Thirteen Convenience Foods I Think Are Worth the Money
The issue of convenience foods in the grocery budget is something many households deal with. Trying to save money while eating healthy and saving time at the end of a long busy day don't always mesh easily. Here are ten items I feel blend nutrition and convenience without being totally off the mark budget wise.
Convenient items do tend to cost a bit more than the uber frugal recipes made “from scratch”. I'm not disputing that. However, if you are about to drop twenty bucks on a not-so-large delivery pizza for a family of three, nothing on this list should shock your wallet all that much. And compared to the restaurant tab you might have picked up if you “stopped off somewhere” after the soccer game, any of these ideas could be used to pull off a simple money saving meal at home.
I love these. Not only do they make me feel like I'm eating out at a restaurant, there is absolutely no prep other than a quick rinse. No podding. No boiling. No straining. Nothing. Rinse and dump, honey. That's it.
I've been seeing these turning up in grocery stores up and down the Eastern seaboard. While I don't really see the need for the red pepper paste (at least at our house), I do think the cilantro and lemon grass ones have something to offer. These herbs are expensive fresh, and cilantro doesn't last long at all. These pastes are a way to have the flavor you need for a recipe without running out at the last minute every time. Only a little is necessary for flavoring in many recipes. If you can grow your own, great. If not, this is a workable alternative to have that extra level of “A-game” in your cooking without taking the time to shop for and chop herbs.
I've covered my love of haricot vert previously, but I'm revisiting the product here because in addition to a great side dish, there are a number of quick and simple Thai stir fry style dishes that can be whipped up using this vegetable with an affordable lean ground meat or inexpensive seafood item.
I'm no fan of the uber cheap stuff as far as frozen pizza goes. It tastes like cardboard and the topping amounts could fairly be called pathetic. However, there are a few that come to mind as workable solutions on nights you just don't have the energy for homemade. Hannaford bake and rise, as well as the three packs of DiGiorno you can snag at Costco are my top two picks. They also can each be snagged at a reduced price. Costco has coupons on the DiGiorno three packs from time to time, and the Hannaford ones go on sale every couple of months or so.
I buy these in bulk in the frozen section of my local warehouse store. They don't have shells, don't have to be diced and if you forget to thaw them ahead of time, tossing them into the frying pan while you are waiting for it to heat up for the rest of the ingredients will do just fine. I love them with haricot vert or snow peas and Thai seasonings. They are also great in a cream sauce with reduced calorie half and half over pasta.
Angel hair pasta.
It cooks in two to three minutes and can be served with a healthier prepared sauce from a jar and an organic spring mix salad. It's also quite elegant with pesto and white wine.
Preferably the shelled, pre-cooked kind with the veins and tails removed. They also thaw quickly, and can be tossed in with some snow peas served over re-heated left over rice. Who doesn't love dinner you can have on the table in less than five?
I like to get the large tubs of Mae Ploy from the Asian markets. Various flavors are available and by putting in a spoonful of paste with a can of coconut milk and some diced chicken breasts you've got an affordable curry-based meal in minutes.
Rinse it. Snap off the bottom ends. Stand it up straight in the steamer pot with a tad of water in the bottom. This is ready in less than five minutes as well. Consider going international and serving this with a little prosciutto and melon. Quick, low calorie and oh-so-Euro.
I'm a huge fan of the Stouffer's large family size meat sauce lasagna when we are having company. It's a crowd pleaser that can easily be dressed up with frozen garlic bread and a rinse and dump salad combo. Also, for when it's just the two of us, they make smaller sizes as well. It's not something we buy all the time, but I really can't make a decent lasagna for what they charge so if we are craving it I'm happy to dish out. It saves me money and time, which doesn't happen so often in the kitchen arena.
Certain dried spice mixes.
I'm the first to admit there are some over priced spice combos out there that are easily implemented on the home front. But when it comes to things like zatyr and taco seasoning, I'm happy to dish out the dough.
I don't necessarily think paying eight bucks a chicken at an overpriced grocery deli is a bargain deal. But the warehouse store in my area sells them for around five bucks, which is only about fifty cents more than the raw one costs. Fifty. Cents. I'm in.
I used to have the opposite opinion and thought these things were one of the worst things on the planet to spend my money on. Times have changed. After being on the road for long periods of time and seeing how many times I hit the drive through if I leave the house without enough protein in the morning on an errand run, I'm now a convert. My husband and I buy a case at a time and force ourselves to not eat them for breakfast unless we are already going to be on the road. We'll also take along one each in our day packs if we know it's going to be a long and unpredictable day out. A buck a bar might not be our idea of frugal when working at home, but for out and about with a take along water bottle, we're both willing to go there.
These are selections I've made for our home and changing lifestyle. They reflect where we're at now, although we will certainly go more inexpensively when circumstances dictate. However, compared to breaking down and ordering takeout, we still find these to be money saving alternatives that promote reasonable nutrition. To borrow a phrase from our own Julie Rains, I invite you to explore my list as you consider and share yours below.