Kids’ Lunchbox and Snack Ideas.

The kids have been home for the better part of this school year due to Covid protocols where we live. Hopefully, face to face classes will resume in January and I for one cannot wait.

It has been great having the kids learn from home, but it is not easy. From longer screen time, not being able to physically interact with their teachers and schoolmates, a larger school work load…online learning is taking a toll on everyone involved.

The kids have always carried snacks and lunch from home. This has worked well for us so far- in terms of cost, being able to know what they are consuming and it doesn’t take as much time as one might expect.

Planning ahead is the greatest tip I have for this. As a Mum, my prime concern is for them to have healthy and tasty food, but I also need to take into consideration what is easier for them to consume in school; what is not time or labour intensive for me, we and will go well with the main family meal plan.

When my eldest child started carrying food from home, I worried she might not like what I have packed, so I decided to include her in the planning process. This has been working well for us so far.

Here are some tips in no order of importance:-

  • Focus on healthy, colourful, tasty food, that is easy to pack and keep. We do many cold meals, though the kids can warm from school, but cold lunches are great in this Kampala weather, they are quick to eat and clean up. No soup spills and the like.
  • Have a variety of meal options. I usually have 10-15 main meal ideas the kids like and approve, so I plan their meal choices around those options.
  • Include the children in planning for their meals. What would they like to carry? You can make a plan with them (keeping in mind the main family meal plan), so you are sure of less food wastage, they will eat what they chose and like, and you have less labour in shopping and prepping.
  • Make what you can ahead, if you can peel and chop or boil earlier it becomes easier to assemble in the morning.
  • Involve the children in packing the snacks and lunches too. My kids have become so good at this, I am really proud of them. Since they know what is on their menu, it is easy for them to pack what they are carrying for the day. For example, Fridays is a day for fries and a kachumbari salad for lunch. The kids are quite firm on this, but flexible enough on me to make plantain, green banana or even sweet potato fries, instead of the normal Irish potato ones.
  • Partitioned lunch boxes are a great option. One is able to separate the fruits and veggies, or main meal and salad. And I am also able to portion according to how much I know each kid is able to eat.
Portioned lunch boxes make work easier.
These lunch bags that come as part of the school backpacks are handy.

In terms of cost and nutrition. Fruits are a necessary snack. For this, I always put what they like and a fruit that is in season at the moment. For example, there are plenty of mangoes available at the moment, so their price is lower than other fruits not easily available at the moment.

Uganda’s great weather ensures we have plenty of sweet fruits available year round, so homemade juices are a great option too with the passion fruits and oranges that are easily available.

Basics for me in their bags are a bottle of drinking water, a small bottle of juice or flavoured milk, fruits and a healthy meal and snack. For example, a snack box for break will include a small sweet banana, popcorn, a muffin and some nuts. Popcorn is easy to make from home and doesn’t take too much time. Lunch can be rice balls, a simple salad and the fruit option can be grapes (sliced vertically), pineapple slices, or apple slices with some peanut butter on them.

Do not forget to pack some serviettes (paper towels) and cutlery for them. IKEA and many supermarkets have hardy plastic or melamine ones so you can keep your silverware safe. LOL.

This is a basic setup for the kids. Lunch boxes are at the bottom, then snack boxes and extra fruits. A water bottle and juice bottle are a must for them too.

Family main meal leftovers are also great for their lunchboxes. Leftover pasta makes a great pasta salad with some added veggies, tuna and mayo or yoghurt dressing.

Leftover steamed rice is great for rice balls, or fried rice which can be had warm or cold. Having canned tuna, chickpeas, sweetcorn and quinoa in the pantry is great to add to salads and sandwiches.

Simple sample meal : rice balls and an avocado salad.

Pancakes can be spread with jam, Nutella or peanut butter to make them more interesting and sweeter for the kids. Leftover veggies are great for savoury muffins, sweetcorn, zucchini and cheese make great options for this.

Other food options we like are :-

  • Salads- potato salad, pasta or quinoa salads are great with added cold meats such as tuna or leftover chicken. Veggies to bulk them can include chickpeas, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, beetroot, or even roasted zucchini and eggplant.
  • Fries or potato wedges. These could be sweet potato fries, green banana cutlets, plantain or yam fries.
  • Beef kebabs with a yoghurt sauce.
  • Orzo pasta is a fave here and can be used to bulk up a lentil salad.
  • Amaranth cereal bars
  • Sausage rolls.
  • Pancakes both sweet and savoury. Sweet ones can be spread with their favourite spread and sweetened with fruit. Savoury crepes work well with a veggie and cheese filling.
  • Leftover pizza.
  • Leftover chapati can make wraps of quesadillas, even frittatas.
  • Rice can be a salad, or fried rice. the kids also love beetroot pilau and celery rice which they can warm at school if they want to.
  • Carrots, cucumbers, celery stalks are great as a side salad with a small yoghurt sauce.
  • Quickbreads and muffins; banana bread, chocolate muffins, cheese and herb rolls are great options too.

Using what you have on hand and that which is easily available makes your work so much easier as a Mom.

Other tips to help the school mornings and school runs easier are:-

  • Having a good sleep routine. It is important for both you and the children to have a good night’s rest. Especially the kids who are still growing and need to let their minds and bodies rest and replenish lost energy. Having set times for bed and waking up is great for this.
  • Be prepared. Be stocked up on essentials to make mornings move faster. If you have to stop at the store on your way to drop them, chances are your kids will be late for school.
  • Have a morning routine for the family. Not a strict military style one, but a basic one that you and your family members have discussed and agreed upon. Simple ones like making beds immediately they get up, breakfast then shower and brush their teeth, oil themselves and dressed up work. This is how we teach our children independence, decision making and basic life skills.
  • Pack ahead for co- curricular activities. Sports and swimming gear can be packed the night ahead. Imagine looking for a swimming costume in the morning when they need to be out the door? it leaves everyone frazzled and not a good way to start the day.
  • An evening routine is great too. Once they get home from school, what is the first thing they do? When I pick them I always ask them to check if they have all their stuff with them. Once home, it is shower, a bit of play and tea time, homework then they can play some more before dinner is ready. Do not let them get way with dumping their shoes and bags at the door. I am firm on this. As messes such as these will end up with someone tripping on them and getting hurt, and also not teaching them how to be responsible for their things.
  • Check their schoolwork and let them also pack the books and stationery supplies before they go to bed once they are done with their homework; less chance of forgetting their homework at home or diaries.
  • Always keep the kids involved. Listen to them, talk to them, discuss with them what is going on in their school life. It makes them feel heard and seen and improves their self esteem.

As a parent, I am the adult and should lead by example. The kids being late is not their fault, it is mine if I did not take the time to ensure they are well prepared for the day ahead.

Let me also add that there is no perfect parent. We are all trying to do the best we can.

I will not lie and say I have all this down pat. No! I am still learning and I do drop the ball from time to time. However I cannot emphasize enough how much being organised has saved me time, money, energy.

Sure it’s easy for me to say do this and you will all be a calm, happy family. But as any parent will tell you, there are no guarantees. We can make the effort nevertheless. Nobody likes yelling or being yelled at in the morning to “hurry up!” And being more organized will reduce those frazzled mornings, don’t you think?

What do you pack in your child’s lunchbox?

A Good House.

What makes a good house?

Would you prefer to build your own or buy a complete unit?

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There are many properties in Kenya for sale at the moment, and options to suit different clients. From luxury apartments to beachside villas, sprawling bungalows to basic housing; there is almost something for everyone.

However that does not mean it is a straightforward process. There are other factors to take into consideration. From the cost of the unit, financing options, proximity to social amenities, types of finishing, and many more.

There are a myriad of YouTube videos showing these properties and let me tell you guys, I am calling out lies on some of them.

First of all, the words “luxury” and “executive” are so overused folks, it’s appalling.

Basic amenities, such as a good parking spot, a paved driveway are the ones being touted as luxury. Nope, noppity nope. The lies have to stop.

A good property; a basic habitable unit, in my opinion should have some things done as a basic, not as an incentive. Is it too much to ask for non- skid flooring in wet areas such as the bathroom, laundry area and kitchen? Large windows to bring in natural lighting and great air flow. A garden with trees and some nice grass, a paved driveway? A covered parking area?

Recent housing developments do not value free unstructured spaces our children can play in, building on them instead. They have small gravelled areas with hard plastic slides and a couple of swings and call it the kids play area.

While I do understand that it is not possible for many to build their own homes, but when buying a property, let us be a bit more keen in how habitable it is. There are things that come up once you move in, but there are also a few things one should take note of when considering to buy a property. In addition to the due diligence on the legal paperwork, also check and ask around how the security is around that location.

There are many beautifully constructed housing developments popping up all over the place. That bungalow or villa you’re about to pay for, may not be as damp proof as they claim. Look at the corners, sniff the air in that house in all the rooms and cupboards.

Check for loose fittings and signs of mould inside and outside. Are the tiles, inside flooring or outside paving blocks warping or loose? Visit with a qualified person not connected to the project and let them give their opinion. We are paying too much money for real estate, it will not hurt to take your time checking them out thoroughly.

I saw a recent YouTube video of someone house hunting and there was one unit that had obvious water damage and no proper drainage in some areas, (can you imagine a flooded balcony?). When buying land or a house in certain areas, it is good to check out the geographical history of the place. If you can, visit during both the rainy and dry seasons to see the difference. Some properties being sold are located on dried up waterways. With recent climatic changes, flooding is on the increase worldwide; that river that dried up fifty years ago will find its way back and carry whatever is built in its path with it. Some unscrupulous people are filling up old stone quarries, and selling off the land as quick as they can. Due diligence is important and quite wide.

Beach or waterfront properties are beautiful with breathtaking views, and an amazing breeze.

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How well shielded is that property from strong gusts of wind, underground dampness and are there screen doors to avoid bugs? I remember reading of a certain luxury property in the region that was bought up fast but the owners are now in tears. The fitted appliances do not work, the smart home system is ever glitchy and to top it off, some of the houses have had their balconies develop cracks. Scary!

Not all developers are unscrupulous, but well done houses with good quality fixtures and thoughtful finishing are not that common. It has become a preferred option by some to buy off plan or semi finished units, instead of a complete house that one will spend a lot of money repairing and refurbishing to one’s personal taste.

Location is another headache. Imagine buying a lovely apartment with a winding balcony only for a taller, sprawling high-rise to come up right next door! You now have a view of stone walls and the natural lighting in your apartment is dimmed. Or you buy a stand alone house in a quiet neighbourhood only for a religious institution or school to come up next door. There are some developments that have rules guiding what and how one can construct in that locality, which is good in such instances.

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Getting a good property that one can enjoy is not impossible, but will require a lot of commitment and resources. Time, patience, finances and an eye to detail helps. And don’t forget your gut instinct too; How you feel about the place.

What is a good house to you?

Blackstrap Molasses.

Blackstrap Molasses is a viscous, thick, dark sticky liquid that is left after boiling sugarcane.

It is not sickly sweet, or too bitter, but has a deep flavour that may take some getting used to. It is nutrient rich; still having all the nutrients absorbed by the plant. Manganese, Iron, copper, magnesium, potassium are just some of the minerals it contains.

It is a must have in my kitchen. I get mine from Eastnat Foods.

They are having a sale at the moment on blackstrap molasses as well as their other products. Visit their site https://eastnatfoods.com to check what else is on offer. The store is located in Nairobi, and one can shop online from their website as well as inquire if they can deliver to your location.

I use blackstrap molasses for so many things:-

  • Marinade : For meats such as chicken and pork.
  • Sauce: To add to fried meats.
  • Hair mask: I use it as a pre poo treatment for my natural hair, with a bit of cocoa butter, or coconut oil. It reduces frizz, makes hair soft and easier to detangle.
  • Tonic; I like putting some into a glass of warm water and drink first thing in the morning a few times a week. Sometimes I add some apple cider vinegar or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Smoothies. Just a little bit goes a long way, but it does add an interesting depth of flavour to naturally sweet smoothies.
  • Baking; Cookies and savoury dishes.

When using it, one has to be careful as the flavour is really strong for some, and a little goes a long way. It also doesn’t spoil fast, just store it in a cool, dry place, it will last ages.

I use it in making my Sweet and Sticky Wings, and my Pineapple, ginger and honey chicken recipes, which are already up here on the blog.

Sweet and sticky wings made with blackstrap molasses.

I also mix it with some ketchup, honey to make a kind of barbecue sauce that’s perfect for sautéed sausage.

As a tonic, I usually take a tbsp with same amount of Apple cider vinegar in a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning. It is an iron boosting tonic, and cleansing too, it will push all that stuck food in your gut out. (bye bye constipation).

As a face mask, I just use a bit when washing my face then cleanse with warm water. For hair, I mix it with some melted cocoa butter (which I also get from Eastnat limited). Apply on my hair for 15-20 minutes, then give it a good wash.

It makes my hair softer to manage, less frizz and less shedding.

How do you use your blackstrap molasses?

No Green Thumb here.

I come from a culture that prides itself in farming; no matter the scale. (Hello there, Andū a Nyūmba).

Such a disappointment given the amount of space I have here at the moment.

It wasn’t always like this though. Some years ago, I had a thriving kitchen garden back home. I grew my own spring onion, dhania, rosemary, mint, celery, beetroot, spinach, carrots, even strawberries, and they all thrived. I have no idea what happened when we got here.

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Growing up, we had a garden and livestock. We grew maize, potatoes, avocados, kale, spinach, amaranth, passion fruits, avocado, luquats, tree tomato, pumpkins, beans etc. My Dad who has a green thumb alright, had planted some beautiful flowers all around the house too. It was a pretty place. You would think I’d get some of that green pixie dust… Well, maybe I did, it just didn’t last long.

H and I lived in Naivasha for a while and we tried to garden, it was successful, except for the monkeys that would come and have a field day uprooting the carrots and messing up the maize. We did enjoy the onions and anything else the monkeys could not consume.

When we moved back to Nairobi, I did the kitchen garden thing again and it was pretty neat except for the strawberries that would go missing just before harvest. I did figure out who the culprit was but that is a story for another day. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I got too busy with work and neglected the small space, we ended up planting grass there. Funny enough though, the celery, beetroot and lemongrass keep popping up.

Fast forward to Kampala. We found a couple of banana trees, some lemongrass, struggling mint and chives in a small corner of the compound. Hurray! I thought, I can do this. So we had the small patch fenced off the rest of the garden because of the dogs, and got planting. Guys, nothing grew! Absolutely nothing! Even the existing chives and mint just decided to exit stage left. The bananas did grow without our help and we have enjoyed them twice but that is all. Even the maize I got to plant next to the bananas just decided to leave this world.

This is Uganda, fertile land and all with rain almost every month of the year. We watered, got manure, even dug everything up and tried again, we did all we could but nope, nothing happened.

I have given up on gardening. And I have no shame in admitting it. H and the kids haven’t though. My son has a bean plant he planted in class and it is thriving, so far so good. They also planted pumpkin and mint that is also coming on well. Even they pineapples they planted have taken root. I have decided to watch it all from a distance though, I do not want to jinx their plants, seeing as I now have a black thumb.

My Mum has been sending me pictures of their amazing organically grown vegetables. Courgettes almost as big as my arm, plump beans, large leafy greens, maize and peas and I have nothing to show for all my talk of having a big space for a wonderful kitchen garden. NOTHING.

As much as I have never been an ardent gardener, I still feel like I have failed bigly. What sort of Kikuyu woman is this who cannot even grow simple dhania guys? Dhania, the easiest thing to grow. I have failed my people. Do you know how lousy of a gardener I have become that I could not even sustain an existing rosemary bush people, Rosemary!

Black thumb it is for me.

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House Matters.

Shelter is a basic need. We all need somewhere to go home to, a place to call our own, a haven from daily work struggles and a place to be safe from the elements.

Where I come from, a lot of people believe that one of the things a person should aspire to have is his or her own piece of land, where they can go ahead and construct their own home. For those who do not own property near the city, it is assumed that by the time your working life ends, you will have finished constructing a place in the village to retire to, complete with a cow and chicken coop and space to grow your own vegetables to boot.

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I grew up about 15 km from Nairobi, in a rural village juxtaposed with a college campus on one side, a farming area on another and a busy highway on another end that connects the capital to the Rift Valley. Folks made fun of it a lot, but it is home. We lived on our own land, so no rent, had our cows, chicken and eggs, and a land to farm on, which meant food was easily accessible. Back then a lot of people believed living in town (within the city and suburbs) was the best life. Well, not anymore. I keep reading and seeing more people opting to move to our area and beyond and farm life and waking up to the sound of birds singing has more appeal now.

Times have changed. We are no longer living within our tribal communities’ geographical boundaries. People are choosing to settle anywhere they feel comfortable. This could be in different towns, countries or even continents.

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With the pandemic, a lot of people have had to cut down on living costs. Housing is one of the things that takes up a large chunk of one’s income if you live in the city where rent is high. A lot of people are opting to move farther away to the country side or different counties altogether where life is more affordable, which is a good decision. Adapting to Covid 19 has taught us that it is possible for many to work from home, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can work from anywhere.

Land is very expensive too, not all of us may afford to get that land to build our dream house on. One can opt to get a mortgage and settle on an already built housing unit or just decide to rent for life. Which is fine.

Culture is dynamic, there is nothing cast in stone, we need to adapt to these changes and respect each others’ decisions on what is best for them. That does not mean however that these decisions are easy to arrive at.

Is there a need of having to build a house in the village that you will head to once or twice a year for a week tops, that will then stay empty till the day you retire to the village? On the other hand, it will be great to have a roof over your head with no pressure to pay rent in case your income lines dry up.

What about buying an already built property; if you do not have the ability to pay cash upfront, are you willing to be burdened with a mortgage for almost 3/4 or even all of your working life?

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Or you buy land somewhere, then extreme changes in weather, like what we have been experiencing worldwide, force you to move. Lake levels are rising here and old dried up waterways are filled with water now as well as wetlands we thought are dried up. These are places people settled in and lived for years until recently, now their homes are gone!

Some properties are also controversial in terms of location and land ownership. Imagine taking out a loan to buy a house that turns out to built on land later claimed by the government or somebody else, or buying a house that ends up not being structurally sound?

Once you hear all the horror stories some people go through, renting suddenly looks more appealing than ever.

No matter the decision, shelter is a basic right for all. We all need somewhere to live, rest and sleep in. Choosing where to live depends on our economic situation, affordability, access to infrastructure, quality of life and also access to quality education if you have kids. Security too. And not just burglary and the likes, there are certain areas that are prone to tribal clashes every few years.

There is a lot to consider when making the decision where to live, and there is no perfect place that one will pick and say “This is it.” It is all about weighing all that you consider important, the pros and cons, do your due diligence, and make the final place you decide on a home fit for you and your family.