The Cost of Convenience

— Written By and last updated by Deb Fuller

We’ve all fallen victim to the lure of convenience foods at the grocery store.

Salad mix with dressing included, frozen one-pan dinners, ready-to-eat sandwiches: these are all so appealing when we’re running low on time. However, these foods not only cost more money but can also cost significantly more in calories, sodium, and added sugars.

Here are a few tips for making the best choices at the store for both our wallets and our health:

  1. Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Ingredients List

These are helpful tools when trying to make healthy choices. Look for foods with short ingredient lists (typically indicating less processing) and foods that are low in unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugar.

  1. Pay attention to unit prices

Pre-cut produce (e.g. shredded carrots) is a great way to save time during recipe preparation. But paying for this processing versus doing it at home can make an unnecessary dent in our food budgets. Unit prices can help us make the most economical decisions in every section of the store by breaking down prices into cost per unit (for example, cost per ounce or pound). Be sure to weigh time saved vs. money spent when choosing convenience foods!

  1. Look for “copycat” recipes

So many of our ready-to-eat and highly processed favorites can be duplicated at home for a fraction of the cost and calories!

Here are a couple of our favorite “copycat” recipes:

Microwave Denver Scramble

Simple Stir Fry

Convenience foods can be lifesavers when it comes to saving time! But being aware of the trade-offs between purchasing convenience foods and preparing from scratch at home can help us make healthy choices and smart decisions to manage our food budgets effectively.