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Thursday, September 23, 2010

5 ways to make homemade convenience foods more convenient

Convenience foods are particularly tempting during a hectic day, but many of them aren't very nutritious. The ones that are nutritious are generally pretty expensive. If you want to provide nutritious food to your family, the natural answer is to control what goes into that food by cooking it yourself, but that can be time consuming and at times overwhelming. Here are five tips to help streamline your "convenience" foods, which I generally think of as snack foods, but which could also be a previously prepared meal.

1. Bulk/Batch cooking - is it nearly as easy to double or triple the recipe, rather than make a single batch? If so, make extra for the freezer or pantry and save yourself some time down the road. There is nothing like laying out a frozen meal on a particularly busy day or reaching into the pantry for a stored snack before running out the door to an appointment.

2. Piggy Back - by planning to make snacks or meals that share common ingredients, preparation methods or cooking temperatures, you can save time and effort. I've written in the past about choosing a few main ingredients to include in my menu plan - by keeping some ingredients common I can reduce my cooking time as well as reuse leftovers in new dishes.

3. Process & Prepackage - take some time to clean and chop or assemble your snacks that don't require cooking so that they are ready to go when you need them. Packaging them in the size and container that you will want them in will allow you to grab and go.

4. Presentation - speaking of packaging, are you suspicious that certain family members like certain snacks as much for their presentation as their taste? Does your son or daughter always ask for the Dora pasta or Spongebob fruit snacks? In this case, try and use branding in your favor by providing a cute reusable snack bag or placing fun stickers on your containers.

5. Share - whether it's tips, recipes or an actual food swap, sharing resources makes things easier for everyone. If you have friends with similar tastes, try coordinating a play date where the kids entertain each other (or play with one parent) while the others make meals for everyone to take home!

Do you eat convenience food on a regular basis, occasionally or almost never? What tricks do you use to maximize the amount of homemade food in your diet?

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