Monday, July 26, 2010

Reining In The Grocery Budget (Part 2): Make Your Own Convenience Foods

First of all, let me just say that whoever said,"The lazy days of Summer", was A BIG, FAT, STINKIN' LAIR PANTS! Holy cow, summer break is going to KILL me! I cannot seem to be able to keep up with all the dear children's scheduled (and unscheduled) activities, last minute picnics and Barbecues. Not to mention I am drowning in an endless sea of laundry, dirty dishes; and the house is so dirty I'm pretty sure the Health Department is going to send a Haz Mat team over any day now! Whew! I feel much better now that I got that off my chest.

During times like these I like to rely heavily on convenience items to make meal time easier, but they can be a budget breaker if you buy them prepackaged at the store. In my never ending quest for frugality I have discovered that you can make of these items yourself. The hardest part is setting aside time out of your busy schedule to prepare them. Setting aside a few hours in the evening or on the weekends is worth it, though.

I have a good friend who clued me in to making your own french toast sticks. She makes a loaf or two of bread (check bread outlet stores for stale bread, it makes the best french toast and it's cheaper) into french toast, then slices them into four sections (horizontally) with a pizza cutter. She places them on wax paper lined cookies and freezes them. When frozen she stores them in gallon plastic freezer bags. To reheat just pop in the microwave for a minute. I like to save the plastic cups Crystal Light comes in to use as dipping cups (to keep my kids from using a ton of syrup). Double the recipe for a batch of waffles or pancakes, and freeze the extras the same way as the french toast. Pop in the toaster to reheat. It is also easy to make your own flavored cream cheese to spread on bagels or toast!

Making your own frozen burritos and bagel pizzas is fast and easy, too. To make burritos simply place a 1/3 cup of meat (or refried beans) down the center of a softened (microwave for 10 seconds) 12 in flour tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on top fold the bottom end over the filling, fold in sides and roll up. Place seam side down on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and freeze. Store in a gallon plastic freezer bag. Microwave for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to reheat.

When I find ground beef on sale I will buy a large amount. I will cook 5 or 10 pounds of it with onion and green peppers. Then I fill quart size plastic freezers bags (about 2 cups per bag) with the mixture and freeze it to use in soup, chili, spaghetti, or casserole. Sometimes I will add taco seasoning to some of it for variety. I do the same thing with chicken breasts ( I use bone in if I want to save the broth to make soup). When the chicken is done I shredded it and divide into freezer bags and freeze. We all know cooked chicken has endless possibilities!

Cutting up produce when you bring it home from the store is another way to save time later on.
Shred lettuce (store it in a gallon plastic freezer bag with two paper towels in the bottom. The paper towels wick the moisture away from the lettuce and keep it fresh for a week or longer.), chop or slice tomatoes, shred carrots and store in clear plastic containers in the fridge until you need them. Celery, onions, and peppers can be chopped and flash frozen (yes, you guessed it) on wax paper lined cookie sheets. Let the frozen cookie sheet sit on the counter for a few minutes before you try to remove the frozen veggies to make them easier to remove them. Store them in freezer bags. Melons can be peeled, cut up and stored in the fridge for up to a week. Apples can be sliced and stored in a plastic container in the fridge if you pour and can of Sprite or 7 Up over them (make sure they are completely submerged) for a day or two.

When I do have time to cook I double the recipe and put one in the freezer (uncooked) for later. Lasagna, soup, enchiladas, stuff shells, pulled pork, non cream based casseroles (sour cream and cream based sauces separate when they are frozen), stew, and spaghetti sauce all freeze well. If you are short of freezer space. Put entrees in gallon plastic freezer bags, and lay flat to freeze. Then you can stack them. Make sure what you write what the entree is and the date you put it in the freezer to save on surprises later!

You can even make your own seasoning, pancake, muffin, quick bread, and cake mixes. The are a ton of make your own mix cookbooks (and most can be found at your local library. They can also be purchased used on or thrift stores). A few of my favorites are:
  • Make A Mix Cookery (by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, and Madeline Westover)
  • More Make A Mix Cookery ( by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, and Madeline Westover)
  • Food Storage For The Clueless (by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd)
  • Family Feasts For $75.00 A Week (by Mary Ostyn)
If you decide to make your own mixes. Buy the ingredients in the bulk section at the grocery store or at a bulk warehouse store to cut down on cost.

Alas, I hear the clamoring of hungry little (and not so little children)! They are telling my it is way past dinner time, and they will starve to death in the next five minutes if I don't feed them right now, but I will be back soon with more budget saving ideas!


  1. Tina, I am right with you on the chaotic summer fun! We're having a great time, but nothing is getting done! Thanks for the tips!

  2. Your first two lines had me laughing out loud, poor thing! Some fantastic ideas in this post. My Mom got one of the Make A Mix cookbooks a good 30 years ago and we cooked a week at a time out of it. I like to make extra and freeze portions as well. Less cooking is more time for crafting and reading! I did not know about putting a paper towel under the lettuce in the bag and will do so immediately. Hang on ... summer is almost over! Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  3. I can't tell you how much I agree with your post!!!! having things cut up and ready and meals in the freezer is a life saver.

    I do the same with french toast except I use regular bread, make the french toast, flash freeze, and put back in the bag. Then you pop it in the toaster.

    I love the bagel pizza idea you gave a while back, too!

    Thanks for the reminder...sometimes I forget about all the good things you can do ahead of time!

  4. I agree with you on summer, yikes!! I do alot of the same things you do. I also buy the big 10lb bag of carrots and using my crinkle cutter, I sit and chop them all into sticks, add a little cold water to the bag, and VOILA! sticks for the week. cheaper than buying those baby carrots!



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