When is Convenience Worth the Money?

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on March 10, 2010

Not long ago, Kathy wrote and asked the question “When is Convenience Worth the Money?”

  • Pre-washed Salad vs. Head of Lettuce
  • Make your own Spices vs. Buy Spice Mix Packets
  • When to make from Scratch vs. When to buy Pre-Made

You get the idea…

What are YOUR thoughts?  What convenience foods do you pay a little extra for???

Photo by Dorothy

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly March 10, 2010 at 7:07 am

Chopped onions and peeled garlic. ANY onion makes me weep like I’m watching a Nicholas Sparks film and, for some reason, garlic makes my hands smell for DAYS (no matter how much or what I wash with). Peeled garlic goes straight into the garlic press.

I also think that some times in our life = need for convenience. I am 38 weeks pregnant, and my husband had an emergency appendectomy that later became infected. I could manage breakfast and dinner, but gave up and got lunch for us every day – mostly healthy things. I have no regret about the money we spent during those two weeks because it gave me a break from being on my feet and it was so nice to eat something I didn’t have to make. :)

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Rebecca March 10, 2010 at 7:14 am

When I know the week ahead is going to be a rough one. Then it’s definitely worth the money.

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Kristia@Family Balance Sheet March 10, 2010 at 7:36 am

I rarely give in to convenience foods like frozen meals, pizzas, prepackaged meals and sides because with one look at the ingredients, it is not worth the convenience to me. It is more important to me to stay away from preservatives and artificial ingredients. But I do buy things like pre-washed salads and baby carrots, especially when they are on sale and they are quite frequently. I find that we eat more of these healthier foods when they are prepped than we would if I had to chop them myself. (Even though the bag says pre-washed, I still run the salads through my spinner.) Personally, healthy food trumps everything. This is one good reason to have a back up meal ready to go in your pantry or freeer when you need convenience.

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Jen@925frugal March 10, 2010 at 7:51 am

I am willing to pay extra for things like pre washed/chopped salad, and often times for frozen pre cooked lunches. I am a working mom and I usually only have a 30 minute window between when I get home and when I need to get my kids to their next sport practice. Pre washed salads get dinner on the table quicker.
I eat frozen pre cooked lunches because I have found when I combine coupons with store sales, they actually work out to be cheaper than buying lunch meat and making my own lunch (with the exception of leftovers of course). Plus I don’t much like sandwiches. Ha Ha!
Good question.

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Jennifer March 10, 2010 at 7:55 am

I usually keep a supply of canned soups on hand. While I prefer to make my own, there are occasionally those nights when life just happens. Being able to make grilled cheese and soup means that we don’t spend the extra money eating out. Of course, I always try to stock up on soup when it’s on a great sale! But it’s worth a few extra dollars to have a back-up plan.

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Jennifer March 10, 2010 at 7:55 am

I try to only buy convenience foods when I can get them for next to nothing. Then they get to live in my freezer with the rest of my freezer stash (mostly homemade). On crazy nights I know I can pull something from the freezer (whether it is store bought popcorn shrimp or homemade chili) and know that dinner will be on the table shortly. It helps me avoid take out. I really try to make foods to store in the freezer for those times though so that I don’t need to resort to the stashed “emergency” store bought convenience foods.

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ANiheartsjapah March 10, 2010 at 7:56 am

I prefer to make my own spice mixes rather than buy them premade.

One thing I do love to buy for convenience purposes is frozen vegies that can be “steamed” in the microwave. They come in such a variety of flavors and now some have yummy sauces included so my kids are more apt to eat them! I also use coupons for them when available, so I’m not paying *that* much more for them than regular produce.

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maria March 10, 2010 at 8:22 am

My ‘rules’ on this subject vary. I buy pasta sauce in a jar, without a garden this is a MUCH cheaper choice for us. I love homemade mac & cheese (but it gets pricey), so I grab the organic stuff in the box when it’s on sale. I buy tomato soup in a can but make the others from scratch. I wash and chop my own produce unless there is an awesome deal on salad-in-a-bag or baby carrots. I make most fruit and veggie, salsa and guacamole. I bake almost every snack that comes into this house (for me and the kids at least…..I think dh and Little Debbie have a thing) due to food allergies mostly….but also price. And on a busy/tired/cranky baby night…..the $8 so-big-it barely-fits-in-the-oven take ‘n bake pizza from Walmart is a big cheesey lifesaver! And there is always leftovers for lunch.

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maria March 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

that was supposed to be fruit and veggie dips!

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Lisa March 10, 2010 at 8:27 am

I don’t think pre-washed salads are ever worth it, since you are supposed to wash them again anyway – they are often contaminated with Salmonella. I do buy pre-shredded cheese lately, but only because it’s the same price per ounce as block cheese.

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Sonshine March 10, 2010 at 8:34 am

For my family of 7, convenience foods like frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, and french fries are worth the extra to save my sanity on those days when it has been a hectic, gone all day type day or I just want a night off cooking. The convenience foods are much cheaper than going and getting take out for the whole family.

I am also learning that taking the time to do batch cooking/oamc/baking day helps to cut down on the amount of convenience foods that I purchase in a month’s time.

As for spice mixes, I buy my spices at Sam’s Club so I just take 15 minutes after my trip and make up any spice mixes that I need. I also found that spice mixes like Taco Seasoning, & Italian Seasoning I can get pre-made at Sam’s for cheaper then getting all the different spices.

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Lauren Dyson March 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

Spice packets (like taco seasoning) are so cheap and good that I just buy those.
I buy jarred spaghetti sauce, frozen pie crusts, and premade pizza crusts from the store because it takes too long to make them from scratch.
But I make lasagna from scratch because the frozen lasagnas have way too much fat and calories!

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amy March 10, 2010 at 9:20 am

While I feel a bit like I am justifying here… My husband & I both work & he is often not home until 7 p.m., so convenience is wirth it when it allows my family to eat together as a family. Last night i cooked everythign from scratch, but when I am arriving at home after 6 with him arriving at 7, I don’t feel one bit of remorse when I serve a rotissery chicken. (Sure if I knew before hand about my long day I could have tried to do the chicken in my crock pot – but I start my work day at 6:30, so that is not always an optoion either.) besides the three of us usually get 3 meals out of 1 chicken.

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Christina March 10, 2010 at 10:26 am

@amy, I’m with you! We both work long days. Getting two adults and a toddler out of the house by 6:30 a.m. doesn’t leave much time to get dinner into a crock pot. Then, by the time we all walk in the door at 6 (sometimes 7), we only have a few minutes to throw something together before the almost-two-year-old has to get ready for bed.

I do some batch-cooking so we’ve been able to have less packaged foods, but we’re still pretty big consumers of bagged salad, dinner kits, jarred pasta sauce, etc.

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amy March 10, 2010 at 12:22 pm

@Christina,
Luckily what I cooked last night (Squash with pasta bake) will serve us leftovers at least once, maybe twice. I too try to batch cook – especially chili & soups.
(I prefer jarred sauce & am not afraid to admit it.)

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Candace March 10, 2010 at 9:28 am

I think pre-packaged lettuce is the only convenience item we buy. I only grab it if is at a reduced, quick-sale price, which makes it cheaper than a head of lettuce. We save a lot of money by making everything from scratch, plus I know all the ingredients that are in our food.

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Allie Z March 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

We buy bread, Quaker granola bars, and jarred salsa. I do like to have Totinos pizza ($1 ea plus coupon) on hand too.

It’s cheaper to make pizza & spaghetti sauce with the 100 oz cans of tomato at Costco. Also, I buy spices in bulk from Sprouts. These allow me to buy the random, barely used spices at a fraction of the cost.

I make cookies and other lunch time treats. It all comes down to the station in life, that will determine what the true value is of he convenience price tag. My Hubby and I work full time outside of the home, but money is tight so proper planning is key!

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Amber March 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

My buy premade vs. make list has three factors: price, quality and time.

Make myself:
Basic bread, pizza crust, pesto (sometimes), roast chicken, pie crust (sometimes), spice mixes (I don’t buy packets, I mean – it’s just basic stuff you already have like chili and garlic powder, minus non-caking chemicals), I chop all my own veggies (minus garlic), chicken or vegetable stock, some beans

Buy premade:
Luna bars (I love these things), spaghetti sauce, high-quality bread (from the bakery – I can’t make it with a good crust), chopped garlic (just as good as doing it fresh and much less of a pain), beef stock, canned tomatoes, some other beans

We avoid pre-made dinners altogether, with the exception of Trader Joe’s. I have to recognize all the ingredients on the back of the box and I mostly can there. Everything just tastes better when you make it yourself and costs a heck of a lot less. I don’t even get Lean Cuisines if I can for free with coupons anymore – it just doesn’t seem like real food.

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Megan March 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

I used to buy lots more convenience foods but now that money is tighter and we have kids I’m finding myself making most things from scratch. It tastes so much better and is way healthier for you too. And since I stopped buying so much junk, I’ve cut my grocery bill in half! I do still LOVE going out to eat though. To me, it’s worth it every time to have someone else make you exactly what you want to eat and clean up after you too. I think everyone needs a night off sometimes.

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ynaffit March 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

When it is SO on sale, it slashes my grocery bill dramatically! I find cooking to be therapeutic. If I am going to take a night off, it has to be worth it in more ways that one! Cost, flavor, desired dish, you get the idea!

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Jaime March 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

The first thing that came to my mind was spaghetti sauce. I know you can make you own and I know many people who do it well. I’m just not one of them. I also like the pre-washed and chopped lettuce, but my husband always buys a whole head since it is so much cheaper so I’m getting better about that.

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Amber March 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

I pay extra for individually frozen chicken breasts in the big bag. Love them!

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Stefanie March 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

I work crazy hours and there are weeks when I don’t get home until really late. Those weeks it is much easy to get a pre-made meal from Trader Joe’s freezer section, frozen pizza or rotisserie chicken. I also buy spice mixes from the store – they are easy and work for us.

I am always disappointed with pre-made desserts so I do that by scratch, it’s worth the extra time!

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Heather @ (The Single Dish) March 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

Preshredded cheese is worth it to me most of the time. I hate grating cheese, I always cut myself!!! Also, sometimes I buy hummus and other dips because I don’t have time to make them.

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Catherine March 10, 2010 at 11:51 am

WOW those prices on pre-cooked taco meat are crazy!

The convenience things that I buy that come to mind are pre-shredded cheese (price point: Under $1.50 for 8oz), taco seasoning packets (I just haven’t been able to find a recipe that can get it right!), Ragu (price point: under $1.33 a jar), salsa (price point: $1 or less for 8 oz), and anything that I can get for free or more than 70% off with coupons. If I can’t meet my price point on this stuff, I will go without or attempt to make it (I did manage some really good salsa last month).

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Lillie March 10, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I am like Heather, the pre-shredded chesse. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago when I was making the mac and cheese I discovered that I didn’t have anything but the block packaged type. I got the grater and told myself then that I would never make that mistake again. Too, with meetings at least two times out of the week, if I don’t prepare in advance, it’s just more convenient to stop by the fast food store and pick up something.

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Michele March 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Convenience spinach, we buy the big bags at Costco. Washing spinach is such a tedious chore! I do buy pre-made soups when they’re on sale.

I have to admit when I was a working full time mom vs. now as a stay at home mom, I did buy more convenience foods. Because as a single working mom it was hard to be mom/dad/housekeeper and chef and still have energy for my son.

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Sarah March 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

For me, it is rare that the convenience is worth the money. Most often they’re more expensive and/or don’t allow me to have any “quality control.” Like with spice blends, I would rather be able to add exactly how much salt, garlic, pepper, etc, I want in the food. With items like fresh salads, I find they often go bad before my little family of three can finish off a bag so it really isn’t worth it there.

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Cassie March 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

For the most part, I will not buy convenience foods. I am much too cheap! However, I will sometimes get them if I get store bonus points/prizes and also will always get them if they are free! :)

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Cheryl March 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

My list of convenience foods I buy has been growing…it seems there is always a coupon & if it’s less than $1, I get it to save time.
Bagged lettuce, shredded cheese, jarred pasta sauce, salsa (which really the only time made from scratch is any good is in the summer), mac & cheese, chef boyardee, fruit snacks & granola bars & crackers (all a convenience since they are snack items & my kids are always snacking), some spice packets (can’t have MSG, so only a few), canned diced tomatoes.

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Kathryn March 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Much depends on work schedule – I have had jobs in the past where I have worked up to 70 hours a week and during those times the only things I ate were convenience and fast foods because I just didn’t have time to go to the store then cook.

As I am currently looking for work and reducing spending it a priority meals from scratch rule, although I do still buy pre-shredded cheese and not so much for convenience, because it is often on sale and cheaper than bulk cheese.

One convenience product that I buy even though it is rarely on sale or issues coupons is Morningstar Farms Crumblers (1 lb runs $3-4$ a bag) to use instead of ground beef or sausage in dinners because I don’t have to deal with the grease and mess of frying first, is healther as it is vegetable based and it absorbs the flavor of spices better.

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Shelley March 10, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I can’t live without minced garlic in a jar! Although I am trying to grow my own garlic in the garden this year…we will see how that goes. I do buy prepackaged salad because it looks so pretty with all those bits of cabbage and carrots. It is only .99 at my grocery store and I can make 4 salads out of that so I feel justified. Also, my kids have a mild addiction to poptarts so we keep some of those around for the weekends.

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Camille March 10, 2010 at 2:46 pm

It just depends on your situation. I’m home full time so I really have no excuse not to make things from scratch. Not that I’m not busy with my little ones, but I see this as my job and try to do the best I can!

My major concern is over added ingredients to the pre-packaged foods. If I can afford the item and it is all natural, then I would go for it (usually, I can’t afford it!). But right now the only thing I buy pre-packaged regularly is chopped garlic (but now I’m thinking I could get a ton of it, chop it myself and leave it in a jar!).

I really feel for all you moms who are getting home at 6 or later and having to get everyone fed and off to bed in a matter of a few short hours! I know I would be using a lot more pre-packaged items if I was in that boat!

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Heather March 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm

we recently gave up all processed foods but there are a few i still buy…pasta sauce, bagged lettuce, salsa, boxed stock/broth(if I don’t have my own frozen) shredded cheese, everything else is homemade! even dressings and chocolate syrup.

if i can get a really good deal on it, like the frozen gingerbread dough in the freezer ill snatch it.(it was $1 for the big roll) I buy the above stuff all on sale too.

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NicSin March 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I work full-time and have a wonderful husband (who doesn’t cook at all) and three (soon to be four) kids under the age of four. I enjoy cooking very much and try to keep the vast majority of our meals made from scratch with whole foods. That said, as I am 35 weeks pregnant at the moment, we currently have a variety of jarred pasta sauces (only those with ingredients I can identify!), lunchmeat, and frozen fruits (for smoothies) on hand “just in case” my husband, who is a saint, or a family friend needs to take over for the night.

Truth be told, though, one of the biggest convenience/splurgy things that I keep on hand at all times are good quality spices! No matter what basic dish I am starting with, if I use my “good” spices (Penzey’s) my husband and kids always give things rave reviews. I used to buy the giant containers of spices at the wholesale clubs and they were fine, but with the higher quality spices I spend the same amount of money and am able to use less of the spices because they are stronger and a little goes a long way. Just my plug for quality ingredients making a difference!

Also, I have to say that I am a bit surprised that so many folks opt for the pre-shredded cheese. It doesn’t taste like real cheese at all to me because of all the stablizers they add to it to keep the shreds from sticking together. Read the labels on those shredded cheeses…you’ll see what I’m talking about! I’m sure it depends on what you grew up with and what you can get on sale, but for me, the two or three minutes it takes to shred the cheese and throw the grater in the dishwasher is worth it in order to taste real cheese! :)

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Emily Ann March 10, 2010 at 5:29 pm

After seeing how easy it was to make my own hummus I will never, ever go back to packaged hummus again. So good and so cheap!

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Tricia March 10, 2010 at 5:47 pm

One thing I consider is whether or not I will end up just going through fast food if I have to cook X from scratch rather than having it ready as a convenience food. I love to make my own spaghetti sauce and usually have some in the freezer…but if I’m having a crazy week and I know that I won’t get to making it (after being very realistic with myself), then I’d rather have a jar on hand than drive through McD’s…and I know that will often be the result. When DH was in Iraq this last time, I used a LOT of convenience foods. But only after several months of us ending up going across the street to the PX food court.

I often find things like pre-cooked/shredded/sauced barbecue meat tubs at our commissary for about the same price per pound as the raw meat…which I still have to cook, season, sauce & shred. So when I find some for that price, I pick up a couple and throw in the freezer.

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Laura March 10, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I do my own seasonings, because the packets normally have a lot of salt in them. I also buy heads of lettuce, not lettuce in a bag. I do get bags of pre-shredded cheese and I buy bread, never had much luck making my own bread

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RuthieB March 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm

When I want to cook a casserole and don’t have time to bake a chicken (don’t like it boiled), I buy Rotisserie chicken from our grocery deli. If you go in the afternoon, sometimes they sell them 2/$7. You sure can’t buy chicken pieces or even a whole roaster for that! Plus, the flavor of the chicken is just sooooo much better!

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Jenelle March 10, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I do not think convenience foods are really ever worth it. Even the “healthy” stuff gives me concerns. What are they putting on those apple slices that keeps them from going brown? Do I want my kids eating that? And all the contamination issues they have had with bagged lettuce and spinich. It’s worth it to me to do all my washing, chopping, and grating myself.

All the packaged foods like fruit snacks and granola bars have artificial flavors and colors, high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydroginated oils. It’s worth the time to me to keep my family from eating this stuff.

Maybe a frozen pizza is worth it if your other option is fast food.

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Larissa March 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Well…I use more than I would like but it’s that whole working mom thing that so many of you have mentioned.
-jarred garlic
-shredded cheese
-anything that needs yeast
-granola bars/frut snacks
-canned beans and tomatoes
I do love cooking and usually prefer the taste of homemade items but it comes down to time and planning. I have been making an effort lately to make large batches of soups/stews/chili for lunches and the odd dinner. I really dislike store bought frozen lasagnas and casseroles because they never cook up properly and I hate soggy/watery lasagna.

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Kristen March 10, 2010 at 8:35 pm

We like to keep a couple conveinent food items in our home such as frozen measl/pizzas. It is much cheaper than taking our family out to eat which is what happens when it’s been a long day.

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Jaime Grimes March 10, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I too have also been a single working parent who also went to school and now I am a stay at home mom with a husband overseas. I agree that this is my job. I bake my own bread, pizza dough, and we don’t eat out very often. My convenience foods are and the reason:
-bagged lettuce, it gets used this way, no matter how much I say I will cut up the others ( we don’t use a lot of iceberg) I just don’t seem to
-big cans of tomato sauce, i then add my own spices depending on what I am making, we move a lot due to military so haven’t managed a garden yet
-jarred garlic, can’t seem to cut it small enough
-baby snacks such as biter biscuits and animal crackers and the puffs they have. Much easier and puffs are healthier than cereal

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Serena March 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm

For convience I am like alot of the others on here: jarred garlic, pre-shredded cheese, tomato soup and granola bars. But the one convience food that I do buy even though I know I shouldn’t are the frozen chicken patties. My teenage children just love chicken burgers. I do buy all my spices in bulk so I make up my own mixes such as taco mix.

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Becky L. March 10, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I buy my own spaghetti sauce and coleslaw mix. I buy lettuce by the “head” but not iceberg. I’m not sure what you call other lettuce, a clump? I keep Campbells clam chowder on hand for hubby. I will buy frozen veggies, if from USA and Canada only, same with fresh veggies. Make my own pizza crust, rolls and cookies and sometimes bread for dinner. Sometimes I buy frozen entrees for dinner if a good sale or get it from Grocery Outlet…good prices there. They have a few favorites. Most of the food we eat isn’t processed much, keep it at a minimum. Like to buy Papa Murphy’s pizza occasionally for Sat. dinner.

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Kalla March 10, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I think every one does there own things with this. I think convenience is very different for everyone. I have tried and tried and tried to make pizza crust and it always turns out tasting like yeast. So I have decided just to buy it. I really think that you have to be comfortable with deciding on whether that is right for your family or not. :)

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Dena March 11, 2010 at 12:04 am

We prefer whole foods when it comes to veggies.I will buy a bag of frozen veggies if the deal is good and I have a coupon.I would love to make my own bread.A bread maker is on my wish list.We use jar sauces for convenience.But I draw the line at buying shredded cheeses.It’s much cheaper to shred it yourself,where I live.We make our own pizzas.I will admit though,that I still buy the pizza rolls (store brand) I just can’t duplicate those.I’m still working on blending my own spices.I agree with a lot of you.If you can’t pronounce it,you shouldn’t eat it.

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Connie Petertonjes March 11, 2010 at 9:13 am

I admit, I buy quite a few convenience foods. I work outside the home and I have 3 young kids along with other obligations, such as Girl Scouts, soccer, etc. So, I do buy things that save me time. Maybe once life slows down, I’ll make more stuff from scratch. But, it is not worth the time for me to make things like spice mixes, sauces, bread, etc.

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Jennifer March 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

I am a little over 3 weeks away from my due date with my third child. I have begun to buy one frozen pizza a week and a few boxes of hamburger helper, tuna helper etc. I am tired most of the time and spending the effort to cook has been a challenge. When I do have energy I try to cook meals ahead and put them in the freezer so that I don’t have to buy convenience foods. I also have invested in a few bags of precooked chicken nuggets. One bag will last 3 weeks of lunches for my kids and they will not eat homemade chicken nuggets. After the baby gets here I plan to go back to basics, but for now, this works for us.

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Laura March 11, 2010 at 10:38 am

What I buy as convenience food is shredded cheese (same price as block), frozen pizza(once a week no planning no work) frozen vegetables(better quality in winter) pasta sauce, granola bars, healthy cereals canned beans and tomatoes and condensed soups(less work) and breads(major time savers). In the summer garden really cuts down on groceries.

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Stephanie March 11, 2010 at 10:43 am

I have decided that, for me, convenience foods are not worth it. I like the ability I have to make spaghetti sauce, pasta primavera, salsa, fried rice or any number of things out of one can of $.50 tomatoes. If you buy any of those things already made, I feel you are actually limiting your options. They might be more “convenient” but they are definitely less creative.

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Amy March 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

Without looking at the time investment, aren’t store bought egg noodles (a convenience product) worth ($$) it? You be the judge.

Egg Noodles
Ingredients:
4 eggs
4 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespooon potato or corn starch.
Dash of salt
oil for the pan
Instructions:
Place all ingredients in a mixer, blender or food processor and mix until smooth (not whipped). Or lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl, then add the other ingredients and blend. Place in a cup with a spout. Heat a well-greased or lightly greased non-stick frying pan. Pour the batter into the pan in a thin stream. Tilt the pan to distribute the batter evenly in a thin layer. When the top is no longer shiny, flip the “pancake” onto a tea towel and start the next one. Try not to let them get crisp. Roll up each pancake and cut into strips to make noodles.

Any other recipes where the convenience package is “cheaper” aka worth the money?

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