DEAR SARA: I just saw another news item about contaminated produce. I know we’re supposed to wash everything we buy, so I’m wondering what you use to wash fruit and vegetables. Is there something effective other than the pricey bottled stuff? — C.D., Wisconsin
DEAR C.D.: You can use water and a vegetable brush.
If you want, you can also wash produce with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and a tablespoon of baking soda in a large bowl of water or a clean sink. Scrub and rinse. Or simply use a combination of one cup of vinegar and one cup of water in a spray bottle or bowl to wash produce. Then dry it. You can peel some of your produce, too. I know, I know, “What about all the nutrients?” I’m only offering another option. Buying the bottled fruit and vegetable wash isn’t necessary, but to each his or her own. Here’s a little armchair reading on the subject: foodsafety.wisc.edu/ assets/pdf_Files/FFH_Fit.pdf.
DEAR SARA: I canned spaghetti sauce last week. After canning, I let them cool on the counter overnight. I checked the lids in the morning to make sure they all popped, but did not remove the rings and really check to see if there was a seal. A few days later I finally got around to putting them away. I took off all the rings and on one of the jars, the lid came off, too. Ugh! Can I use this jar, or should I throw it away? — Jennifer, Ohio
DEAR JENNIFER: Please throw this away. The jar clearly did not seal and it’s been left unrefrigerated for too long to take chances.
DEAR SARA: What were the first few frugal things you tried? — L.K., Texas
DEAR L.K.: I focused a lot on meal planning and cooking. I stopped eating out as often (packing lunches and snacks and having at least a weekly menu for dinners) and cut sugary drinks and a lot of prepared foods from my diet. From there, I started to pay closer attention to my electricity usage and any unnecessary driving. I started to track all of my spending, too.
DEAR SARA: What free or low-cost activities can you still find out there? Just the activity, not the supplies or the costs involved to get there. — S.S., Indiana
DEAR S.S.: Here are a few of my family favorites: Going to the beach or sprayground, disc golf, biking on the bike trail, skating (we play roller hockey at our local outdoor rink), running, walking, visiting parks (you could create a handmade passport to parks in your area and visit them all), the library, free concerts, picnics, hiking at the nature center, playing cards, table games, outdoor games, paper airplanes, origami, squirt guns and water balloons, backyard camping, scavenger hunts, baking cupcakes, making ice cream floats, homemade popsicles, smoothies or sundaes, fishing, blanket forts and photography.
I could go on and on with low-cost activities. It does get harder once your children are in their teens. But with a little encouragement or your willingness to include one of their friends, these options can be just as fun for kids that age, too.
Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut Street, Kansas City, MO, 64106, or email email@example.com.