Convenience Foods You Can Make Better & Cheaper Yourself

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Want to make your own trail mix? Oatmeal cups? Flavored cream cheese? Frozen taquitos? There are loads of convenience foods you can make better and cheaper yourself.

prepared cup of homemade instant oatmeal

Pictured: Instant Oatmeal Packets: How to Make Your Own

There are a lot of things out there that are convenient to grab when you’re out and about. The grocery shelves are filled with snacks and goodies and premade concoctions that are easy to serve at home.

These “convenience” foods make life easier, to be sure, but they can be less than good for us, overly priced, or both.

You Can Make Convenience Foods Better & For Less Money

You probably already know that my heart belongs to homemade. Back in the day when I was young and wrinkle-free, I made lots of things homemade, from 80’s scrunchies to calico shorts, pie crust to popovers.

The casual observer might have thought I was being snobbish, but honestly, I just wanted to save money making things myself.

And have matching shorts and scrunchies. (What can I say, it was the 80s?)

And delicious pies.

And yummy popovers.

plate of popovers next to cookbook and jar of jam

Pictured: Good Cheap Eats Cookbook

Over the years in an effort to maximize our resources and enjoy great food at the same time, I’ve slowly started making more of those things that I count as expensive junk food. 

I don’t want to be held hostage by frozen foods, bottled beverages, or snack pack sizes of anything. I want fun food to reign at my house, but not at the expense of good health or high prices. 

I want to encourage my husband in his desire of eating better and more economically at work, and for my kids to enjoy great homemade food so that they don’t grow up having to mend their ways.

To make cooking and eating just a little more enjoyable and a little bit cheaper? 

Who can say no to that?

Make convenience foods yourself.

Making your own convenience foods isn’t exactly “convenient”. There’s a reason why these products are so very popular. They’re easy to grab and throw in your cart. The marketers have convinced you that it’s too hard or too expensive to make it yourself. 

It’s true. There’s a history of food manufacturers realizing that if they can just convince the consumer that it’s too hard to mix together flour, butter, and eggs to make a cake on her own, then she will buy the cake mix.

The mix that she has to add butter and eggs to anyway!

(Michael Moss‘ book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us is a great read if you want to learn more.)

plates of carrot cake next to full sheet cake

Pictured: Ultimate Carrot Cake

I’ve reaped numerous benefits in making convenience foods myself, including be able to:

  • experiment with new recipes and things I’ve been hesitant to attempt on a regular basis, like homemade bagels – they are delicious!
  • perfect some old favorites that we already love, like tamales
  • develop more strategies that will help my family eat better and cheaper, even when we crave “junk food”
  • make packing lunches and road trip food a little bit tastier, healthier, and less expensive

Now, there is a reason why manufacturers do so well, selling convenience foods. Some things just aren’t better to make yourself. In the sense that they take a long time or have elaborate prep steps or just don’t cost that much less homemade. 

A rotisserie chicken from Costco is easier and about the same price as roasting a chicken myself, so I’m more apt to buy one than to go the DIY route. 

However, there are quite a few things that are definitely better (& cheaper!) homemade. Check out these recipes and give one a try!

Convenience Foods You Can Make Better & Cheaper Yourself

This post was originally published in September 2013. It has been updated for clarity and relevance. 

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. kort says

    so happy for this 31 Days series, Jessica!

    i’ll be writing about Advent at my place….and checking back here too! can’t wait!

  2. I love this, Jessica! I, too, want to have fun foods in my house with worrying about the health or high prices. I will be following along, and am excited to gain some more great recipes from you!

  3. carey says

    What a great topic, I’m really looking forward to your recipes!!

  4. Vanessa B says

    I’m looking forward to this series for so many of the reasons you named. My husband is always asking me, “what can I just grab and eat?” One can only eat crackers and peanut butter so many times I guess. Just yesterday I walked through the frozen food section and felt like I’d passed through an alternative dimension. Everything was so foreign to me.

  5. I will definitely be following this one! I’m trying to only eat out once a week (Sunday) but I’m gradually even wanting to start using crockpot more and freezer meals to eliminate that. I feel bad that alot of times my freezer contains processed frozen foods instead of homemade ones that I freeze.

  6. I can’t wait for the series to start!! Yei!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Veronica says

    I just started making my own granola at home, so yummy and easy! However, I would like to go a step further and make granola bars for snacks on the go. I hope you can include a recipe for these one of these 31 days! Looking forward to your posts! Thank you!

  8. Cherie says

    This series has really met a need for me – my time and schedule are tighter than ever!
    Your burrito post got me started
    I’ve taken some odds and ends out of the freezer and made chi ken and cheese burritos – also shredded some BBQ pork and made a dozen slider sandwiches
    A little ground beef and pork became a sheet of “meatballs” last night that ill turn into meatball calzones this afternoon
    I had been doi g pretty well with breakfasts but I see I now really need to keep “instameals” for days the teens are famished and there’s no time to cook

  9. Mia says

    Thank you and keep the recipes coming! You are one of my fave 31 Dayers! 🙂

  10. M. G. says

    I followed this link from Pinterest, in the hope that there was an actual recipe for taquitos. 🙁 Guess I’ll be removing that pin.

    • Sorry that Pinterest wasn’t clear. You can find my beef taquitos recipe here. My chicken flauta recipe (similar to taquitos) is here. So yummy!

  11. I have to cook my own chicken at home. Those ready cooked broiler chickens are sky high in sodium, high in fat, and I swear the skin has sugar on it to help it brown, it tastes sweet. Anyone who has High Blood Pressure, Cardiac or Renal Issues, or Diabetes,
    or a Low Fat Diet for Medical Issues needs to beware, processed/convenience foods. That includes condiments, all sauces, gravies, and herbs, spices, & seasoning mixes! Excess sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, unnecessary chemicals, preservatives, natural & artificial flavors & colors, MSG, GMO, BHA, BHT, BPA lined cans, undeclared ingredients including non food fillers, extra fat, extra sugar, artificial sweeteners (migraines or seizures) extra salt for flavor enhancement. Read labels every time, products change formula constantly, GMO altered ingredients. Not to mention the price of processed/convenience foods. I have to make pasta & pizza sauces, seasoning mixes. There is dairy sneaked into the weirdest stuff and I’m allergic to cow dairy. I can’t have cayenne pepper or store bought chili powder both make me horribly sick. I add the other spices and use real jalapeños or red pepper flakes by the pinch. I am allergic to shrimp & lobster. At 1 point I read Progresso Clam Chowder’s label & found Shrimp broth. Since then the formula has changed, but not my mind. Allergens are another thing to watch out for in processed/convenience foods. Keep Scratch ingredient recipes coming, please. I prefer baked beans from scratch, way less, salt, & sugar, no salt tomato paste instead of the ubiquitous ketchup, extra molasses and less brown sugar, lots of onions & garlic, Liquid Smoke to keep the lower sodium bacon to a minimum. There are many reasons to make things from scratch. #2 reason is they taste better. #1 reason, you have 100% control over what goes in, and no hidden undeclared ingredients!

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