Walk into any supermarket in Australia and you'll discover a wealth of 'convenience products' on the shelves – ready-cut vegies, diced fruits, minced garlic, jarred pesto, shredded cheese and ground nuts that exist to take the time and hassle out of food preparation.
While these products certainly can be a godsend when we're short on time or motivation, or for people who are unable to easily chop or dice food themselves, they're also significantly more expensive.
When you process food yourself you're in control of the quality of ingredients and can make sure there are no added nasties
Using your trusty food processor to dice, slice and prepare these foods yourself instead of reaching for a convenience product can mean serious savings. Not to mention the extra packaging you'll be saving if you dice or process loose fresh produce instead of buying it pre-cut and bagged.
Sure, you have the upfront cost of buying the machine – they're priced from $49 to $1399 in our latest food processor reviews (with many of the cheaper models performing just as well as some of the pricier options). But you could make that back many times over during the appliance's lifetime, especially if you love snacking on carrot sticks!
Convenience at a cost
There's no denying the convenience of ready-prepared foods. Sometimes, when you've got to smash out a meal and just don't have the time or energy to do it, these products can be a godsend. They exist to make our lives easier, but at what cost?
Say you're at your local supermarket and you pick up a bag of frozen diced onions ($4/kg) instead of loose onions ($2.90/kg), which you could easily chop in your food processor at home. You're paying almost 30% more for the convenience, plus adding an extra bit of plastic to landfill.
How about adding cauliflower rice ($10/kg) to your cart instead of blitzing a whole head of cauliflower ($3.77/kg)? That'll set you back $6.23 more per kilo.
Prefer to buy pre-cut Coles carrot sticks ($13.33/kg) to munch on instead of using your food processor to cut up loose carrots ($2.20/kg)? Six times as much for convenience may be a little tough to chew.
If you buy a 500g packet of Australian Tasty Shredded Cheese from Woolworths ($13.20/kg) to use for bakes, pasta or sandwiches, you're paying a few dollars more than if you bought the same cheese in a block ($9.90/kg). Sure, the price difference is not so huge here, but if you buy the shredded cheese, you're also paying for extra additives and preservatives that you wouldn't get if you shredded the cheese yourself in a food processor.
The block cheese lists just "pasteurised milk, salt, starter culture and non-animal rennet" in its ingredients, however the Woolworths shredded cheese product also includes an anti-caking agent (cellulose) and an artificial preservative (sorbic acid).
While certain additives and preservatives are legal and deemed safe for use in Australia, they can sometimes cause allergic or adverse reactions in some people so you might want to consider avoiding them in favour of consuming food as close to its natural state as possible.
Process the (food) savings
Your food processor is literally made for cutting, chopping, slicing and mincing – it's arguably one of the most convenient tools in your kitchen and it can help you save some serious dollars, too.
CHOICE kitchen expert, Fiona Mair, says there are many reasons to put your food processor to work instead of buying expensive ready-made products, including not only a reduction in unnecessary packaging, but more choice and awareness of exactly what's in your food.
She says that, unlike ready-made products, when you process food yourself you're in control of the quality of ingredients and can make sure there are no added nasties.
"Packaged chopped, shredded and sliced prepared foods may not be the freshest or highest quality," she says. "It's a good way for manufacturers and supermarkets to use offcuts or foods nearing best-before dates, as they can be easily disguised when repurposed.
"Cheese, nuts, breadcrumbs, biscuit bases and vegetables can be processed in bulk with a food processor and stored in the freezer, which can save money in the long run and means that you're eating food that you're sure has nothing added to it."
An inconvenient truth
On the other hand, for those who value convenience over cost, using a food processor at home to save money inevitably defeats the purpose of, well, 'convenience' foods. The time it takes to process the foods, the messy cleanup afterwards and the potential to waste food are all important considerations when you're money-rich but time-, space- and motivation-poor.
Plus, the convenience of these foods may be more than just the way they're prepared – it could also be in the smaller quantities in which they're often sold.
The time it takes to process the foods, the messy cleanup afterwards and the potential to waste food are all important considerations
Buying a 500g bag of almonds when you only want 230g of slivered almonds means you'll inevitably have to store the excess – slivered or whole. Purchasing a whole block of cheese rather than a smaller bag of shredded cheese means what's leftover will need to be stored appropriately in the fridge, and used before it goes mouldy.
Should you pick up a head of broccoli instead of buying a small bag of pre-cut florets, it's possible the excess may ultimately end up a slimy mess at the bottom of your fridge. Wasted food is also wasted money, after all.
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