Redefining Convenience Food

Every time I bit into a piece of fruit this summer, I was amazed at how sweet and delicious it was. At first I thought it was because I had become better at picking out fruit, but if you have read my food waste posts, you know this is not the case. What was different then? I had adjusted my sweetness set point. By limiting sugar in my diet I had redefined what sweetness was for my taste buds, so fruit tasted sweeter than it had in years.

The same principle can be applied to convenience food. When we found out that my daughter was gluten intolerant, I had to give up many of the prepackaged items that I had relied on to make dinner on busy nights because they contained some form of gluten. After making from scratch for several months, my convenience set point was recalibrated! Now making homemade soup, chili, or spaghetti are my easy fall back meals.

Here are some ways that I make cooking fast and easy without relying on prepackaged convenience food:

Summer2009 661 1. I precook meat and store it in glass containers, so that I can reheat it quickly in the microwave. I like to broil several pounds of chicken, cut it up into bite size pieces, and package it in two cup containers. I can then add the chilled pieces directly to a salad, or I can add them to the the last step of a soup, or I can freeze them for future use.

2. I premix seasonings, sauces, dressings, and syrups in advance of when I will need them. I store the mixes in an air tight container where they will last for several months (the dressing only lasts for a week or two). You can search online for seasoning mix recipes. Here are some that I have found: Taco Seasoning Mix, Spaghetti Seasoning Mix, Chocolate syrup, Asian Sesame Salad Dressing, and Chili Seasoning.

Summer2009 668 3. Make Breakfast ahead of time. We often make a double batch of pancakes, waffles, or muffins on the weekend. We freeze the leftovers and pull them out as we need them through out the week. I also like to make a triple batch of scrambled eggs and store them in glass containers for an easily reheated breakfast.

Summer2009 691 4. Make and package home made snacks. I individually wrap and freeze cookies and cupcakes. We pop them into a lunch bag frozen and they thaw by lunch time. I also buy nuts and dried fruit in bulk and individually bag them and keep them in a snack basket in the pantry. The baggies can be washed and turned inside out to air dry to cut down on wasted plastic.

N.B. The pictured cookies are No Bake Cookies and you can find the recipe here.

Blog2009 141 5. Wash and prepare fruits and vegetables. Melons are more likely to be eaten in our house if I cut it up and put it in a large bowl. I wash and precut some vegetables that I am going to use in cooking through out the week like onions, bell peppers, carrots, and radishes. I also put some fruits and vegetables in individual bags or containers for lunches.

6. I make a large salad and use it over several days.

7. When I cook a one pot meal, I make a double batch and freeze the leftovers. On a busy night I can pull the leftovers out and reheat them for a fast and easy home cooked meal.

I realize that these ideas won’t work for everyone. I also realize that since I have a child with food allergies, I have extra motivation to prepare most of our food at home. We have enjoyed the health benefit,  but another bonus is that making food from scratch has saved us money and has offset the cost of buying expensive gluten free flours.

How do you define convenience food? Have you found ways to stream line your cooking and preparation methods to make home cooking a little more convenient for you?

This has also been posted at my blog Premeditated Leftovers.