First, as I've continually encouraged, buy as much as you can on sale. That's why I talk about the great deals in local grocery stores and encourage you to buy by the case when possible, or at least to buy as many cans/boxes as you can afford of non-perishables or perishables that store well. If you can save about half the price of an item, as butter was last week in two grocery stores, then you can afford to eat well on a budget all year.
Second, eating a lot of convenience foods is costly, both to our wallets and our health. Make as much as you can from scratch: there are ways, though, to make your "from Scratch" foods be convenient and fast, which I will explain. Perhaps the biggest and easiest saving for a big family would be to seldom buy cold cereal. Think how many boxes you use a week and how much it costs. What is the alternative if you are a busy family? Short-term planning. Here are some examples of inexpensive breakfasts:
- Make a double or triple batch of pancakes, waffles, or french toast, feed your family and freeze the rest in freezer bags. We often just reheat a pancake or a waffle in the toaster, which takes just a minute on a busy morning.
- Cook oatmeal, cream of wheat, or another hot cereal. Oatmeal is great with chopped apples and cinnamon. Here, too, it can become a convenience food if you plan: one of the first issues of our blog has a recipe for instant oatmeal. Cold cream of wheat is a solid mass, but if you put a little water in the pot and break up the cream of wheat as it heats (adding water when needed), you can use a wisk and end up with creamy cereal a second day.
- If you really want to save, buy the hot cereal in bulk. If you live where you can buy bulk grains, you've seen the larger sizes of oatmeal or steel-cut oats. Cream of wheat is also known as "farina", and you can buy a big bag of farina in most places that sell bulk grains -- I think I bought my last bag from Leland Mills in Spanish Fork. One bag lasts years in our house.
- Wheat and other whole grains can be cooked overnight in a crockpot and be ready to eat in the morning as a hot cereal. Cooked whole wheat is very chewy and filling. If you have a rice cooker that turns itself to warm when done, you can cook brown rice or basmati brown rice (which we prefer for flavor) and it will be warm when you get up in the morning (just add about a cup more water than the rice cooker shows to add for white rice). You can even toss in some dried raisins, craisins, or another dried fruit while cooking to sweeten the rice.
- More time consuming, but definitely a savings, is to make your own bread, but did you know homemade bread freezes very well? You can't beat french toast made with homemade bread, as it soaks up more of the egg mixture -- yum! Because one of my children had a milk allergy as a child, we don't even use milk in french toast: just egg, water, a little vanilla, and cinnamon. You'd never miss the milk.
Back to convenience foods in general. Most of them are really expensive for the quantity you get. Most of the convenience foods you really enjoy can be made from scratch, and the dry ingredients can be put in jars to use as a homemade convenience food. Take "Hamburger Helper", as one example. Just look for recipes in a Google search.
- Here is a great blog that goes into detail about making your own Hamburger Helper. I'm posting the link, but I have not tried it. How to Make Homemade Hamburger Helper .
- Cheeseburger Macaroni (with photos of every step)
- Cheeseburger Macaroni (a Hamburger Helper Make-over . She also has a super easy recipe for Creamy Mac and Cheese that she uses as a part of the first recipe.
- Lasagna Hamburger Helper Make-over -- this site makes over unhealthy recipes into tasty & healthy recipes -- not an instant make-over, but it looks good
Just keep in mind that convenience foods (as produced by manufacturers) are not necessarily good for our health. Here are two very similar quotes from LDS President Ezra Taft Benson, who was also the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under both terms of the Eisenhower administration:
"In general, the more food we eat in its natural state and the less it is refined without additives, the healthier it will be for us. Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies in certain elements in the body can promote mental depression." [Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign Nov 1974, Do Not Despair]
"To a great extent we are physically what we eat. Most of us are acquainted with some of the prohibitions, such as no tea, coffee, tobacco, or alcohol. What need additional emphasis are the positive aspects--the need for vegetables, fruits, and grains, particularly wheat. In most cases, the closer these can be, when eaten, to their natural state-- without overrefinement and processing--the healthier we will be. To a significant degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours because we overindulge in junk foods."[Ezra Taft Benson, Fireside Address at BYU March 1979, In His Steps]Back in 1990, when I mentioned these quotes in a meeting as a way to encourage whole grains, I got a lot of negative feedback, and that was in the days when families were not eating much convenience food. Why? People didn't catch Pres. Benson's vision then and they felt stressed to think of making changes. It is interesting that over the last 20 plus years, in addition to some of the public turning almost exclusively to convenience foods, we also have seen huge popular movements that head in exactly the opposite direction. People use other words to describe it than President Benson did, including "Real Foods", "Whole Foods", "Clean Foods", "Organic Foods", and so on. The goals, though, (and most of the food choices) are exactly the same -- a healthy mind and body and loads of energy.
If changing your cooking habits or dietary habits is your goal, then take a look at where you are and where you want to be and then take baby steps toward it -- that's the way to be successful in any such changes. I appreciate those sites, like some of the links above, that support us in making changes in ways that we can still eat what tastes good to us while making healthier choices.