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Yesterday I saw two supermarket signs that reflect a popular attitude toward nourishment: "Grab & Go Meals" and "Convenience Breakfasts."

Hint: Any time you see the word "convenience," you're likely to pay a lot more.

Case in point: cereal cups. A cup of Special K from the Convenience Breakfasts section costs the equivalent of $16 a pound, vs. a box of Special K that goes for $5.33 per pound. A cup of Oatmeal Express sells for $14.33 per pound, whereas instant oatmeal in packets will set you back $4.77 per pound.

A few aisles over you can buy bulk oatmeal for $1.09 per pound. But don't get me started.

Seriously: Is a markup of 300% or more really worth it? Apparently so, or we wouldn't have such a thing as precooked rice.

Yep, little plastic containers that you stick in the microwave. Within 60 seconds you've got a half-cup of white, brown or jasmine swamp seed. The cost: $4.89 per pound. No one ever went broke underestimating the laziness of the American public.

No time to peel?
Yes, I know how busy you all are. But have we become so separated from reality that we can't even boil our own eggs?

That is not a joke: You can buy bags of peeled hard-boiled eggs in some stores. I'd seen these in the Lower 48 but didn't find them in either of the two supermarket chains here in Anchorage. If images of the prefab cackleberries didn't exist online, my roommate might think I'd made them up: She responded with, "You're kidding" when I mentioned this item. (So have other people.)

I called a Trader Joe's market in Washington and found that a 9.3-ounce bag sells for $2.69; the clerk believed that there were 8 to 10 eggs in each bag. A 2008 online review of cage-free (not organic) precooked eggs noted that 11 of them sold for $4.59. No doubt the price has gone up.

Value added?

A few more examples of the "You're kidding" school of convenience food:
  • Prewashed sweet potatoes. Scrubbed, wrapped in plastic and "ready to microwave," for $2. Two bins over you could buy an unwrapped sweet potato for about $1.34. (I don't eat the skins, so I'll skip the pre-bake bath and keep the extra 66 cents.)
  • The Cheerios "Toddler Pack." This 1-ounce plastic container of the diaper set's preferred nosh sells for $1.89. For those of you keeping score, that works out to $27.50 per pound. In the cereal aisle, Cheerios cost as little as $1.95 per pound. (But the container is so easy for Junior to hold, you say? So is a sippy cup -- dump some cereal in it.)
  • Gelatin cups. Really? A four-ounce serving works out to about 76 cents. The same amount made with a box of mix: 20 cents. Learn to boil water, already.
  • Prefab PBJs. Sold in the freezer section, four for $3.99. Since each sandwich weighs just 2 ounces, I expect it would take more than one to fill up even a first-grader. (Oh, but the crusts have already been cut off! That’s "value-added"!)
No, that's "dollar-depreciated.​" While I understand the desire to have things ready now-now-NOW!, I sure wish we could replace "Grab & Go" with "Slow Down & Save."

It's hard to get ahead if you're paying $4.89 per pound for rice, or $3.99 for sandwiches that might make two lunches, tops, for your kids. Even a little basic planning and cooking could be a big boost to your food budget.

I know that many people buy convenience food because they're so stressed and busy. Overspending on food can certainly add to that stress, however.

I also think some people grew up in homes where no one cooked, and as a result can't even boil an egg. The thing is, none of us know how to do anything -- until we make a point of learning.

What will and won't you pay for in the name of convenience?

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