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Ontario, Canada
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 19, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Implementing Making Homemade Convenience Foods

Frugal Kitchens 101
The last two Frugal Kitchens 101 have focused on the equipment needed to make homemade convenience foods, the reasons why you should make your own convenience foods and gave you two short exercises to do in preparing for making your own convenience foods.  Armed with the two lists you created last week and the list of equipment needed from the first article you are now ready to proceed.  I have two very important points to consider before embarking on making your own homemade convenience foods.  First, think big but act small or in other words count your pennies and the dollars will follow.  You do not need to go out and buy all the supplies to make every convenience food to stock your pantry.  Remember, Rome was not built in a day!  You need to take baby steps realizing that each step you take is a step towards saving money while putting a healthier product in your pantry.  The second consideration is to never make a large batch of anything unless it is a family tested and approved recipe.  That means, it is fine to make 5 trays of your homemade lasagna for the freezer but not ok to make 10 cups of a taco seasoning blend you have never tried.  Make a test batch.  If it works, fine then go ahead and make a larger quantity but if it doesn't you are out little and can still do some tweaking.  Here are a few tips to get you up and running, making your own homemade convenience like a pro:

  • equipment -  Equipment can be a limiting factor for some types of preserving (eg. canning, dehydrating, freezing).  Check Kijiji, your local Freecycle and thrift shops to get your own equipment or check with family or friends to see if you could borrow a piece of equipment you need from them for a day or two.  The cheapest source for zipper style freezer bags is Sam's Club (8¢ per gallon bag) and for vacuum bags is The Sweet Attack (17¢ per quart bag).  Ask friends and family to keep food jars with lids they would otherwise be putting in the recycle bin.  These are excellent for storing your homemade mixes in.
  • always cook extra - I cannot stress this philosophy enough.  There are very few times I ever cook 'just enough' of anything.  The reason being it takes the same time and energy to cook 2 roasts or double the amount of rice as it does for the just enough amount.  In fact cooking multiples saves both time and money.   If you cook one roast, cook a second which gives you meat for dinner and left-overs from the first roast with hopefully enough left-over for a quick meal start and the second roast can be thin sliced then packaged for the freezer to be used as lunch meat.
  • aim for one bulk cooking session per month - Bulk cooking is a great way to build your stash of homemade convenience foods.  I love cooking but I'm the first one to say a OAMC session isn't for me.  Basically, this makes all the meals you need for a month over a hectic two day period.  I use a modified bulk cooking session where I focus on one or two dishes.  For example, I may take a bit of time to cook up 10 lb of meatballs or make 5 trays of lasagna.  It helps to add to my convenience foods without tying up and entire weekend.
  • enlist family and friends - One of the great things about actual OAMC sessions is they encourage you to get help from family or friends.  More helping hands makes the work go by quicker.  Even in your own home, get your family to help.  Tell them Saturday is cookie making day and each one has to come up with the recipe they want to use.  If you are a family of four, that should give you more than enough cookies for the month while spending a bit of quality time with your family.  Don't be afraid to delegate.  During busy bulk cooking and canning sessions, my husband's jobs are to bring up the canners and jars, use the KitchenAid attachments to grate the huge bowls of cheese we go through, take filled boxes and trays of food to the pantry and run to the grocery store if need be.  When the kids were home running to the grocery store was their job because my bulk cooking sessions are seldom planned, they just happen.  Even little ones can help get things out like measuring spoons, bags, wrap, containers and they love helping with some of the prep work.
  • assembly line - While the assembly line method should never be used for home canning it lends itself nicely for assembling mixes and dishes for the freezer.  Using this method I can easily make 10 homemade cake mixes in under 10 minutes!  That is less time than it would take me to drive to the grocery store, get the mixes, check-out and come home.  The same thing applies to most dried mixes.   It also applies to a lot of freezable casseroles, tv-style dinners, and packaging dried herbs or seasoning blends.
  • make what you use, use what you make - Never, ever make a homemade convenience product that you know you will not use.  For example, your family detests boxed mac & cheese.  Even though you can easily clone this using powdered cheese, if your family won't eat it, it is wasted food which translates into wasted money.  If you are unsure about a homemade convenience food substitute for a commercial one, always do a test run then tweak before making in bulk.
  • comfortable use - I eluded to this in my opening paragraph.  Only make in bulk what you know you can comfortably use from a family tested and approved recipe.  All new to you and your family convenience foods should be put through test runs.  Never make more than you can comfortably use within the safe food storage guidelines.  Tossing expired food is not very frugal.  Try to figure out your usage.  You make tacos once a week.  Each batch takes 3 tbsp of taco seasoning which means you need a total of 156 tbsp or about 10 cups for the year.  You are further off to make 4 batches per year for freshness rather than make the seasoning mix all at once.

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