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Is it cooking?

October 13th, 2017 at 09:22 am

Here's an interesting thought and one I hadn't considered in a bit. Is it cooking if you buy premade foods ie from Costco, walmart, etc? I mean the already made lasanga you heat, or stuffed bell peppers, etc? You know what I mean and you make it and feed your family. It's certainly NOT cheap. But at the same time it is substantially cheaper than going out to eat or even take out. I also think it might be healthier but I could be wrong because it does taste pretty good.

Personally I keep a lot of these sort of things on hand because while we don't want to go out, we don't necessarily want to cook from scratch. This week alone it's been all premade meals. We had tomato soup from the box and baked potato soup from a can for 2 nights. Last night I bought from costco the ravioli lasagna and my kids liked it. I might have to do it again and we ate half so we the second half for dinner tonight. I mean I steam some broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini steamed as sides and we have bought bread. But I found it easier, cheaper, and faster than going out to dinner or grabbing takeout.

But I realize it's not cooking. And I can cook. I've made sauce from scratch and made pasta and bread from scratch. So it's not lack of ability. Rather I admit it's lack of desire.

I tend to keep frozen pizza, frozen dumplings, packages of noodles and pasta, cans/boxes of soup, and stuff on hand for super fast and easy meals. This methodology has kept our eating out budget way down to stuff we really want to eat.

But is it cooking? A friend asked me because she realized she cooks only trader joe's packaged meals and stuff from costco. My answer was yes. I said it'd likely be worse if you kept on buying takeout or eating out all the time.

On the weekends we're good we tend to cook sunday for the week. But on weeks we're bad we tend to do what we did this week and cobble dinners together. Sometimes I get my act together and make a slow cooker meal or pull a frozen lasagna I've made. Two weeks ago we made tacos, teriyaki skewers, stuffed bell peppers and spaghetti and meatballs because we bought costco ground beef. This week we did eat braised short ribs sunday and monday actually from scratch.

But I don't think it's wrong to use tools to help eating at home. I think people spend a lot more when they don't have these easy tools. For my family of four a meal at McD can easily hit $30. And going out for cheap noodles of the asian variety is likely $30-$35 with my oldest starting to eat like an adult! Take out chinese, thai, etc is more like $50-60. Not to mention eating somewhere even "family friendly" red robin (tradition now for us to go for birthdays, my kids love the singing) is $50 for dinner (2 adult, 2 kid meals and a beer for DH).

So yes a semi-prepared meal might be $10-20 but it often can bear leftovers. I guess my point to my friend was it still was very reasonable in the grand scheme and easier. It would be great to learn to cook from scratch. But maybe the first step would be to stop eating out so much?

How did you curb eating out? Do you ever cheat and use semi-prepared meals?

8 Responses to “Is it cooking?”

  1. ceejay74 Says:

    It sounds like the question you're asking isn't "Is it really cooking?" but "Is it really frugal?" and "Is it really healthier?"

    Whatever's cheaper than what you're doing is better, I'd say. (I mean, unless you move from organic cafe food to all McDonald's takeout...)

    And in terms of health, it's probably like you say. A bit healthier than eating out (less sugar and salt and fat), but not as healthy as cooking from scratch. So if you're moving from tons of eating out, it's a positive step.

    We tend to rely on vegetarian "meats", occasional canned sauces like Manwich, Prego, etc., and things like oven fries/tots, to supplement our from-scratch cooking. Since I've been on a budgetary mission to reduce our shared spending deficit, we've reduced the semi-prepared stuff and done more from scratch, to save even more money. But yes, even buying $20 worth of vegan General Tso chicken from Whole Foods and supplementing with rice and steamed broccoli is cheaper than all of us ordering Chinese takeout, so depending on your starting point, it can be a positive step.

    And, it's kinda nice to have somewhere to cut expenses like I'm doing! I thought we were frugal because we hardly ever eat out, but the past couple months have shown me ways to be even more frugal. At the same time, I'll be glad to eventually reduce my effort and get some time back in the evenings when the budget is loosened up and we can go back to some prepared foods.

  2. snafu Says:

    I'm overly sensitive about this issue. As a tyke, DS 1, had symptoms of several very serious diseases and it took several months to discover it was really allergic reaction to preservatives in milk and chemicals in packaged foods like Campbells soup, boxed Mac 'n Cheese, even jam. Reading labels carefully and cooking from scratch was an immediate fix.

    I'm concerned about the long term impact of chemicals, salt, fat and sugar in Costco type, pre-made foods. A lot of foods served in restaurants are likewise pre-made, packaged concoctions. Issue # 2, How do the children learn to cook raw foods if they don't see and participate in the process? When I look at making lasagna for example, prep is under 10 minutes, especially if it is age appropriate to have DKs fetch and later put away, the ingredients. Roasting a chicken or preferred meat with root vegetables can be prepped in about 15 minutes when other family members participate. The thing is you control the chemicals, fat, sugar, salt etc.

    If I can tempt you by cost, it's about 1:5 ratio in restaurant all in, I'd guess at least double for Costco...love their flowers, most meat and raw fish [out here on the prairies].
    Much healthier long term for the family to save time with packaged salad, Costco cooler prepped veggies or frozen vegetables with home made sauces. Of course I'm the one with horrid genetics so I need to read labels.

  3. crazyliblady Says:

    If it works for you in terms of health and keeping your costs down, it works and that's all that matters. I wouldn't worry about what other people do. Personally, I rarely eat food made by other people due to food allergies and sensitivities. I do most of our cooking ahead of time on Sundays.

  4. AnotherReader Says:

    All those prepared foods are loaded with salt, MSG, and all sorts of "enhancers" designed to get you to eat it. Over time, you will see the results of eating this junk in poorer health. Plus, you are teaching poor eating habits to your children. In your shoes, I would rethink what I am feeding my family and opt for home cooked meals that are nutritionally sound.

  5. rob62521 Says:

    I thinking the term cooking is pretty broad and I'd say heating up prepared stuff is cooking and one can differentiate by saying cooking from scratch to tell one made everything oneself. As for frugal, that's another term that can mean saving money and others interpret it in different ways. I think sometimes you have to do what works for you and if right now you need to cook those prepared meals to keep from going out, you are right, it is cheaper than going out. And who knows what you get at a restaurant. Is it healthier to cook from scratch? I would say probably so, but sometimes you can't and at least you can read in the nutritional table to determine the least offsenive of salt, sugar, preservatives, etc.

  6. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    CJ truly I don't know I guess it's more frugal but a lot of time we just the premade because it's faster than going out.

    Snafu, excellent points and suggestions. I should get back to cooking more. I haven't tried costco premade foods until this week, usually too expensive to justify but it sure was tempting.

    crazyliblady do you do once a week cooking? Do you actually make enough to last the week?

    AR thanks I will check out the labels more.

    rob i will definitely try to read the labels. I was about to try the premade food more but people have made me rethink it.

  7. crazyliblady Says:

    Livingalmostlarge. Yes, I do once a week cooking. With the exception of breakfasts and things that should be made fresh, I do nearly all cooking ahead of time. We eat paleo, dairy free, grain free, and mostly sugar free for health reasons. Like someone else mentioned, there are a lot of weird ingredients in prepared and canned foods that can cause significant health issues (msg, excess salt, sugar, grains, etc.) for some people. Cooking ahead of time ensures I get a meal I can eat, saves me money, and also kills the "i wanna go out" thing that happens at the end of a long day when I likely don't want to cook. Those meals usually just need some heating on top of the stove or microwave prior to eating. Much of the cooking is done on Sundays, but I often do some prep work and the easy stuff on Saturdays after getting home from shopping. The nights where I do cook we have something that is pretty simple and quick to put together. Here is my menu for the coming week. Our menu is probably considered a little weird for some people (like eating fresh cucumbers, carrots, etc. at breakfast), but it works for us.

    - Breakfasts - eggs, meat (usually pieces of chicken or sausage cooked ahead of time), smoothies (made fresh), cut up fresh vegetables

    - Scouse - this stew is generally good for 2 supper meals for my husband and I - https://thedomesticman.com/2016/11/22/scouse/

    - Burgers and some kind of steamed veggie and baked sweet potato (made fresh)

    - Soup for my lunches - I should be able to get about 3 or 4 lunches from this - http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/sausage-potato-and-kale-soup/

    - Salads with chicken - 3 to 4 lunches for me - salad greens from my garden, tomatoes, chicken (cooked ahead of time), onion, avocado, homemade salad dressing

    - Snack food for my husband - fried pieces of liver, meatballs, etc. (cooked ahead of time), apple banana muffins - https://whatgreatgrandmaate.com/paleo-apple-bacon-muffins/

    - chili (made ahead of time and frozen until needed)

  8. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    Looks good. I tend to do the same things over and over. I might try to do more stews. But we tend to do a lot of stir frys and noodle dishes.

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