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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Homemade Convenience (2)

Frugal Kitchens 101

Last week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discussed homemade convenience and some of the equipment needed and what to focus on.   Store bought convenience foods are more expensive and often filled with artificial colourants, flavours, fillers and other additives.  In short, most of them are over price while being unhealthy.  Homemade convenience foods, on the other hand avoid all the negatives of store bought while saving you both time and money.  Let's face, we can all appreciate saving both!  This article will expand on homemade convenience a bit further.  I have two short exercises for you to do:

  • check your pantry - Go through your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer and pantry.  Make a list of every single store bought convenience food you have on hand.  If you are the average consumer it will include store bought convenience foods like pasta mixes, canned pasta, canned beans, frozen pizza, fish sticks, condensed soups, boxed cookies and those types of foods. 
  • scout out your grocery store - The grocery store is filled will a multitude of convenience products.  If you need inspiration for making your own, just wander through the canned, snack and frozen food aisle.  Make a list of what you could make yourself at home as a homemade convenience product (eg. make a huge batch of pancakes then freeze them for a quick breakfast warmed up in the toaster during the week).
Ok, you now have two lists so let me comment on those first.  The pantry check will give you a good idea of the store bought convenience foods you use and what products to focus on when making your own homemade convenience products.  Chances are good, these are the very same products that make their way into your grocery cart every time you do a large grocery shopping.  If these foods are mixes (eg. rice or pasta mixes) about 20% of the cost is for actual food with remaining 80% going towards mark-up and packaging.  If you use one box of boxed mac & cheese a week at $1.29 for brand name the cost works out to $67.08 per year.  If you make from scratch at 20% of that cost you only pay $13.14 for a year for better quality product even if using powdered cheese bought from a bulk food store.  Now that is just one store bought convenience product.  Imagine if you do the same cost analysis for all the store bought convenience foods you buy.   If you really want to save money then you have to look at all the convenience items you use in the same light.

Let's consider commercially canned foods.  In comparison to home canned they are considerably more expensive even taking into consider the hydro, gas or propane used to process the food.  A jar of gourmet style roasted tomato sauce cost me about 20¢.  A similar store bought tomato sauce (with sugar and/or HFCS added) costs over $3.  Both are just as convenient but the homemade is healthier and a lot less expensive.  But consider what the commercially canned foods are giving you that home canned foods are not - exposure to BPA (bis-phenol A) which has been linked to breast cancer, in over 130 studies as well as hardening of the arteries, depression and diabetes.  Campbell's the dominant company making condensed soups is finally making the move to stop using BPA in the plastic coating, mandatory in all commercially canned products manufactured in North America.  France, the European Union, Canada, Denmark and Japan have taken action in banning or partially banning BPA.  The USA FDA may ban the use of BPA in food packaging in their decision on March 31 of this year.  Consider too the CFIA (Canada) and USDA (USA) both have set standards for allowable bug parts in commercially canned foods meaning you are getting more than what you bargained for aside of food in the form of additives, preservatives, carcinogens and even bug parts.

Onto the next list, the one you made at the grocery store.  First, if you are shopping mainly in the centre aisles rather than the perimeter of the store you are spending too much money.  So looking at the convenience products you can easily and rather effortlessly make at home, here is a short list to consider.  Your list should be individualized based on those two lists - what you regularly use and what you can easily make yourself.
  • tv dinners or individual dinners - Use left overs to create your own.  Freeze for later use.
  • seasoning blends - Grow and dehydrate the herbs yourself (right on your windowsill) then buy what you can't grow (eg. salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon, etc.) to make your own seasoning blends.  Two good examples of homemade seasoning blends that take seconds to make yet are considerably less expensive than store bought and taste better are: poultry seasoning and taco seasoning.
  • frozen or refrigerated dough - Make your own from scratch then use as you would store bought.  You can even freeze bread dough so you can enjoy fresh baked bread when you don't have time for all the prep.  One trick I use is if I'm making dough, I double the recipe.  Half goes for that day's use and the other half goes for later use.
  • frozen breakfast foods - Take an hour or so to stock your freezers with ready to heat and serve breakfast foods like breakfast sandwiches, omelets, breakfast burritos, pancakes and waffles.  You can use a large batch muffin mix to use as needed or simply make a couple of trays of muffins then freeze for use later.
  • dump and pour meals - These include condensed soups and stews, canned pastas, and any other food that you basically open the can and serve.  Substitute with homemade soups and stews that freeze nicely or you can home can them for the same heat and serve convenience.  
  • the starches - Beans (eg. kidney, navy, etc.), rices, potatoes (sweet and regular) and some pastas can be cooked ahead then froze in meal sized portions or as part of other dishes.  Beans and potatoes can be home canned but rice and pasta should be added to soups when reheating.
  • the snacks - Dollar for dollar this is the second biggest portion of food costs next to meat and for some families might even exceed what is spent on meats.  Ideally, divert away from commercially prepared snacks if favour of healthier choices like fruits, nuts, vegetables and popcorn.  It takes less than 10 minutes to pop a huge batch of popcorn at home which is a healthier choice than potato chips and coated popcorn treats.  Most cookies and cakes freeze nicely.  Some pies freeze nicely as does individual fruit pies (eg. turnovers). 

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