Just because I am capable of cooking most things from scratch does not mean I always want to. I am also not immune to the charms of boxed, canned, frozen, or otherwise processed and prepared convenience foods, particularly when they possess certain qualities that just can’t be replicated outside of an industrial kitchen. These are the convenience foods I refuse to live without — the treasures of the grocery store, the fruits of capitalism I begrudgingly enjoy.
Editor’s Note: This article refers to products available in the U.S. If you’re really keen to check them out, Australian equivalents do exist.
Ghriadelli Brownie Mix
I simply refuse to make brownies from scratch while this (perfect, extremely cost-effective) mix exists. These brownies are chewy on the edges and fudgy in the centre, and they have the shiniest crust you ever did see. I also appreciate the lack measuring needed, the limited number of bowls and spatulas required, and the fact that they cost about $4 per box. (Well, not the 3 kg box above. I don’t know how much it costs because it was a birthday present, but I think it was more that $4.)
Better Than Bouillon
I am a devoted fan of the Better Than Bouillon product line, and I am quite vocal about it. I smear it on roasted vegetables, I mix it into pantry pasta, I brush it on whole chickens, and I shove it into my butter-baked onions. It is concentrated flavour, already developed and jarred for your convenience, and shunning convenience does not make you culinarily superior. A tiny spoonful is all you need to make a dish taste far more labour-intensive than it was (and that, my friends, is a hack).
Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
I do not make a ton of corn muffins, though the muffins made with this mix are delightfully corny and sweet. I mostly use this mix to make corn casserole, which is a perfect casserole. The mix is combined with canned corn (whole and creamed), cheese, butter, and sour cream to make a pudding-like, bready mass of carbs and fat. It is, by my standards, perfect. Plus I have always enjoyed Jiffy’s branding. It’s so cheerful.
Hikari Instant Miso Soup
I like this brand of instant miso because it comes with a variety of mix-ins (like fried onions and tofu), and it comes together in a couple of minutes. Add an egg and you have a very satisfying savoury breakfast. Mix it with sour cream and you have a pleasing chip dip.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
The blue box is not exactly “macaroni and cheese,” is it? It’s its own unique product, with its own unique flavour, and I love that tangy, cheese-adjacent taste very, very much. It is probably related to childhood nostalgia, but I find the bright orange macaroni — and the process of making it — very comforting. I always get the original flavour — “extra creamy” can jump up my butt — though I have been know to get a little crazy with buttermilk. Sometimes I sprinkle the powder on popcorn.
Totino’s Party Pizza
Again, this is not exactly “pizza.” It’s a unique product that defies logic and economics while filling both physical and emotional voids. The sauce is too sweet, the crust is not what it should be, and the meats are oddly bouncy, but somehow it all works. Undercook it a little and you can fold it into a taco-like shape, which is fun.
Frozen Hash Brown Patties
I buy these things in bulk at the restaurant supply store and I power through them at an embarrassing rate. Besides the obvious “on the side” applications, I like to shove them inside breakfast sandwiches, or treat them like little potato toasts and smear them with a variety of toppings. (A toasted carb is a toasted carb — that’s what I say.)
Instant ramen rules. Even if you forgo the flavour pack (and save it for fries, perhaps), the quick, resilient noodles can serve as a base for a wide variety of meals. I’m partial to breakfast ramen and cold noodle bowls with this peanut sauce. I enjoy almost all ramen flavours, though beef is my grocery store go-to.
I truly believe that most people’s distrust of SPAM is rooted in classism and/or racism. It’s a great processed meat that tastes amazing when fried, and I don’t know why you would want to deny yourself of that. Like, have you had SPAM and eggs? Have you had masubi? Have you had waffled spam? All of these things are capable of bringing you joy, and you should let them into your life. I love the original flavour deeply, but my friend sent me the Má Lá flavour (from Canada) and it changed me. (They really nailed the tingly spicy flavour profile.)