Have you ever heard of homemade convenience foods? They’re like ordinary convenience foods in that they are convenient ~ ready to eat or quick to prepare to eat ~ but they’re homemade, and (potentially, at least) cheaper and more healthful.
There’s just one problem with homemade convenience foods: you have to make them.
So, while it may be handy to have ready-to-eat homemade crackers, cookies, soups, entire dinners, etc. stashed up in your pantry and freezer . . . . at some point you have to take the time to make those things. All that cooking from scratch takes time and if you have that much time to cook why would you even need convenience foods? Right?
They still have their place, like extra busy times, packed lunches, and travel, but if you need convenience foods because you don’t have much time (or energy) to prepare food, you need homemade convenience foods that don’t take a lot of time or work to make. With that in mind, this post is about the easiest homemade convenience foods: the ones with the biggest return on investment! Not a lot of extra work (if any at all!) but convenient to use.
Some people just toss leftovers. I don’t get it. They’re basically “free” food: food that you didn’t have to make, so to speak. What’s more convenient than that?
Okay, I do “sort of” get it. You might not want to eat the same thing two meals in a row or even two days in a row. Here’s the thing, though: you don’t have to.
Most foods will keep for several days or even up to a week. There may be a few exceptions but I’ve personally never met a cooked food that, if made with fresh (not leftover) ingredients, wouldn’t last at least three days. Foods containing raw fruits and veggies can be iffy, depending on their ingredients. Cucumber is notoriously delicate, in my experience, for example.
Just remember: you don’t have to eat the same thing immediately.
Also, you don’t have to eat exactly the same thing when you do eat it. Mix your meals up a little. Did you have lasagna and broccoli for Monday dinner? Then have lasagna and salad for Wednesday lunch.
Another problem with leftovers is that being leftover can change their taste or texture. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some things taste even better the second day! But if the flavor and texture aren’t better . . . and not the same either. . . try to think of it as a different food.
Try to embrace the changes. Is it really inferior or is it just different? Leftover spaghetti is definitely different from fresh cooked, and if you expect the same texture and mouth feel, it will be inferior, but if you embrace the changes and make a completely new dish with it, if just fine. Spaghetti in a spaghetti bake doesn’t have the same texture and mouth feel as fresh, stove top cooked pasta . . . but folks still eat it!🙂
Think outside the box and make your leftovers work for you.
And did you know you don’t have to heat leftovers up in the microwave on plates? You can heat them up in a microwave, an oven, a skillet, or (depending on what it is) a pot or pan on the stove top, and then serve them in serving dishes like a normal meal. Leftovers don’t have to feel like leftovers! Play around with your leftovers. They’re pre-prepared food just waiting to be eaten!
Don’t want to eat leftovers immediately? Freeze them! Most cooked food can be frozen with good results.
I like to freeze leftovers in serving size portions, then we can just take out exactly what we need for a meal. Muffin pans are great for this. Just spray the muffin cups with cooking spray, plop in the food, and stick in the freezer. When the food is frozen solid, take out the pans, pop out the food, and store in zipper freezer bags. Label with content and date.
More leftovers! Intentional leftovers! There’s definitely a “cook once, eat many times” theme going on here, and for good reason. That’s how you get ready-to-eat convenience foods without a lot of extra cooking!
Batch cooking basically means cooking more than you plan to eat at one meal. You can have a cooking day, or you can intentionally cook extra of certain things throughout the week. You can cook a batch of rice, then eat it several different ways during the week. And then make a batch of potato soup and eat it two times, and freeze the leftovers. It takes a little more time to make more food (depending on how much prep work is involved), but ultimately it’s more efficient than making the same food over and over several times.
Cook now and eat now. Then eat later without having to cook. That’s convenience!
Freezer Foods That Contribute to Multiple Meals
Freezer cooking is a great way to make homemade convenience foods. What’s more convenient than taking something out of the freezer and heating it up? Or taking it out of the freezer and putting in your slow cooker? Well, taking it out of the fridge is a little more convenient, but freezer foods keep longer.😉
Freezer cooking DOES require a lot of prep work though, and while on the eating end it’s pretty convenient, it’s not so great on the initial prep end. Still a good idea, just not the easiest!
However, if you can make a recipe, stick it in the freezer, and get multiple meals out of it, that’s a pretty convenient return on investment.
Think of it this way:
1) While cooking a big bunch of something to freeze that you will get multiple meals out of is a good idea it’s also a lot of work.
2) While cooking up a regular batch of something isn’t that hard, if you only get one meal out of it you haven’t gained that much. At least, it didn’t save you time!
3) BUT if you can prepare a single recipe of something and get multiple meals out of it . . . that’s better!
Something that you can freeze in single servings for breakfasts or lunches, or even as a side dish for dinner, would be perfect. Something you don’t need a lot of to make a nice contribution to the meal, but that you will so enjoy not having to cook when the time comes. I’ve done mashed potatoes, macaroni and “cheese” (I think you can freeze macaroni and real cheese too?), and lentil loaf this way.
If you made it fresh you might eat the entire recipe, but as long as you have plenty of food to fill up, on a smaller amount might really be sufficient, letting you stretch a single dish over two or more meals. Is there anything you can do that with?
If you don’t want to put a lot of extra work into making homemade convenience foods, go for a similar amount of work as you are currently putting into cooking with a high ROI (return on investment).
Seasoning mixes? Kind of a strange addition to this list, I admit, but I think the last sentence above really applies here. Seasoning mixes will take a bit of extra time to make but since you’re only using small amounts each time you use them, they will last a long time. That’s high ROI!
Figure out some seasoning mixes that will take the place of lists of seasonings you frequently use together (hmmm. . . . I really should take my own advice here. We do make some homemade seasoning mixes but I hadn’t thought of making, say, a “refried bean” seasoning mix.).
You can also mix up the dry ingredients for single and double batches of recipes you like to make. Even if it’s only herbs and spices, it can be a big help . . . . especially if the recipes includes a long list of herbs and spices.
If you buy herbs in bulk or dry your own, you could also make your own versions of what you would buy in the store. Italian seasoning, for example?
Also, if the store bought versions have ingredients you don’t want, just make your own.
Remember, a seasoning mix will take some time to make but it will last through many meals!
Trail Mixes/Snack Mixes/Party Mixes
Whatever you want to call them (Is it a trail mix if you’re not on a trail? A snack mix if you don’t snack? A party mix if there’s no party?), just mix together some nuts and dried fruit and you have a completely new convenience food!
Use raw nuts (such as walnuts or pecans) or dry roasted, unsalted nuts (such as cashews or almonds) whenever possible, use salted/oil roasted nuts and seeds only when you don’t like them otherwise or can’t find them any other way, and use dried fruits without added sugar, and you’ll have one of the healthiest and easiest snacky convenience foods you can make!
How about it? Can you manage any of these easy homemade convenience foods?