6 fun, family-friendly activities that will save you money

Turn your Kitchen into a Food Factory

by Debra L. Karplus, MS

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Kids in the Kitchen

You're proud of your family for its recent money-saving successes. Utility usage is lower because you've turned off unnecessary lights and unplugged appliances. You're using less gasoline due to better-planned, efficient errand-running. You walk or bicycle for transportation while getting exercise. But, that stubborn grocery bill, despite generic products, bulk purchases, and double coupon days, doesn't budge.

Using equipment already in your kitchen, kids can become food wizards creating delicious, healthy treats. The grocery or natural food store sells some basic supplies to make your food factory open for business 24/7. That's handy if the family's stuck indoors because of inclement weather, or if your food supply's getting low. You'll save money and reduce trash by minimizing packaging. Going green is trendy; Get on the bandwagon while stretching your dollar.

1. Shop until you pop.

Why pay for those small packages of microwave popcorn? All you need is your own paper bag and some corn for popping. Put a little corn in a bag. Fold the top of the bag over approximately three times. Microwave for three to five minutes, and you have popcorn that you can season with butter, salt, or something fancier. Do-it-yourself microwave popcorn will make you wonder why you hadn't learned this trick years ago.

2. Look what's sprouting in the kitchen.

Sprouts are easy to grow at home. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, they're a wonderful addition to any salad, stir fry, and can even be enjoyed as a quick snack. Growing sprouts utilizes very little kitchen space and your only cost is the beans, generally inexpensive when bought in bulk. Mung beans, adzuki, green lentils, wheat berries, and alfalfa seeds can be easily sprouted for eating. Cover about 1/2 inch of the beans or seeds with water in a jar overnight. Use a strainer or special sprout jar lids, available online for approximately five dollars. Rinse once or twice daily; keep at room temperature. In just a few days they'll look like the sprouts you see at the grocery, ready to embellish any meal. Even a very young child can become an expert kitchen sprout gardener.

3. Fermenting magic.

Yogurt is yummy. Calcium and protein are nutrients in this versatile snack, dessert or salad dressing delight. The only foods you need are milk and a small amount of yogurt to use as a starter. Dried milk tastes fine for yogurt-making, is much cheaper and can be easily stored for the next time you're ready to make yogurt.

Heat milk in a large pot to boiling, approximately 200 degrees. Cook at medium heat for ten minutes. Cool to 120 degrees. Add some yogurt starter. Maintain at approximately 120 degrees for four hours. Some people use a store-bought yogurt maker for this, but a food dehydrator or low-heat oven works fine. Home yogurt-making can be a science lesson for the older kids.

4. Soy is so simple.

Soy milk, though an acquired taste for some people, is a great alternative for those who cannot ingest dairy foods. Soak raw soy beans overnight. Rinse and put in blender with a little water. Put this mushy mix into a large pot with water and boil. Then reduce to low heat for fifteen minutes. Strain it. Cool the milk and save the residual beans for a cooked dish or salad. Drink it hot or cold. The flavor will not disappoint.

5. Nothing's corny about cornbread.

You can't always stop at the supermarket because you just ran out of bread. Corn meal is inexpensive. Twenty minutes in the oven and you've got a tasty grain dish for any dinner.

6. Secret treasures await in your own backyard.

It's just rained and your lawn looks more yellow than green, with a new crop of dandelions. You may be surprised to learn that dandelion greens are high in Vitamins A and C. Discard the flowers and wash the leaves thoroughly. Savor these delicious greens raw in salad or cooked.

You've seen pictures of chamomile on the box of your favorite tea. Amazingly, it resembles that unidentified plant growing near your driveway. You didn't realize that you're a chamomile farmer. Pick it, dry it in the sun, steep it, and drink it. What a soothing beverage you'll enjoy. Take the kids on a scavenger hunt in your own backyard; you may have other volunteer edible plants lurking in your midst.

These are just a few fun activities you can do with the kids that are guaranteed to save you money and are ecologically sound. One family admitted to reducing their monthly grocery bill by approximately 15%. Peruse your cupboards and refrigerator; see if any of the foods you use can be produced in your own kitchen.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

Take the Next Step:

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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