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Recipe for a Silent Night – food tips to help kids sleep on Christmas Eve

Watch Out Watch Out, There's a Humphrey AboutThis blog was written in conjunction with Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, and a specialist in infant and childhood nutrition.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…
Where is that house?
In my house, the troopers are so excited they can barely sleep. Just as it should be. But what I don’t want to do is add to that natural stimulation by giving them foods that could leave them feeling bad tempered and exhausted but unable to sleep: Tired But Wired. Take it from one who knows – this is not a smart Commando Dad move.
Instead, I make sure on Christmas Eve my troopers eat a diet rich in the wonderful amino acid, tryptophan. These foods are readily available and include beef, chicken, turkey, milk, yogurt, eggs, salmon, tuna and bananas.
Tryptophan rich foods keep trooper’s blood sugar levels balanced and moods stable throughout the day, and when eaten in the late afternoon and early evening it can help them sleep. It does this because their bodies use it to make serotonin. This basically slows down nerve traffic to their brains, making it easier for them to relax and go to sleep. Of course this doesn’t mean that they will drop off at 6pm on the dot – they are still going to be very excited – but you are doing all you can to make them as calm and relaxed as possible. Put it like this, if you let them have access to all those lovely Christmas treats that are inevitably going to be in the house – fizzy drinks and chocolate for example – you are doing the dietary equivalent of throwing petrol on the flames of their excitement. Expect a short flash to bang time*.
To make sure the maximum amount of typtophan makes it to your trooper’s brain, you’ll need to serve it with a carbohydrate rich food. Here are some great Christmas Eve choices:

  • Boiled eggs and wholegrain soldiers
  • Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast
  • Porridge with chopped banana
  • Yoghurt and berries


  • Banana (perfect as it contains both tryptophan and carbohydrate)
  • Warm milk and a wholegrain biscuit
  • Cheese and crackers or oatcakes
  • Peanut butter on wholegrain toast


  • Chicken stew: perfect Commando Dad choice as it is easy to make and can be prepared beforehand. If you don’t eat meat, make this a thick vegetable stew with pulses, such as lentils or kidney beans.
  • Beef chilli served with brown rice. Again, a great choice to prepare beforehand – even the night before. Very easy to cook. I make it without using chilli as the other ingredients give it plenty of flavour. I then add heat to my own portion using tabasco.
  • Prawn stir fry with noodles: another good choice as it is so quick and easy to make. Dried noodles just need to be soaked in water for a few minutes and you can stir fry any veg you have. I regularly stir fry cabbage, carrot and little onion. If your troopers don’t like prawns (give them the opportunity to try them though as I am yet to meet a trooper that doesn’t) use chicken. Soybeans or soy products can be used for a vegetarian option.
  • Fish, steamed vegetables and brown rice. I cannot say enough good things about fish. It’s quick to cook, even straight from the freezer, bursting with nutrients and the kids love it. I don’t have a steamer, I just steam vegetables in a sieve over a little saucepan of boiling water.

But the benefits of tryptophan don’t end with relaxation and elevated mood. It can also regulate your trooper’s appetite. With all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to get more of these foods into your trooper’s – and your – diet?
I know first-hand that diet can have a massive effect on the morale of the whole unit. If you don’t already provide your troopers with a diet rich in fresh vegetables, lean protein and fruit, make diet adjustments now and observe the results for yourself.
The key thing to remember is that your troopers learn by example, and will mimic your behaviour. Lead from the front. Want them to eat the right amount of healthy nutritious foods? Then you need to do the same. Start now.
*Flash to Bang Time. In the army, the time it takes for the fuse to detonate the bomb. Here used to mean the time it takes from the stimulus (already excited troopers eating sugary and processed foods) to the response (BANG).

Family Album

The days are long but the years are short

It may not seem like it now, but you have a really short time with your little troopers. There’s not much more than 1800 days between birth and age five.
When you’re in the thick of parenting, multi-tasking, running here there and everywhere it is easy to forget how quickly the time slips by.
It sounds like a cliche but it really does seem like only yesterday that this picture of Samuel was taken.
Seize the day.

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Christmas Gift Idea: a Family Bauble

It’s Christmas!! And time to make the Sinclair family bauble…
See below for last year’s brilliant effort, created using our thumbprints. My wife had actually asked me to cover the fingertips on one hand of Sam, Jude and Liberty with paint and rest a bauble in it, so that it would look like they were holding them. Unfortunately I got the wrong end of the stick, but I hope you’ll agree the beauty below still looks rather great:

In my august opinion, baubles are great for a number of reasons:

  • They make really great Christmas presents, especially for grandparents.
  • They are a great keepsake for years to come (even now we’re playing the ‘is my thumbprint bigger than it was last year? game).
  • Making them is a nice and christmassy family activity, and as we go to a ceramic cafe, no cleaning up is required. My crafty friend tells me it is possible to make one with foil, paper, painted thumbs and PVA glue, but I am leaving that one to the experts.

If you do make them as gifts though, be sure to make yourself one too. The one above was actually meant to me my mum’s christmas present last year but when it was completed the little troopers couldn’t bear to part with it. You have been warned.

The Book

How I got a Publisher for my Parenting Book – Commando Dad: Basic Training

Apparently, it is virtually impossible to get a publisher. I’m glad I didn’t know before I tried, or I might have been put off. As it is, I got two offers on my book. This is how.

  1. I wrote the book. Well, the first version of it any way. After four years of thinking about it, talking about it and getting my friends to agree it was a good idea, I was no nearer to actually writing it. People were now starting to ask me whatever happened about the book. I found it hard to say nothing, because I never did anything with it – far harder than I would have found it to say that I had given it my best shot, but no publisher was interested. So for 10 Saturday mornings in a row, I sat down with my wife and wrote a chapter. We promised to send what we’d written to our cousin Annie every week, a promise that kept us honest. I found that having a pile of papers that I could point to and say ‘this is my book’ had a miraculous effect on galvanising me into action. I had a book. It was real.

2. I wrote a book synopsis. In fact, the synopsis was so good that it actually made me change the book. Trying to make it as appealing as possible to publishers, (by answering questions such as who would buy it, how it was different from what was already out there etc.) made me look at my book more critically. I included three chapters of the book in the synopsis.
3. I didn’t bother with an agent. Oh, I know you are supposed to, because that’s the way of doing things. But when the penny dropped that I was supposed to go through the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook and send out a lot of manuscripts to a lot of agents, the majority of whom, by the simple law of averages would reject it I decided not to. I didn’t want to feel that I was a failure before I had even begun. And stamps are expensive.
4. I did my research on publishers. The problem with agents was that we didn’t know the difference between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So I thought that by far the best bet was to target suitable publishers and ring them up to find out the agents they care about. Then I’d just target those. I had already researched publishers – on and offline – that had released books specifically for dads, written by dads. I had a list of 8. I called up 4, and two of those asked to see the manuscript. The two that reviewed the manuscript made offers. In less than a week.
5. I spoke to the publishers about what they thought my book would look like. The first time you speak to a publisher it is an exciting and amazing experience but I had watched too many documentaries about famous bands signing to labels to get carried away in the moment. Act in haste, repent at leisure. As my criteria for Commando Dad: Basic Training had always been ‘would I pick up this book?’ and ‘would this book have been useful to me as a stay-at-home dad?’ I prepared a set of questions to find out if their vision for the book was the same as mine. So for example, I asked them what they thought it would look like, how big it would be, how many pages it would have, how much they’d like to sell it for etc. I also asked them to send over a draft contract, which is very, very telling.

In the end I chose the publisher that seemed to have a similar vision for the book to the one I had and was amenable to listening to the opinion of a complete novice like me. The book’s not out until May next year – just in time to make a great present for Father’s Day – so I have yet to see how it will sell, but I can honestly say that together we produced the exact book that I have been seeing in my mind’s eye for years.
This of course is the short version – each of these bullet points could make a long and probably boring blog all of their own, and we haven’t even got into the ‘what to do with a contract’ territory, but the main points are here. I am happy to elaborate if anyone wants me to.

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Entertaining the troops during today's strike

Today’s strikes will leave thousands of parents with the prospect of finding childcare and/or entertaining the troops.
You probably wouldn’t have chosen to take the day off but love it or hate it, you’re off. So do your best to enjoy it. This will make life easier for you, and your troops (nothing says ‘joyless’ more than a parent iterating how little they are enjoying being at home).
The golden rule to remember is that your undivided attention is the most engaging entertainment tool there is. Anything that involves you spending time together will be a sure fire hit.

  1. Of course you can rely on the weather to be cold and unwelcoming. That shouldn’t be a reason not to go out and about – it’ll give you all a chance to work off some energy. Younger troops (nursery through to juniors) will enjoy going to the park where they’ll probably plenty of friends. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can build a shelter or den in the back garden with your older troops (juniors through to young seniors).
  2. Take your troops on an outing. To a library, or a museum, or a gallery, or an urban farm… Check out your area in your local paper or online as you may be surprised what’s on offer and the free activities available. If the funds will stretch, take your troopers swimming or to the cinema (but beware, the cinemas will be heaving and the popcorn and drinks will be a hefty Stand and Deliver! experience that is not advisable for the faint hearted).
  3. If you want to stay indoors, find an engaging activity to prevent boredom setting in (for everyone). Cooking is a sure fire hit, and can be tailored from ‘cooking’ a sandwich for lunch to that night’s dinner, depending on age and experience. At this time of year sorting through old toys is another good one. I convinced my troops that Santa has a strict quota of toys per house and so they need to keep getting rid of the toys they don’t want to make room for the toys they do. Making an indoor den is an evergreen choice and you only need a sheet and a bit of imagination. You could even stage your own film day, shut the curtains, turn off the lights and make your own popcorn.

Help Others
If you are able to take time off on Wednesday, and you have the space, why not offer your childcare services to your friends and family? Not only will this give you an all over good feeling of Christmas cheer, but also if the news is to be believed, this strike could just be the start. Perhaps someone you can help now may be in a position to help you next time.