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Options for July 4th cookouts

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I know it's hard to believe, but July is here already.

Right now, countless families are attending or about to attend Fourth of July celebrations. If you haven't already done your weekend shopping, then I suggest a quick stop at your grocery store today.

This weekend sees the biggest sales of the year on all your barbecue needs. There will be some super deals on barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, marinades and hamburger and hot dog buns.

You should also find some great deals on paper plates, plastic utensils, napkins, soda, sunscreen, insect repellent and even fireworks.

Look for some great meat deals this weekend. Hot dogs, hamburgers, ground beef, ribs and steaks should have some good sales. If you see any of these meats at 40 percent to 50 percent off, it would be a good idea to put a few packs in the freezer for later. I love stocking up on these meats during this time of the year because they are perfect for grilling.

I enjoy cooking, but during the summer I try to limit our oven use to keep from overheating our house and increasing our energy bill. We use our grills as much as possible.

We have two grills, a charcoal smoker and a propane grill. We like to cook several different meats at one time so we have a supply of cooked meats in the freezer than can be easily thawed for quick meals during our busy week.

If you find yourself in unfamiliar territory by preparing meals without using an oven, I recommend the Kraft Web site, www.kraftfoods.com. It has a wonderful selection of summer dishes that will work beautifully with the sales and seasonal produce that are available this month.

Keep your eye out for all the Fourth of July-themed items such as plates, cookies and even cake mixes. These should go on clearance sometime next week.

I love to find uses for these items other times of the year. Star shapes can be used at Christmas, winter events or even for birthday parties. Think all-star sports or space themes for boys, and Hollywood/superstar or evening star theme for a girl. Solid colored paper plates, napkins and utensils can easily be used at other events.

Once the Fourth of July is over, there are a few national promotions in July. July is National Baked Bean Month, National Hot Dog Month, National Blueberry Month and National Ice Cream Month.

Ice cream coupons are already appearing in our coupon inserts, and combining those with sales should provide some yummy and cheap treats to help beat the heat.

Blueberry and blackberry season has been in swing for a few weeks and should continue for most of this month. Be aware that most crops are running a few weeks earlier than normal because of a milder winter, and drought conditions in this area could limit crops.

Just keep a look out in the stores and farmers markets for sales.

This past weekend my husband bought some very yummy zucchini at the farmers' market (we try to buy fresh produce and our milk locally), and I brought some great tomatoes, squash and blackberries the week before.

This is a list of some of the produce that will be in season this month: tomatoes, summer squash, garlic, okra, onions, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, cucumber, corn green beans, watermelon, pears (Asian and Bartlett), blackberries, blueberries, figs, grapes, plums, peaches, nectarines and some varieties of oranges.

In addition to produce, you should also notice local stores will start to set up their back-to-school aisles. Keep a look out for clearance items, especially at the end of the month.

As they make room for incoming items, the summer products and older school and office merchandise should start getting marked down.

Start taking stock of your child's wardrobe and school supply needs now so you will be ready when the sales begin.

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