The Frugal Olympics Final Event: Making Your Own Convenience Food - Live Like a Mensch
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The Frugal Olympics Final Event: Making Your Own Convenience Food

Here we are at the fourth and final event of the Frugal Olympics: Making Your Own Convenience Food

To be honest, I should never have qualified for this event. For one thing, I cannot be trusted with convenience foods in the house to begin with. For another, I tend to be somewhat challenged when it comes to making certain types of food from scratch--hence my reliance on convenience foods.

However, this frugal Olympian has never backed down from a frugal challenge, and so I decided to attempt a convenience food that I do occasionally purchase: granola bars.

After a quick jaunt on Pinterest, I found this recipe for peanut butter granola bars.

The recipe, as written, called for 4 cups rolled oats, 2 TB chia seeds, 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, 3/4 cup natural peanut butter, melted, and 1/2 cup brown rice syrup.

Of those ingredients, I had 2 cups oats, no chia seeds, no peanuts, plenty of natural peanut butter, and no idea what the heck brown rice syrup even is. But since we're talking about convenience, I decided not to go out and get the missing ingredients, instead halving the recipe, omitting the chia seeds, and substituting slivered almonds and honey for the peanuts and brown rice syrup:

With my lovely assistant ready to help, I got started:

We mixed the almonds with the oats:


We added the honey:

And we then discovered that putting peanut butter in the microwave for 40 seconds does not, in fact, melt it, but instead cooks it:


At that point, I was ready for some mix-ins. The original recipe suggests putting chocolate chips in, which I would heartily endorse. But there was nary a chocolate chip to be found in the house. Luckily, I'm a resourceful sort who also just made an impulse buy at the grocery story because it was on sale and it reminded me of my grandmother:

So, I chopped up a couple of Hershey's Special Dark bars and threw in a handful of dried cranberries:

At this point, I found myself wondering if the mixture was too dry. When I asked BB what he thought, this was his response:

Since BB and I were in consensus, and since I was worried about the sugar content, I did not add more honey.

I then baked that bad boy in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes:

It was at this point that I realized three things:

  • It's a bad idea to take cooking advice from a five-month-old.
  • If you think your granola bar mix is too dry, then it probably is.
  • I was not going to get photogenic granola bars and would instead end up eating half of the pan over the next four hours by grabbing loose handfuls of the goodness and eating it out of my hands like a horse with a feed bag.

Ultimately, this recipe was delicious and a great way to use up some of the odds and ends in my cabinet. It does not, however, make my life more convenient in any way, shape, or form. (And even if I were able to make some sort of actual granola bar next time around, I'll bet you dollars to brown rice syrup that I'd still eat half of them over the course of a few hours).

So no medal for me.


But readers, it's your turn to compete! Tell me in the comments about convenience food recipes you have mastered. One lucky Olympian who comments on any of the four frugal Olympics posts will be entered to win a signed and personalized copy of my new book, The Five Years Before You Retire.

You may enter up to four times (once per event), and I will pick a winner randomly on February 28 March 7. (Changed to reflect the fact that I am totally behind!)



frugal_fun said:

If you makes you feel any better, almost anything you pick up in a modern grocery store is a "convenience" food. I've read that roast beef recipes from the 1800's tend to start with instructions like "butcher a cow". :)

We tend to not make convenience foods/snacks. It's just to give the slices of cheese, fruit, or have them eat left overs. Giving up most baking except for special occasions has really freed up time in the kitchen.

February 27, 2014 8:32 PM

haverwench said:

When we went to a Renaissance Festival last summer, my husband invented some homemade energy bars to take with us. Well, they were actually more like energy cakes, about the size and shape of a hockey puck (and nearly as dense). He based them loosely on Clif bars, which he'd taken to ComicCon one year as a meal substitute and found reasonably satisfying. He just combined 3/4 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup crushed walnuts, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, and 1/4 cup syrup for a yield of 8 bars. Rather than using the same type of syrup for them all, he experimented a bit, making two bars each with honey, molasses, corn syrup, and sorghum syrup, which we'd picked up on a whim at the Amish market and were looking for a use for. He says "A little corn starch on the fingers helps in the forming step," and they need to be refrigerated for a while to set them.

So how did they come out? I nibbled on one at the Renn Faire and found it not bad, but not irresistible either, which eliminates the whole problem of immediately scarfing half the pan. Brian ate a whole one and reports that it was quite filling; one would easily tide him over between meals, and two could probably take the place of a meal. So as a convenience food, these actually are reasonably convenient: compact, filling, inexpensive, not that hard to make, tasty enough to make an acceptable snack or meal substitute, but not so tasty that you'll be tempted to gobble them all up before you need them.

February 28, 2014 11:42 AM

cellomommy2 said:

I am not even sure what is meant by "convenience food" - I guess poptarts and french fries?  Instant oatmeal?  I guess I do not make these foods because they are usually cheaper to buy them on sale with coupons than it would be to make them.  I have made my own granola a couple times, but only to use up some ingredients.  I guess my version of convenience foods is to make multiple 8x8 lasagnas and pop them in the freezer - once a week we have a lasagna that all I have to do is pop it into the oven still frozen, uncover it after an hour, and let it cook for an additional 1/2 hour to get the cheese toasty, and dinner is made.  I do not boil the noodles because they cook in the foil covered pan in the sauce.  I can make four of these in less than half an hour which gives my little family four dinners and four lunches for me, and the kitchen is dirtied only once.  These I can make for less than I can buy them, as long as I buy the cheese on sale.  

March 6, 2014 9:59 AM

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