Is Convenience Food Sucking Up Your Food Budget? The Rice-a-Roni Example

Take a look at your past grocery receipt. Do you like the total of it? Chances are you may have been a little mortified once the cashier told you the final total of your groceries. You are not alone! Many individuals and families struggle with keeping their grocery bills down. It can be disheartening to spend $200-300 one week on groceries and then feel like you don’t have enough food the next week. You just shake your head and ask yourself, “Where did all the food go?”

Convenience foods suck up a lot of your grocery budget.

While they may save you a few minutes in the kitchen, they don’t save you a lot of money. Take example Rice-a-Roni and similar rice dishes. Yes, you may be able to get them for about .60-$1.20 per box, which is not horrible, but still not the best. However, consider this: a 25-pound bag of brown rice cost $8.99 at Costco (I am sure you can find similar pricing elsewhere). An average box of Rice-a-Roni has 5.9 ounces in it.  You could make 67 Rice-a-Roni servings from your 25-pound bag of rice! Now consider these scenarios:

I eat a box of Rice-a-Roni once a week with my family’s dinner. I pay $1 per box (1 cup of rice). At the end of the year, I paid $52 to feed my family this side dish once a week. Not too bad…


I bought a 25-pound bag of rice from Costco or similar store for $9. I use a little less than ½ pound of rice (2.5 cups of rice – which actually makes more than the Rice-a-Roni box) per meal, at one meal per week. At the end of the year, I have spent $9 on rice and probably even have a little leftover rice.

Cost difference is =$43 per year

I know you skeptics out there have two things on your mind. First, Rice-a-Roni has a lot more seasoning than regular brown rice. Very true. You can either calculate the costs of seasonings or the savings of your future health bills (Most packaged rice meals have about 600-700 mg of sodium per serving!). Here is a Rice-a-Roni copycat recipe that cost .12 per batch.

Secondly, I know many are scoffing at the idea of saving $43 a year. For some, that is an hour or so of work, for others scraping by, it is a little more than five hours of work. I also want to point out that this is just one convenience food example. I am certain you can find 5-10 more foods like it on your grocery list, here are a few I came up with:

  • pizza dough
  • canned biscuits
  • bottled sports drinks
  • sodas
  • p Rice a Roni otato chips
  • beef jerky
  • cereal
  • instant oatmeal
  • canned soups
  • salad dressing
  • pancake mix
  • frozen waffles
  • yogurt
  • trail mix
  • frozen dinners
  • ready made chicken strips (for salads, wraps)
  • cream of ____(chicken,mushroom…)

Think about some of the convenience foods you buy. Break down their ingredients to simple terms. Can you make that at home for pennies rather than buying it at the store for dollars? Let’s not forget the health factor that comes into play here too. Many convenience foods and prepackaged foods are full of artificial flavorings, fillers, and chemicals to make them have a longer shelf life. Not only are these foods hard for your body to digest as real food, but the packaged version usually has more fat, calories, sugar, and sodium in it too, which can lead to a thicker waistline.

If you can find at least 5 convenience foods/junk foods you buy on a regular basis and either remove them for your diet or replace them with an inexpensive homemade version, you will be surprised at how much money you will save. I challenge you to make a list of every packaged thing you buy and eat on a regular basis. Then decide which ones you want to learn how to make yourself and which ones are a waste of time (i.e. I am looking at several easy crockpot yogurt recipes that I hope will save me a good chunk of money, but I would never make my own corn tortillas – they are so cheap in CA, that it is not worth my time to make them from scratch).

img credit: Sörn on Flickr.

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