Thursday, April 30, 2009

Convenience foods....what's your limit?

We recently had a discussion on LOK's Household Tips board asking what is considered a convenience food. I was surprised by what was deemed convenience, I consider them economical and/or staples. There was a time that store bought bread was considered a convenience food. Now if you make your own bread you're considered frugal, earthy/crunchy/granola'y. Granted some things in the store, like canned goods, were brought about for health safety reasons instead of convenience. But technically, unless you're growing, grinding, hunting, catching or raising your're using convenience food.

So what is today's definition of a convenience food? For me, I don't look at how the food is prepared. Just because it's already cooked, sliced, diced or shredded doesn't necessarily mean it's a convenience food. In our area and in the right places, shredded mozzarella cheese is cheaper or the same price as a huge block of it. Yesterday I found it for $1.90/lb....over $1 cheaper then anywhere else. I'd have been foolish to pass that up even though I have almost 5lbs in the fridge already. I bought 10lbs (and wishing I grabbed more lol). I'll bag it up into pizza size portions and throw it in the freezer.

For me, a convenience food is anything that costs a lot more to buy then it costs for me to make from scratch. I say a lot more because I consider my time to have some value (although not at the present rate of minimum wage). For other's though their time may be worth more to them. The other important thing is the the food has to taste as good or similar. For instance I can buy frozen meatballs for the same or almost the same price as ground beef. If I buy them...they are a convenience food because we're not particularly crazy about their taste. Now the brand that we like the taste of isn't considered a convenience food even though it costs $.20 more a pound then ground beef. Just the additional ingredients could eat up the $.20. But if they don't, my time is worth $.20 more.

Some things can change from a convenience food to an economical choice. My $3.99 for 33 servings size box of Potato Buds is normally considered a convenience food. Last winter when the price of potatoes went sky high, the box then switched from a convenience food to an economical choice. The same could be said for my bag of frozen sliced peppers and onions when green peppers were $2 a pound this winter. (frozen they are $1.25 per pound).

So how do you decide whether something is an economical or a convenience only choice? Check the unit price! Figure in the other ingredients you'll need to make the dish you're buying. And if it suits you...the cost of your time. Add it up and weigh the options.

Some things that I don't consider convenience that others may...

* Salsa, taco and spaghetti sauce...cost less then if I were to buy canned tomatoes and ingredients to flavor it. (green peppers, sausage, onion, cheese, garden veggies, spices, etc) If our garden does well enough this year and I get things canned, these might move into the convenience category.

* frozen fish patties, sticks, canned tuna or's way cheaper then buying fillets and preparing them.

* canned veggies and fruit. Not a convenience food, only a way to preserve it. Same with juice

* certain cuts of meat...only a different way to purchase it, not a convenience. Allows for less waste. For example...boneless skinless chicken breasts compared to a whole chicken. I never really considered deli meats to be convenience either, just a different cut of meat. I mean salami is a sausage. Granted I could cook a turkey breast or ham and try to slice it really thin for less. But that's like saying that steak is a convenience food because you could buy a whole side of beef cheaper and cut it up yourself.

So what would my list of regularly bought convenience foods look like...

Cake mix (for those lazy day snacks)
Brownie mix (can't seem to find a from scratch recipe that compares to boxed)
Pudding mix
Instant coffee
gravy mix
taco seasoning
boxed mashed potatoes flakes
pancake mix
bottles of salad dressing
boxed mac and cheese (could be considered an economical buy but since it doesn't taste the same as's convenience)
frozen pizzas (I consider it convenience because I don't like them much, the rest consider it economical as it can be cheaper then homemade and they like them well enough)
pizza rolls
chicken nuggets (again could be economical but the taste isn't the same so it's convenience)
canned refried beans
canned beans
canned soups (although I consider this a staple)
tortillas, flour (can't seem to make corn ones well so that's a staple, not a convenience)
microwave popcorn
tortilla chips

What would your list look like? What's a convenience food to you?


Sonshine said...

your definition as well as your list of convenience food is very close to mine.

I find that having some of those convenience items, ie chicken breast nuggets and frozen pizzas on hand for those nights that I do not feel like cooking because it is cheaper than going and getting take out for the seven of us.