Food Spend Challenge

We all know that bringing up a child is expensive and you often see figures mentioned in the press about the total figure.  To be honest though, I’ve always wondered how accurate they are as you don’t know exactly what they are based on.  You know, does that include private schools and skiing trips or is it a more down to earth estimate?

NatWest have launched a cost of raising a child calculator which clearly sets out the costs of raising a child for each year of their lives.  It shows the costs associated with a baby, a toddler, tweens and teenagers.  For each age group you can see the costs associated with each category: food, clothing, etc. and you can exclude those that don’t apply to your family like school fees if your child goes to a state school and adjust costs like pocket-money to suit what you actually do.

The estimated cost of food for a child of H’s age is £40 a week on the calculator and NatWest invited us to check out how that matched up to our spend by doing a food spend challenge.   It’s been a bit of an eyeopener take a look at what we actually spent on his food.  Some of the things we buy are very convenient, but quite expensive compared to other items (like breakfast biscuits costing a lot more than rice cakes).  Breakfast and lunch tends to be fairly standard for H and his evening meal he has with the family, eating what we eat.  I’ve based our costs on Sainsburys (normal prices rather than special offers) as that’s our main food shop store.  In reality I do shop around a bit and stock up with special offers on non-perishables, but I’ve simplified it a bit to make things easier.

healthy child's breakfast for food spend challenge Breakfast

Typical breakfast: Fruit, yoghurt, humous covered rice cakes, breakfast biscuits

Cost breakdown:

  • 1 apple 35p (apples are the most usual fruit, but I do serve a wide range of fruit particularly in the summer)
  • 1 yoghurt 31p
  • 2 rice cakes 11p
  • humous 12p
  • breakfast biscuits 62p

Cost of breakfast £1.51 a day

School snack

20p a day for slice of toast

packed lunch for schoolLunch

Typical lunch: Cheese and coleslaw sandwich, fruit/veg sticks.

  • bread 7p
  • cheese 16p
  • coleslaw 5p
  • cucumber 7p
  • grapes 10p
  • tomatoes 6p

Total lunch cost: 51p

After School Snack

  • banana bar 29p
  • fruit bar 23p

It all adds up

So by now we are looking at £2.74 a day for 2 meals and 2 snacks.  This adds up to £19.18 a week before we even look at evening meals, eating out, hungry days and treats.  To be honest, I think the NatWest figure is pretty accurate for us at the moment, but I can see it being on the low side when H gets closer to 12 years old or if he’s going through a growth spurt.

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School Swimming Stripes

school swimming stripes school swimming braids H started swimming last term with school, quite early as he was still in Year 2. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get in some extra classes; experience a different teacher; and get used to getting himself changed without me on hand.  It didn’t work like that and in fact, we had to work hard to overcome the negative impact that the school classes had on his water confidence.

Eventually, we seemed to get to a point where he was more comfortable with school swimming lessons and it no longer felt like their classes were sending him backwards each week.  So it was nice to see him come home at the end of term with these school swimming stripes or braids.  He’s been able to do the skills on the certificates for over a year and his swimming is beyond the level they indicate, but they were achieved in the school classes, in that problematic environment, so for me they are a real win.  They also show that H has worked through a lot of the issues and still been able to show some of what he can do in the water.

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Edinburgh Zoo

pelicans at Edinburgh zooYou can’t beat a good zoo visit for a family day out.  H has always loved animals and being interested in learning more about them, so zoos are high on his list of places that he wants to visit.  We’d never been before, but I’d heard Edinburgh Zoo was a good one and of course, they have giant pandas.  There are very few places where you can get to see giant pandas.  In fact, there are only 47 in zoos outside China, so if you want to see a giant panda Edinburgh Zoo really is the place to go and they have two of them too.

Giant Pandas

giant panda at Edinburgh ZooOne of the first things we did when we arrived at the zoo was start wandering towards the giant pandas’ area because we had a timed slot to see them.  We learnt a bit about the pandas before we went in to see them. The pandas are in Edinburgh on a 10 year loan from China.  They have a female called Tian Tian and a male called Yang Guang.  Pandas mostly eat bamboo, but they are omnivores and will eat other foods if they are available.  When we went last week, the state of play was that Tian Tian might be pregnant, so she doesn’t have to come out into the area the public can see unless she chooses to, because they want her to be comfortable and for the pregnancy to succeed.  Sadly we didn’t get to see Tian Tian because of it, but we did see Yang Guang.  Pandas spend a lot of their day either eating or sleeping and when we had our slot Yang Guang was having a nap.  This is just luck of the draw.  We didn’t see the pandas moving around, but because Yang Guang was asleep, it was easy to take photos of him.

meerkats at Edinburgh ZooMeerkats and Other Animals

Edinburgh Zoo is on quite a big site, so there’s room for lots of different types of animal.  As you come into the zoo there’s a meerkat colony and it’s fun to watch the meerkats.  There always seems to be one on lookout duty while the others play, feed or sleep.

From the meerkats we walked around the zoo in a loop.  It’s set on a hill, but whether you loop around clockwise or anti-clockwise, you will get uphill part done first.

Highlights for us included:

  • the enormous greater one-horned rhinos - these are big powerful beasts.
  • the monkeys and apes – loads of these to see from very small squirrel and capuchin monkeys to gibbons and chimpanzees.  You can get a good view of the chimps in the Budongo Trail enclosure, which has lots of information and interactive exhibits so you can learn more about these wonderful creatures.
  • the lemurs – everyone loves a ring tailed lemur and H couldn’t resist bursting into song: I like to move it, move it. The lemurs are such fun to watch as they love to leap around and play.
  • the big cats and the smaller ones like the Scottish wild cat.
  • the zebras – we found it very easy to get a good view of the zebras on the African Plains area.
  • the koalas - the only ones in the UK and very cute.

at Edinburgh zooLast, but by no means least, there were the penguins at Penguin Rock.  Edinburgh have a large enclosure and pool area with a lot of penguins.  They have colonies of king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins for you to see.  Once a day there is a penguin parade which is well worth a visit.  In fact, through the day there are a number of special talks and animal encounters, which you can find detailed on the map you get given with your tickets.


The zoo is on a busy bus route from the city and buses seemed pretty regular the day we were there.  They stop right outside too, so that makes things easy.  It’s £4 to park in the car park, but we managed to find some free on road car parking nearby.

Edinburgh Zoo cafeAs you’d expect for a big zoo, there are a range of catering outlets available and you can get a good selection of food.  Taking a picnic is easy too and there are plenty of picnic spots and tables.  The top of the site by Vicuna has great views of the city and the surrounding hills, so it’s a nice place for picnicking with a playground nearby too. There is a drinks kiosk here, but if you want food you’ll need to get it elsewhere.

Playgrounds are scattered through the site which is great as it provides a bit of a change of pace at times. The play facilities are interesting and in good condition.

Book your panda slot ahead of time as they tend to get booked up.  It’s included in the regular ticket price, but you do need to reserve a place.

Obviously, a zoo visit is best in dry weather, but there are quite a few covered areas for taking shelter on a showery day.

You can easily spend the whole day at Edinburgh Zoo and I don’t think you could really see it all in less than 4 hours.

posing with the meerkats

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Week 30 of 2014

soldier on sentry at HolyroodhouseWhat a week! Last Saturday we set off for Edinburgh on our family history weekend. This one has been in the planning for a long time since I won a radio competition last year, which gave you a chance to make your dream come true. Our Edinburgh trip was part one of that dream (visiting places associated with our ancestor) and it was a lot of fun. Sadly Saturday wasn’t the best day weather-wise and we left the Midlands in torrential rain.  It got a bit better as we went north, but it was still wet and when we got to Edinburgh it was damp and misty.  We spent the afternoon at Holyroodhouse and had a lot of fun there. H enjoyed playing the sentry and there were also some fab zombie and vampire poses from him.

Arthur's Seat SummitSunday saw the weather improve and the sun came back.  Scotland is the most glorious place in the world when the sun comes out and the weather is fine.  We decided to make the most of the lovely sunshine and took the opportunity to climb Arthur’s Seat.  I’ve read quite a few novels set in Edinburgh which mention Arthur’s Seat, so I was keen to see the place that I’d read about so much.  H was very keen to do too, especially when he found out it was an extinct volcano.  You get the most wonderful views of the city from there and we were able to trace the route of our ancestor’s balloon ride from above.  As you can see H made it to the summit and I took this picture of him with my brother at the top.

naval barThere are a lot of attractions in Edinburgh to choose from, so we were spoilt for choice.  We decided on visiting the royal yacht Britannia.  It was a lot of fun and we were able to see some items that came from one of Britannia’s predecessors, which another relative had sailed on.  H enjoyed a quick (fake) pint in the bar with his uncle.  We spent a couple of evenings eating out at The Persevere pub, which was a nice, family friendly pub close to where we were staying.  The highlight for H was taking part in the pub quiz ran by Doctor Paul. Generally, pub quizzes don’t start until it’s time for H to go home to bed, so he’s never been to one before, but this one started at 6pm.  He loved it!  The only thing is that he is keen to go to more, so I’ll have to try to find an early running local one.  Wish me luck!

at Edinburgh zooOur final excursion was to Edinburgh Zoo.  No family history connection this time, we visited just for fun.  We really enjoyed our trip there and it was another lovely day.

Travelling back home the weather was a lot more friendly.  We made our first visit to Tebay and just couldn’t understand why more motorway service stations can’t be like that.  They have opened another site in Gloucestershire, in partnership, and I’ll be interested in seeing what that’s like.

Back home things weren’t quite as exciting, but we have finalised most of our new kitchen plans.  Yay! H and I went out for the day with our ante-natal group, which was a lot of fun too.

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Meeting Our Ancestor James Tytler

james tytler book

Balloon Tytler Biography

I’ve written about our family history trips before.  In the past though it’s been just my brother, our family historian, and me usually going to South Wales, but this time the whole family came too.

I’ve always taken a keen interest in my brother’s research into our family history.  He started work on it in his teens and was lucky enough to speak to a lot of relatives about it who have since passed away.  He’s a conservative researcher, always seeking a lot of evidence before adding someone onto our family line, and a couple of years ago he made an exciting discovery and found we were directly descended from James Tytler (1745-1804).  That year we all got copies of a book about James Tytler for Christmas.  It’s been amazing to be able to read a biography about the life of one of your ancestors and it really helped bring him to life.

James Tytler is a very interesting character and with two notable achievements:

  • He was the editor of the second edition of the Encyclopedia Britannia and he wrote over three quarters of it himself.  According to Wikipedia, it was ten volumes long and had 8,595 pages.
  • He was the first man in Britain to fly a hot air balloon in 1784, the year after the Montgolfiers, who were the first to fly.

Sadly these remarkable achievements did not earn him much material success and he was poorly paid, often lived in poverty and even had to seek sanctuary from his creditors at times.

Some months back I entered a competition being run by a radio station where you had to answer the question: What would you like one chance to experience? I said that I’d like to follow in the footsteps on my ancestor James Tytler and explained who he was.  One evening, while I was doing the washing up, I had a call from the radio station to say that they’d like me to go on air.  A few minutes later I was speaking on air to the show’s presenter and being told that I’d won the money to make my dream come true.  Amazing!

ancestors of James Tytler

Tytler Gardens Sign

After getting the good news, I started to research how we might go about following in James Tytler’s footsteps.  My first thought was a balloon ride over Edinburgh, the city where he made his own flight, but it soon became clear that was impractical.  You can’t fly over big cities in hot air balloons because of air traffic control regulations.  I then looked at flying somewhere close to Edinburgh, but that was problematic.  Ballooning is very weather dependent and I didn’t want to commit to a ballooning trip so far from home, just in case it was cancelled and needed rearranging.  In the end we decided that it would need to be two trips and not just one.  One trip to Edinburgh to see where he flew and where he lived.  Another trip somewhere closer to home to fly in a balloon.

Last weekend we embarked on part one of our trip.  We went to Edinburgh with my brother and visited lots of places associated with James Tytler.  First up was Tytler Gardens (named for him) which stands on the site of the pleasure gardens where he started his flight.  It was a rather wet day, but we got our picture standing underneath the sign.  Sadly there was no blue plaque here (or elsewhere in Edinburgh).

Holyrood Abbey

Remains of Holyrood Abbey

We also visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  During his life Tytler had to seek sanctuary from his creditors because he couldn’t pay his debts.  Holyrood Abbey, which neighbours the palace, offered the right of sanctuary for those who could not pay their debts.  The debtors, who were known as ‘Abbey lairds’, found shelter from their creditors within the Abbey boundaries, which included Holyrood Park.  The palace is well worth a visit and kept H well entertained.

It was a great trip and we are now looking forward to the second part of our adventure:  a hot air balloon ride.

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