Homemade Convenience Foods - Saving Money While Eating In
If you are like me, you have little time to devote to cooking - when it is time to cook a meal. It seems we are always in a rush to get breakfast ready and eaten, next a fast lunch, and then trying to keep the kids occupied while cooking dinner is always a challenge. Cooking from scratch is a great way to save money in the kitchen, however it does take time. I don't always have the time - at meal time. However I have found that I do have time at other times of the day - more specifically the weekends. Homemade convenience foods have been a wonderful addition to our meals. They have saved me money and stress.
Let's start with breakfast. We love to have homemade muffins or quick breads for breakfast. If I make these in the mornings the time to mix it up and then cook it takes about 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of the kids wanting, needing really, to eat. They are grumpy at best and really I don't have 30 minutes on a weekday morning to do this.
Several times a week I will make breakfast while I am cooking dinner. I always do this on a day that I am already using my oven. This saves on energy, which saves you money. It takes no more energy to cook the muffins along with the potatoes for instance. So if the kids are occupied and I am waiting on something to cook in the oven I will throw a batch of muffins in. Come breakfast time, I can have a homemade, nutritious, and hearty meal on the table in 5 minutes.
Do you like to stop at McDonalds and get an Egg McMuffin for breakfast each morning? I have no idea how much those actually cost, however I can imagine that they are much more expensive than my homemade breakfast sandwiches. I purchase english muffins, bacon, cheese and eggs when they are on sale and when I have all the ingredients I make a batch. I put the bacon in the oven, slice the cheese and scramble the eggs. Cooking and assembling these takes about 30 minutes. The last time I made these the total cost was $6 for 12 sandwiches. Let's say that an Egg McMuffin costs $2 (a total guess here), for 12 of them your total would be $24. Making them yourself gives you a savings of $18. For 30 minutes in the kitchen you just earned an hourly rate of $36.
I do the same thing with sausage biscuits. I purchase sausage patties and refrigerator biscuits in bulk when they are on sale. It takes about 30 minutes to put together 30 sausage biscuits. For both of these breakfasts it takes about 2 minutes in the microwave for a very yummy, cheaper and healthier alternative to fast food. That is less time than it takes to go through the drive through.
How about lunch? We usually have leftovers or very fast things anyway. Sandwiches, soups, ramen, hot dogs, etc. This is probably my easiest meal of the day and we generally have the most time for this one as well. I think leftovers are the ultimate homemade convenience food.
Dinner is another one that gets a lot of people. Fast and easy is a must have on most days. On the days that I get the urge to really cook, I cook a lot. When I purchase ground beef, I purchase a lot of it. I will then spend an hour or two putting together complete meals and partial meals. Anything to make my life easier when it comes time to make dinner. I will shape some of the beef into hamburger patties and freeze with wax paper between the patties. Put them in the fridge in the morning and when you get home at night they are ready to throw on the grill.
I will also make a big batch of meatballs, enough for 2 or 3 meals. When it comes time for the meal I just need to heat the meatballs while cooking the noodles and I have swedish meatballs. This is a pretty nice meal for a busy weeknight. I will put together a couple of meatloaves and a meal or two of porcupine scramble as well. You can also brown ground beef ahead of time and freeze it in meal size portions. Browned ground beef thaws much faster than raw, so if you forget to pull something out it isn't a problem. Heat in the microwave for a minute or two and it should break up easily. Then it is ready to be added right to your recipe.
I purchase ground beef every 3 months or so. When I do I spend a couple of hours in the kitchen and usually end up with 6 ready for the oven meals, 3 ready for the grill meals and several partial meals. This is very much worth my time. Especially if you think of the savings over ordering in or going out to eat on a night when there just isn't time or I am too stressed to think about cooking.
You can do the same sort of thing with chicken. Do you need diced chicken for several recipes? When you bring home the chicken, while it is still fresh, cut it up how you want it and freeze in meal size portions. This doesn't take a whole lot of time right then, however it will free up a good chunk of time later. The more time I can free up at dinner time the less stressful my evening is. Do you like marinated chicken? Before you freeze it put the pieces in a ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them. When you want to have these for dinner put them in the fridge in the morning and when you get home they are ready for the grill.
Another way I make homemade convenience foods for our dinner is to cook a double batch of something. If I am going to go to the trouble to make lasagna or sausage rigatoni bake for instance, I will always make 2. One for dinner that night and one for the freezer. It doesn't take much extra time to make 2, but yet it saves me so much time down the road. I can't tell you how nice it is to have a ready for the oven meal in the freezer.
Cooking homemade convenience foods from scratch allows you to control what goes in them, which means you are controlling what goes into your body. Usually you are using very basic ingredients, so there are no additives or preservatives. Both frozen and boxed convenience foods are loaded with sodium and fat. These things are just not good for you! A big way to avoid these things is to cook from scratch.
Cooking from scratch is always cheaper than eating the same meal out somewhere. To me it usually tastes better as well. Cooking from scratch can be time consuming and seem overwhelming at times. During high stress times it seems that way to me too. However starting small, like doubling a favorite recipe and freezing half, will be an easy first step.
Spending a couple of hours on a weekend could make your entire week run more smoothly. And best of all, the food will be better for you AND save you money. So try some of these ideas or think of your favorite convenience foods and try to figure out a way to copy that in your own kitchen. In all likelihood it will be much cheaper than the real convenience food.
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