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Food smarts: Kitchen Assistant, Couponista at library



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April 06, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- With rising food prices and falling or stagnant incomes, many people are looking for ways to save on their grocery budget. The township library will host two programs this month in an effort to help.

"Kitchen Assistant," in which author and cook Darla Jaros shares quick and easy cooking ideas for those on a budget, will be from 7-8:30 p.m., April 11 at the library, 304 South St.

Jaros will teach attendees how to save time and money in the kitchen, maximizing purchases without sacrificing healthy meals.

"The kitchen is the most expensive room in the house because of food and the only room where you can shave money off and save it to spend on clothes for the kids, shoes, a vacation, an extra car payment to pay off your car, etcetera," said Jaros.

One of the keys, she says, is keeping certain food staples on hand at all times. These staples can be purchased for a total of $100, and include spices such as salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; condiments such as ketchup, mustard and Italian dressing; and other essentials like flour, rice, beans, baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, butter, sour cream, cocoa powder and vinegar.

With the right items in the cupboard, you can be ready to make a meal at a moment's notice, but Jaros promotes planning ahead to save money— make a list before heading to the store; plan weekly meals; make extra food and freeze it; and cook from scratch.

Jaros encourages shoppers on a budget to negotiate with grocery store managers.

"In these tough times, you have to ask for a manager when they raise prices," she said. "Tell them you are on a strict budget, that you will go to another store to get the lower price. The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Melanie Gorman took another approach to saving money on her food budget— coupons.

"Three years ago, I got to the point where I need to make more money or save more money," said the wife and mother of two who works full-time. "I have learned that the way to get the best savings is to buy something when it is on sale and use the maximum number of coupons possible."

By doing so, she has cut her grocery bills in half on average. Persons who attend her program, 'Couponista,' will learn to save 30 to 60 percent on their grocery bill, Gorman said. Couponista" will be from 7-8:30 p.m., April 20, at the library, 304 South St.

Gorman teaches program attendees to stockpile items when they are on sale, to only shop for groceries once a week, and offer websites to make coupon-cutting easier and more time efficient. The majority of the class focuses on saving on groceries, but Gorman also offers advice on saving at restaurants and drugstores.

She stresses that she never buys something just because she has a coupon and only buys what she and her family can use. Gorman is not an "extreme" couponer, only spending about 45 minutes to plan her weekly shopping trip, and only going to one store (whichever has the best deals that week). She gets 80 percent of her coupons from inserts and doesn't buy extra newspapers. Gorman said she also eats healthy, even though she acknowledges many coupons are for processed foods.

"The most common question is, 'How do you save on whole foods?'" she said. "Obviously, you want to buy when they're on sale, and you also want to think outside the box. With frozen vegetables, I almost never pay more than 30 cents a bag and I teach people how to do that. Frozen is just as healthy as fresh, for a quarter of the cost."

Registration for the free programs is encouraged. Details 248-627-1460

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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