You go to the grocery store right from work hoping to buy a few ingredients to whip up something for dinner. You spot the frozen bags of veggies that already contain the pasta and some sort of sauce. Perhaps you grab one of those salad packs that contains a packet of dried cranberries, some nuts and even a dressing. You think, “OK, all I have to do now is make some chicken or fish. That shouldn’t take too long.”

Well, it might seem that way but a recent study done at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) showed that families that buy those “packaged” convenience meals only spend about 10 to 12 minutes less time preparing dinner than families that prepare meals from scratch.

The researchers can’t exactly explain the difference in time but Margaret Beck, the study’s author, suspects that it may have something to do with pleasing the palette of finicky children instead of having everyone eat the same thing. Though this doesn’t necessarily explain why people buy more “convenience” foods.

Some believe that the food industry has shaped our taste buds to crave more salt and sugar. Also, fewer people rely on recipes and grocery lists. If you plan ahead, you could buy all of the ingredients to make your favorite “convenience” meal for less money and more nutrients.

I have seen a television commercial of a mother and her children shopping for the ingredients to make a homemade version of their favorite take-out chicken meal but forego the homemade version because it “seems” more costly. But if they had shown the cost of the actual ingredients in relative portions for the recipe, I guarantee that the homemade meal would be comparable or even less expensive and certainly more nutritious than the “take-out” version.

To save money and time in the long run, think of other ways to use fresh ingredients besides the initial intended recipe.

Here’s a good example to get you started.

In honor of spring, let’s make one of my favorite dishes: Spring Rolls with Almond Dipping Sauce. With the “leftover” ingredients, create some slaws which make a great topping for salads or a bed for fish. Or see my Sweet C Slaw in the Feb. 21-22 edition of the Santa Monica Daily Press or on my blog at

Elizabeth Brown is a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, disease prevention and optimal health through whole foods. She can be reached at


1 pound tofu, firm

1/4 cup tamari soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/2 cup of water

Make marinade by combining tamari, brown rice vinegar, lemon juice, sesame oil, grated ginger, garlic, maple syrup and water in a blender. Slice the tofu fillets into long pieces about 1/2-3/4 inch thick . Place tofu in marinade in a flat, deep, baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Allow tofu to marinate for two to 24 hours.

Spring Rolls

1/2 head green cabbage, finely sliced

6 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks or shredded

20 sprigs fresh cilantro

20 mint leaves

10 spring roll wrappers (rice), 8 1/2 inch size

Shred carrots using a hand grater. Set aside in a bowl. Chop the cabbage. Set aside in a bowl. Chop cilantro and mint together. Set aside in bowl. Boil some water to use for soaking the rice paper wrappers. Set up a large shallow bowl of very hot water. Slip a spring roll wrapper into the water. When the wrapper becomes pliable, (after about 45 seconds) remove it from the water and lay it flat on a cloth towel. Place a small handful of cabbage one inch away from the end closest to you. You will be rolling away from your body. Add carrots, marinated tofu and cilantro/mint mixture. Roll the wrapper away from you, tucking in the sides as you roll, and rolling as tightly as possible.

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