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Three Things Every Mom Can Use to Save Time and Money Feeding the Family

Here are three items every BirminghamMom can use to save money and time in feeding her family:

1. Freezer - Your kitchen refrigerator/freezer is fine for the frozen goods you use everyday, but to be truly prepared to feed a family you need storage space so you can stock up when deals are good.  Use a freezer for:

  • Meat that has been marked down as it approaches its sell-by date; take it home and freeze it that day for later use. Better to buy meat discounted at the store and freeze it quickly than buy it at full price and then let it sit in your own fridge awaiting its sell-by date. Many bakery items such as cookies and angel food cakes are also candidates for buying at a reduced price and freezing.
  • Cheese – hard cheeses like cheddar freeze especially well so when you catch a sale, load up.
  • Frozen entrees, vegetables and desserts mean you can always put something on the table. Having freezer space also allows you to double recipes or cook ahead when you have the time.
  • You’ll be relieved during the summer when you can send sweaty kids to the garage or basement freezer for frozen popsicles to be consumed in the back yard. Freeze ice prior to a party or contain the bulky store-bought bags without using all your space upstairs.

Consider a scratch and dent freezer that has been discounted. Freezers are almost always tucked out of the sight, so as long as the unit’s functional, superficial damage doesn’t matter. Check out Mazer’s to see what they have available and make sure there are baskets in any chest-type model so you don’t have to unpack the whole thing to get to whatever is on the bottom. An indicator light is also important so you’ll be alert to any power problem. Expect to pay anywhere from $200 up depending on the size.

2. Slow Cooker - Most of the emphasis on slow slow cooking is the fact that cheaper cuts of meat can be made tender. The best feature, however, is the convenience for a busy mom. There is nothing better than coming home to the smell of dinner, although if you’re away for 10+ hours it’s easy to overcook.

Newer programmable cookers allow you to customize cooking time by 30 minute increments so you don’t cook a roast into string before the cooker shifts to keep warm. Instead of cooking during the day, try cooking six to eight hours overnight - just remove the stoneware insert to let it cool while you dress and then place it in the fridge before you leave. You need only plate dinner and zap in the microwave that evening when you return.

Use your slow cooker defensively. By this I refer to the moment after ball practice or dance class when you and the kids are famished and it would be sooo easy to pull into a drive thru for dinner on the ride home. If you plopped soup or chili in the cooker before you left, you’ll be able to avoid temptation and thank yourself when get home to your ready and waiting dinner.

Programmable slow cookers are $39 to $49 on sale with little variation in price among retailers. Bed, Bath & Beyond often has a 20% off coupon through the mail, but Belk and Macy’s discount coupons always exclude appliances.

3. Large Pot - Not for cooking but for planting. Don’t scoff! There’s no reason to buy many common herbs at the grocery when you can grow them fresh on your back deck or patio in a sunny spot. In winter, grow parsley and thyme, and in summer, grow basil, sage and chives. Rosemary stays green all year long and is perfect for the center or back of your planter. It can grow for a few years in the planter and then be moved to your yard.

A single, small pot of any of these herbs is around $2.50 at any garden shop or big box store, hardly more than a fresh bunch at the grocery and with months to produce for you. Group them together in a deep, well-drained pot and they will offer extra value as a beautiful outdoor planting regardless of how often you cook with them. Home cooked meals are just a bit more satisfying with herbs from your own container garden. Late winter is a great time to buy pots on clearance. You’ll see the identical pots at full price again by spring break when everyone has the fever to spend more time outdoors.