What is the Almost Homemade cooking strategy?

The “Almost Homemade” strategy is for those busy days when you may not have the time and/or the energy to cook from scratch. Or, if you are a beginning cook needing to put food on the table, it is an excellent way to add variety and value to your meal without having to master the recipe from scratch today.

The Concept

In a nutshell, this concept is taking a prepackaged item and making it more personal and getting more value from the meal.

The Basic Approach

The basic approach of “Almost Homemade” is using additional ingredients and/or using ingredient substitution in a package dish (e.g., box mix, canned soup/chili, etc.). To keep the convenience of a prepackaged meal, while making them more unique, personal, nutritious, and valuable.

The Method

  • Read the ingredients of the package recipe is looking for listed items, which you supplement with additional quantities, and may already have available for use (such as; garden vegetables, small amounts of fresh or frozen vegetables, Fresh, precooked or leftovers, fresh fruit).
  • Read the instructions for ingredients, which can be substituted with healthier alternatives. For example, replacing some or all of the oil and/or butter in a box mix with unsweetened or homemade applesauce.
  • Read the stir and ideas or alternate recipe suggestions, these can give you some additional thoughts.
  • Consider the food theme (e.g., Italian, Spanish, etc.) of items for fruits, vegetables, and meats, which can be added to this and make flavor sense based on the food theme. For example, if the food theme is Spanish you may be able to add some cooked beans, green beans, chopped green pepper, onions, etc..
  • Decide on the approach or approaches which you wish to apply.
  • Gather the ingredients for preparation and those you want to use as substitutes and/or additions to the dish
  • Prepare the pre-packaged meal according to the instructions making the substitutions or adding supplemental items, where the original items were identified or would be included in the instructions.


  • when working with frozen fruits and vegetables, it is best to thaw them and drain off excess liquid before adding them to the dish.
  • When adding canned items (e.g., fruits, sweet corn), consider whether or not you can use the juice/syrup as a substitute for some of the dish’s liquid requirements. This can add additional flavor depth to the items, such as cakes, rice and/or dehydrated potato dishes.
  • Make sure all raw, refrigerated (including leftovers), and frozen items achieve food safety cooking temperature levels.
  • When leveraging leftovers, be sure they are well within the safe food storage time frames and are unspoiled – use the  “When In Doubt, Throw It Out ” Rule
  • consider starting small and working your way up to a comfortable balance for your family, and you may, actually, want to write down the combination, which your family particularly liked for future repetition.

Advantages of the Approach

The “Almost homemade” approach to prepackaged food can provide several benefits for the home cook, which can be:

Making Prepackaged Food More Healthy

Depending on the prepackaged dish you are working with, you may be able to use substitution or add ingredients to increase the nutritional value, decrease fat levels, reduced-calorie levels, and/or reduced-sodium will level of each serving.

Make More Use of Foods You All Ready Have

Items you may have quantities too small to use or to preserve by themselves, you can often incorporate them into a prepackaged dish without any substantial additional effort and without the potential loss of the food item due to spoilage.

Make Use of Garden Vegetables

Garden vegetable production varies across time, or your garden is small and only able to produce small quantities of fruits and vegetables, but even a single tomato, carrot, or summer squash can be added to the right pre-packaged dish. During those times when you may have too much of a good thing in your vegetable garden or have small surpluses after your preservation (e.g., Canning) efforts, you can incorporate them into prepackaged dishes to add variety while putting your garden produce to good use.

Increase the value of Prepackaged Foods

By supplementing your prepackaged meal with fruits, vegetables, and meats, you can create more servings from the same sized package, which you can reduce your need to use more boxes to serve larger dinners or to prepare additional dishes to offset the missing food value volume and/or meals for your family and guests.

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