Cutting Down on Ready Made Foods

March means St. Patrick’s Day which always makes me think of my grandmother who was from County Cork. I’ve been paging through cookbooks figuring out what I’m going to make this St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate my Irish heritage. I’ve found recipes for dishes like colcannon and Irish soda bread. Aside from trying to recreate the foods my grandma grew up eating, I’ve been thinking about the approach her generation took toward preparing a meal.  Nothing came prepackaged and they shopped for fresh local produce every day. Besides being healthier, my grandmother’s generation probably saved a whole bunch of money too. It seems supermarkets aren’t just about food any more but places we go to buy convenience. Here are some foods I say pass by every time you see them-

Ready Prepared Produce

One thing that always amazes me is the individually wrapped potatoes and onions you find the produce department. I’ve seen price tags of $1.50 stamped on them. Today I bought a 3 pound bag of onions for $2.99 (seven onions) so there’s a big markup for having someone do the little work of peeling an onion for you. The same goes for the stew packs I often see, potatoes, celery, onions and carrots, vacuum packed and double the cost than if you put them together yourself.

Yes, I’m guilty of this one. I’ve been tempted to buy the bags of shredded cheese and  cheese squares. And really how long does shredding cheese take us? It’s probably one of the quickest chores. I’m a big fan of those soft cheeses flavored with garlic and onion and packaged in tubs. In fact, I had a holiday recipe that called for two tubs and got a bad case of sticker shock when I saw they were almost $5 each. It’s basically whipped cream cheese and a little milk to thin it down with chopped garlic, green  onions and black pepper. Next time you’re thinking of buying something like that check your cookbooks or even the Internet and I’m betting you can find a replica recipe. (In fact, check out the Web site below)

Juice and Jell-O

I never buy pre-made is juice and Jell-O unless they’re on sale or I have a coupon because making your own is a lot cheaper. And if these are items you regularly eat, invest in small plastic containers and juice boxes and fill them yourself.


It took me a long time to get out the habit of buying packaged taco and gravy mixes but there are so many recipes on the Internet that it’s much cheaper to make your own. Plus, you always have a supply on hand and they’re preservative free too. One site I really like is this one-http://www.copykat.com/2009/03/27/homemade-taco-seasoning-mix/

Salad Dressings

Salad dressings are another food item that I used to buy ready-made but then decided to make my own. It all started when I had a recipe for a dressing I just couldn’t find and ended up making my own. Now I like making them not only for the money saving aspect but I can put my own spin on things like Thousand Island and blue cheese dressings. http://www.recipetips.com/recipes-collections/salad_dressing_recipes.asp

My Thousand Island Dressing Recipe (makes about 1 ½ cups)



1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup chili sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish

1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt and pepper

Mix everything together and this keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. It’s also a good dipping sauce for fish sticks too!

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