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, 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 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.