model good behaviour (including sharing) and hope that our children decide to follow our example.

I think the key thing I’ve realised is that different methods will work for different children, so it’s worth trying a few options to find the one that’s most effective for you. Apparently it isn’t until about age 3 that children can really start to understand and follow rules, so until then (when you can reason with them) you have to find a way to teach them good behaviour and try find consequences for their bad behaviour that discourage them from repeating it.

What discipline methods work for you? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Eve, xx

Top Books for Toddlers and Parents

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We’re all devoted parents. Nobody’s questioning that. And we would all move heaven and earth to win just one of their toothy smiles.  But let’s be honest with ourselves, there are some days when we would all rather lock ourselves in the shed and hide than read our toddler’s favourite story again.

“Read it again.”

“But darling, Mummy’s read Here Comes the Crocodile four times now, despite the gaping plot holes, unconvincing characterisation and horrible, horrible rhyme scheme.”

“Read it again.”

Toddlers are repetitive creatures by nature. They will happily look at the same book every day, over and over again until they can recite the entire thing. The only safeguard you have is to fill your home with books that will stand the test of time, and here are some of our favourites.

Mr Tickle by Roger Hargreaves

With retro drawings and dubious moral sentiments, the Mr Men books have a sense of humour and a playful way with language. They’re fun to read as they pull you along with winding lists of adjectives and repeating sound patterns. As a bonus for harried parents, there are tons of them and they can often be picked up quite cheaply or bought as a set, so if your toddler is hooked on Mr Tickle, a quick switch to Mr Greedy changes things up for you, without annoying your uber-fan kiddie.

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If you liked this try The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr for more retro drawings and a dash of mystery.

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

Hop on Pop is another book that comes from a prolific series, meaning if it takes yours and your little one’s fancy you’re on to a rich seam of bedtime stories. Unlike many children’s authors who strain to rhyme, Dr. Seuss twists words into fantastic shapes where a good sound is far more important than logical meaning. Make sure Grandma’s false teeth are firmly secured before letting her read Green Eggs and Ham or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.  These are the books that tend to make it to cult status with my little boy, coming with him on every buggy ride and car journey for weeks at a time.

If you liked this try http://www.seussville.com for activities such as cutting out and decorating your own Lorax moustache.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Julia Donaldson has earned her place as the Godmother of children’s writing in recent years, and her books with Axel Scheffler are the best. She’s another one who does rhyme well, and introduces interesting narrative motifs of repetition and surprise, which children and adults can engage with. I was surprised to find out recently that Sharing a Shell gives a fairly accurate explanation of the co-dependency of hermit crab and anemone, and Room on the Broom is another story with a satisfying underdog v monster storyline.

If you liked this try My First Gruffalo Little Library for a fun exploration of colours, numbers, opposites and animal actions.

Fix it Duck by Jez Alborough

The comic book layout and infectious rhyme make Fix it Duck genuinely fun to read, and the hapless Duck is funny and endearing. My little boy never tires of hearing this one, and once you’ve read it through a few times, there are a number of different aspects to enjoy, like following the poor frog’s progress in the background or pinpointing the exact moment at which each disaster is set in motion. The characters are all borrowed from Alborough’s earlier book Duck in the Truck

If you liked this try Hug by Jez Alborough, for an example of how his illustrations can tell a charming story with only a few words.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

Once you’ve got the hang of this rhythmic, interactive, expressive story you’ll be able to repeat it and adapt it in any situation. A few rounds of this with all the actions will get you and a bored toddler through a long wait for the bus. Just channel your inner Michael Rosen. The illustrations are lovely, bristling with details and the final picture of the lonely bear walking alone across the beach is just heartbreaking.

If you liked this try this explanation by Rosen and Oxenbury about how that classic marriage of words and text came about.

What books make bedtime bearable for you? Let us know by leaving  a comment.

Childproofing your iPad

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If your child is anything like mine, the sight of a parent sitting quietly using the iPad to read a book, or catch up on the news, will make the iPad such an object of uncontrollable desire (think Gollum on a bad day) that said parent might be willing to relinquish it to those sticky fingers.

I can’t suggest a foolproof option for physically childproofing the iPad (other than 6 inches of bubble wrap), but what I will suggest is a number of ways you protect both yourself and your child when they are using it.

Allowed Content:

It seems that every week there is a story in a newspaper about some unwitting parent whose child has spent hundreds of pounds on in-app purchases whilst playing an apparently free iPad game. This can be solved by using one or both of the following settings:

Click on the settings icon and select Settings -> General -> Restrictions.

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  1. Turn in-app purchases off. This prevents all in-app purchases in all apps.

  2. Set ‘require password’ to ‘immediately’. What people do not always realise is that even if you have to enter your password in order to download a game or make a purchase, there is then a 15 minute window in which any other apps can be downloaded and purchases made without the requirement to re-enter your password. By setting ‘require password’ to ‘immediately’ this means that the 15 minute window is removed – every time access to your iTunes account is required the user has to enter the password again.

App Settings:

Much of my concern around children and technology is about protecting them from things I don’t want them to see at a young age. It is possible to restrict their access from a number of key apps. To restrict access to a particular app, navigate to Settings -> General -> Restrictions and change the slider next to the app from ‘on’ to ‘off’

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Guided Access:

If you want to keep your child within the app you’ve loaded up for them it is possible to disable the home button on any iPad using iOS 6 onwards – this is called ‘Guided Access’. You can also use this to disable parts of the screen, disable the touch screen altogether and prevent the screen rotating when the iPad is rotated.

To enable this select:

Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Guided Access

Then move the slider from Off to On.

You can set a passcode which you have to enter in order to turn Guided Access off once it has been set to On.

To actually use Guided Access you need to load the application you want your child to use. Then triple-click the home button. This loads the Guided Access options:

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Choose the options you want, and click ‘start’. You will now find your chosen restrictions have been applied (try it yourself) and your child is now safe within the app you have chosen for them.

Hope these tips help protect you, your kids, and of course your credit card 🙂

Helen

Streamlining your life (well, your paperwork at least!)

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Decluttering – a daunting word, but I’ve learnt that with space limited to the 4 walls of my house, I need to do it a lot!

Before we had a baby we had a big spare bedroom/ home office that housed all of our paperwork spread across a variety of filing cabinets.  Then gradually our daughter (and the copious amounts of stuff that she’s accumulated over her short life) began to take over the house, starting with the living room bookcase, and eventually spreading into our guest room/ home office.

IMG_2749This used to be our bookcase, full of books – now it purely houses toys!

We needed to find somewhere else to store our computer and all the ‘VIP’ (Very Important Paperwork) we had been saving over the years, and the only spare bit of space we had was a tiny 1×1 metre nook in the kitchen!  This space obviously wasn’t big enough for the 3 filing boxes we had so we needed to streamline, and here’s what we did…

1. First we contacted all of the people that send us bills and told them we wanted to go paperless.

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2. Next we went through all of our current filing and put any  bills or payslips etc. that were over a year old into a pile to be shredded (I’d definitely try and destroy these documents, either by shredding or burning – an identity theif would have a field day!).  Do check before you shred, because there are a few pieces of paperwork that may require you to keep them for more than a year (some tax documents, guarantees etc.).  This step was so liberating, I found payslips dating back about 7 years (I’m not sure why I thought I needed to keep them), and instruction manuals for appliances we got rid of years ago!

3. Then I categorised everything that was left into piles: Bills (utilities, phones & internet), House (mortgage documents, insurance documents), Car (insurance documents, RAC, log book), Employment (payslips, tax, contracts), Bank (statements, important letters, credit cards), and Appliances (manuals, proof of purchase, guarantees).  From these piles I grouped things together and tweaked the categories a bit to leave me with 4 piles.

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4. Lastly, I got 4 lever arch folders, some poly pockets and dividers and went about re-filing everything into the folders.  I also made some pretty labels to go on the spines to make them look nicer and to make it easier to find things.

Ta da!

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From 3 bulky filing boxes to 4 neat folders! Now all I need to do is occasionally add any new paperwork to the folders when it comes in (which isn’t very often since we went paperless!), and periodically go through and remove anything that’s over a year old – much easier!

I’m sure the ‘paperwork taking over your life’ phenomenon isn’t unique to parents like us – no-one wants a room full of paper clogging up their house do they?

Do you have any other stories of super-organisation that you want to share? Leave us a comment!

Eve, xx

Pregnancy on the Cheap

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Two thirds of the Classroom writers are currently pregnant, and I’m willing to bet that three thirds of us feel a lot more skint since our original bundles of joy arrived, so a great deal of our “real life” conversation revolves around saving money.  (Doesn’t everyone water down their washing up liquid these days?!)

 A first pregnancy is often a time of unbridled excitement coupled with a touch of naiveté.  If the good people of netmums tell you that a remote controlled vibrating bouncy chair is essential for all newborns, you will have one for every room by Jove!  I must admit that the first time round I already had a miserly streak about me, but since being the main custodian of our little family’s budget, I’ve become a lot more fiscally aware, and junior no 3 will be having things a lot more ‘low key’ than our first.

That said, if any first time mums stumble upon this blog, I’ll give you some advice that second-timers will already know.  When a baby is born it will need nothing more than some clean, comfortable clothes and bedding, an abundance of nappies, cotton wool and warm water and a lot a lot of milk.  Honestly, the vibrating chair will just make it vomit.

So with that said, I will give you my top tips for saving money while pregnant.

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1. Sign up for every freebie going.  I won’t waste time trying to duplicate what Glamumous  has done so comprehensively, which is list all the baby clubs she could find that will give you freebies or money off vouchers.  I spent a few days just going through every link on there and signing up.  A quick Google for pregnancy freebies is also worth doing, as is the occasional scout around the MSE grabbit board for free or ridiculously cheap items, and the competitions board if you are happy to give away some details for the chance to win some prizes.  Of course someone has to win the £1000 of nursery furniture, so why not you, but also if you enter more low level competitions you might get a free bottle of lotion here or a cuddly toy there.  If you are worried about giving your address to strangers remember to use services such as TPS and TMS, and always check the small print for info on further mailings.  One thing I do is weigh up the value of my details compared to what’s on offer.  I’ll put my email address absolutely anywhere, but it has to be something I really want to give my name and home address.

2. Only use vouchers for the things you really need.  Yes, you will get lots of vouchers from doing step 1, but don’t be tempted to spend money on expensive items that you weren’t considering before just because you’re getting some money off.  Use your vouchers wisely to save on the items you’ve really had your eye on.  Similarly, if it’s free, think about whether you really want it.  Is it going to be useful, or is it just going to be plastic clutter that you throw out in 3 months time?

3. Again in relation to step 1, remember who it is handing out the freebies.  By all means take a cuddly toy from a formula milk company, but remember they aren’t benevolent charities on a crusade to hand out free toys to babies.  Take ‘advice’ from any profit making organisation with a pinch of salt and make decisions with a clear head, and after checking a reputable source, such as the NHS website or your midwife.

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4. Go second hand. There is nothing wrong with second hand when it comes to babies.  Clothes will be worn for 3 months at the very longest, so get down to your local boot sales and charity shops, and keep an eye out for your local NCT nearly new sales.  Keep items from older siblings to reuse and check out ebay or gumtree.  This goes for maternity clothes too – I got all my maternity clothes in two ‘bundles’ on ebay for £35 all in.  If you’re not fussy about everyday items like jeans and t-shirts, this is the easiest and cheapest way to do it.  Remember: Don’t buy second hand car seats or cot mattresses for safety reasons.

5. Don’t splash out on parenting books.  Our local library has a great range of pregnancy and parenting books, and these days a quick Google will often answer your question, or a chat to your midwife will do if it’s more serious.  Once baby is born, getting down to your local Children’s Centre will put you in touch with mums who are muddling along at the same level as you, and even while pregnant, joining a forum such as babyandbump can give you loads of free peer to peer advice.

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6. Batch cook. For those tired, queasy early days when you don’t want to cook but the rest of the family wants to eat, and for those newborn weeks when you’re liable to fall asleep on the stove top, get prepared by batch cooking and putting meals in your freezer. Pack up leftovers instead of throwing them away at the end of the meal or set aside a slow-cooker day once a week to cook up two or three portions of a curry or stew. This will save you a packet on fast food and microwave meals, and even the most ardent home cookers can shave a few pennies off by using less energy to cook, planning ahead and making filling, hearty meals with lots of cheap veggies and pulses.  Almost anything can go in the freezer, but consider leaving carbs like pasta and rice till the day you defrost because for the 20 minutes of effort they will taste so much better.

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How are you saving money in the pregnancy and newborn stages? Let us know, and comment.