Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homemade Convenience Foods

A post at The Common Room (which is not exactly related to this and is totally worth the read) got me thinking about homemade convenience foods. No, I'm not talking about homemade versions of store-bought convenience foods. Though they are more frugal, they are often not very convenient to make. I am talking about real food that is convenient to make.

Most people know that store-bought convenience foods are not only expensive, but they have almost no nutritional value. But many people these days think themselves too busy to make an actual meal.* So I started to think about what real foods, made from real, healthy ingredients could be turned into good food in roughly the same time as a convenience meal like "blue box" macaroni and cheese (about 15 minutes) or instant mashed potatoes (about 5).

For example, a microwaved "baked" potato. Wash the potato, prick it with a fork a few times, and microwave it for about 5 minutes (the one I had for lunch today only took 4 minutes). Fruit is obviously a convenience food. You do have to wash it, and sometimes you even have to cut it up, but I can't think of a fruit that takes longer than a couple of minutes to prepare. Salads are another good choice. A salad consisting of vegetables that aren't pre-washed or pre-chopped takes about 10 minutes to prepare. Another convenience food is eggs. Scrambled or fried, they take less time to make than a microwave dinner. Boiled, they take 10 to 15 minutes (I prefer 10), but then they make a perfect travel food.

So what else am I missing? What real foods take less than 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish?

*Whether or not people are actually too busy to cook is an entirely different blog post. Suffice it to say that I think most people aren't too busy, they're just either too lazy or know too little about how to cook.

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9 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Smockity Frocks

    How about a sandwich? I'm amazed that people spend good money at SUBWAY!!! A sandwich is usually a last resort for me, but I'm certainly not going to PAY someone to make one!

    I'll think on this some more and may come back with some others.

  • Anonymous

    The funny thing about boxed macaroni is that most pasta sauces take about as much time to make as the pasta water takes to boil. Why not use that time to make a homemade sauce?

    while you boil up the pasta, sautee some garlic in olive oil and/or butter. Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice. If you have a spare second, stick some frozen broccoli in the microwave, or cut up some fresh and start it steaming. When the pasta is done, toss everything together. It's good as is or topped with a little Parmesan.


    While you boil the pasta, sautee garlic and/or onion in olive oil and/or butter. Add canned (or better yet, frozen) pureed tomatoes, heat uncovered for as long as you have time for, then finish with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, and maybe a little milk to make it creamy. Toss with the pasta when it's done.


  • Laura

    Oh, and I forgot to say... I think many people are just too busy watching TV to spend the time cooking. I don't think it's a coincidence that the people who talk about frugal meals also tend to be the ones who don't watch TV.

    Granted, in my area many people spend 2 to 4 hours commuting to work, and then there's daycare to drop the kids off at... when you're away from home 13 hours out of the day, you're too exhausted to *think* about making a sauce for the pasta. You go for boxed macaroni because it doesn't require any mental energy.

    That's where baked potatoes, eggs, and sandwiches come in. Although I'm always a fan of a good freezer stash of homemade versions of convenience foods.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry for the posts under different names... forgot to check the OpenID box the second time around. familyofn = Laura

  • Smockity Frocks

    Okay, I thought of some more.

    At a gathering recently, I saw someone open a box of au gratin potatoes. Granted it takes longer than opening a box to slice potatoes, but I bet I could slice up 3 or 4 in less than 5 minutes.

    We make cakes, cookies, brownies, pie crust from scratch. It takes roughly 5 minutes, again, to throw everything in the bowl and turn on the mixer.

    I think having everything in a box must be comforting for people who don't want to think about whether they have the ingredients or not.

  • Alan

    1) Peanut butter sandwich.

    2) Bowl of cheerios (does that count?)

    3) Fruit

    4) Leftovers

    Ok you get the idea ;-)

  • Sara

    Or, you just really, really hate cooking, or anything that resembles cooking. Making mac n cheese from a box doesn't resemble cooking. Before I was married, I was a huge fan of cereal for dinner. No cooking necessary, and reasonably healthy :)

  • Headmistress, zookeeper

    Cheese tortilla
    One of my favorite healthy snacks is to take a sweet potato and peel long thin slices with a vegetable peeler and fry them in very hot oil, so they get a bit carmelized. I start heating the skillet while I peel the potato, and it takes about five minutes from start to finish.

    Celery and peanut butter

    Lentils take about 20 minutes to cook, which is the same as it takes noodles to boil.

  • Homeschoolin' hot-rodders

    I am all about some homemade tortillas and cheese! Those are delish! Some of our favorite snacks around here are apples and peanut butter (though that does not bode well for traveling with littles lol), celery and peanut butter, homemade bread with _______ (some like jelly, some like butter, some like peanut butter...am I seeing a peanut butter theme here?)

    Homemade yogurt is also another favorite! This last time it cost me all of $1.50 to make a 1/2 gallon of yogurt! The most expensive thing was the strawberries :) yum!

    We too are potato fans...we usually have a baked potato for lunch at least once a week!