Alternatives to Processed Foods

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Make Your Own 'Convenience Food'

Make Your Own Mixes

Frugal Flavor Boosters


My family likes processed box foods like chicken and beef rice-a-roni and tuna helper creamy broccoli. The problem is I don't like the price. I would like to make these dishes from scratch and would like to know if any of your readers can help me with the recipes.
Paula K.

Mom's Solution

I don't like the price of the processed box mixes either. The large amounts of salt and preservatives they put in is scary as well.

My mom taught me to make casserole using a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, a can of tuna, and egg noodles. With all the new flavors of Cream-of-Anything soup that are available nowadays, you can make a greater variety than my mom could!

Empty a can of Campbell's Cream of Broccoli soup and a can of milk into a skillet. Stir in a can of tuna and six to eight ounces of wide egg noodles. Be careful to not break the noodles. Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Enjoy!


  1. Use different shapes of macaroni. My children like bow-tie and elbow macaroni, and there are a lot of other shapes out there.
  2. Use different flavors of soup, such as cream of celery, cream of asparagus, and golden cream of mushroom.
  3. Add frozen vegetables for a nutrition boost. My children like either peas or peas and carrots mixed. Frozen vegetables seem to hold up better and do not have the added salt of canned.

For the Rice-A-Roni, look around for small pasta about the size of grains of rice. Mix it with your rice, one-third cup pasta to two-thirds cup rice. Saute a cup of this in margarine, add two cups of bouillon or stock, whatever flavor you want, and simmer twenty minutes or until done. I cook up stock and freeze it but if you don't want to go to all that trouble, use a can of clear consomme or mix a bouillon cube in hot water before adding. It depends on how much salt you are willing to tolerate. Either of these is fast and easy when I do not have a lot of time to cook.

Rice Pilaf

Another name in the "real world" is PILAF (pea-loff) Easy to make. Though I have no hard fast measurements, try this.

2 to 3 Tbls Olive Oil,
1/2 c Vermicelli or Long spaghetti, broken into 1" lengths,
1 c Long grain rice
2 to 4 Bouillon cubes of your choice
Diced or shredded raw veggies of choice
3 c Water
Cooked meat of your choice.

Put bouillon in the water to start softening up. Heat 2 or 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add pasta. Add rice. Constantly stir, until most of pasta is brown and rice takes on a whiter appearance. Add water slowly so as not to get burned. Add veggies and lower heat to simmer or low, and cover. Cook 20 minutes. Towards end of cooking time check to make sure there is still enough moisture to finish the cooking. Add cooked meat.
Diane H.
Houston, Texas

Side or Main Dish

I am happy to share my recipe for a homemade side dish that is very versatile and not too expensive. There are no exact ingredients or measurements for this, so you have to play it by ear.

First, I start with maybe a cup of raw rice (not minute rice), some thin spaghetti, broken into approximately 1 to 2 inch pieces, and some chopped onions. Saute all that lightly until it just starts to brown. Then add enough water for the rice and the pasta to cook. I also add ground pepper and either powdered broth or salt to taste. This is the basic recipe. You let it simmer until the rice and pasta are done. If you need more water, you can add it at any time during the simmering process. Now for the variations:

You could add any kind of frozen or fresh vegetable and let it cook along with the pasta and rice (sometimes this is great for using up all those "not enough for a serving, too much to throw away" bags of frozen veggies). You could also chop up some left over chicken and toss that in. Or left over pork, or beef. Or, instead of using thin spaghetti, you could use orzo (aka rosa marina). You can also add any kind of seasonings you like. It's really an empty palette, and you can flavor it any way you want.

If you want the result to be creamy and/or cheesy, just omit water and use milk, or you can use half water, half milk, and add your favorite smooth melting cheese, as much or as little as you like.

I know this is kind of long, but it's really good and easy to prepare, especially on those nights when you just can't decide what to make for dinner.
Helene M.

Start With Sauce

My family also loves packaged foods like Rice-a-Roni and Noodle-Roni, and now I make them inexpensively and easily at home. I often start with white sauce. In a saucepan, over medium heat, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add about 3 tablespoons of flour. Whisk it around and add 1 cup water, 1 cup milk (I use skim and reconstituted powdered milk is just fine), 1 teaspoon (or more) chicken bouillon, about 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional), a pinch of nutmeg, and whatever dried herbs you're in the mood for. Whisk very frequently until it reaches a boil, and then reduce heat to very low, continuing to whisk for a bit. For an alfredo taste, add a few tablespoons of grated parmesan; for a sauce to use as a potato topper, add about 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese (and some steamed broccoli).

I add the sauce to cooked pasta, sometimes adding cooked pieces of chicken or fish (salmon is VERY good). Often I add steamed vegetables too, such as carrots, broccoli, or yellow squash (or all three). Any combination is tasty.

For rice dishes (without the creamy base), I cook rice (brown is SO good, nutritious and nutty), adding slightly more water than the instructions call for (an extra 1/4 to 1/3 cup when cooking four servings). I use olive oil instead of margarine, and chicken bouillon instead of salt (about one to two teaspoons for four servings) when cooking the rice. After the rice has cooked about 10 minutes, I quickly add diced onions, carrots, and red bell peppers. Ten minutes later, I add broccoli and dried herbs. Of course, the vegetables and the herbs can be varied. And, for a creamy rice dish, the sauce (above) can be added to the fully cooked rice.

Buy Inexpensively

I don't have any recipes for a low cost alternative. Let me share what I do. I go to my favorite supermarket that doubles coupons up to a dollar. I receive coupons from relatives who get the newspaper but don't use coupons (2 sets from my mother, 2 sets from my father, and one set from my aunt). When they run these items on sale, I stock up. It is worth using these coupons. I don't pay over 50 cents per box...sometimes I get them for free! I do this with a lot of items! Especially non-perishables like laundry soap, toothpaste, canned items, etc. I save at least 50% of my grocery bill every time I go (not including meat, which I shop around for to pay the lowest price).
Melissa H.

Web Resource

This link has recipes for make your own mixes Busy Cooks at I use this site often, and it's related links

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Once you trim the grocery budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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