Originally from Newcastle West, Co Limerick, and living in Dublin for 20 years, Nicole, 48, is mum to twins Will and Maya, aged six, a Solo Mum By Choice and a Solo Entrepreneur.
These two choices may seem mutually exclusive, but in reality are perfectly aligned with Nicole’s personal philosophy, summed up succinctly as: “Why not?”
After studying Philosophy and Theology at Maynooth college, she moved to Dublin and into the banking sector and a successful career spanning 16 years, before taking redundancy and pouring her all into her twins, and her third baby: Magneplan.
“I had always said when I turned 39, I would make the decision about whether to start a family on my own or keep going on within a relationship. I had just finished a relationship and, at the time I was coming up to my 39th birthday, I had just started dating a guy. But then it was my 39th birthday, so I pressed the pause button to give me space to decide: do I want to go down the road of another relationship? Maybe it would work, maybe it won’t, meanwhile my fertility window was closing.
“I started on my fertility journey in 2012 and took three and a half years to conceive. I didn’t think I had any issues — I didn’t drink or smoke, I was fit and healthy, I was a hill walker, swam, walked 10km a day; but at that age it turns out there could still be problems.
“There were quite a few women having babies on their own, but it was very recent because, up until then, single women had been knocking on the door of fertility clinics but were being turned away because they were single.
“But after the recession, doors started opening for single women more all over the country. That’s why I’d happily go around wearing a sandwich board saying ‘I’m a proud Single Mum By Choice’ and tell women that the option is there if you want to take it.”
Nicole links the apparent sudden change in attitude with a societal sea change in Ireland for women. Professional, educated, women of Ireland with careers, their own home, and financially independent, now had the means to match the desire to be a mum, “without having to rely on a man to get those basic stepping-stones in life to be able to move onto the next stage. Women had their nests and just wanted to put their chicks in it — suddenly there was the luxury of not having to compromise,” says Nicole.
She became pregnant with her twins on the seventh round of fertility treatment.
“I feel like I’m so lucky to have them, and I tell them all the time: you’re the two best babies in the world!”
Magneplan became a reality for Nicole because she didn’t want her children to miss out: on living well, eating well, and spending time as a family; and Nicole credits her own invention as making family life easier. But what is it, and how does it work?
“Magneplan is a magnetic meal planner. In the Starter Pack is a flexible magnetic board that attaches to the fridge and 49 recipe cards of the most popular meals cooked in Ireland and the UK today printed on little magnetic cards.
“The meals are categorised and colour coded: red for meat, blue for fish, purple for desserts and so on.
“There are also nine magnetic cards for ‘easy nights’ with hints such as: relax and reuse, raid the fridge, dine out, and take out. These are really important because you need to give yourself a break. Having everything planned out on the board helps you to see the breaks and that takes the pressure off.”
During the early days of developing Magneplan, Nicole spoke to work colleagues in the bank who were parents to find out when were the crunch points in their day.
"There is so much juggling, it’s like Piccadilly Circus! I knew I had to make that golden hour as automatic as possible, but I also needed abundance so I wouldn’t get stuck in a rut. I needed the options right in front of me so I could quickly plan out the week ahead; and I also needed specific recipes with timings and measurements on each card so I wouldn’t have to go googling or rooting out the recipe. And because the recipe cards are magnetic, they stick to the cooker hood so you can just cook away. I wanted life to be easy, simple, to free up time, but I still wanted meal plans to be joyful.”
The recipes are written in a simplified summary format, similar to text-speak. A handy magnetic list of abbreviations comes with the Magneplan Starter Pack to sit alongside the recipes. The planner has space to plan meals from one week to one month, or alternatively you can use it like Nicole does, to plan meals weekly, and underneath plan out activities, appointments, and other key dates for the week ahead.
With everything clearly displayed, everyone can see what the week ahead holds for food and activities, and it makes visible the often invisible work of running a household.
Magneplan provides the option to have favourites, but also introduce new dishes, flavours, and textures.
Recipes have been thoroughly researched, with each one tested five times before getting the seal of approval as an official Recipe Card.
Most importantly, Nicole wanted the Magneplan to encourage children — and partners, too — to get more involved with meal planning, cooking, and trying new dishes. Knowing the majority of customers would be women, who Nicole describes as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Home, she also recognises that this work, vital as it is, is invisible.
“I like the fact that this is visual, it’s right in front of you, so everyone else in the house is a bit more conscious about the planning that goes into everything, and they can contribute.
“My kids are six, and they can plan out a whole week of meals if they want to; and they are getting more adventurous with food because, almost like collecting Pokemon cards, they want to have more Magnecards in their collection — they’re up to 32 ‘Winning Dinners’ now!”
Feedback from her customers has shown that partners and children want to get more involved since using Magneplan.
“They see that the mystery is blown ﬃ1 it’s real, it’s concrete. There’s a little picture of the dish, the recipe is written in just three sentences, so it gives confidence to say: I can do this, I didn’t know it was this easy.”
But there is more to Magneplan’s vision than meets the eye.
"Too much of this invisible work falls on mothers and it’s not appreciated. Yes, I want to save people time and money, but I also want to get kids and partners involved.
“Too often, the mental load falls on women, but the work that women do in the house needs to be seen, in the heart of the home, and for everyone to step up and do their bit. [Running a house] takes effort, takes mental fatigue and is draining. It’s costly, and it costs mostly women, so to have true equality in the future, we need to have more equality at home.”
With that in mind, Nicole is busy planning future packs as additions to the Magneplan Starter Pack. September will see the launch of a Blanks Pack and a Chores and Activities Pack. The Blanks Pack will contain two A4 pages of blank magnetic recipe cards in the same rainbow colours as the Starter Pack and a permanent market to fill in your own family favourite recipes.
In addition, there are also plans afoot for a Christmas Box of 100 additional recipes and next year to work with other recipe writers and chefs to produce other packs for those with specific dietary or lifestyle needs, such as vegan, gluten free, low carb, or high protein.