No one can argue that convenience foods are a huge time-saver. When you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table, it’s tough to beat a pouch of flavored rice that cooks in 90 seconds to pair with some chicken nuggets or hamburger patties. A packet of flavored oatmeal makes a fast breakfast on a hectic morning.
While many convenience foods help you get a healthy meal on the table, many more are full of sodium, sugar and other ingredients you may not want your family eating on a regular basis. In addition, that convenience comes at a price. Typically, processed foods have a higher price tag than do the individual ingredients used to make them. Take the oatmeal packets as an example — you can make your own packets for less than half the price.
Think about what convenience foods you use the most and how you can save money buy making them yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
In a large bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups oats, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well and divide evenly among eight snack-sized baggies—about 1/3 cup per baggie. In the morning, dump the packet in a bowl, add about 2/3 cup of low-fat milk and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, then continue cooking and stirring in 1 minute increments until the oatmeal reaches your desired consistency. Tailor packets to your taste by adding your favorite spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg before mixing; you can also add a dash of vanilla or maple syrup, dried fruit such as raisins or fresh diced fruit like apples or bananas before cooking.
Registered dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson shared this yummy tip for making delicious flavored rice. Freeze the zest of citrus fruit in ice cubes with fresh herbs. Plop 4-6 cubes into your rice maker or pot with the proper amounts of rice and water for instant flavored rice. Some of my fave combos:
- Lemon zest and lemon thyme, rosemary or parsley
- Orange zest and tarragon or sage
- Lime zest with cilantro, cumin and coriander
In many households, ranch dressing is a staple ingredient. But at $2 or more a bottle, it can add up. Here’s a great recipe that costs just a fraction of that. Use reduced fat mayonnaise and sour cream to cut the fat and calories but not the flavor.
These are great to have on hand for whipping up all kinds of casseroles. I prefer the healthy varieties (which rarely go on sale), but even those are chock full of ingredients you wouldn’t find in your own kitchen. To save money and your health, try this version the next time you have a recipe calling for a can of cream-of-something soup.
This makes yummy tacos, but the flavor-packed seasoning can jazz up meatloaf and burgers as well as coat chicken breasts, pork chops and more. Skip the little individual packets in favor of making up a batch yourself. You’ll certainly save some cash and eliminate a high sodium source from your family’s diet at the same time.
These are just a sampling of the great number of convenience foods you can make yourself to let meal time run smoothly, save yourself some cash and help your family eat healthier. Know of more? Leave them in the comments.