Typically, our family will treat Friday as Frie-day, and our dinner will consist of some sort of fast-food (e.g., burgers & fries). However, for our meals during the rest of the week, we try to follow this simple rule: Avoid the use of pre-packaged "convenience" food mixes (e.g., Hamburger Helper, bagged salads).
By preparing the meals from stock items you have control over how healthy your meal is, how cost efficient your meal is, and how tasty your meal is. You also have a golden opportunity to engage in family time as the children (and even the husband) can lend assistance in the meal's preparation. Family traditions can be passed on through something as simple as a favorite dish.
The meals prepared do not have to be elaborate productions, and steps can be taken to save time. For instance, while freshly made tomato sauce is a wonderful sensation to the taste buds, most times we simply grab the canned variety. However, we rarely (read: never) use bottled varieties of, say, spaghetti sauce. Yuck! Why pay the extra cost for something that is so easily made (and better tasting) with a few simple spices?
In 'Convenience' Foods Save Little Time For Working Families At Dinner, at ScienceDaily, there are some telling results from a study done on dinner preparation habits of 32 working families in the Los Angeles region. From the article,
"People actually spend quite a fair amount of time cooking, but they're incorporating a lot of so-called convenience foods. Some people are just grabbing food kits off store shelves and adding water."
Surprisingly, dinner didn't get on the table any faster in homes that favored convenience foods...
In fact, families saved only when it came to the amount of hands-on time spent preparing dishes -- and the savings were relatively modest. Families with an extensive reliance on convenience foods saved an average of 10 to 12 minutes over families with more limited reliance on such products. Home-cooked meals required an average of 34 minutes of hands-on time.
Not surprisingly, mothers tended to wear the apron. Of observed dinners, 80 percent were made by mothers, and this was the case even when fathers were already home from work and theoretically available to pitch in.
...To the distress of CELF researchers, children didn't help much either. "It makes me sad when I think of people not having this experience," Ochs said. "You lose family and regional traditions."