If I had a pound for every time I’ve shouted obscenities at misleading ingredients labels I’d have quite a lot of extra cash in my bank account!

I’ve been obsessed with ingredients labels since first cutting out refined sugars and processed carbs back in 2007. Like many, my major dietary changes came off the back of a medical diagnosis. In my case it was polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS as it’s widely known). I was told at the time that I would not be able to conceive without fertility treatment, but changing what I ate led to three healthy, uncomplicated, natural pregnancies. Take a peek here and here for more details, and why I’m comfortable calling myself a member of the sugar police.

Had I not been so hell bent on turning my health around, perhaps I would never have wandered down the path I did when it came to food. I don’t see it as a bad thing though, quite the opposite. Eating this way before embarking on motherhood meant that I was more than confident when it came to feeding my family. Nowadays eating consciously and healthfully is not even something that takes up my head space, it’s second nature. Which is why I was so keen to join the Organix team, as a no junk blogger.

ingredients labels

Learning the hard way that I couldn’t trust the headlines with ingredients labels

When Polly (almost nine) was two and a half she was diagnosed with a long list of allergies, and I had to learn another language. Her worst offender was corn, especially corn syrup and we discovered that manufacturers use corn derived ingredients in many processed foods (often as a sweetener). I was shocked to find out that there are almost one hundred corn derived ingredients, which are given weird and wonderful names.

I’ve seen baked goods in the supermarket contain five different types of corn sugar. FIVE! It’s bonkers, and really sneaky. What this meant for us back then was that we had to be super careful about giving Polly any food that I hadn’t made myself.

I’m all for from-scratch home cooking, but lets be honest, us parents need our cheats. Especially for hangry toddlers. It became quickly apparent that there were a very small number of trustworthy snack brands that I could count on. Everything else had to be avoided at all costs, because it always contained corn derived ingredients. We even had to send her to birthday parties with a packed lunch, which was heartbreaking every time.

Thankfully Polly doesn’t suffer nearly as much these days, but she is still sensitive to certain foods (yes I’m still looking at you corn). The thing I love about Organix packaging is every ingredient is clearly labelled, along with the percentage of the ingredient it contains. You couldn’t get more transparency if you wanted it.

Ingredients labels

A few pointers when it comes to ingredients labels

First and foremost, don’t trust slogans such as “no sugar” or “natural”. These are marketing gimmicks, and reading the full label, especially for children’s food is essential.  

If it sounds as if it was made in a science lab, it more than likely was. Natural ingredients rarely have long, complicated and unpronounceable names.

Don’t be intimidated by ingredients labels, feel empowered by them. This is a great step to taking control of your eating.   

Always go for the products with the fewest ingredients on the label. Less is definitely more in this instance.

Organic food is kinder to the planet and our bodies, but I’m sure you know that already.

Proud to be an Organix No Junk Blogger  

Organix is increasingly concerned about the quality and quantity of unnecessary ingredients in some baby finger foods and toddler snacks, and thinks the massive explosion in the number of snacks available has come at a nutritional cost, as standards have slipped.

Therefore it’s launching a nationwide junk busting campaign, to investigate what’s hiding in some baby and toddler snack foods. Organix is working with Cherry Healey from the BBC show Inside the Factory, who is joining the Junk busting mission to investigate baby finger foods and toddler snacks.

Take a look at this short video clip for more tips from Cherry

**this is a sponsored post, for my full disclosure policy please click here**

fantastic servicesFantastic Services have once again been a godsend for my family

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here, and not without good reason. We are gearing up for our first house move in seven years. Since last moving we’ve had two more children and acquired a whole lot of stuff. Packing up and getting ready for the big day tomorrow has been no small job, but thankfully the awesome team at Fantastic Services have been helping us every step of the way.

As always the customer experience from the very start has been impeccable. We had an assessment to work out exactly what needed to be done and once that was agreed our boxes and packing paraphernalia was delivered. We opted to pack our own belongings, largely because the girls were desperate to help, but Fantastic offer a packing service for those wanting to reduce the hassle of moving even further. In fact they offer just about anything and everything you can imagine when it comes to moving house. Take a look at the moving page on their website for more details.

The next step for us will be tomorrow morning, when Fantastic turn up to move all the boxes, as well as take our furniture apart and reassemble it at the new house. They shall also be carrying out our end of tenancy deep clean, for this dear readers is mine and hubby’s first step onto the property ladder. At 38 and 39 (and living in London) we’d all but given up hope to be honest, but more on that another time.

Head to Instagram, for the chance to win £50 towards a service of your own. Stay tuned to my InstaStories over the next couple of days for updates and live moving action.

Current status: half packed, half freaking out over the rest of the packing. Thank goodness for @fantasticservices who are not only moving us and have supplied our packing materials, but will also be doing our thorough end of tenancy deep clean before we hand the keys back to our landlord. ♥️ I’ve had the pleasure of working with Fantastic! for over two years now, and genuinely can’t recommend them highly enough. They take care of anything and everything you could possibly imagine. Cleaning, clearing, gardening, odd jobs, electrical work, pest control… you name it, they’ve got it covered. ♥️ To say thank you to Fantastic! for all their help this side of our move, I’m hosting a giveaway for a lucky reader to win a £50 voucher to use towards a Fantastic! service. ♥️ To enter: – follow @mummytries and @fantasticservices – like this post and tag all your friends who’d love to win this fab prize – feel free to also have a look here and on Fantastic’s feed (likes always welcome), but it’s not a requirement for this comp ♥️ Terms & conditions: – you must be based within the M25 to be eligible for Fantastic! Anyone can enter, but the service must be carried out within the M25 – no cash alternative – you must be following @mummytries and @fantasticservices at the time of the draw, if you’ve followed and unfollowed you’ll be disqualified – voucher not valid for Christmas trees or services during the month of December – prize will be drawn on Sunday 21st April and the winner will be tagged here snd sent a DM asking for their details ♥️ Best of luck!!! AD

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on Now I have a real treat for you! Grab a cuppa and learn all about how Fantastic Services came to be from my interview with CEO Rune Sovndahl

Is there an inspirational story behind Fantastic Services?

It all started almost 9 years ago when I met my business partner Anton Skarlatov at a party. A wine stain on my cream carpet was our occasion to start talking about a possible business opportunity for both of us. We created the brand Fantastic Services as a solution to a problem. We wanted to deliver high quality services and to establish a trust-worthy domestic and office maintenance company in the UK. This is how it all began.

As a child I had the dream to create a business that would be helpful to the community. I wanted to present a product or service to the world that would be useful, innovative and at the same time make people feel great about using this company. So I started considering how I would operate it, make it stand out, and let it become people’s first choice.

What is most important to you about being a business owner?

I`m not afraid to get my hands dirty and get directly involved in the hard work that turns you into a successful professional. Furthermore, I choose carefully the people I work with in order to achieve a great level of productivity. I never ever consider giving up as an option and try to lead by example.

Do you have any funny anecdotes from the early days?

The list is endless. The process of creating Fantastic Services has been a great deal of fun, together with all the hard work. However, I’d like to share a particularly lovely story from the early days that never gets old.

Once we had a call from a client who wanted us to look after her pet snail. It turned out, the creature was a racing snail and the family was going on a holiday, so there was no one to take care of it while they were supposed to be away. Most companies would reject such highly responsible and quite unusual request, however we were happy to help and had the snail hang out in our office, making sure we took good care of it. People that would visit the office thought we’d lost our minds. This experience was both heartwarming and funny and we often recall it with a smile.

Where do you see the business going in five years’ time?

Fantastic Services already operates in the UK, Australia and the USA. But we’re not stopping there. What I would do is invest in expanding our business further and offer our Fantastic services to even more households across Europe and around the world. I’d like our “360 Degrees Happiness Philosophy” to become well known among a bigger audience, because that’s what it’s all about – delivering the best experience possible to everyone that is part of the Fantastic family (clients, professionals, partners, office staff, management). As for me – I would do my best to become a better leader, an inspirational leader that would empower our Fantastic team, and let them find and share their voice and passion.

fantastic servicesDo you have any words of wisdom for would-be entrepreneurs?

With my experience in various fields, I had built a strong network of specialists and that was crucial for raising a successful company. It is important to connect with people on a deeper level. For example, be honest and share what you are passionate about. Always be ready to offer your professional help within your field. Personally, I`m not afraid to ask for help and advice when in doubt. It’s good to learn from experienced professionals in order to become one.

Keep up with the latest news from Fantastic Services on social media 

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Blog   

**Disclaimer: I am a brand ambassador for Fantastic Services, and this is a collaborative piece. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.** 

#ShareAStory is an hour long creative writing workshop where children aged 7+ learn how to write their own stories

PizzaExpress have teamed up with Scribblers HQ to launch a series of wonderful creative writing workshops across the country aimed at children aged 7-12. We were invited along for Polly (8½) to give it a taste test and see what she thought. 

The workshop starts with explaining that all stories have the same key elements. Take a leading character, give them some basic information and a mission, and away you go. Once you have these things nailed you can’t really go wrong. The delicious pizza also went down a treat with the children after a hard hours’ writing! 

Polly was a little bit nervous when we were on our way to the workshop. “I’m no good at coming up with ideas for stories,” she told me with a worried look in her big blue eyes. I assured her that there would be experts on hand to help her throughout the workshop, which there were. The experience panned out to be a lot less intimidating in reality than it had been in her mind beforehand. 

#ShareAStory

Polly’s story 

The lovely ladies from Scribblers HQ did a marvellous job of putting the children at ease from the moment they arrived. They were taken on a whistlestop tour of book writing, and taught how to structure their own stories. By being given two examples of best selling books, the kids were shown how similar they both were once they were broken down to their key components. 

After about five minutes Polly wasn’t nervous at all, and went on to write a little story about a giant ice cream called Olaf. Poor Olaf is in a real state because all his friends keep getting eaten by the humans (and some monsters) so he needs a plan to stay alive. It’s a fun and quirky story, which Polly was super proud of writing and I was incredibly proud to watch her write. 

The best part is that since this workshop a fortnight ago, Polly has written two more stories. Not because I’ve been on her case about doing so, but because she’s wanted to. I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that writing is my job these days, and it’s bringing me such pleasure to see her enjoying the process of putting a story together.   

Book your free #ShareAStory workshop

#ShareAStoryPizzaExpress are running their free #ShareAStory workshops around the country this month, and I thoroughly recommend you booking your place. For full details check out the PizzaExpress website, or click on the links below. 

Birmingham – Sunday 4th March 

Manchester – Saturday 24th March

Leeds – Sunday 25th March

Cardiff – to be confirmed

World Book Day 2018 

PizzaExpress are also supporting World Book Day with a special edition of their Dough Ball Times activity pack. Children are invited to design a bookmark to be in with the chance of winning a years supply of books. Packs will be available in restaurants until the 25th March. 

The Dough Ball Times will also include a World Book Day token which you can exchange for an exclusive book in your local bookshop. For a home educating family like us, this was really useful.  

There are ten fabulous books to choose from this year, my three have ear marked these. 

Nadiya Hussain’s Bake Me A Story (Polly)
Paddington Turns Detective (Clara)
The Avengers Greatest Heroes (Freddy)

What will your kids choose? Tweet me @MummyTries

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative piece, for my full disclosure policy click here.** 

My children adore everyone’s favourite ogre, so I was excited to tell them we’d be going to Shrek’s Adventure! on London’s Southbank. Better still, we’d be going with our dear friends, fellow blogger Mel and her four

The tour lasts for around an hour, and is very interactive with lots of different segments. It starts with a 4D bus tour, and although it doesn’t actually move, it wasn’t too dissimilar to feeling like we were on a roller coaster. Various characters from Dreamworks films are talking and flying all around you, and it’s a lot of fun.

I won’t ruin it by giving away too many spoilers, but during this early segment, a little disaster occurs, and the rest of the tour is based around getting home. You get to meet lots of characters from the Shrek films along the way, and join in to help bring certain items to the Muffin Man so he make a potion which will create a portal to return back.

The actors play their parts exceptionally well, and the children came out of the tour absolutely buzzing. It was such a joy to see them all this happy. Keeping seven kids aged three to nine entertained is no small thing, so hats off to Shrek’s Adventure! for doing so.

Things to know before your visit

Shrek's Adventure!Queues: if you visit at a busy time (we went in UK half term), be prepared to stand in line for a while. We had pre-booked tickets for the 3pm tour, but didn’t start our tour until a few minutes to 4pm. It was a teensy bit deceptive because there wasn’t much of a queue outside the venue, once inside however, there was quite a bit of waiting around.

Don’t worry though, there is plenty to look at while you’re waiting to keep you entertained. We also took a big bag loaded with snacks and activities with us. It wasn’t much of a problem for us, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind if you have mobility issues to consider. They keep the tour group sizes fairly small, which was impressive, because never once did I feel like we were being squashed in like sardines in a can.

Buggies/baggage: there’s no cloakroom until you’re just about to go on your tour, and they ask you to not take buggies in. If you’re planning to go with a baby either take a sling or be prepared to carry them.

Mobile phones/photography: you’ll be asked to switch your phone off, and not turn it back on until the very end. I really like this aspect of the tour, because it keeps everyone fully present and focused on what’s happening, rather than trying to capture the moment to put on social media. Not only are you asked to switch phones off, you won’t be allowed to take photos on a camera either. At the very end of the tour you’ll get to meet the big guy, and can snap away and share until your heart is content.

Frightening: until about six months ago, Polly (8½) would find something scary about even the most innocuous films or books. There are a few parts on the tour that involve witches and/or all the lights going out. Both Freddy (4) and Clara (6) stuck to me like glue in anticipation of something scary happening, but didn’t cry or get freaked properly out at all. Again worth bearing in mind if you have a highly sensitive child who is likely to scare really easy. 

Shrek's Adventure!The verdict

Shrek’s Adventure! got the resounding thumbs up from all seven children. Yes really, I’m not just saying it. I think the best thing is that there are different segments every five minutes or so, which keep the kids completely enraptured.

There was a bonus section at the end too, where we got to meet the Kung Fu Panda. You’ll have to get down to the Southbank quickly though, because he’s only there to celebrate Chinese new year, and won’t be there forever.

Huge thanks to the PR team at Shrek’s Adventure! for inviting us to come for a tour. For what’s on and pricing, head over to the Shrek’s Adventure! website.

**Disclaimer: we were gifted our entrance fee in exchange for this honest blog, all words are my own, some photos were taken by myself, some by Mel. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

If your child does not sleep through the night, you are going to love this article! Until recently I was lucky to get four or five broken hours shut eye…

Anyone who follows this blog will already know that severe sleep deprivation has been a major part of mine and hubby’s lives the entire time we’ve been parents. I’m not just talking about a few months here and there when the kids were tiny, I’m talking not having an entire week of unbroken sleep in over eight years. I’m sure most will agree that is a very long time.

Prior to our eldest daughter Polly’s autism diagnosis in 2015, we honestly thought we were just clueless parents, convinced that we must be missing a trick. We had to be going wrong somewhere along the line. Why did everyone else’s kid sleep through the night but not ours?

There’s no way to dress it up, right from birth Polly was a terrible sleeper. We didn’t know any different though, and took it on the chin in those early days. Things got really bad for us when I was heavily pregnant with our second daughter, Clara. After a hideous night of almost no sleep at all, I went to work and cried my eyes out, begging my old boss to let me start maternity leave a few weeks before I was due to.

sleep through the nightBy the time our new baby came along we were dreading the sleep side of things, and totally expected the worst

Fortunately for us we were blessed with an incredible sleeper. With no intervention from us whatsoever, Clara was getting a solid twelve hours by the time she was three months old. Polly however was up every night, seriously distressed, having monumental meltdowns. Her behaviour during the day was beyond challenging, and I look back on this time with immense sadness.

Everyone was miserable and it was definitely a turning point for us as a family. I went into frantic mama bear mode. Having suffered with gastro problems myself as a child, I became convinced that Polly’s issues were linked to allergies. Turns out I wasn’t entirely wrong, because just before her third birthday she was diagnosed with a food intolerance list as long as your arm. Cue two years of strict exclusion diets, as well as our third child.

The clean eating certainly helped, but it didn’t solve Polly’s sleep problems. By the time Freddy came along we’d read every website and parenting self-help book we could get our hands on. No matter what we tried nothing seemed to help Polly sleep through the night.

That is until our first autism assessment, where we heard two words that would change our lives: sleep hygiene

This term had never come up in anything we had previously read, but it instantly felt like we were being handed a gift. Sleep hygiene is essentially a series of bedtime (and for us nighttime) habits that need to be set in place and stuck to rigidly. It sounds so simple, but let’s face it, especially in hindsight, it always does.

The reason I feel qualified to share our experience now, is because we’ve been doing these things for more than two years and have ruled out any happy coincidences. I can put my hand on my heart and say that they definitely work.

Create good sleep hygiene, to help your child sleep through the night, using these steps

“Figure out a bedtime routine that suits everyone, and stick to it like glue.”

Our paediatrician Dr. K’s words now sound like a complete no-brainer. Trust me though, having sat on both sides of the fence, I know how hard it can be to devise, implement and adhere to a routine. With the best will in the world, life gets in the way doesn’t it? The thing about a sleep problem, is that it really needs to be given top priority within the family. When your child is sleep deprived, so are you, and we all know that it’s a form of torture.

Give yourself at least three months to put these steps into place, without expectation or changes to the schedule. We started seeing improvements in Polly after the first week, but once we’d been at it for three months real progress was evident.

 

Calling all parents: How affected by sleep deprivation are you right now? If the answer is very, and you’re at your wits end because you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked long term, you are going to love my latest blog. ♥️ When her sleep was at its worst, Polly was waking up, on average, ten times a night. This went on for years, with all the usual tricks either not working or only being effective in the very short term. The article is almost 2000 words long, but I’m certain there is something in it for every desperate parent trying to figure out sleep solutions for their exhausted children. ♥️ Disclaimer: we were gifted our gorgeous bunk beds which are being built here by the lovely people at @warrenevansbeds but the blog post is entirely about our personal story…

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

Things to consider before anything else

Creating a good sleeping environment is just as important as the routine itself. A dark cosy room, which isn’t full of distractions is a must, especially for children on the spectrum whose minds can be more difficult to quiet at the end of a busy day. Polly had her own room for years, and our younger two shared, but we moved her in with Clara about a year ago and it improved Polly’s sleep even further.

Something we hadn’t banked on was that sometimes Polly was waking in the night because she felt lonely, and now that she has the presence of her sister in the room that isn’t the case.

The girls adore their bunk beds from Warren Evans*, and devised a rota among themselves for who sleeps at the top so there are no arguments. They agreed that Polly could go first as she’s the eldest, then after one week it was Clara’s turn, then Polly, etc. During the first week they actually decided they liked the Polly up top/Clara at the bottom set up and have not been arguing about swapping.

For those considering bunk beds for children who have a fairly small age gap, and will find any excuse to argue, I can highly recommend thinking about a rota.

Things to do before bedtime

sleep through the nightIt’s easy to say keep stress to a minimum, but it does massively impact the witching hour. In my experience stress has always been the number one trigger for meltdowns during bedtime. The trouble is, once stress hormones have been stirred up, it can be very difficult to get your child to go to sleep.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that calm is the most important factor in getting a decent nights rest. Even once a child is asleep, the quality of that sleep will likely be poor if they’ve stressed themselves out beforehand.

My children usually watch a film in the early evening, and we don’t allow small screens past 5pm. We have at least half an hour, if not longer, downtime between the TV going off and the kids going to bed. This allows them sufficient transition time from one task to the next.

Things to do during bedtime

I take my hat off to those who have multiple children of varying ages, and manage to stick to a routine at the exact same time every single night. For us we aim for certain things to happen within a time frame, but with the best will in the world it isn’t always possible.

We also find with our kids that a routine will work for a few months, then things will start sliding and need to be changed. We have structured our evening quiet time around playing LEGO, colouring, doing jigsaw puzzles and reading stories. At the moment they are enjoying meditation sleep stories in bed, which help them relax before dropping off.

It’s also vital that Polly gets to tick everything off her mental check list before going to sleep, otherwise she feels like something is missing. She needs to have fresh water in her bottle, she needs to know the details of what will be happening the next day, her hair has to be tied up in a certain way, and she absolutely must get goodnight kisses from the entire family. It took us a long while to realise that not ticking everything off her list was causing her serious anguish.

Things to do for night time wake ups

The million pound question for us c.2015 was what to do in the middle of night when Polly woke up distressed for whatever reason. The answer was getting to the bottom of what she needed and finding a solution as quickly as possible.

When we started out, Polly was waking on average ten times a night, often having bedtime-like meltdowns in the small hours. We were advised by Dr. K to silently guide her back to bed, without interacting with her, even if it took all night. My husband and I were absolutely dreading this, and the first few nights were indeed horrendous, but by the end of the first week we saw a massive improvement. By the end of the month we were astonished at how far we’d come, and by the time we had hit the three month mark she was consistently sleeping through the night for the first time ever.

Nowadays Polly only wakes in the middle of the night if she needs the toilet, or has had a scary dream and wants some comfort. I honestly cannot remember the last time she was up for more than fifteen minutes in the middle of the night.

sleep through the nightAn overview 

Bottom line is, if your child is a poor sleeper, you are going to be sleep deprived which adds an extra layer of difficulty to your days as a parent. Here are my biggest tips to help your kids get some Zzzzz’s: 

  • eat a healthy balanced diet of real food 
  • rule out any medical problems 
  • limit small screens, especially in the hour or two before bed 
  • ensure their sleeping environment is comfortable, a good quality bed is an absolute must 
  • keep stress to a minimum 
  • structure your bedtime routine around doing quiet activities to wind down 
  • read or listen to stories while your child is in bed 
  • make sure their mental checklist has been completed 
  • meet their needs in the night quickly with minimal interaction

*About Warren Evans

You cannot underestimate the importance of a good quality bed, and comfortable mattress. You honestly cannot go wrong with Warren Evans, who have 38 years of award winning experience handcrafting beds. Their superior service and quality products, at a fantastic price, means you get great value. For more info please read my article about how I fell in love with my Warren Evans bed and TEMPUR mattress.

Warren Evans was rated by Which? Members as the ‘Best Mattress Retailer’ in 2017. For great sleep tips see Warren Evans’ blog.

**Disclaimer: we were gifted our bunk beds by Warren Evans in exchange for this honest blog. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**