10 Xmas ideas to the keep kids busy over the festive season

Read time: 3 Minutes

The countdown is on, and the wee’uns are bouncing off the walls in great form. It can be exhausting (and highly frustrating) to keep them busy while you get on with your Christmas preparations.

Yes, the Christmas shows are played on the telly 24/7 and as great as sitting in watching Christmas classic after Christmas classic does sound, we’ve composed some fun activities for you and the kids to do over the holidays.

  1. Make your own Christmas cards

Stock up with some paints, glitter, card, glue, cotton balls and colouring pens/crayons. You can create some footprint Reindeer!  Encourage the kids to use things from around the garden, like twigs or leaves.

DYI-Cards.jpg

  1. Visit Santa

We all remember visiting Santa as a child – they are the memories we never forget! Why not visit the Santa Experience at Croke Park?  Take a trip to Santa’s Grotto, through the Ski Patrol Room -which is manned by Santa’s very own elves. Your ticket also includes free admission to the GAA Museum, with two floors of interactive exhibits. Or how about Claregalway Castle in the West of Ireland? Take part in a snowball fight, meet Santa’s pets and enjoy story time with Mrs Clause. They are both popular events, so remember to pre-book as they fill up fast.

christmas-santa.jpg

  1. Paper plate Christmas elves

Another craft idea for the house. Use some paper plates and create a little army of elves! Encourage your children’s creativity by empowering them to make whatever they please. You can even add some string and cut out some holes for eyes and a mouth to make masks!

4. Shoe Box campaign

There are many vulnerable children in the world who will receive no other Christmas gift than the one given to them in the shoebox appeal. Teach your child the gift of giving, and to be aware of how lucky we are by encouraging them to create a box of their own to fill for a child.

5. Christmas Pantos
Why not take a trip to see Polly & the Beanstalk at the Olympia this December? Don’t pretend you don’t enjoy it! Or cheer the goodies and boo the baddies at the Three Musketeers Panto, which is on at the Civic Theatre from the 14th of December until the 7th of January.

  1. Ice Skating

Do you fancy yourself in the 2018 winter Olympics in PyeongChang? Then get your skates on!  If you’re feeling brave, take the kids to the ice rink. It’s a sure way to tire the little ones out. Ice rinks pop up all over Ireland; in Blanchardstown, Dundrum and a few in Cork.

  1. Make your own tree decorations

You can never have too many crafts! Use empty toilet roll holders for the top of the Christmas tree, and create unique angels for the top. Use everyday objects to come up with creative new Christmas decorations for the tree.

crafts with paper plates

  1. Get out for a walk – stay active!

Sure, it’s cold outside. But winter is a beautiful time of year. Ireland is treated to some of the prettiest skies we witness all year round. Remember to encourage an active lifestyle even in these cold months, as tempting as it is to stay in front of the cosy fire with some sweet treats.  It’s a great idea to get on the wellies and take a stroll through the forest and appreciate the lovely scenery, and while you’re out, remember to bring some pinecones home for all those arts and crafts you’re going to do!

  1. Pinecone Christmas trees

Those pinecones collected on your winter stroll will come into good use when it comes to making some pinecone themed Christmas trees! Get your little ones to create their own little Christmas trees.

  1. Spend quality time with granny and grandad

Christmas, it’s family time. Take the kids to see their Gran & Grandad this year. Remember, that Christmas can be a very isolating and lonely time for some elderly folk, and it’s easy to forget with our hectic lifestyles and busy schedules. So, please pay attention to your elderly relatives who would be delighted to have the wee’uns around.

We want to hear what you do to keep your kids entertained over the festive period. Use the hashtag #MyIrishLife on social media to let us know!

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Have a veg-y merry Christmas! Our Top 10 Vegetarian Christmas Dishes

Read time: 4 Minutes

Our Irish culture has always embraced the consumption of meat, but vegetarianism seems to be growing quite popular. According to Harvard Medical School, abstaining from eating meat can eliminate a risk factor for colon cancer, and a risk for type 2 diabetes. So, there doesn’t seem to be much harm in treating to yourself to a meat free meal.

Your son has plucked up the courage to bring his lovely new girlfriend to Christmas dinner this year, but (shock, horror) she doesn’t eat meat! What do you cook for your anti-meat-consuming Christmas dinner party invitee? Look no further, we’ve came up with our top ten vegetarian meals for Christmas day.

1. Baked Camembert with Cranberry Jam

Christmas is the season of cheese boards, and we all love a good camembert. It can be produced at any part of the day and guests can pick at it freely. Simply preheat the oven 180ºC, carve 2 or 3 large slits in the top and scatter garlic and cranberry jam on top. Wrap in tin foil and bake for around 15-20 mins until the cheese is soft and gooey all the way through. Serve immediately with bread, pitta or crackers.

Top Tip: Scoop out a crust bread bap and place your camembert in the center. Guests can rip the bread from the outsides and dip in.

Baked Camembert cheese
Source: Instagram

2. Mustard Mash

Start off by creating the potato mash. Place around 6 scrubbed, skinned and halved potatoes into a saucepan of salted water, bring to boil and simmer until they are tender. Drain and allow to steam before you mix in a large bowl with butter, milk and some salt and pepper.

Next, whip the potatoes until smooth, and add more milk if the potatoes are too dry. Then add around 4-5 tablespoons of whole grain mustard and serve.  Add chives or spring onions on top to flavour.

Mash potatoes

3. Brussel sprouts with Marmite butter (pine nuts, hazel nuts)

Brussel sprouts only seem to make an appearance around Christmas time so why not spice things up this year with a bit of marmite. Start off by beating butter and marmite together before smoothing it into a log on some baking parchment, then roll up and twist the ends. Keep this chilled in the fridge until later (it can stay up to a week in the fridge). Boil your sprouts for 3-4 mins as you usually would, drain and leave to steam-dry. Dry fry your sprouts for 5 mins until they start to blacken on the edges. Take your pan off the head and whack in a chunk of the marmite butter. Sizzle until the butter has melted and shake up to cover the sprouts. Season and taste before serving. Top off with some roast pine and hazelnuts to serve.

Brussels sprouts with Marmite butter

4. Honey Roast Parsnips

We can’t resist some well-done, honey roasted parsnips on Christmas day! All you need is some fresh thyme, a little bit of honey, olive oil and some parsnips.  Scrub and slice your parsnips to start, then parboil in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain well. Pick the thyme leaves and toss your parsnips together in a bowl with thyme, a pinch of sea salt, black pepper and honey. Add a couple of spoonful’s of olive oil (or butter) here too. Arrange these in a roasting tray in one layer and roast for 40 minutes or until nice and golden.

Honey roast parsnips and carrots

5. Sweet potato and Red pepper soup

A good idea for a warm winter dish, other than a potential starter option for our vegetarian Christmas guest.

Start off by melting butter in a lidded saucepan, add onion and garlic whilst shaking the pan from time to time until softened (but not brown). Next stir in some coriander and cook for 5 minutes. Next pour some vegetable stock over, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes.  While this is left, cut your sweet potato into thin slices, and heat about 1 cm of vegetable oil in a frying pan to fry the slices until they are brown and crisp. Leave these to dry on a tea towel.  Remove the soup from the heat and leave to cool briefly.  Blend all together with coconut milk and 1½ cups of jarred roasted red bell peppers. Reheat on the hob until ready to serve. Add some crispy sweet potato pieces on top to serve.

Sweet potato and red pepper soup

6. Vol-au-vents – Mushroom and herb

Preheat the oven to 190 ºC. Line up your baking tray with some parchments.  Then roll out your pastry on a floured surface until it is about half a cm thick. Using a small cutter (or wine glass) around 6cm across, cut out around 12 rounds. Place your circles on the baking tray and prick the centre with a fork several times. Beat an egg and egg wash your pastry circles. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 12 minutes until puffed and golden. Next cut up some parsley, chop up some mushrooms and garlic and, cook with oil together in a pan. Turn the heat off and squeeze in some lemon juice and crème fraiche. Season this well and fold through the parsley. Add some water if it is too dry.

Use a knife to carefully hollow out your pastries, fill with creamy mushrooms and serve. 

Vol au vents with mushrooms
Source: Instagram

7. Roast squash with blue cheese and pickled walnuts

Heat your oven to 200 ºC. Oil and heat a baking tray/casserole dish and place in oven to heat up.

Deseed your butternut squash and chop into 1.5cm pieces. When the oil is hot, place the squash in to season and roast for around an hour (remember to turn) until it is slightly charred. Next, crumble over some stilton, then leave to the oven for 5 minutes to melt your cheese. Sprinkle some parsley and chopped walnuts and salt. Squeeze lemon juice over to serve.

Vegetarian recipes for Christmas - Roast squash with blue cheese and pickled walnuts
Source: Delicious Magazine

8. Broccoli and Cauliflower gratin

Preheat your oven 180ºC and grease your baking dish with butter, add broccoli and cauliflower and roast for around 15 minutes. Melt butter in a saucepan and whisk with flower, and cook on a medium heat for 2 mins.  Turn it off and whisk. Turn the heat on and continue to heat to avoid clumping. Add cheddar, salt and pepper and whisk until cheese is melted.  Take the broccoli and cauliflower from the oven and pour the cheddar mix over the top. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown.

Broccoli and Cauliflower gratin

9. Roast Potatoes!

It’s an obvious one, but it wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without them. Remember, always cook more than you think when it comes to roasties, there is always a fight over the last at the end. You can opt to use goose fat or sunflower oil. It’s always a good idea to boil your potatoes first to the point that they are almost falling apart before you leave to cool. We suggest a garnish for the top of garlic, parsley and thyme! If you have any tips for making the perfect roastie, leave a comment!

roast-potatoes.jpg

10. Mac and cheese

It’s a quick fix, but it goes down a treat. Simply, cook your macaroni and leave to drain.  Melt your butter in a saucepan, with a bit of flour to form a roux. Gradually bring in the milk until thickened, then bring in your generous portion of macaroni cheese.  Transfer this to a deep ovenproof dish. Sprinkle parmesan over the top to finish.

Mac and cheese

Any tips for a veg-gy merry Christmas? Dish out your ideas! Leave a comment or use the hashtag #MyIrishLife.

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5 Healthy Meals to cook with your Christmas dinner leftovers

Read time: 4 Minutes

And like that, Christmas is over! But your fridge is full of all those too-good-to-throw-out leftovers that you really can’t let go to waste! But it’s not just about turkey sandwiches, or bubble and squeak. Why not mix things up a little? That’s why we’ve came up with some inspirational (and less guilt ridden) dishes that you can cook up for the week after Christmas.

Spicy vegetable egg fried rice

Spicy vegetable egg fried rice

Checklist:

  • Carrots
  • Sunflower oil
  • Cabbage
  • 2 eggs
  • Spring onions
  • Frozen peas
  • Chillies
  • Soy sauce

Heat up some chillies and garlic with oil, then drain. Add some carrots and stir-fry until tender. Add in your cabbage and cook before throwing in your cooked basmati (or leftover rice if you have some). Push your rice to one side of the pan and add the two eggs into the cleared space to scramble until set. Mix in your onions, peas and a bit of soy sauce. Stir-fry everything until the peas are hot.

Chicken, kale & sprout stir-fry

How to use leftover kale

Checklist:

  • Curly kale (shredded)
  • Sesame oil
  • 25g fresh peeled ginger
  • Handful of brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
  • Lime
  • Soy sauce
  • 2 chicken breasts, skin removed
  • White wine vinegar
  • Soba noodle

Cook the noodles as per the instructions on the package, drain and leave to the side. Heat up your wok or frying pan and add kale with some water to cook until wilted. Cool under water to keep the colour.
Add half the oil and cook the chicken strips until browned. Remove and set to the side. Heat the remaining oil and fry ginger, pepper and sprouts until they have softened. Add in your chicken, kale and noodles. Tip in the soy, vinegar and enough water to create a sauce that clings to the ingredients. Add some lime zest to serve.

Turkey Thai Green Curry

Green curry made with Christmas leftovers

Checklist:

  • 2 tsp of Thai Green Curry paste
  • 400g turkey leftovers
  • 2 peppers
  • Spring onions
  • Fresh coriander
  • Fish sauce
  • Baby sweetcorn & green beans (if they are handy)

Cut up your turkey into bite size chunks and sauté in 1 tbsp of oil. Add in your Thai green curry paste and let sizzle for 1 minute.  Add in some coconut oil (instead of getting reduced fat, add half a can of full fat and mix with water). If you want extra colour, add in 100g of green beans and baby sweetcorn to the dish. If your short on green veg then use some leftover peas. Flavour with some fish sauce. Cut up two peppers and serve on top with chopped coriander.

Vegetable soup

Vegetable soup

This is a straight forward, filling and light option. Throw all those leftover vegetables into a pan with some low salt stock, simmer and blend. Serve as a hearty soup with some wholemeal bread for boxing day lunch or starters.

Turkey Stew

Making turkey stew out of leftovers

Checklist:

  • Some olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 chillies
  • Leftover turkey cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • Vegetable stock
  • Roast potatoes
  • Carrots

Add a bit of oil to the casserole dish and head the garlic, onion and chillies until they are softened.
Next, add in your turkey pieces until browned slightly (this shouldn’t take too long). Stir in a tbsp of tomato puree and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer on a low heat. You can add your leftover veg here, or you can serve with leftover potatoes and carrots, or rice if you have any.

A lot of our popular Christmas foods are wholesome, filling and good for you in moderation. Have you ever created any inspirational guilt-free dishes with your Christmas leftovers? We would love to hear about it. Join the conversation at #MyIrishLife or leave a comment.

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7 Ways to Cope with Financial Stress

Read time: 4 Minutes

Money Anxiety Disorder (with its ominous acronym MAD) is not only a diagnosed condition, for some, it’s a worrying way of life.

You could argue it became a national sport in Ireland during the financial crisis and despite the fact the economy has stabilised, it’s important to recognise that not everyone has bounced back at the same rate.

Some of us still need help curbing the urge to dwell and get stressed out when it comes to money.

The two most important things to note from the get-go are:

  1. It’s perfectly natural to worry about money from time-to-time.

Even with the best laid financial plans, unforeseen expenses crop up and our regular outgoings can get the better of us occasionally. So, a little worry is par of the course for all of us.

  1. There are lots of proven tips and strategies to help relieve the pressure.

Stress, while completely understandable, is counterproductive. So, instead of wasting energy focusing on the negative, psychologists recommend tapping into simple, proactive steps that can make real inroads to improving your financial situation and mental wellness.

The symptoms

Money worries can look pretty standard from the outside, but everyone can benefit from understanding the difference between a healthy amount of time spent thinking about money and where the line is crossed into more extreme anxiety.

That way, you can recognise it in yourself or those closest to you and nip it in the bud quickly.

People with Money Anxiety Disorder tend to:

  • Worry about money most of the time
  • Find it hard to focus on anything else
  • Worry about future events
  • Stress unnecessarily about losing their job, home or getting ill
  • Feel ashamed
  • Have trouble relaxing and sleeping
  • Suffer from back or neck pain
  • Struggle with headaches and stomach pain
  • Experience panic attacks
  • Feel helpless and fear there is no way to improve their situation

Kick financial stress into touch

It’s not a pleasant list, but the good news is there are so many ways to get the balance back on track, and it’s never as hopeless as it might appear.

Here are our 7 top tips for keeping financial stress in check and tackling stress from a more positive place.

Money Anxiety

  1. Recognise the signs

If any of the signs mentioned above look familiar, in you or someone close, it’s important to stop, take stock and acknowledge that you’re worrying more than you should. It’s only when you admit something’s not quite right, you can get to work fixing it with a realistic financial plan that allows you to take back control.

  1. Talk and take good advice

A problem shared is a problem halved, making a friend, partner, debt counsellor or a financial advisor a good starting point if you need help seeing through the fog and getting some perspective.

If you don’t have a financial advisor, StepChange and MABS have offices throughout Ireland and offer free, confidential and independent advice on everything from budgeting to managing debts linked to mortgage repayments, credit cards and utility bills.

Expert financial advice is always available and the internet is awash with free tried and tested tips, so tap into good counsel and practical tools wherever you can find them. They can help you focus, identify where your finances are falling down and put some structure in place to right the wrongs.

  1. Prioritise

Tackle the big stuff first or anything that needs immediate attention.

If it’s debt, get an affordable payment plan up and running, so you can start making progress and manage your outgoings better.

If you’re worried about retirement, work out what you can budget on a regular basis or if you’re expecting money that could be used to boost contributions, down the track.

If a fear of ill-health or an inability to earn keeps you awake at night, look into income protection and life insurance, to help secure your future from the unknown.

If it’s your job, career progression or the threat of redundancy that worries you, you should talk to your employer and address your concerns head on. Forewarned is forearmed and an honest conversation can help put your mind at ease, or give you advance notice if a job search is looking likely in the near future.

Plan your finances

  1. Save what you can

It’s not always easy, but putting even a small amount aside regularly, can create an emergency fund and invaluable lifeline.

Setting up a direct debit and keeping money out of arm’s reach in a separate account, reduces your chances of falling foul of the dreaded impulse buy or over-spending, so think about how you can put a little aside and start fluffing your financial cushion.

  1. Reduce spend and boost income

Consolidating payments, shopping around for insurance, choosing bundled price packages for things like TV and broadband (or cancelling the package you never use because you’re addicted to Netflix), all make sense.

Even swapping out branded products for less spendy groceries in your shopping trolley are no-brainers if you want to tighten your purse strings.

There’s a good chance you can generate cash without too much effort also. Start by looking for the ‘big ticket items’ around your home that you no longer love or use.

The mountain bike gathering dust in the shed, collection of mobile phones in the kitchen drawer or spare wardrobe stuffed with clothes and handbags you haven’t looked at all year. They’re all valuable pots of cash waiting to happen.

saving-finance.jpg

If it needs to be something bigger to make a noticeable difference, a second job, dog walking, a short-term lodger or putting your home on Airbnb if there are periods you’re not around, can provide an income that goes straight into your emergency saving fund.

  1. Stay positive

Positivity can gather pace just as quickly as negativity, so try to keep upbeat, learn from the things that are going well and celebrate the wins!

  1. Be kind to yourself

That doesn’t mean blowing your salary on a shiny new gadget at the end of each month, but giving yourself some breathing room and doing everything possible to manage your stress levels, is important.

Conclusion

Anxiety can have a big impact on your physical and mental health and little TLC can go a long way, particularly if you’ve acknowledged where things are going wrong and you’re doing everything you can to improve your situation.

Wellness gurus recommend socialising outside, putting your feet up when you get the chance, spending time with friends and making time for some fun.

After all, laughter might still be the best medicine – and it’s free!

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