The real cost of your kitchen shortcuts
We've all done it - bought grated cheddar or pre-prepared fruit salad to save time. But how much more are we paying for our culinary laziness?
Have you ever found yourself reaching for a handy little pack of fruit salad and wondered momentarily what kind of mark-up you're being charged for the convenience of someone else chopping the fruit into bite-sized pieces? Or of someone else grating your cheese for you? Or chopping your root veg, or rolling your meatballs?
The chances are high that you have. Most of us opt for convenience at one stage or another, vaguely aware that there's got to be a cost implication. But have you ever taken the time to compare the price per kilo of the pre-prepped food with its unprepared equivalent, usually to be found just an arm's reach away in the same aisle? No, most of us won't have - because if we're too busy to chop our own fruit or veg, we're certainly too busy to start calculating a cost comparison. And it turns out you're often paying three and even four times more for your produce. So what is the real cost of convenience? We did a quick run around the supermarkets, calculator in hand, to figure it out for you.
1 Aldi's Little Bites Fruit 3-pack tubs of apples and grapes €1.99 (240g)
These three handy 80g tubs contain about a third each of seedless grapes and two thirds bite-sized apple, with one of the pack containing green apples and grapes, and the other two red.
The equivalent 80g of grapes bought from a 500g pack of mixed grapes at €4.58 per kilo is 37c, which leaves €1.62 to cover the remaining 160g of apples. The average apple is about 100g, so we're talking one red apple and half a green one.
You could splash out on Aldi's most expensive red apple, which is a Pink Lady at 49c each (available in four-packs for €1.99), or you could scrimp on their budget Orchard Fresh Fun Size Red Apples for 14c each (available in bags of 10 for €1.39).
A Granny Smith will set you back 19c a pop (available in six-packs for €1.09). Confused yet? The bottom line is that you're looking at between 60c and €1 for the same quantity of unprepared fruit compared to twice that for the convenient packs.
2 Tesco Apple Snack Pack €0.69 (80g)
These are a little more straightforward to work out. Each pack contains 80g of sliced apple for 69c, where you can buy a five-pack of Braeburn apples for €1.99 or 53c each, or a four-pack of Gala apples for €1.79 or 53c each.
3 Marks & Spencer celery sticks €1.29 (180g)
A ready-to-go pack of celery cut up into a dozen convenient snack-sized sticks. Handy eh? Except that celery naturally grows in convenient sticks, albeit over twice the length of these snack-sized sticks. A head of celery will set you back 79c and weighs somewhere upwards of 400g. Even at a generous estimation, that's nearly half the price.
4 Dunnes Stores spiralised courgette €2 (200g)
Maybe you've been an obedient foodie and bought a spiraliser to make your courgette spaghetti, but you feel that sometimes life's too short to bother with it. Or maybe you're curious to see what the fuss is about. Either way, you're paying three times the price compared to buying a loose courgette and prepping it yourself. Which is not so bad when you consider that if you bought spiralised carrots (which cost the same), you'd be paying up to 10 times more per kilo than buying a bag and doing them yourself.
5 Tesco butternut squash, chopped €2.49 (300g)
In fairness, there's a bit of work to chopping a butternut squash, in order to cut away the hard skin, scoop out the seeds and chop into evenly sized pieces. So how much do you pay to avoid the faff? Even if you adjust the below price to account for losing the weight of the discarded skin and seeds, you're still looking at less than a quarter the cost if you did them yourself.
6 Aldi carrot batons €1.19 (500g)
As with most fruit and veg, the cost of whole, unpeeled carrots depends on how much you're willing to buy, and comes in as as little as €1.59 for 2kg, which works out at 79.5c for a kilo. I couldn't find loose carrots in the Aldi I was in, so the least I could buy would have been a 1kg bag for 99c. That's a third of the price.
7 SuperValu You Say Potato Fresh Cut Chips, €1.50 (500g)
Ah chips. We love them when someone else makes them eh? Buy a few loose spuds and you're not making a lot of savings at €2.39 per kilo (compared to €3 pre-chipped), but you could buy a 10kg bag of spuds for as little as 60c per kilo.
8 SuperValu Diced White Onion €0.99 (225g)
Again, you'll get your onions much cheaper if you're prepared to buy a few. The cheapest Supervalu offer them at is 69c for a 750g net of Dutch onions, which comes to 92c for a kilo. Or you bought them loose, you'd pay €1.49 per kilo.
9 Dunnes sliced mushrooms €1 (150g)
This turned out to be an interesting exception to the general rule of paying two, three or even four times the price for the convenience of someone else preparing your ingredients. Yes, you get more mushroom for your €1 if you buy unsliced button mushrooms (100g more to be precise) but the cost ratio is one of the closest we found. Or you could buy baby button mushrooms at the same cost of 150g for €1.
10 Lidl Rathdaragh Grated Mature White Cheddar €1.55 (250g)
Finally! Convenience that practically pays for itself. A 400g block of Medium Mature White Cheddar will cost you €2.45, which works out at almost the same equivalent price as the grated cheese.
11 Marks & Spencer smoked bacon strips €4.09 (55g)
These look really tasty, and would finish off a tossed Caesar salad nicely, so the appeal is undisputed. But at nearly €75 per kilo, they ain't cheap, even taking into account that they are made with 270g of raw pork for every 100g of end product. By that reckoning, if you were to buy a pack of 18 smoked bacon streaky rashers for €4.19 (250g) you'd still end up with twice as much crispy bacon for the same price.
12 Lidl Inisvale Irish beef meatballs €1.95 (340g)
Twelve pre-seasoned, pre-rolled meatballs, all ready to throw in the pan. Pretty handy alright. If you buy a 300g pack of Inisvale Irish minced beef for €1.59, it works out at €5.30 per kilo which is almost the same price per kilo - and saves you the cost of the bread or breadcrumbs, seasonings such as salt, pepper, ginger, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and diced onion which are listed as making up 5pc of the pre-prepared meatballs, along with various preservatives of course.