Convenience foods on a budget

I’ve been noticing a trend when I’m grocery shopping – I see many items being packaged for convenience that traditionally haven’t been sold in that way.  Junk foods have been packaged like this for eternity, but now the healthy food is following suit.  Some examples of what I mean are: bags of carrot sticks (not baby carrots), prewashed potatoes for baking, and hard-boiled eggs in a sealed package.   And those things come at a much higher price as a result.

I dislike seeing everything commercialized, but I also understand that marketers are appealing to the desire of today’s busy shoppers to minimize the time in the kitchen.   And aren’t all of us busy?  I know I appreciate shortcuts that simplify my life!   I’ll share with you how you can make your own convenience foods, cheaply and easily.

When I buy a few heads of cabbage, I’ll take some time to shred a bunch.  Then I fill a couple of gallon sized ziploc bags, squeeze out any extra air, and keep it in the fridge to quickly use in salads, stir fries, or kimchi.  I do that with green and purple cabbage, as well as carrots.  Carrots – buy a five pound bag, peel them all, and cut them into sticks, then fill a bunch of sandwich bags for your kids’ lunches.  Do you like hardboiled eggs?  It takes less than a half hour for them to boil, whether you make two or twenty, and either way the effort involved is just putting the eggs in the pot, filling it with water, and putting it on a burner.  (That takes all of 1 minute?)

You’d be surprised at how little time it actually takes to do large amounts.  It’s the same principle that once you’re baking cake, you might as well quadruple the recipe and have four times the amount with just a little more work.  Once you’re doing it, it doesn’t take much more effort to do lots than a small amount.

You can use the same approach for less healthy things like snack foods.  If you bake cookies or other treats, put it in small portions in separate sandwich bags.  But it doesn’t matter if you make it yourself (that just means it’s cheaper and healthier).  You can take the big bags of popcorn, pretzels, or snack crackers and likewise divvy them up into portion sizes.

I have to send my oldest son to school every day with breakfast and lunch (he waits to eat dinner until he gets home), so I use the same approach for him.  (No, I don’t send him processed garbage just because it’s convenient.  :)) I make a bunch of a dish and then divide it into meal size portions, putting it aside in the fridge or freezer for him.  Last night my 13 year old daughter made a huge amount of broccoli lo mein – everyone said it was delicious!  (If you tell me you’d like the recipe, I’ll share it here with you – it was a big winner in our house, including the friends of the kids who ate over last night.)  So we put aside several containers for my son to take for lunch. 

Since I often eat a different meal than my kids (because of my food plan restrictions), I do the same thing to keep my life simple.  At the beginning of the week, I will chop up a bunch of veggies for salads, and place it into separate containers so I can just grab one each day for lunch.  (If you use grape tomatoes or keep the chopped tomatoes at the very top of the salad, the salad will stay fresh through the week- this was a very helpful tip for me when I finally figured it out!)  When I make my chicken, meat, salmon patties, or whatever, I make up a bunch, and then package it in a meal sized amount and put it in individual bags.  It makes my mealtimes much faster when I can just grab a bag out of the fridge or freezer.


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