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Are 'convenience foods' really convenient?

shaumom
shaumom Posts: 967 Member
I have seen a few people talk about how convenience foods - in this case meaning pre-packaged foods and meals, like mac & cheese, frozen dinners, hamburger helper, etc... - are not really 'convenient.' Basically, not easier to make, not easy to make in less time, etc..

Mind, I'm not debating whether convenience food is healthier. Convenient, in this case, is solely looking at 'easier.' The ease of getting the food ready and in our bodies, but not about what happens to our bodies once it is there. Possibly the cost, too, as I imagine it's easier in life if you have more money. :-)


I have a friend who believes that convenience foods are NOT more convenient. My friend's argument (based on his own views plus a few articles done about 5-8 years ago) was that you still had to go to the store, so that's the same amount of time, that cooking time for convenience foods vs. home cooked foods was about the same, and that people spent nearly the same time in food prep for both (in a bit of research by Margaret Beck in 2013, people spent about 10-12 minutes more prepping 'from scratch' meals vs. convenience foods).


My belief is that convenience foods are quite often very convenient. So I'm hoping a debate on this will help both myself and my friend when we talk about this next. :-)

I'm going to just put my own thoughts on this in the next post, to keep things tidier for this first post, and I look forward to hearing what folks have to say on the topic.

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Replies

  • shaumom
    shaumom Posts: 967 Member
    So, my friend's argument is that:
    shopping time is the same
    prep time is close to the same
    cooking time is essentially the same
    So convenience foods aren't really that convenient compared to making food from scratch.

    My own argument:

    With regards to shopping, while it's true that we go to the store whether we are buying food for cooking from scratch or convenience foods, there are more hours you spend before that, with cooking from scratch. Because there is the time spend looking up recipes, plus the many, many days it can take to perfect a recipe so it actually tastes good (at least for those of us who aren't naturally good cooks).

    The grocery list for cooking from scratch vs. convenience food - more time.

    And these days, the PRICE of convenience foods is also often cheaper than making the same thing from scratch (including costs of oil, flours, spices, main ingredients, etc...). Which I would call convenient, potentially.

    IMHO, the research discussing cooking and prep times is severely flawed. The research simply recorded how much time many families were taking to prep and cook their food. It didn't look at WHAT people were cooking, however, and I think that makes a difference.

    If people have a limited amount of time to cook in, they can only make a limited number of dishes: those that take a limited amount of time to MAKE. So of course the prep and cooking time is going to be similar.

    Convenience foods, IMHO, offer the opportunity to have foods that used to only be available when one person had to stay home and cook all freaking day, or at least for a few hours at a time. So I think, when deciding if convenience foods are convenient, we should compare things food by food, you know?

    Like pizza - 1-2 days to make it from scratch (including rising time) vs. less than 30 minutes for a frozen pizza. That's a huge difference in time, and effort. But if a person is making food from scratch and they've only got 30 minutes, then they just do without pizza unless they buy the pre-made one.

    And for those of us who aren't amazing cooks, convenience foods allow us to have foods that we would never have if we had to cook these foods from scratch. I have tried to make tamales and egg rolls, for example. And wow, yeah, they were terrible. I've tried multiple times, and they are VERY slowly getting better. But that doesn't help my family who is hungry and would rather have food that tastes good instead of my really bad attempts at a new food.


    I know some folks have argued that you just have to plan things out more. Like, to make pizza, just start the dough in the morning and let it rise while you are out. Except planning is more work. Which means it is less convenient.

    I'm not arguing that it's not POSSIBLE to make more things from scratch, eking out bits of time here and there to make it work. I'm not saying it's healthier to eat convenience foods, or that it's the best choice. I'm just arguing that it IS easier and more convenient, in many ways, to buy convenience foods.

    And I'm curious what your own thoughts are.


  • stanmann571
    stanmann571 Posts: 5,736 Member
    My go to dinner(for the last 18 months)

    1/3-1/2 lb Precooked frozen beef(patties or meatballs)
    4-6 slices cheese
    Green giant/Birdseye broccoli/carb/cheese frozen steam bag
    Birdseye Veggie steam bag(peas/corn/mixed/etc)


    1 plate

    Prep time under 3 minutes
    Cook time under 20 minutes.


  • Zodikosis
    Zodikosis Posts: 149 Member
    edited April 2018
    As someone who absolutely loves to cook from scratch and is a very adept cook, yes of course convenience foods are faster and easier. Have you ever tried to make pierogis from scratch? Takes like 4 freakin hours. Or I can buy them from the store and fry 'em up in 15 minutes from frozen. They do taste better from scratch, and in my opinion almost everything tastes better when it's homemade (not to mention the feeling of satisfaction from having made it yourself), but the reality is that sometimes you just don't have the time for it. Sure, sometimes the time difference between something from scratch vs something frozen/prepared is not that big (assembling a burrito from base ingredients vs heating a frozen one up), but it's still big enough to make a difference for most meals. Also, let's not forget washing the dishes after!

    I should also add, I still cook most of my meals from scratch, but that's because cooking is my hobby, so I enjoy the time I spend on it, and I also have the time to do it. Some weeks I don't, and in that case, it's convenience foods for me. Nowadays, there's so many great, delicious, decently healthy convenience foods options for any type of dietary need that, unless you're trying to keep a tight food budget (it is almost always more expensive), I don't really see why you'd want to place a bunch of baseless restrictions on yourself like that.
  • laur357
    laur357 Posts: 896 Member
    As someone who does both, I do think convenience foods are "easier." I also enjoy cooking and making things from scratch, so I do see the value there where other people might not. But, I can be eating a bagged salad, rotisserie chicken, and refrigerated mashed potatoes in about 10 minutes after walking through the door - 20-25 if you count a special stop at the store on the way home from work - vs. the equivalent of roasting a whole chicken and actively making sides after a long day, easily an hour +.

    My from-scratch prep for just about everything involves a lot more than 12 minutes, generally speaking. A Lean Cuisine + frozen vegetables is ready to put in my face in fewer than 6 minutes, and gives me less to clean up. And I can do other tasks out of the kitchen while it's heating.

    My shopping time for convenience food is way faster too, including making a grocery list/menu. I can have a week's worth of nutritionally-diverse convenience meals pulled from Trader Joe's shelves in like 10 minutes - breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • shaumom
    shaumom Posts: 967 Member
    Yeah, I can be honest enough to admit that it's nice to know it's not just me feeling this way, LOL.
    Zodikosis wrote: »
    As someone who absolutely loves to cook from scratch and is a very adept cook, yes of course convenience foods are faster and easier. Have you ever tried to make pierogis from scratch? Takes like 4 freakin hours...

    I should also add, I still cook most of my meals from scratch, but that's because cooking is my hobby, so I enjoy the time I spend on it, and I also have the time to do it. Some weeks I don't, and in that case, it's convenience foods for me. Nowadays, there's so many great, delicious, decently healthy convenience foods options for any type of dietary need that, unless you're trying to keep a tight food budget (it is almost always more expensive), I don't really see why you'd want to place a bunch of baseless restrictions on yourself like that.


    Thank you for your comments! The friend who I debate this with always tells me that I only think convenience foods are convenient because 'I don't like to cook.' So it's nice to hear from someone who truly enjoys it.

    Although I was doing a project recently on food costs, and...it was really disheartening. For really GOOD pre-made foods, the costs are high, as you noted - like organic beef stroganoff, etc... But for the majority of the so-so convenience foods, like chicken nuggets, tater tots, that sort of thing? I found that in many cases, they were actually cheaper than buying the ingredients separately, so you could get more calories for cheaper using the pre-made convenience food. It was really kind of sad to realize that. :-(
  • JeromeBarry1
    JeromeBarry1 Posts: 10,187 Member
    edited April 2018
    I'm a bit unclear on what a "Convenience food" is. However, yesterday's experience of buying frozen an opaque box of pork chops in barbecue sauce was disappointing, in both the portions and flavor of the bbq sauce.
    I'm fairly sure that if I was doing it the inconvenient way I'd have spent less money and taken less time while being more satisfied and more certain of my calorie logging.

    OTOH I've got a box of frozen egg rolls I'll open for dinner tomorrow. No complaints from me on that point.
  • Mouse_Potato
    Mouse_Potato Posts: 1,438 Member
    My go-to weekend breakfast is a "Jimmy Dean Delights" breakfast sandwich and an apple. The sandwich cooks in 45 seconds. That isn't even enough time to finish slicing the apple.
  • kommodevaran
    kommodevaran Posts: 17,890 Member
    I love to cook, but I don't use many complicated recipes, or recipes at all, so I spend very little time looking for recipes, and even cooking - many of my meals are simply assembling items. I love the versatility of single food ingredients. Cooking from scratch for one person often means less waste, so lower cost. In my experience, convenience foods usually need a "side" or some other jazzing up, so no net saving of time, effort or money. Convenience foods also need more storage space, and more expensive storage, while dried goods can live forever in my pantry.

    There's also no either/or - I eat many readymade food items regularly, and some readymeals occasionally, especially pizza and lasagne.
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 40,888 Member
    Of course convenient foods are easier...

    I made lasagna for guests on Saturday night...between prep, simmering my homemade sauce, and cooking, it was about a 3 hour ordeal. I wouldn't ever do it, but I could have just bought a frozen lasagna and popped it in the oven.

    Our kids really like mac 'n cheese...they usually have Annie's from the box and it takes me all of 10 minutes to make it. When I made mac 'n cheese from scratch, it's at least a 2 hour deal.

    I don't generally make a lot of convenience food...I generally find them sub par to my own cooking...but most of my cooking, particularly during the work week takes me about 20-30 minutes to get dinner ready...in that regard, convenience foods are only slightly more convenient time wise.
  • kommodevaran
    kommodevaran Posts: 17,890 Member
    To add to my post: I think there are more flaws to the idea of convenience food. Valuable things have a cost - time/effort/money - but not necessarily equal parts. In our (modern) society, food has become both an obsession and a nuisance. It has to be fast, but we don't account for the time we wait in line or spend worrying. I have found that I don't just enjoy preparing my meals, I especially enjoy a meal I have worked for - meal schedule turns into routine and "flow" when preparing and eating a meal is so much hassle that I won't be bothered unless I'm really hungry. And creating something delicious makes me feel accomplished; conflating healthy and boring, is a big contributor to why and how eating has gone so terribly wrong.
  • smolmaus
    smolmaus Posts: 443 Member
    I don't buy convenience foods because generally I can do a lot better myself. Maybe not frozen pizza (gluten free pizza is a nightmare to make from scratch) but other than that I'm not paying someone to chop or pre-cook vegetables for me and something like a lasagne or a casserole which would take time to prep, it's worth it to wait until I have the time to do it properly rather than having a sub-par product because it's quicker. I can make loads of other things that are more nutritious and tasty in the 25 minutes it would take to cook in the oven, from the same staple ingredients I buy every week and don't need a list for.

    Good tasting food is my priority, with cost-effectiveness coming second so although "convenience foods" are time-saving they don't meet my personal needs so they aren't convenient at all. It all depends on your personal priorities.
  • crabbybrianna
    crabbybrianna Posts: 344 Member
    I make most of my meals from scratch, but my husband eats a lot of convenience meals. It is way less work to just take something out of the freezer and pop it in the oven. I make a lot of bulk food to freeze for myself and it’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time. All the prep my husband does is taking it off the shelf at the store and putting it in our cart. Even fast food (like drive-thrus) is easier and quicker if you’re already out and picking it up on the way home.
  • sugaraddict4321
    sugaraddict4321 Posts: 15,074 MFP Moderator
    cwolfman13 wrote: »
    ...When I made mac 'n cheese from scratch, it's at least a 2 hour deal...

    ...It takes longer to get the roux started for Real Mac n Cheese than it takes cradle to grave for boxed mac.

    2 hours?? Wow! My homemade mac n cheese takes only a few minutes longer than boxed, and that's because proper pasta takes longer to cook since it's thicker. If you're taking 2 hours or your roux takes longer than boxed, maybe you're over-complicating it? :) BUT - it takes time and practice and eating a few disasters before you get the techniques down. :smiley: Some people don't find that worth the effort, and that's okay.

    As for price, it really depends. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and spice cabinet goes a long way towards keeping costs down. If you buy a 5 lb bag of flour, or a big box of pasta, or a big package of chicken breasts that can be tossed in the freezer, you pay once yet are able to make many dishes of different kinds.

    Convenience foods do save time, so I use a mix of scratch and convenience. I don't bother to make pizza or pastry dough from scratch, for example. :)