Convenience foods

Save Money with Homemade Convenience Foods

With ever-soaring grocery costs, many people are turning to stocking up on sale items and buying in bulk to fill freezers and pantries. However, it is the type of stocking up you do that determines a major dent in your food bill or bank account.

There are less full-time homemakers today than there were 50 years ago. With more of the primary household cooks working outside jobs, there is less time to cook at home. But, with proper planning and a little time, it is possible to stock your freezer with homemade “convenience” items to keep your teens from polishing off a box of cereal as an after-school snack.

Do you fill your freezer with casseroles? Frozen pizza or burritos? Perhaps you visit the frozen breakfast section, stocking up on toaster treats such as French toast and waffles. Cooking from scratch gives you control over what goes into your family’s bodies. More importantly, it is less expensive to cook from scratch than to purchase ready-made frozen convenience foods.

As a single working mother, my grocery bill went through the roof as my kids became teenagers. Fast and easy was all they were concerned with as they grabbed something to eat before or after school. Of course, there were also evenings I would work late and they were on their own for dinner or the nights of school plays, concerts, and sporting events when dinner needed to be quick. As we lived about a block from the school, our home was a regular gathering place for many other teens, all with voracious appetites.

For all of the above reasons, I would take one weekend a month to stock the freezer. Personally, I got a lot of joy and therapy entering the kitchen on Saturday morning and coming out on Sunday evening after dinner. I mixed, baked, fried, rolled, and wrapped. Even after my kids were out on their own, occasionally I would still spend a day in my kitchen so I could stock their freezers with food from home.

Start with breakfast: French toast and waffles. If you don’t own a waffle iron, bypass those. But, even if you don’t bake your own bread, you can buy a loaf of commercial sliced Italian bread and make your own French toast. Cool completely before storing in freezer zip bags. If time and space permit, the best method is to freeze separately on baking sheets, then package. Have you checked the price of a box of toaster French toast? A loaf of Italian bread, a few eggs, milk and cinnamon will make approximately three times as many slices for the same amount of money.

Breakfast burritos are a multi-million dollar industry, infiltrating the fast-food industry as well as the frozen breakfast sector. Check the prices, do a little math, and you will realize that you can make 10-12 burritos for roughly the same price as 5-6 purchased versions. A package of flour tortillas, eggs, and some cheese give a great protein burst in the morning. If you like, parboil and dice some potatoes and if you prefer meat, sausage works better than bacon for home-rolled frozen breakfast burritos. A few minutes in the microwave (the same as purchased versions) will give your family a hot breakfast with no added preservatives.

While we’re on the subject of burritos, make a few changes and you have a quick, hot after school or on the run snack. Season browned ground beef, add shredded cheese and roll in a flour tortilla. Search the internet for recipes for taco seasoning, and you will save even more money over the packaged mixes.

I also made pizza rolls to keep in the freezer. Thaw a package of frozen dinner rolls and roll flat into discs. Add a small amount of pizza sauce, pepperoni or sausage, and cheese, then roll up jelly-roll style and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake according to package directions for rolls until browned, cool and freeze. Store in freezer bags and let your family heat them in the microwave.

Some casserole ingredients freeze better than others. I’ve had great success with dishes that feature rice as the starch. Other than lasagna, most pastas have turned to mush upon reheating. Perhaps I overcooked them before finishing the casserole. According to the Ohio State University Extension office, new potatoes will freeze much better than mature potatoes, and will not deteriorate as part of frozen soups.

When you are stocking the freezer from scratch, don’t forget the baked goods. Most cookies, brownies and bars freeze wonderfully. If freezing cakes, don’t frost until after thawing. Another great success I’ve had is freezing apple pies, and baking straight from the freezer. Most frozen items will take extra time to bake, so cover with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. I hope I’ve given you a few ideas of convenience items you can make at home. Look at your convenience purchases. With a little time, almost any of them can be improved upon, in both taste and quality, by preparing them yourself.

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