Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Again with the price comparisons…

I ate some pudding white stuff that alleged to be vanilla pudding tonight. I’m ashamed to admit I not only bought this white stuff, I bought it for my children to take for school snacks. Eh, they were on sale, one dollar for four little cups of the stuff. No refrigeration required. Perfect for the snack box we keep for their school-snacking-pleasure.

Oh. My. Dawg. I mean…they’re just…um…EW!

The Denizens, naturally, love them. They are smooth, and sweet, and Mommy has only bought them maybe one other time in ten long years of Denizen Existence.

They are a treat.

Or so they tell me. These being the same short people who tell me that crisp, farm-fresh green beans tossed with !butter and bacon! are icky…large grains of salt should be taken along with their opinions.

As I polished off the thankfully tiny little cup of glop, I found myself pondering how good a deal these little suckers actually were. I mean, $1 for four 3.5 ounce cups seemed pretty cheap, considering that the regular price for them was $2.79…but…hmmm…

First, I thought about the old busy-mom standby: Jell-O Instant Pudding. One package of that for $1.89, three cups of milk for another quarter and for $2.15-ish I’ve got six half-cup servings with almost no effort. And it goes on sale frequently for a dollar a package. $1.25, six slightly larger servings, it’s a better deal. Simple, too. Dump the mix into the milk, whisk, refrigerate, divvy into serving containers, done.

But could I just leave it at that? Of course not. I had to wonder about homemade pudding. The from-scratch stuff.

{somber priestess expression} Let us consult The Spreadsheet. {/somber priestess expression}

The following ingredients, put together in the right order and stirred carefully over medium heat until boiling, makes about four cups of pudding – a little over double the amount of one four-pack of the prepackaged glop. The price per unit comes from my price book. (The vanilla, by the way, costs me about half what a wee bottle from the supermarket costs…when you buy the stuff a gallon at a time, you tend to get a price break, go figure.) Multiply the quantity by the price per unit and what do you get…

Vanilla Pudding, 4 cups

IngredientUnitsCost/UnitTotal Cost
Sugar, Cups0.75$ 0.20$ 0.15
Flour, Cups0.125$ 0.09$ 0.01
Cornstarch, Tablespoon2$ 0.03$ 0.07
Salt, teaspoon0.25$ 0.01$ 0.00
Milk, cup2.5$ 0.09$ 0.22
Eggs yolks 4$0.13$ 0.53
Butter, Tablespoon1$ 0.05$ 0.05
Vanilla Extract, teaspoon1$ 0.12$ 0.12
Total Cost$ 1.14

Well now. Isn’t that fascinating.

Of course, the main selling point here is convenience. The glop is prepackaged, requires no refrigeration and is a grab-n-go proposition. Grab the glop, and a spoon, and off you go. They also don’t require any particular skills with a wooden spoon, which I understand is a huge selling point for a lot of folks.

But my frugal point is this. Let’s say you’ve got four kids hungry for a sweet treat. Let’s say you’re a weak generous kind of parent, and you don’t mind letting them have one, once or twice a week. Let’s make it twice, because that math is easier.

You can pay $2.00 on sale (or $5.58 not on sale) for them to have not-quite-half-a-cup of artificially sweetened, smoothened and otherwise tweaked about glop, or $1.14 for nothing-you-can’t-pronounce-in-it homemade pudding. (I’m not biased, I swear!)

If this is every single week, that’s as much as $230 a year in pudding-savings.

How inconvenient is it, really? Well, I’ll grant you, the first couple times will be annoying, and possibly messy, and something may very well go wrong. Although frankly, pudding is one of the easier things to make…the main thing is to keep stirring constantly as you warm it gently up to boiling. Having the fire too hot (e.g., being in a hurry and deciding that it probably won’t hurt things to, you know, nudge that temperature up a bit) will give you nasty burnt milk flavor, getting distracted will give you lumpy pudding.

But I’ve been making puddings for a while. Start to finish, it takes me about twenty minutes to make a batch of the stuff. It takes no longer to make a triple batch than a single, so I can make an entire week’s worth of indulgence in the same amount of time. Package it up in, say, a couple sets of Rubbermaid ‘Twist and Seals’. They stack up in the fridge, the kids can still grab-n-go, and I’ve just saved myself a whack of change, done my small bit for the environment (wash and reuse, people!), and partially assuaged my guilt for sending them to school with sugary non-nutrition in the first place.

Because this right here, is homemade, all natural sugary non-nutrition, people!

Infinitely healthier than the other stuff.


And because somebody is going to ask…here’s how you put those ingredients together.

In a nice heavy saucepan, combine:
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together:
4 egg yolks
2-1/2 cups milk

(If you’re not going to use the egg whites right away, I recommend freezing each one in an ice tray – thawed out and warmed all the way back up to room temperature, they can be used in meringues…or you can use them to bind your meatloaf, or to make a nice light omelet, or in glazes for your baked goods…point being, you don’t have to dump them down the sink just because you aren’t going to use them right that minute.)

Turn the heat on to medium. TRUST ME. No cheating and setting it to high to get it over with faster! Medium.

Pour your milk-egg mixture into the dry mixture, stirring constantly. I generally use my whisk for this part, to make sure I get things good and blended before the action gets started.

Stir constantly over that medium heat, resisting the urge to turn it up, until it suddenly, right when you thought it was never, ever going to do it and maybe I should just nudge this heat up a smidge or two here, thickens and starts to boil. Keep stirring for one whole minute, cursing loudly as molten splotches of pudding leap out of the pan and burn quarter-sized holes in your flesh being careful to avoid splatters.

Remove from the heat. Add one tablespoon of butter, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Allow to cool, then divvy up into your serving containers and there you are. Stack them up in the fridge, and feel smug about $230 in pudding-savings this year. If, you know, you’re giving four kids a twice-weekly pudding fix. Wait, is that just me…?

It will form a crust on the top. Big deal. Stir it in and ignore it – it doesn’t harm the taste any.

This particularly recipe is highly customizable, too. You want butterscotch flavor? Use brown sugar instead of white. You want bananas? Why not – add a few slices to the containers before you fill them. In fact, you can add just about any fruit to this, which has the added benefit of alluding to good nutrition. It’s not just pudding, it is pudding with blueberries, which have antioxidants, which makes this health-pudding!

OK, yeah, it’s a stretch. But speaking from the firm ground of almost complete scientific ignorance, it surely seems to me that my homemade stuff has got to be healthier (in a highly relative manner) than something with chemical compounds I can’t even pronounce in it, which exist purely to prolong shelf life and permit a dairy product to sit in the 80-degree-plus heat for weeks on end without “product degradation.”

…but again, I swear, I am not biased…


Louiz said...

Every time you do this breakdown and show how much we can save... I start doing a bit more in that direction, but not this time - my freezer has broken down:( We're going to have to buy a new one:( Which we've been putting off now for over a month. Maybe we should get to that (although I'd like to wait until the sales).

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for giving me something other than peanut butter fudge for that homemade sweet fix.

Judy said...

You are a good mom.

mama edge said...

In my home, the economics are quite different. My costs would double or even triple with the homemade pudding, because I can't resist eating the good stuff myself, as opposed to the instant glop that tastes like raw cake batter. And of course, then there would be the added cost of therapy for me once my expanding butt and thighs plunged me into a deep depression.

Sorry, boys, but at our house Jell-O makes the very best.

Stephanie said...

Okay, but where oh where are you getting your milk such that it is $1.50 per gallon? That is less than half of the cheapest price I can find around here.

Donna said...

Me too on the milk question. We're paying $3.80 + per gallon in Northern Virginia, which makes it $.24 per cup . . .

(formerly) no-blog-rachel said...

Those little denizens of yours had better watch out. Some of us who know good food when we hear about it might accidentally run them over while speeding to your dinner table to get us some of those green beans with bacon! :)

The pudding (home made not processed stuff) sounds fab but I'd still prefer the beans with bacon. Or anything and bacon...

Science PhD Mom said...

Pudding and bacon?

But seriously, the chemicals added to the food are often food-derived in the first place. Lecithin, anyone? *ahem* Anyway, the whole concept of shelf stability was to keep less food from going bad, a good thing. It's just been used for a different purpose, convenience foods. I agree that homemade is better, though I have to say that food science has done some pretty cool things (and no it's not my field of study). :)

I am just compelled to speak up for the humble scientist side of things. However, I will have to try your pudding recipe. Most pre-packaged puddings are what I would term "gross glop", to not put too fine a point on it!

Anonymous said...

How can you make this pudding chocolate? Note, I'm totally asking for me because I'll probably eat the whole thing...LOL.

Nicole said...

Would you like to adopt me and make me home made pudding twice a week?
i'll pay rent.
i'm vegetarian, and i will buy all my own meat substitutes, and other than that, i'm not picky.
i'll help take care of the denziens, and teach them french if you would like.

basically, i just want home made pudding.

Anonymous said...

You probably already know this, Tama, but one of my blinding epiphany moments in cooking came while watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS, which I have done approximately 3 times in my life because it comes on in the middle of the day on a Saturday. These are the Consumer Reports people of recipes. They TESTED VANILLA! And EVEN when tasting straight vanilla in milk (no other flavors, no other textures) they deemed faux vanilla just totally fine to use. DUDE. I'd always been taught that vanillin was a slippery slope to something too terrible to mention (I never did find out what). So now, in the baking aisle I coach my mother's voice in my head and remind her (repeatedly!) of that other trick she taught me --to look past the item price to the all-important ye olde Unite Price. I still hide the jar in the back of the spice cabinet, though.