Written by Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet
You get in the door at 5:30 pm, hockey/dance practice starts in an hour and the kids are screaming for dinner. Without even thinking about it you throw some fish sticks into the oven and open a bag of frozen peas. At least they’ll have some veggies.
Not a single one of us are immune to the power of convenience foods. Anything to get dinner on the table quick, right? Something to cook that requires no energy and little brain power? There is a reason it is called convenience food.
What I define as a convenience food, however, differs from my neighbor and the rest of the preschool moms. I imagine it is the same for you.
All photos by Cheryl
Convenience food is relative
To me, a convenience food is something I can eat, right out of the package, with no extra effort on my part.
Frozen dinners, packaged pot pies, chips, pre-made dips, and pretty much anything that comes in a can from the grocery store. A convenience food is also something that has had the steps of preparation done for you – frozen and peeled potatoes, pre-diced onions, salad in a bag, baby carrots, pie filling, or canned beans. If it doesn’t come to you looking like it just came out of the ground or from the farm, then it can be classified as a convenience food.
Obviously I’m a fan of cooking from scratch, and encourage anyone I know to add more and more scratch cooking to their kitchen repertoire. That being said, I don’t make my own almond milk or ricotta cheese. I make pie crust, pickles, and jam because I grew up doing so and wouldn’t think of buying it. But I don’t make my own pasta. And another friend might make ravioli every week but can’t fathom using anything but a jar of jelly from the grocery store.
Full confession: a bi-weekly meal in this house is a name-brand filled pasta from the grocery store with clamshell salad on the side. That, however, is our only grocery store convenience meal.
Pre-prepared food doesn’t always have to come from the grocery store. Farmers’ markets can be great sources of convenience foods. In fact, that is where my husband and I get nearly anything in our house that would qualify: frozen savory pies, quick curries, shelled nuts, bags of pre-washed greens, and even the odd frozen pizza. The best part? You often meet the person who actually made the meal and the ingredient list is likely never to include something unnatural or unpronounceable.
I won’t knock your choices in convenience food. I do, however, encourage you to examine those foods you do eat. Can you make it yourself? Can you buy a real potato and spend the minute peeling it instead of the frozen variety? Can you walk away from the baby carrots?
Two tips for the best convenience food
We all want shortcuts and tricks for making dinner easier. I’m afraid I’ve only got two and they both still require you to cook:
- Batch cooking and a stocked freezer mean shopping in your own house when faced with a dinnertime rush.
- Leftovers are the most convenient meal. Cook more than you mean to and plan for the leftovers.
This recipe is a family favorite. It isn’t just for Sunday brunch, either. When I am really stressed and pressed for time at dinner I tend to default to eating breakfast at dinner, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or these waffles. Add some crumbled bacon, ham, and pecans for a neat twist. Or change up the flavor by adding orange zest and a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom.
They also make use of one of everyone’s favorite convenience foods – boxed cereal. Leftovers freeze really well so they can be pulled out and toasted for breakfast. There; one less package coming into the house.
Makes 8-12 waffles (depending on your waffle iron)
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup Rice Krispies cereal
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup canola oil
1. Preheat a waffle iron.
2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk the egg yolks, milk, oil, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.
3. Beat the egg whites with a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until just combined. Fold in the whites gently. Do not overmix.
4. Cook according the instructions of your waffle maker.
Confession time. What convenience foods are in your house?