Manners and Responsibility: Teaching Your Kids to Set the Table

Setting the table is a daily chore, and often one that falls on busy mothers and fathers as they multitask to stir the stew, clean the dishes and inevitably set the table. Teaching your kids to set the table is not only good manners, but it'll also prove to be extremely helpful for you as a parent because when you're already doing so much, you just don't have the time to do it.

Teaching Your Kids to Set the Table

Start Young

From the time your child is out of a high chair and in a booster seat, teach him or her to carry their non-breakable empty plate to the table. When they're done eating, teach them to ask to be excused, and then have them carry their (hopefully empty) plate to the sink. Be sure that you as a parent say “Please and thank you” to them, and be prepared for some spills on their commute at some point in time. As the kids get older, implement new manners and insist that they stick to them. By the time your child is 5-6 years old, they should be able to set and clear a table under your supervision after years of consistent instruction.

Show Them How it's Done

At first, when they're really young, it'll be really cute to see them set everything up because they'll do it all wrong and exactly how it makes sense in their little brains. Praise that behavior because they are trying! Over time, teach them the correct way to do things and ask that they pay attention to you as you do it. They'll probably have to watch you do it several times before they pick up on the correct way to set and clear a table.

Make it Fun

Most kids will learn quickly that setting the table is not really fun, and it'll take them away from something that they're already doing that's more fun. For this reason, try your best to make it fun when you're really getting into teaching them these manners. Make it a song or a game somehow. Sometimes it takes manipulating the situation a little bit to lure kids in to teach them.

Put it on Rotation

If you have more than one child, they should all be taught. Start a rotational schedule for setting the table and post it somewhere in the kitchen. For example, Tim will set out plates, knives and forks, Sara will get ice in the glasses, and together they will clear the table and wash the dishes. Also, if possible, have your oldest child teach the younger ones how to do all of this at the appropriate time. This will further instill the values in him or her, and many times younger kids will be more receptive to an older sibling who they look up to.

It's extremely impressive to see children set the table and exhibit good table manners, especially when they're younger. Start teaching them young, make it fun, lead by example and put it on a written chore rotation, and this will come naturally for your children over time.

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8 Kid-Friendly Veggies

Let’s face it, kids and veggies don’t often mix, but they are a necessary part of a healthy balanced diet.  So how do parents get their kids to eat veggies?  With some creativity and thought you can come up with something kids will eat, whether by the fun factor or the presentation.

Undercover

Most everyone likes cheese, so sometimes you just have to throw some on a veggie to make it more appealing.  Both cauliflower and broccoli can be served steamed with cheese sauce.  This will do the trick much of the time.  Another way to get kids to eat broccoli is to serve it raw to dip in ranch dressing.  Dipping is fun, the dressing makes the broccoli more palatable, and it gets more veggies into your kid.

Another great undercover snack is anything with peanut butter.  Celery is a popular base for peanut butter.  Some fun extras to add are raisins, nuts, and cranberries to create “bugs” on a log, as long as they don’t mind eating “bugs!”  Other veggies to use for the “log” are carrot sticks or cucumbers.  Bananas also go great with peanut butter.  Combine for a great sandwich or toast, or in its “natural” state.  Just scoop some off a spoon with the banana and enjoy.

Kid-Friendly Veggies

Play With Your Food

Slice a sweet potato in thin slices and bake in the oven until crispy.  Although they won’t look like conventional potato chips, they taste great and are a great snack that delivers vitamins A, C, and B6.  Another way to serve sweet potatoes is to bake or microwave, mash, and add a sprinkle of white or brown sugar and butter to sweeten up your sweet potato to make it go down easier.

Carrot “fries” are another undercover vegetable kids will love.  Cut carrots into fry shapes with a crinkle potato cutter, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  These taste great and although kids will know they are not French fries, they are fun to eat so most kids won’t mind.

Pizza is a kid favorite usually, so have kids help you whip up a personalized pizza with an English or pita crust and top with tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and various cut up veggies such as roasted red peppers, red onion, diced tomatoes or Roma tomato slices, basil leaves, mushrooms, and green onions.

Baked potato head from the microwave decorated with grape tomatoes for eyes, peas, pretzel sticks for arms and low-fat shredded cheese to make a smiley face is a fun dinner.  Kids will enjoy helping you in the kitchen and have fun with Mr. Potato Head for dinner.

In the summertime, there is an abundance of fresh veggies from the garden or the local farmer’s market.  Mix up a dinner salad, with help from the kids, with leaf lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, raisins or cranberries, and low-fat cheese.  Supply a kid -friendly dressing, such as ranch, put each ingredient in a separate bowl and let everyone make their own to their liking.

Another way to incorporate veggies is to add them to something kids like to eat, like in a sandwich wrap.  Add some type of leafy greens and shredded carrots to meat and cheese with a splash of dressing or other condiment and roll it up in a whole wheat tortilla.

Some kids love veggies, but most do not care for them quite that much.  Most of the time kids, even ones who previously ate some vegetables, will at some point turn them down flat.  So get creative and boost the healthy in your kid’s diet.

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7 Best Snacks for Kids

It seems like kids are always hungry and asking for a snack to tide them over until the next meal so snacks are an essential item to have in your pantry. Kids will also need snacks for the first few years in elementary school, so now is the time to research snack foods to find the healthiest and the best for them and for you.

Finger Food

The first snack that many kids get is Cheerios. It's good finger food and it tastes good, so there is no reason to stop eating Cheerios even when the high chair is long gone. Cheerios are super portable so putting some in a snack bag for on the road or in a school lunch is still a popular option. For a healthier snack switch to multi or whole grain Cheerios.

Cheese is another great snack food for everyone. It contains protein which helps you feel fuller longer and calcium for building strong bones. For a fun twist on plain cheese, cut out fun shapes with a cookie cutter and serve on skewers with fruit. Another way to serve cheese for extra portability is in cubes, which can be bought ready-made, or in individual cheese sticks, either ready-made or individually packaged or DIY sticks made at home.

Best Snacks for Kids

Fruit

Fruit is always a great snack for everyone and although apples and bananas are the most popular, another great option is strawberries.  They are packed with vitamin C and protein.  For a less expensive option, you can use frozen strawberries mixed in with other berries and packed in a plastic container.  Frozen berries are not finger food, but are still a good option for a snack.

Smoothies are a very popular and a great snack, made with yogurt, juice, and fruit, that makes them very nutritious. For the smooth in smoothie, use low or non-fat yogurt, orange or other juice, and a banana to round out the base for creaminess, and add peaches, strawberries or other fruit. This can go in the car, in a sealed container for school, or anywhere you do.

Stealth Foods

A great way to get picky kids to eat fruit and vegetables is to use in a recipe that masquerades as a sweet treat.  There are many great baked goods that have fruits and veggies and no one will ever know they are in there if you don’t tell.  Try banana bread or muffins, zucchini bread or muffins, or carrot muffins for starters.

Frozen yogurt is a great way to get your kids to eat it if they do not care for yogurt in its store container.  So to get the healthy benefits of non-fat yogurt, along with some fruit, mix some with berries or granola, pour into a Popsicle mold, and freeze.  These are a great summer-time treat.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals.  For a healthy dose of vitamin A, B-6, C and foliate in a portable snack, slice thin and bake into sweet potato chips.

It is not as difficult to find healthier snack food options as you might think even if you are not wild about the idea of homemade treats.  Cheese and fresh fruit are two of the best simple snack foods and can go as-is.  Get creative and have some fun whipping up healthy snacks for the whole family.

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Teaching Your Young Ones How To Stay Safe on the Internet

The internet is a big magical place that you can find just about anything at any time of the day. That also opens a lot of unwanted doors. Teaching your children internet safety at a young age is extremely important for them to develop a healthy relationship with their internet use later on down the road.

Teach Them Young

Whatever age you feel is secure for your children to start using the internet is the time to teach them how to safely use it. Teaching them at a young age, even before they start to utilize the internet will implement the proper foundation they need to make smart decisions.

Even if they are only using the computer or tablet next to you it’s still crucial for them to have the knowledge of how to stay safe while surfing the web. Your children need to be taught that the internet is just like the real world. Both have safe situations and bot have unsafe situations. If they can distinguish this at a young age they will be responsible.

Also, teaching them about passwords and usernames and how they protect our personal information is important. That way they will start to utilize and understand the protections that are available.

Teaching Your Young Ones How To Stay Safe on the Internet

Don’t Do Anything Online That You Wouldn’t Do Face To Face

This is one of the most important pieces of advice you can give your young ones about the internet. Explain to them that you wouldn’t go up to one of your friends in person and start to bully them would you? You wouldn’t go up to a complete stranger at the store and start a conversion would you? None of this should be taking place online either. Explaining the difference to them will help them understand that bullying and strangers still apply to the internet as well and not just outside life.

We teach our children not to speak to strangers so now it’s time to teach them to ignore strangers online also. The internet can be a dangerous place just like the outside world. Our children are our future so we need to create the safety precautions to guide them safely.

Once It’s Been Written It Can’t Be Deleted

Teach your children that what they write and talk about over the internet is permanent. Teach them that if they wouldn’t discuss it with family or friends then it shouldn’t be discussed over the internet.

Even if you think no one has seen it, it can be copied and come back to haunt you later on. Teach your children that what they utilize on the internet now will still be seen once they start applying to college, jobs and internships. They will understand that their future isn’t worth jeopardizing.

Surfing the web should be enjoyable for your and your children. Teaching your young ones early on about how to stay safe on the internet is the key to successful internet utilization.

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Great Lunches to Give Your Kids for School

Great Lunches to Give Your Kids for School

Although you may have had good reasons for doing it differently based on the circumstances, the simple reality is that you can pack a cheaper and healthier lunch for your kids to eat at school than most schools provide.  And believe it or not, there are lots of great lunches that you can give your kids for school that they will love and that will also not be too time-consuming for you to pack.  Here are some of our best ideas!

 

Healthy and Balanced

The Basics of What to Pack for a School Lunch

Think carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables.  That’s it.  Those are the four basic essentials that your kid needs for a healthy and balanced school lunch and here is why: growing bodies and developing brains use a lot of energy and your kids need carbohydrates to keep their energy levels up.  Most active kids will appreciate some heavier energy-packed carbohydrates in the form of a sandwich, crackers or a granola bar.  The healthy part is balancing those carbohydrates with fruits and vegetables.

 

Keeping it Real

Tricks for Easy School Lunches

Kids are also not always reliable for bringing home the lunchbox, let alone any packing containers!  We recommend that you stay away from packing lunches in anything more than a plastic bag so that expensive storage containers don’t get lost or accidentally thrown away.  Because we know that there is a balance between healthy and practical, here are some easy items to stock in your pantry for adding to your kids’ school lunches that will help to make your job easier!

  • Rice cakes – inexpensive and they come in chocolate, caramel, apple cinnamon, sea salt, cheddar and more!
  • Pre-packaged, single serving, peanut butter crackers or other combinations
  • Box of crackers or bag of chips that you can portion out into a snack bag
  • Pre-packaged string cheese
  • Pre-packaged granola bars
  • Pre-packaged Go-gurt – it doesn’t need a spoon.

Of course, the less pre-packaged and the more you purchase in bulk, the more you will be able to make affordable school lunches for your kids.

 

Five Lunch Combos

Ideas You Can Work With

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices, carrot sticks
  • Deli meat sandwich, mandarin orange and cucumber slices
  • Crackers, pepperoni slices, cheese stick, bell pepper slices and grapes
  • “Ants on a log” (celery sticks filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins), rice cake, pear slices
  • Tortilla wrap with cheese and refried bean spread, avocado slices, peach slices

 

Some of these foods may be new tastes to your kids so feel free to add a fun snack to the meal such as a granola bar or those beloved gummies here and there as both a surprise and incentive for your kids as they explore some new healthy food choices.  These are just a few ideas, but we hope these suggestions will inspire you in creating terrific school lunches for your kids that are healthy, affordable, and enjoyable for your kids!

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Home Cooking – Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Squash tastes pretty amazing. It has a slight sweetness to it you can’t get enough off. You can serve it with steak, mashed potatoes, stir fry, and so many other foods! It’s also very healthy for you. When it comes to squash it’s hard to go wrong with this food. It can be prepared so many different ways. It’s easy to work with, and cooking it is never really a hassle. So, you’re in the mood for some delicious squash we decided to bring to you today a recipe to have butternut squash soup in your own home. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 celery rib, chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1 carrot, chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped, seeds discarded
  • 1 tart green apple, peeled, cored, chopped (squash and apple ratio should be 3:1)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinches of nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper

Directions:

  • Get a large pot and put it on medium-high heat. First, melt the butter in it. After the butter is melted then add the celery, onion, and carrot. Sauté all of them for at least five minutes. If the vegetables begin to turn brown it’s best to lower the heat.
  • Add in the water, butternut squash, broth, and apple. Bring the entire mixture to a boil. After it begins to boil bring it down to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the mixture simmer for half an hour. Do this until the carrots and squash are soft.
  • You’ll want to puree the soup in a blender. If you want, you can do it in batches to make the process easier.
  • Add the pinches of cayenne, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add pepper and salt as desire for taste. It’s recommended you garnish the soup with either some freshly chopped chives or parsley.

This soup is great to eat for a quick lunch alongside some salad. During these cold winter months it’s sure to warm you up if you’ve had to work in the snow all day. If you’re also thinking of having it for later that’s great too. This soup is a good way to put something away in the fridge for a day. When you come back all you have to do is heat it up and you have a quick dinner to eat. If you make a lot of soup ahead of time you can have it for the rest of the week.

We hope you enjoyed this homemade version of butternut squash soup. It’s delicious, and allows you to enjoy it right in the convenience of your own home. If you want to make a huge batch of the soup simply increase the ingredients. You can share it with the entire family or just have it for yourself. Please exercise caution in the kitchen when cooking. On that note, please enjoy your new recipe!

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Easy Cookie Recipes for Kids

Cookie Recipes for Kids

Every child gets to the point where they’re interested in learning how to make things in the kitchen.  And this shouldn’t just be a little girl activity.  Some of the best bakers in the world are men and they started by baking with their families.

Here are some ideas for kid friendly cookie recipes that are perfect for the upcoming holidays.

Using Pre-Prepared Dough

This is perfect for young kids who aren’t ready to measure ingredients or use the mixer.  You can get prepared sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie dough and roll it out.

Kids who are between the ages of three and five will have a great time picking out cookie cutters and cutting the shapes from the rolled out dough.  You can have them help you place the shapes on a baking pan and then decorate them when they’re done.

From Scratch

Preparing the dough from scratch is a great activity for older children.  From about fifth grade on, your kids can accept more responsibility for the cookie baking activity.  Let’s look at some relatively easy recipes that kids will love to do.  These recipes are brought to you by our friends at food.com.

Simple Peanut Butter Cookies

With a prep time of just 15 minutes and a cooking time of 12 minutes, this could very well be the easiest peanut butter cookie recipe around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of peanut butter, smooth or chunky
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • One large egg
  • Sugar, for rolling (optional)

Directions

Mix peanut butter, sugar and egg together until smooth.  Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet 2 inches apart. If you want, roll the cookie in extra sugar before placing it on the cookie sheet.

Press with a fork and press again in the opposite direction for crosshatch look. Bake 10 to 12 minutes at 350° but make sure they don’t get brown and over baked.

Place cookies in a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon. Attach a holiday label so your recipient knows who the cookies are from.

Chocolate Cowboy Cookies

This cookie recipe has a few more ingredients than the peanut butter cookie recipe but it is just as easy to make and delicious.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup margarine or ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed firmly
  • One large egg
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Half cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  Blend together the margarine (or shortening) and the sugars.  Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy and then add the vanilla.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and mix well.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix.  Drop by teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 12 minutes.  If you like cookies that are crisper, cook a little bit longer.

These recipes are sure to be a hit with your kids and having them as your assistants just might inspire the next top pastry chef.

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Dessert for Dinner – What Every Kid (Young and Old) Loves

Dessert for Dinner

If you want a great idea to surprise your family, give them dessert for dinner.  This is a terrific treat at the end of the school semester or marking period to acknowledge great grades and achievements.

And this idea isn’t just for kids.  No, adults deserve it too.  So here are a few creative ideas to go along with the usual platters of brownies, bowls of ice cream and boxes of cookies.

Cupcake Cones

This is a fun twist on ice cream cones that substitute the ice cream with cupcakes.  They do take a little bit of time but they are well worth the effort. These ideas come to us from our friends at instructables.com.

Ingredients

Cake type ice cream cones –these are the ones that are squat with a flat bottom rather than the pointy sugar cones

Cake mix

Frosting

Sprinkles for decorating

Empty egg carton – These work well to hold the cupcake cones but cut off the tops of the egg cartons so ink doesn’t burn in the oven

Instructions

Cut the bottoms out of empty egg cartons and place the cones into them.  After mixing your favorite cake batter, fill the cones 2/3 full.  Bake them in the egg carton at 350° for about 30 minutes.  Test for doneness with a toothpick or skewer just like you would for regular cake mix.  Decorate with frosting and sprinkles and serve as an appetizer.

Easy Apple Tart

You can make this dessert look like fruity pizza using some puff pastry and apples.  This recipe is courtesy of Ree Drummond on Food Network.

Ingredients

  • One sheet puff pastry cut in half and then into rectangles
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Three whole apples, cored, halved and sliced with the peels on
  • Caramel sauce (store bought)
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425°. Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick spray and parchment paper.

Place the pastry rectangles on the baking sheet.

In a bowl, combine sliced apples, sugar, salt and lemon juice.  Stir to mix well and let sit.

Next, arrange the apple slices on the pastry rectangles in a straight line overlapping them as you go.  Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Take the rectangles from the pan and arrange on a plate.  Serve with caramel sauce and pecans.

Other Ideas

Our kids always loved the chocolate spin on rice crispy treats using chocolate rice krispies instead of regular.

You can also make individual molten lava cake and serve it with fresh whipped cream.

And for a beverage, how about a root beer float?  Get your favorite root beer and some vanilla bean ice cream and let the kids make their own floats.

Dinner does not just have to be on the nutritious, savory side so treat your family to dessert for dinner soon.

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Learn How to Prevent Freezer Burned Food

What is freezer burn? We’ve heard about it time and again and even see it on TV commercials. But what is it that happens to food that is improperly stored in the freezer?

It’s All About Air

When you pull a steak out of the freezer that looks greyish white and is ringed in ice crystals, that’s freezer burn. The meat has been damaged by air getting into the container – whether that’s a plastic bag or foil.

The food dehydrates and oxidizes and ruins that beautiful piece of meat you planned to grill for Father’s Day.

Ways to Prevent Freezer Burn

There are ways to get around the damage that occurs with freezer burn and it really comes down to the type of container used.

Freezer Containers

These containers actually have a vapor barrier – sort of like the barriers you see on home improvement shows – that keeps the moisture in your food.

And the key to using these kinds of containers is the amount of food placed in them. The more food you stuff into them, the better it is because there is less chance for the moisture to get yanked out and ruin the meal you’re trying to preserve.

Vacuum Sealers

You know what we’re talking about – those devices that suck the air out of storage bags and seals them. It’s a great piece of equipment but can be pricey. Of course, if you’re buying meat in bulk you’ll want to think of a vacuum sealer as a good investment because it saves the money spent on food.

Freezer Bags

There is a way to preserve food in the freezer without the expense of a vacuum sealer device and you probably have it right in your pantry.

It’s a straw.

Here’s what you do: Place the food you want to freeze into as small a freezer bag as possible. Close up the opening until just a small portion is open. Insert the straw and suck air as hard as you can and close it up tight.

It won’t take out all the air but it’s pretty close and will hopefully save your food from freezer burn. It’s impossible to get out nearly enough air just by squeezing the freezer bag with your hands.

preserve food in the freezer

Freezer 101

Make sure your freezer temperature remains stable. Fluctuating temperatures in self-defrosting freezers can cause melting and freezer burn.

Also try to keep your freezer at least 75% full so your food stays cold. It’s also a benefit if you lose power because the frozen foods will stay colder longer.

Repack Frozen Foods

If you’ve used a portion of frozen food bought from the store and just tossed the container back in the freezer, you’re on the path to freezer burn.

Taking a few minutes to repack the remaining frozen food into a freezer bag is the best defense. Just slip the open box or bag into a freezer bag or even put the frozen food into a rigid freezer container to play it safe.

It takes a bit of thinking ahead but you can avoid freezer burn by using a freezer container or getting as much air out of a freezer bag as possible.

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Smart Grocery Shopping Tips to Save You Money

Grocery Shopping Tips

At some point during every week we all end up at the grocery store. And it seems like prices just keep going up and up and up.

What can you do to save money but still get everything you need for your family? We’ve developed some smart tips to help you make every dollar count and come out on top.

Dump the Huge Shopping Cart

Believe it or not, shopping carts have grown in size along with the need for grocery stores to make as much money as possible. What can you do to save at checkout? Grab a mini cart or basket when you just need a few things.

The Middle is a Great Place to Be

If you’re like us, you tend to start at one end of the store and head through to the other end. To save some money, change it up and begin in the middle where there are fewer bright colors and boxes calling your name.

Earbuds Will Keep You Focused

Grocery stores love to slow you down and make you buy more. How? Slow music over speakers makes you stroll not power walk. Listen to your favorite workout music and keep your pace brisk.

Ditch the Deli Counter

It’s tempting to go pick up a few things at the deli counter but it’s often less expensive to buy pre-packaged items in the refrigerated section. Why? Plain packaging saves you money.

Sale Prices May be Deceptive

Keep your eye out for sales or discounts on certain items. But sales are good, right? Sometimes yes, other times they lure you in. Make sure you are picking up the item that’s really got a sale going instead of a similar package that is full price.

Buy Produce by the Piece

Sometimes buying produce by the piece is a less expensive option that in bulk. It also lets you inspect the produce to make sure you get the highest quality possible.

Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away From Those 10 Items for $10 Promos

They look really great, don’t they? But the truth is that the price per item could actually be higher in those kinds of deals. Always check it out carefully before diving in.

Thaw Seafood at Home

Have you ever experienced this: You’re at the seafood counter of your store and see a package that says it was previously frozen? Don’t bother. Many times this is the same thing you’d find in the frozen aisle but the store thawed it and marked it up.

A Thought When You’re Buying Meat

Instead of buying pre-cut steaks and ground beef, ask the butcher to cut a larger piece of meat into what you would like. For example, you could buy a large roast and have it cut into cubes for beef stew, some of it run through the grinder for burgers, and even get the bones for soup.

We’re all up against the same price increased every week but if you use some of these tips, you’ll come out ahead and still feed your family well.

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