Thrifty Tip: Cut the Convenience Foods

 Posted by on February 2, 2009  Add comments  Tagged with: ,
Feb 022009

(This is part 11 in my Thrifty Tips You Can Use series).

Over the last 7 years, I’ve gradually eliminated most convenience foods from our diet. It all started when I opened a box of taco-flavored Hamburger Helper, and realized that it was nothing more than a little baggie of pasta and a packet of taco seasoning mix. I realized how easily I could make something similar from scratch – and it would taste so much better.

Convenience food, by definition, is commercially prepared food designed for ease of consumption. Convenience foods include candy, soft drinks, juices and milk, fast food, nuts, fruits and vegetables in fresh or preserved states, processed meats and cheeses, and canned products such as soups and pasta dishes.

Obviously, I’m very thankful that I can go to the store and purchase a bottle of juice, (without squeezing my own), or a gallon of milk (the idea of milking a cow makes me feel icky), or a package of chicken (I don’t want to butcher my own chicken – think of what a pain all those feathers would be). When I speak of eliminating convenience foods, I’m referring to items that can be easily prepared from scratch, such as packaged dinners, desserts, snacks and salad mixes.

There are many reasons to avoid packaged, processed foods. Precious resources are squandered to manufacture the excess packaging, which then contributes to the already enormous landfill problem. Health organizations have warned us about the high levels of salt, fat and preservatives in processed foods, which are a contributing factor in America’s obesity epidemic. And of course, these products are far more expensive than cooking from scratch.

I just went and looked in our pantry, and the only convenience foods we have right now are:

2 boxes Stove Top stuffing mix (my husband loves it)
1 box Velveeta
1 box saltine crackers
1 box macaroni & cheese

Obviously the Pantry Challenge has emptied our cupboards somewhat, but we regularly purchase only a few packaged goods. Some examples are cereal, granola bars, toaster waffles, chicken nuggets, crackers, and dried fruit (see The Frugal Pantry)

I don’t think there is anything wrong with buying a few convenience foods, as long as you budget for them, and they aren’t a main staple of your diet. Scratch-prepared food is so much healthier, cheaper, and better-tasting, and contrary to popular belief, cooking from scratch doesn’t take that much longer. If your kitchen is organized efficiently, adding a few extra ingredients only takes a couple of minutes.

This month, I’d like to challenge you to eliminate just one convenience food from your diet, in favor of a scratch alternative. To help you, the USDA publishes a free cookbook, called Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals, which can be viewed online. This book focuses on recipes that are healthy, balanced, and frugal, using basic ingredients that can easily be found in most grocery stores. Also, you can find many recipes for scratch-prepared foods on my recipe blog, Economical Eats.