Reading the ingredients on purchased food spoils my appetite. Even canned tomato paste now contains fructose, making it taste like catsup. (Luckily I can still find the “pure” variety.) And I don’t like to think about what’s in food from restaurants, bakeries, and caterers. When I see borekas I just think “transfat.”
I also don’t enjoy paying for extras like starches, sugars, artificial colors, preservatives, and more.
That’s why I avoid a slew of Israeli staples, including soup mixes, catsup, breakfast cereals, soy shnitzel, soup nuts, soft drinks, flavored yogurts, puddings, and snack foods (yes, you can entertain without serving Bisli). Mayonnaise used to be on the list, until I gave in to one of my children who prefers the jarred stuff. I won’t share the ingredients of this item, which does have that stand-up-by-itself texture mine lacks.
Some commenters mentioned that they find it cheaper to buy applesauce than to make it. I haven’t priced store-bought applesauce in a while, since we don’t eat it regularly. But five or ten extra shekel for a homemade Chanukah treat is worth it for me.
A lot of things I make from scratch may not be more economical, gram per gram. I use canola instead of cheaper soy or corn oil. Whole-grain flour is a lot more expensive than the subsidized pasty white stuff. But savings on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, all very cheap in Israel (when it’s not shmitta), make up for those costs. Also, what’s not “worth it” for a small family can make a significant difference for a large one.
What about the cost of my time? Well, I consider money saved by cooking from scratch as part of my income, tax- and childcare-free. And cooking healthy food doesn’t have to mean hours and hours in the kitchen, as I mentioned in an earlier post. In fact, a recent study compared meal-prep times between two groups of two-career couples: those cooking from scratch and those relying on convenience foods.The ones who bought prepared foods didn’t save time because they tended to make more elaborate meals.
One family made a simple meal of sandwiches and edamame, using bread, cheese, greens and salmon and tomatoes. That meal took about a half-hour to prepare. Another family had a six-dish convenience-food meal of microwave barbecued ribs, macaroni and cheese, prebagged salad, bagged dinner rolls and a cookies and ice cream dessert. That meal also took a half-hour.
I had to look up edemame, but not in my Webster’s. (It’s amazing how many ethnic food items, like quesadillas, have become mainstream in the seventeen years since I left the US.) It won’t be on my table anytime soon. Then I read this bizarre statement:
The study authors noted that the biggest time savings of convenience foods may be at the grocery store, where it’s faster to grab a frozen entree than to collect six separate ingredients to make the same dish from scratch.
Well, that might be true if you’re shopping for only one meal at a time. It didn’t occur to the clueless study authors that four or five of the six ingredients would be used for several meals. I imagine that those who rely on convenience foods make more trips to the store because (a) they don’t have room to store all those bulky packages for more than a few days and (b) they are unable to improvise when they run out of a particular item.
I have another question about this study, which says that Americans spend 22 minutes on a grocery-shopping trip. Are American stores really so efficient? Twenty-two minutes doesn’t leave much time for reading ingredients and comparing prices, either.
Some convenience foods don’t save any time, like matza balls from a mix. I tease one of my friends about using it because matzah balls only contain eggs, matzah meal, salt and maybe a little oil–once you are getting the bowl dirty there’s no advantage to the mix. Of course the mix contains all kinds of things that make the matzah balls fluffy.
I can relax a bit now that our annual family Chanukah party is over. We used Carolyn’s idea for Chanukah magnets, impressing my guests.
Please visit CookingManager.Com, my site on saving time and money in the kitchen.