Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saving Time and Money: Convenience Products

When people think of convenience items with respect to cooking and food, the general consensus is that convenient doesn't equal healthy. A lot of prepackaged foods are loaded with sugar, salt, fat, artificial coloring or additives that cancel out the quick and easy part. Lately though, I've been seeing more and more items in my local grocery store that don't live up to that junky reputation, and I've been experimenting with new foods.

As a mom to two small kids, I'm a big fan of anything that makes preparing meals quick while still maintaining a nutritious final product. While many convenience products cost more, sometimes the added cost is worth the time it saves you. If you watch your sales and use coupons, you can purchase groceries that will shave minutes off your food preparation for little to no extra money. The following list is just a sampling of some products that I love for their convenient nature.

  • The Laughing Cow Mini Babybel Cheese: I bought these for the first time for a ten hour car trip and was not disappointed. The cheese is not processed and is wrapped in individual waxed portions, making them perfect for lunches or an on-the-go snack. I bought them on sale and used a coupon, and the final price was exactly the same I would have paid for a block of cheese, which would then need to be sliced and wrapped.
  • Perdue Perfect Portions Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts: There's no doubt about it, this item will cost you more than regularly packaged chicken breast, but again, if you wait for a sale and use a coupon, these individually wrapped chicken breasts can cost the same amount of money as meat that needs to be trimmed or separated. They're perfect for small families or single people, and come plain or seasoned with Italian spices, teriyaki flavor, or tomato and basil. They can be frozen, and baked without thawing them. I buy these every once in awhile when I can get the good price, and they come in handy because they can be cooked with very little effort. Toss a salad together and steam some vegetables while the chicken bakes, and dinner is ready in literally 15 minutes.
  • Instant Rice: Nutritionally speaking, instant rice is the same as non-instant rice. We eat brown rice, which takes 45 minutes in the microwave if I use the regular version, so being able to have rice quickly is a huge plus for me. If I precook meat in my crockpot, I can throw a stirfry together in ten minutes if I also use instant rice.
  • Canned Tomatoes: The store brand is almost always perfectly adequate, and this item is incredibly versatile. Buy the no-salt-added version to reduce the sodium in your diet, and if you are using canned tomatoes, also eliminate any additional salt a recipe calls for. Canned tomatoes can be used in soups, stews, sauces or chilis, in Spanish rice or in toppings for chicken. Buy them preseasoned or with chopped chilis also in the can.
  • Bagged Salad: Money-wise, bagged salad will cost about twice as much as fresh lettuce. I never buy bagged lettuce, but I do occasionally buy bagged spinach because it has been vigorously prewashed and contains no grit. If you are pinched for time, bagged lettuce can help save you precious minutes in getting dinner on the table. Look for buy-one-get-one-free sales.
  • Kashi Frozen Meals: Let's face it. Even the best of us have days when we just don't feel like cooking, or not enough time to cook a real dinner before rushing off to soccer practice or PTA meetings. Most frozen dinners are seriously lacking in the nutrition department, but I love Kashi's version. They don't contain enough calories for an entire meal, but are easily paired with salad or sliced fruit or baked potatoes or steamed vegetables. Compared to other brands, they are pricey, but you can get coupons for Kashi products through the website, and stock up when they go on sale.
  • Birds Eye SteamFresh Frozen Vegetables: I usually steam my veggies in my Pampered Chef Microwave Steamer, but if I'm in a super hurry, I buy these assortments that steam right in the bag in the microwave. It's not worth the extra money to buy the individual vegetables, but my favorite is the Asian Medley, which is exactly right for that ten minute stirfry.

What about you? What treasures have you found in your grocery store that help make cooking dinner easier?

1 comment:

Jen said...

When using instant rice, be sure to check the fiber content! Some brands have less fiber than the regular counterparts!