They’re called convenience foods for a reason. But take a little time to make these items and enjoy the convenience of ready-to-eat foods with a cheaper price tag — and, sometimes, a healthier result. Some prepackaged foods (such as frozen pizzas) can be expensive, available seasonally (Girl Scout cookies), or perhaps filled with artificial ingredients (fruit rolls). Now you can enjoy all of these whenever you like, without emptying your wallet, and with ingredients you choose.
Recently, I wanted to make a fun breakfast for a sleepover my daughter was hosting. I’d been wanting to try homemade pop tarts and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. They were a big hit! Here’s a simple pop tart how-to for cutting, baking, etc. Feel free to use it as a springboard for your own ideas. For example, you could use store-bought pie dough (which, at least in my neck of the woods, is still cheaper than pop tarts). You could also use your favorite pie dough recipe and cut in different shapes. But, it’s the fillings where you can really have fun. We filled some with Nutella and others with homemade strawberry jam. The possibilities are endless. I can imagine pumpkin pie filling in the fall, lemon pie filling in the spring, and much more.
‘Girl Scout’ Cookies
In our house, we’re lucky to have a resident Girl Scout, but if you don’t, or if you prefer to have access to those cookies year round, consider making your own. If you like those little minty discs of chocolate give these faux Thin Mints a try. Peanut butter fans can whip up their own TagAlongs. But I love the Samoas or Caramel Delights. Check out this recipe for the cookies or this shortcut version in a bar form.
Granola bars can be a great on-the-go snacks, but where I live, they run about $3 to $4 for a box of 8. This chewy granola bar recipe is less expensive, plus you get more than double the number of bars. In addition, you can get creative with your flavors – sure you can use the standard chocolate chips, but you can also add coconut and dried pineapple or papaya bits for a tropical flavor, dried cranberries and walnuts in the fall, or make a s’more version for a summer trip by swapping out about 1/3 or so of the flour with crushed graham crackers and adding some marshmallow bits and milk chocolate chips. If you want to keep the kitchen cool on a hot summer day, try this no-bake granola bar recipe.
Microwave Popcorn & Fruit Rolls
DIY Microwave Popcorn is almost too easy. Its probably also the biggest cost saver and has the greatest nutritional difference of the “make from home” alternatives. This recipe offers several flavoring options, too. I also like to throw in about a teaspoonful of sugar and a dash of salt in the bag to create a kettle-corn like experience.
Fruit rolls or leathers should be a convenient way to get kids to eat fruit. Unfortunately, no. Most store-bought roll ups are convenient ways to get your kids to consume a bunch of fruit-flavored sugar and artificial ingredients. On the plus side, these are super easy to make and when you make them yourself you can choose your kids’ favorite fruits. Try blueberry, blackberry, raspberry or peach. These yummy Apple Cinnamon fruit leathers are a perfect fall treat. For summer, give these easy Strawberry Fruit Rolls a try. To make these as inexpensively as possible, choose in-season fruit or use unsweetened frozen fruit (thawed first).
Frozen pizza is the ultimate convenience food. Remove from freezer, pop in the oven, and dinner is ready few minutes later. But oh, the cost, and meh, the taste. Imagine being able to take a pizza from the freezer to the oven and soon after enjoying your own homemade delicious pizza.
You can use your own favorite home made pizza dough and sauce, store bought dough and sauce, or a combination. Here’s my favorite pizza dough recipe. Simply shape the pizza dough as you normally would, partially bake the crust, then add toppings as usual and freezing. Here’s the technique I used and it worked great for a pizza party we had this past weekend.
Editor’s Meal Planning Tip
The best cooking tactic I ever learned was freezer cooking – cooking in advance, then freezing the extra portions so you can bring them out to cook quickly (or heat up) when you need them. Having a healthy meal ready to go in the freezer is the best way to avoid the takeout blues (and the cost of not planning).
I thought I was a master of freezer cooking until I met Erin Chase, who runs My FreezEasy. Erin takes freezer cooking and meal planning to a whole new level, and as the mother of four boys, she knows the challenges of pleasing a hungry family.
Erin has developed a system in which she can prepare 10 delicious meals and load them into the freezer in less than an hour. That’s TWO WEEKS’ worth of weeknight meals!! And the kids can help.
And her system makes it all so easy. Every month, you get eight new freezer meal plans (you can tailor them to your taste), plus recipes, shopping lists and step-by-step instructions, including videos. Her system works whether you’re an experienced cook or you’re just starting out.
Don’t worry if your family is picky or has special dietary needs: You have a choice of a traditional plan, gluten-free, slow cooker, clean eats, 20 meals, all chicken, all ground beef or all pork chops – with gluten-free and dairy-free modifications for all recipes. Or, you can create your own customized plan using her recipe collection.
Here’s what one happy customer said about MyFreezEasy:
“So, I finally got round to giving this meal plan a try and I freaking loved it! I love that I have prepared meals sitting in the freezer that I can pull out (or – shock..horror, my hubby can!) and we will have good food cooking so easily. I really loved this concept and now I can let go of the “what’s for dinner” stumper every night!”
If you’re been wanting to try freezer cooking but aren’t sure where to start, this is a great way to learn. MyFreezEasy program start at just $8.25 per month when you sign up for a year. You will more than earn back the cost in the money you’ll save because you won’t waste food or turn to takeout. And that doesn’t even account for the time you’ll save once you’re not wracking your brain about what to make for dinner.