It's no secret how much we love a shortcut in the kitchen. If we've said it once, we've said it a million times: There is no shame in doing something or buying something that can save you time when it comes to getting dinner on the table. While it's true that sometimes, yes, you'll pay more for that convenience, it's not always the case. Sometimes a shortcut can save you time and money. It's true! Just check out these 10 instances uncovered by grocery shopper extraordinaire, Maria Speidel.
1. Chocolate Cake
A lot of beans go into baking a chocolate cake, figuratively and literally. Recipes can call for four to eight ounces of baking chocolate, costing anywhere from just under $4 for Baker's brand to $10 for 9.7 ounces of ScharffenBerger. More chocolate (sometimes a whole bag of chips, $4 to $8) can go into the frosting. You could spend $18 just on chocolate or pick up a cake in the bakery section. My local Ralph's, a Kroger store, had one for $10.
If you want to make it: Southern-Style Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting
2. Pecan Pie
My local Kroger had an eight-inch pecan pie for $7.49. The package of whole pecans I would need to bake it was $10.49! Granted, I would have had some leftovers nuts, but I still would have walked out of the store with one expensive ingredient and no pie.
If you want to make it: How To Make Classic Pecan Pie
3. Plain Marinara Sauce
I used to secretly turn up my nose at cooks who used bottled sauce in their lasagnas, baked pastas, or spaghetti and meatballs, but financially it can make sense. Trader Joe's sells a plain Tomato Basil Marinara for $1.79, while the can of tomatoes alone — no basil, olive oil, or anything else — is $1.59. In this case, the prepared sauce is more cost-effective, and it doesn't taste all that bad either!
If you want to make it: How To Make Marinara Pasta Sauce
All that avocado toast plus droughts in California have made avocados skyrocket in price, but the ready-made guacamole can be a deal. My local Kroger was selling 12-ounce packages of Wholly Guacamole for $4.99. Individual avocados cost $1.50 each. I did a little experiment in my kitchen, peeling, de-pitting and re-weighing a single avocado: I would have needed to buy five or six of his brothers and spent up to $9 to yield a similar amount of guac in the 12-ounce package. Holy Guacamole, indeed!
If you want to make it: The Perfect Guacamole
5. Raspberry Jam
Okay, home canners — don't come for me, but I am using raspberries as an example, here, because those tiny globes of goodness can be pricey, but this goes for other expensive fruit, such as Meyer lemons for marmalade. Unless you grow your own, or visit a pick-your-own farm, the per-pound price will make your jars of jam or marmalade worthy of a safe deposit box. Recently, six-ounce boxes of organic raspberries were $5 at my Kroger. Across the store, the house brand organic Simple Truth Raspberry Jam was on sale, $3.59 for 16.5 ounces. Without evening getting into canning proportions, I know the jarred stuff equals savings.
If you want to make your own: How To Make Fruit Jam
6. Peanut Butter
Trader Joe's sells 16 ounces of shelled peanuts for $2.69, while a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter is $2.29. Plus, you don't have to dig out your food processor.
If you want to make your own: How To Make Homemade Peanut Butter
Admittedly, there is nothing like homemade, but there are decent frozen, family-sized lasagnas at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and the ready-to-go section of many supermarkets. They are less expensive than buying all the components — cheese, noodles, sauce, vegetables and/or sausage — separately and cooking your own. There are even freezer section brands like Stouffer's to consider. Stouffer's Party Size Lasagna is $12 at Kroger. Trader Joe's Roasted Vegetable Multi-grain Lasagna is $5.99.
If You Want to Make Your Own
8. Simmer Sauces
Are you truly dedicated to using that whole jar of garam masala, which set you back anywhere from $4 to $9? If you are not married to making a particular recipe, the Maya Kaimal brand of tikka masala simmer sauce ($4.99 at 365 by Whole Foods) or Kroger's house brand jalfrezi Indian simmer sauce ($3.69) might be your economy ticket to making curry chicken or shrimp.
9. Salmon Burgers
If you like your salmon in burger form, check out the boxed patties in your grocer's freezer. On a per-pound basis ( $6.49 for four at Trader Joe's, or $9 for 12 ounces at Kroger), their price is less than the typical cost of fresh salmon (anywhere from $11 to $20-plus) which is overwhelmingly the main ingredient.
If You Want to Make Your Own
10. Big Salads
Making your own salad is great, but if you end up tossing half your old produce at the end of the week or let that packet of quinoa get moldy in the pantry, the savings goes out with the trash. Pick wisely, filling up with light leafy greens and using other ingredients sparingly, and even expensive $8.99-per-pound salad bars can make sense. Also, reliable Trader Joe's sells packaged salads with a preposterous amount of ingredients (spinach, edamame, quinoa, carrots, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, chickpeas!) for four to five dollars. They can work as lunch for one or a small side salad for up to four people.
What shortcuts do you buy at the grocery store to save time and money?