Inconvenient Convenience

Am I a snob? I didn’t think so, but I was recently called one because I turned my nose up at “Convenience Foods” - especially Hamburger Helper. Helper? Really? More like enabler.

This goes back to a previous post – Butter’s Better – in which I talk about my disdain for "ready to eat" foods with bewildering ingredient lists, gargantuan amounts of fillers and sodium, and a frightening array of additives and preservatives (not to mention excess packaging that makes for one FULL trash can). I am NOT saying these things (canned soup, frozen dinners, boxed rice and pasta dishes, and more) are not tasty, and I am NOT saying I haven’t – at one time or another – purchased some of them, but they are simply NOT something I typically choose to eat or to feed my family.

No, I don’t exclusively cook from scratch and I don’t shun ALL convenience items (for instance, I don’t bake my own crackers and bread or make my own taco shells, pasta, ketchup and cheese and Trader Joe's does make a mean Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup), but I suggest it is possible to easily (and cheaply!) feed people delicious and nutritious meals without opening a cardboard box every. single. night. A peek inside my pantry and fridge/freezer will show a few of my favorite sneaky short-cuts - items I consider to be convenient.

-Canned beans (white, black, kidney, garbanzo)
-Uncle Bens converted rice (rarely use it, but some dishes call for it. I sure as heck would never admit this to my old Japanese Grandmother – if I had one.)
-Cake mixes (if they are good enough for Alton Brown, they are good enough for me)
-Sandwich meats (for school lunches)
-Salad dressing and mayonnaise (I make a vinaigrette from time to time but there are some really good pre-made dressings out there.)
-Krusteaz pancake mix (yes, I can do pancakes from scratch but sometimes the mix is, well, so convenient)
-Spam (but I’ve talked about my affinity for this salty pink canned meat before – I buy the lower fat, lower sodium “light” version - for what it’s worth).

Yes, this method of cooking is a learned skill. In my early years when I couldn’t cook, didn’t have enough time, and thought convenience foods really were that much easier, I was a Chef Boyardee, Stove Top Stuffing, Chunky Soup, Shake 'n Bake, Minute Rice type of girl.  But I’ve changed. Slowly but surely, over the years, I’ve become…a snob.

A quick, easy, cheap, not-from-a-box recipe example that I happen to be making for dinner:

Chicken Teriyaki "Assistant"
Stir-fry ingredients:
  1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  1 lb broccoli, cut into florets
  2 T cooking oil (less if using non-stick skillet)
Sauce ingredients:
  1 T sugar
  2 T mirin
  2 T sake
  3 T soy sauce
  1 T corn starch

1. Whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.
2. Heat cooking oil in large skillet or wok over med/high heat.
3. Add chicken pieces and sauté until mostly cooked (3-4 minutes).
4. Add broccoli and continue cooking until bright green and tender (3-4 minutes).
5. Add sauce mixture and continue cooking until sauce is bubbly and begins to thicken (2-3 minutes).
6. Serve over steamed white or brown rice and enjoy. (Serves four)

Butter’s Better post:


  1. Yes, this way of cooking is a learned skill...only because somewhere along the way, we 'unlearned' it. So sad. There are people who've never cooked chicken meat with bones in it!

  2. I agree. Unfortunately I wasn't taught to cook. I learned through trial and error. I am doing my best to make sure my kids see the benefits of cooking - cheaper, healthier and better for the environment.

  3. Yes it is better to be learned than to be illiterate.You seems so learned person in cooking skill.
    -Slow Cookers

  4. I'm a work in progress - I never stop learning! Thank you for reading!

  5. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

    Wok cooker

  6. I think there are a lot of people out there that are convinced they can't cook. Maybe it's the food in a box that has convinced them of that. There are definitely recipes out there that are hard or time consuming, but there are also plenty of great, simple, and fast recipes that are also easy. I say, embrace your "snob-dom!"