Living on a food budget takes the whim out of whimsy. When you can’t toss items willy-nilly into your cart, (and who doesn’t like a good willy-nilly) then you must make a plan. That plan can’t include too many “convenience” foods or the budget will be blown.
Convenience foods are the latest, greatest, add water and stir, microwave for 30 seconds and serve kind of foods that have grown exponentially in the last few decades. Used to be that Hamburger Helper was as convenient as you could get but no more. Now everything from “homestyle” chicken and biscuits in a box, precooked waffles, frozen bread dough, warm gooey desserts that take tablespoons of water (akin to your old Easy Bake Oven desserts) and pot roast in Styrofoam are ready for you to take home.
Grocery stores are getting to be more and more like restaurants; baked chicken and meatloaf under warming lights, hot french bread out at 4pm, fried chicken and deli salads at the ready. All of these things are there because people want them. Those on a 9-5 schedule like the convenience of picking up dinner partially (or totally) made for them at the store, leaving just minutes of cooking time when they get home. But with convenience comes a price.
A price I cannot pay on my new food budget. And so, I put into practice a rule I read somewhere that suggested only shopping the outer edges of the grocery store. The inner aisles are where all the convenient and expensive things reside – things like ding dongs, boxed casseroles, cake mixes, instant thai noodles. The outer aisles tend to be the dairy, meat and produce aisles. The stuff that you actually have to cook and the stuff that tends to be cheaper when you price it per pound. Now of course, one must foray into dangerous territory for staples; flour and sugar are neighbors to instant scone mixes, but going in and getting out seems to help curb the whimsy shopping.
So is convenience bad? No, just expensive. I would also say that most of the “tastes like home” stuff in a box tastes more like home siding than home cooking, but there are some good products out there. I can take a couple of hours to make dinner from scratch because I am home and can build that time into my day. For those folks working outside the home though, it doesn’t have to be deli chicken either. There are tons of 30 minute meal ideas that don’t use a lot of convenience food. The trick with them (and all recipes, really) is having a plan. Making a menu a week out, getting the groceries lined up, prepping what you can before you make it. Sounds harder than just picking up a pot roast in a box, doesn’t it. But it is cheaper, tastier and probably better for you.
You can save your whimsy for shopping at the shoe store or hardware store, or wherever it is that makes your coin purse go pitter patter. Plus, think how proud Al Gore will be if you cut your carbon footprint by eliminating all those pizza boxes, plastic chicken containers and Styrofoam cartons. Bet Tipper cooks from scratch.