Our lives are busy and as a result we often opt to feeding our families heat-and-serve or ready-to-eat meals and snacks since they are convenient and, generally, our kids love them. Did you know that buying pre-packaged, out-of-the-box groceries are often much more expensive than their homemade counterparts? In some cases it is 6 – 10 times more expensive to buy the item at the store versus making it at home. Of course we wonder how much time is involved to make foods at home, since time is something many of us are short of.
I have found a few do-it-yourself food and snack options that are quick (5 minutes or less), less expensive and generally healthier than their store bought counterpart.
Your turn: What kinds of meals and snacks do you prep or make at home that cost less than buying the store bought option?
Frozen Pancakes and Waffles
Almost any pancake or waffle recipe you make at home for your family can be cooked ahead of time and frozen, then reheated in the microwave or toaster. Personally, I make a quadruple batch of this Whole Grain and Nut pancake recipe every 6 weeks or so, cool the extras and freeze them, putting 6 pancakes into each Ziploc bag. Topped with homemade applesauce or fresh fruit, they make a hearty breakfast or snack.
Buying instant oatmeal packets at the store versus making your own can cost you 6-10 times as much per serving and making your own is quick and easy. To healthify the recipe use old fashioned oats versus instant. They cook just as fast, but are higher in fiber.
In 30 minutes you can whip up dozens of oatmeal packets by measuring ¼ cup of oatmeal into a Ziploc bag. For flavor mix-ins try adding a tablespoon of raisins, dried fruit, nuts, or a teaspoon of brown sugar. If you enjoy the fruit and cream flavored oatmeal packets I’d recommend powdered coffee creamer instead of powdered milk as it has a longer shelf life.
The first time you do this you’ll need to invest in Ziploc bags, but wash and reuse them to avoid that as an on-going cost.
We’ve all heard that eating a big breakfast is important and getting a dose of protein is part of that. Breakfast sandwiches, whether store-bought and reheated in the microwave or from a drive thru window, make that quick and easy. Now, make your own hot breakfast sandwich by scrambling an egg in the microwave.
Spray a small dish with non-stick cooking spray then pour in one beaten egg (or opt for egg whites if you prefer). Microwave the egg for 30-45 seconds (depending on your microwave) and you’ll have a scrambled egg. Use your egg on top of a whole wheat bagel with low-fat cheese for a hot breakfast sandwich in less than 1 minute. (PS – feel free to add veggies to your sandwich like the delicious tomato slices included in the photo above – yum!)
My kids love lunchables. I’m not sure what the intrigue is – maybe it is the container with small divided compartments or the ability to assemble their own snack. A typical Lunchable weighs less than 5 ounces, which includes 6-8 crackers, and costs around $2.75.
Invest in a reusable lunchable-style container (like those made by Rubbermaid or Ziploc), then have your child help you assemble their own lunchable. Choose lower-fat cuts of meat, use whole wheat bread instead of crackers, and for dairy-free eaters use dairy-free cheese.
Buy the products you want and then use cookie cutters to make snack-sized bites. My daughter loves to push the cookie cutter into the cheese and deli meat and thoroughly enjoys any sandwich with heart or star-shaped food on it.
When you buy a box of Bagel Bites do you know what you are getting? You get mini bagels covered with some pizza sauce, cheese and potentially some meat. That said, can you imagine how easy these are to do yourself? You’ll save half or more than what you’d pay for these snacks in the store by prepping them at home.
Buy a bag of mini bagels, which usually come pre-sliced, and open them up so the halves are spread out on a cookie sheet or some other solid surface/container that will fit inside your freezer. Spread some pasta or pizza sauce on top (make your own if you are ambitious), sprinkle with cheese and add any cooked ground beef, pepperoni or other meat you’d like. Set the whole cookie sheet in your freezer. Once the bagel bites are frozen solid transfer them into a ziploc bag, seal it and pull out a couple when you’d like a snack. Reheat them in the microwave or toaster oven like you would their store bought counterparts.
Ice Cream Sandwiches
I love ice cream in every form, shape and size, including ice cream sandwiches. This alternative is not an exact replication of a store-bought ice cream sandwich, but is a much lower-cost substitute. Use Cool Whip in place of ice cream and graham crackers in place of cookies. This isn’t necessarily healthier, but you can make 30 of these sandwiches for the same price you’d pay for a box of 12 ice cream sandwiches.
My family devours these and I think they’d be a great treat for a child’s birthday party, since they are so easy and so inexpensive.