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Debra Caffrey is the Education E-newsletter Editor for FredParent. She also writes, blogs, and assists with events. She is the proud mom of 8-year-old Aidan. She is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.


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Practical Pantry

Outsmart the Supermarket!

The grocery store wants you to spend as much money as possible. You may not realize it, but supermarkets spend a ton of money each year working with industry analysts and consumer data specialists to track shoppers and develop algorithms and other strategies to increase consumer spending. This goes way beyond impulse candy bars at the checkout and giving out free samples. The marketing analysts have carefully tapped into every one of your senses as a shopper so that they may increase how much you’re willing to spend on products. These marketing strategies are more like magic tricks, ensuring the shopper doesn’t even notice how every single detail of a grocery store is thoroughly set up for the very reason of maximizing spending. Make no mistake about it – nothing is by accident! As a consumer, it’s important that you are aware of these strategies, so you can keep a clear head while grocery shopping and not be lured into spending more than you need to. Here are some of the most common approaches supermarkets employ to seduce you as a consumer:

  • Meandering Aisles: Years ago, grocery stores were composed strictly of straight rows of aisles with specific categories. Have you noticed that many now have smaller, more broken up aisles and zigzagged displays? This is not an accident. Stores would rather have you meander around casually rather than lapping through long aisles. The purpose is to get you a little “lost” and create the illusion that you’re in a bountiful marketplace to browse through leisurely rather than just running an errand with purpose. The goal? To get you to spend more time in the store, which will ultimately lead to more spending.


  • End Cap Confusion: An endcap is a product display placed at the end of an aisle. Most consumers believe that this the go-to spot for items on sale, but this is not always the case. Items are strategically placed here to get your attention, not because the item has the cheapest price.


  • Appealing smells and sights in the front: Supermarkets deliberately manipulate your senses when you first enter the store. Placing baked goods, delicious smelling rotisserie chicken, and colorful produce towards the entrance of the store activates your salivary glands and makes you more likely to purchase more. Even placing fresh flowers in the front is a marketing strategy that has been shown to put consumers in a good mood, which increases the likelihood that they will purchase more. 


  • Cross promotions: Cross promotion takes place when supermarkets will place like items that pair well together in the same display. For instance, having a refrigerated basket of fresh mozzarella next to tomatoes in the produce section so the consumers will more likely pick up both at the suggestion that they will make a nice caprese salad. While this isn’t an entirely bad idea, it’s something to be mindful of. You’re much more likely to buy that more expensive dip if it’s placed right next to the potato chips rather than all by itself in the dairy aisle.


  • Sales on Multiples: 2 for $3.00 may sound like a great deal on that expensive shave gel your husband prefers – but most sales like this don’t actually require you to purchase two in order to get the discounted price of $1.50 each. It’s a marketing strategy to make you believe the offer is too great to pass up. Note that some sales on multiples do require you to purchase both, but if you’re unsure of the signage, always ask. Remember, you shouldn’t be buying more than you need, otherwise the sale is not economical for you.


  • Premium selection at counters: The butcher, deli, seafood, and bakery selections purchased at their respective counters does not necessarily mean they are any fresher, healthier, or higher quality than the same items located down the aisles. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking assistance from the knowledgeable employees working behind these counters, you can usually pick up packages of the same items they dish out for you elsewhere in the store and there is a bigger variety in price. ​


  • Bulk isn’t always best: I am usually a huge fan of promoting bulk buying, but the largest size of an item isn’t always the cheapest. Grocery stores know how to advertise their bulk and family-size items to make all largest versions of items sound like the best deal so consumers will naturally select them. However, the best deal is actually based on unit price – this is the price per ounce, size, or unit of something. You need to compare the unit price of items to see what size is really the best deal. If the store does not identify unit price, this is where your calculator comes in handy.


  • Remodels and layout changes: Do you ever step into your grocery store one day realizing that they’ve changed the layout around and you suddenly can’t find where anything is? This is completely intentional. Stores undergo many remodels and plan-o-gram changes (diagrams showing where retail items should be placed) to get you to think something is new and different when it’s really not – it’s just been rearranged. Stores know that most shoppers are running in to just grab a few things (see here for more of why that is an economical no-no). 


  • Produce Placement: Stores will almost always place beautiful produce in front because its attractiveness and bright colors puts you in a good mood. Marketers depend on the benefit of this - if you buy lots of healthy produce, it will make you rationalize the other things you put in your cart afterwards. The pay-off for the store? You’re ultimately buying more.​



  • Misleading flyers and circulars: Just like with endcaps, not everything advertised in a store’s weekly flyer is actually on sale. Marketers depend on the fact that the majority of consumers can’t remember the regular price of most items other than milk, bread, and eggs. What may seem like a sale price on a circular is actually just that particular item being advertised. Make sure to double check the regular price versus sale price in store. 


I often think of my shopping experience as sort of a battle between the marketing specialists and my shopping savvy – and I always like to win. We can’t blame supermarkets for trying their best to make you spend money, but it makes it all the more important that as a consumer, you arm yourself with the knowledge of these strategies so you can be sure to ignore them as much as possible. Being an aware, smart shopper will give you more confidence that you can stick to a budget and be more mindful of what you’re spending. Good luck out there! 

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We All Scream for Smoothie Cream!

I’ve mentioned that my son Aidan is a pretty picky eater when it comes to healthy things, but he loves smoothies and shakes, so I try my best to incorporate them into his diet on an almost daily basis so I know he’s getting some fruit! And even though he can slurp one down eagerly, there’s always that little bit of leftover smoothie in the blender that I was never sure what to do with! Aidan and I came up with a fabulous way of saving our leftover smoothie and it has been a hit in this house. We turn it into “Smoothie Cream,” our healthier version of ice cream! It’s simple, delicious, resourceful, and the best part is that we don’t waste one drop of the ingredients we’ve put into our smoothie.

All you have to do is pour the leftover smoothie contents directly from the blender into a freezer-safe container and freeze. When ready to use, take the container out and let it defrost slightly until you can break it up a bit with a spoon and it has the consistency of a very thick shake.

The amount of time it takes to defrost to this point depends on the quantity you’ve frozen. You can speed things up by zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. And that’s it! You have what we call Smoothie Cream! Call it whatever you’d like, but I guarantee your kids will love it just as much as real ice cream! It’s so refreshing and a great, healthy addition to complete or end a meal.

If you don’t have your own tried and true smoothie recipes of your own, here is our favorite base way to prepare one. You can play around with the ingredients and the possibilities become endless. No matter what kind of smoothie you like to make, I promise your whole family will love Smoothie Cream as much as we do!


Easy Beginner Fruit Smoothie

Serves 2


  • Approx. one cup ice
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup milk
  • One teaspoon vanilla extract (you may omit this if you prefer)
  • Approx. 1-2 tablespoons white sugar (you may use honey, another sugar substitute, or omit completely – it’s your choice!)
  • One cup fresh or frozen fruit of your choice (frozen fruit will enrich the thickness)
  1. Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend until thick and smooth and desired consistency. Pour into glasses and enjoy. Freeze the leftovers for future Smoothie Cream! 

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Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

There is nothing quite like the sweet juiciness of a perfectly ripe cherry tomato in the summer. Right now, it’s prime time for these little jewels of the garden, and their scent and taste are always nostalgic for me. Growing up, we had a huge garden and my father grew everything he could think of – green beans, zucchini, sunflowers, eggplant, but most important to me – the beautifully bright cherry tomato. His efforts would yield hundreds and it was my job to harvest the red little gems off the vine and bring them into the house. Unfortunately, most never made it very far – I’d pop tomato after tomato into my mouth right then and there standing in the garden, excited to find yet another bright red beauty hiding behind some leaves.

            Despite my love of cooking and utilizing fresh food, I’ve yet to start a garden of my own. I have the perfect spot carved out in my backyard, but I just can’t seem to get it together in time to start the process. One of these days! In the meantime, I continue to have a love affair with cherry tomatoes this time of year and fortunately, I’ve learned to save some for recipes without snacking on them all first (although that’s still my favorite way to eat them)! If you’ve never tried roasting tomatoes before, you need to make my Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta ASAP. Roasting tomatoes changes so much about the vegetable – the process transforms it into something delectably sweet and rich, with a depth of flavor that is intense, concentrated, and unlike anything else! Roasting tomatoes is an absolutely great way to use up tomatoes that might be a little past their prime or a little softer than you’d like. The great thing about roasting vegetables is that it does not discriminate against less than perfect ones – all tomatoes convert equally into the intense flavor that only roasting can bring out. The best part is – it’s super easy to do! It’s an inexpensive, simple summertime dinner that I know you will love. You can also use the more economical grape tomato for this recipe. The combination of sweet garlic and rich roasted tomatoes, all topped with fresh mozzarella pearls is irresistible. Happy roasting!


Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta


  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved (you can also use grape tomatoes)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12-16 oz mezzi (small) rigatoni or other small tube pasta
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil or oregano (or dried if you’d like!)
  • Approx. 8 oz fresh mozzarella pearls (ciliegine)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread on stoneware or lined baking or roasting sheet. Roast about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through until the tomatoes are softened and mildly charred.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Reserve about ½ cup of cooking water. Drain pasta.
  3. Heat remaining olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook a few minutes until fragrant and lightly browned.
  4. Add pasta to the skillet with garlic and oil, and add tomatoes and any scrapings from the roasting pan. Add reserved pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce a bit. Stir in herbs and season with more salt and pepper. Sprinkle a handful of the mozzarella on top. You may also drizzle a bit more olive oil on top if you’d like. Enjoy! 

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DIY Greek Yogurt and Easy Tzatziki!

Greek yogurt is all the rage these days, and with good reason. It fares better than regular yogurt to some degree in terms of lower sugar and sodium content. But both Greek yogurt and regular, low-fat plain yogurt are about equal when it comes to calories. Further, regular yogurt actually has more calcium than Greek yogurt. For most people, I think the appeal of Greek yogurt comes down to consistency – regular yogurt is notorious for being runnier and thin compared to the thick, uber-creaminess of Greek yogurt. Unfortunately, Greek yogurt can also be much more expensive! Want my secret to making your own “Greek” style yogurt for a fraction of the cost? All you have to do is drain your regular yogurt to attain the same rich results! Here’s how to get that wonderful thickness:

  • Several hours before use, line a small bowl with paper towels and drop your regular yogurt on top.
  • Cover, refrigerate, and allow to “drain.” The liquid will saturate the paper towels leaving behind a much thicker yogurt on top! That’s it!

You can utilize this technique for everyday snacking, for making creamier baby and toddler food, enhancing smoothies and shakes, or as an ingredient for my favorite way to use plain yogurt – Tzatziki! There is nothing more refreshing and delicious than a good Tzatziki sauce, and the best part is – it’s super healthy! If you are not familiar with Tzatziki sauce, it is a traditional Greek yogurt and cucumber based condiment served with grilled meats, vegetables, and gyros. It’s also lovely as a dip. It can be bought in pre-packaged containers or fresh in the expensive olive/salad bar, but to make it yourself costs pennies and is SO easy! I like to serve it up with my version of a “deconstructed” gyro – all the flavors of the classic dish but in a slightly healthier adaptation. I pair Tzatziki with grilled chicken or another protein, grilled pita bread, grilled red onion and zucchini, and a crisp Greek salad. Every element is nutritious, inexpensive, and just as appetizing as a plate in a Mediterranean diner! Here’s my personal version of Tzatziki. Happy yogurt-making!

Debra's Easy Tzatziki Sauce


  • One cup fat free or low-fat plain yogurt, drained
  • Approx. ¾ one cucumber, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • One tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • One tbsp fresh dill or oregano
  1. In a food processor (or blender), combine chopped cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs. Pulse until combined and smooth.
  2. Transfer this mixture into a bowl, and add the yogurt. Stir to combine.​


      3. Chill sauce until ready to serve. Enjoy! 


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Savin' on Vacation!

It’s hard to believe it now, but the first long road trip we took after becoming a family was when my son Aidan was just two months old. I think we got through it all right, with the exception of treating a terrible case of newborn diaper rash in dirty rest stop changing tables, pulling off the side of the road to comfort my screaming baby, and trying to nurse him in a shady McDonald’s bathroom stall. In retrospect, maybe two months old is a bit young! Later travel has included projectile carseat vomit, emergency stops for Dramamine, and ridiculously expensive tickets from speeding traps in the middle of nowhere. But despite these mishaps, we've also cultivated some serious road trip and vacationing savvy. I’m proud to say that in our 8 years of parenthood, we’ve had more great family trips than I can count, and from all our time doing it, I feel like we’ve got it down to a science.

Spontaneous travel with unrestricted spending was great when I was 20 years old or when we were a young couple, but when you have a family, spontaneity is a luxury that is hard to afford! Speaking of hard to afford, we’ve been blessed to go on many memorable family vacations, but they can add up. As a mostly-one-income family, it’s critical that we budget for our vacations and stay within budget. Being frugal and making smart choices about food and eating while on vacation is one of the biggest ways you can control your spending, and doing so has enabled our family to take more trips than I would ever think possible. Here are some of my tried and true tips:

  • Pack your road trip meals! If you are road-tripping, there is no reason not to do this. Think of it this way - you’ll have lots of restaurant trips and treats to look forward to at your actual destination, so don’t blow your food budget during the actual travel time. Further, it’s good to keep a cooler in your car at all times – you can fill it with ice later on to store perishable ingredients on the way home and/or during excursions.


  • Commit to the “One Meal In, One Meal Out” Rule: When we vacation, we firmly stick to this rule for both our budget and our health – it simply means that you’ll only indulge in a “sit down” restaurant dining experience once a day. For instance, if we’re at the beach for a week and know we are going to try a nice seafood restaurant for dinner, we’ll be sure to bring peanut butter sandwiches to the beach for lunch that day. If we’re vacationing with the grandparents and are going to sneak out to kid-free lunch date, a quick slice of pizza is perfectly fine for dinner that night. Making sure you don’t go “out to eat” more than once a day will save you in tips, overpriced entrees, and calories. The other meals can be a picnic, a simple sandwich from a take-out place, or something you might be able to put together where you’re staying.


  • Research in advance and use local coupons: Take some time when planning your vacation to look up local restaurant websites and their online reviews to get an idea of price range and proximity to attractions and your hotel. Sometimes just googling this info will bring up online coupons you can use! Visiting tourism sites for your destination should also provide advice about local dining. At your hotel, take advantage of the front desk staff’s knowledge and inquire about dining establishments and any deals they know of. They are trained to answer these questions and finding out which great restaurants have a “kids eat free” night or BOGO entrée coupons can save you big time. For more tips on dining specifically at WDW, check out fellow blogger Gin's post here


  • Take advantage of complimentary breakfasts when you can: The little continental breakfasts in the lobby of your hotel? It may not be the hottest spot in town, but if your kids can fill up on little boxes of cereal and you can grab some scrambled eggs, an apple, and a piece of toast before you head out for the day, it serves its purpose and saves you money.


  • Remember the ride home when bringing snacks. Don’t forget to pack enough snacks for your return road trip home – don’t rely on buying overpriced treats on the way! We bring a large, reusable grocery shopping bag with us with almost all of our dry snacks from the pantry. Whatever we don’t eat on the way there gets saved for the ride home. When you’re buying snacks in advance of your vacation, think about the entire trip. Will your hotel have a microwave? Bring along those popcorn bags! Don’t forget not-so-perishable fruit like bananas, apples, and oranges.


  • Utilize the local grocery store. This is an essential resource for frugal eating on vacation. It’s a great place to grab some bread, cold cuts, and other sandwich fixings that you can DIY instead of buying expensive premade versions elsewhere. If you are able to do any cooking while away, this is also where you’ll stock up on basic ingredients. At checkout, mention you’re out of towners and ask the cashier if he would be kind enough to run the savers club card even if you don’t have one (they usually will – we do it every time)!



  • Meal plan wisely leading up to trip. Be mindful about the days leading up to your departure date with regard to perishable items. Try to taper off your highly perishable ingredients as you get closer to this date to try to ensure that you are cleaning out most of what’s in the fridge to avoid waste. For instance, don’t plan a large dinner that yields a lot of leftovers the night before! Check out more of my meal planning tips here.


  • Additionally, plan for your immediate return: Lots of money can be spent on convenience food right AFTER you return home from a trip, because you have nothing in the house to eat. The way to combat this is to plan what you’ll do for your return ahead of time. For example, make and freeze a baked ziti or other casserole before your vacation so it’s there to come home to. Even making sure you have a frozen pizza to eat that first night is cheaper than take out. Also, plan something quick that doesn’t use a lot of perishables the following day in case you don’t have time to replenish your produce and dairy ASAP. Better yet? Meal plan for the week you return home the week before you leave – your menu will be waiting at home for you and then all you have to do is shop for the ingredients.


  • Consider investing in a kitchenette. It might be more economical to make sure your accommodations have some sort kitchen space for you to use rather than relying on restaurants for every meal. Whether you’re renting a cabin with friends, splitting a timeshare with other family members, or booking a hotel on the beach, take advantage of the kitchen area! A mini fridge will preserve your leftovers to eat for lunch the next day, a microwave will heat up your breakfast oatmeal, and you can prep yourself tons of quick easy meals using a small oven range. Bring along a box of pasta and some jarred sauce from home, grab some salad supplies and garlic bread from the local grocery store, and you’ve got yourself a cheap yet satisfying  dinner after a long day at the beach.


  • Two words – CROCK POT! Packing up our crock pot for vacations where we’ve had access to a kitchen was one of the best things we’ve ever come up with! If you have kitchen/kitchenette access, setting a crock pot in the morning is a great way to eat on the cheap. We’ve done chili, a whole chicken, pastas, and soups, and it yields so much! Further, you can bring other kitchen supplies and gadgets from home when you can that might help make some quick meals. A flat skillet, cheese grater, and spatula can allow for quick quesadillas one night, for example.



  • Know food rules at attractions. Some attractions have very strict “no outside food/drink” rules that you may need to follow. Other places are much more relaxed. Do your research in advance. Calling first and asking a live employee about the rules is your best bet - sometimes a place will not allow coolers but are lax when it comes to snacks and kiddie stuff. Remember that all food, drinks, and treats at parks, attractions, and museums are incredibly overpriced. It doesn’t mean you can’t treat your kids to a funnel cake or a frozen lemonade, but if you’re going to, eating a quick sandwich for lunch that you’ve packed will balance out some of that spending!

Family vacations are supposed to be fun and an escape from the everyday, and food is a big part of that. Get those giant ice cream cones while walking on the boardwalk, treat yourself to that lobster roll, savor every minute of that fancy meal al fresco watching the sunset with your spouse. We do all of these things too. Just be mindful of all of the other ways you can save here and there. All the little things add up, just like at home! Trips are about creating family memories that your children (and you!) can look back on and cherish forever. You’re going to remember the quality time together, the silly things that happen along the way, the beautiful scenery and irreplaceable bonding no matter what, so you might as well save some money along the way! Have a great trip!  

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Pouches' Community Corner

This month Pouches learned about a very important resource for families who have lost loved ones to sudden tragedy, an organization called LLOST.

keepsake box

The foundation has helped 44 hospitals in 22 states through their Treasured Memories program. The program sends nurses to bereavement training, and provides or supplements the $55 memory boxes that include clothes, booties, handknot blankets, pictures, foot prints, hand prints, clipped hair and other mementos.