Want a home-cooked meal? It's in the can

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 13, 2013 at 10:48 am •  Published: February 13, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — There's nothing more satisfying than a home-cooked meal, especially if it comes out of a can or a pouch.

As more people try their hand at mimicking sophisticated recipes from cooking shows and blogs, food companies are rolling out meal kits and starters that make amateur chefs feel like Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray in the kitchen.

Call it the next generation of dinner-in-box sets like Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger Helper that were rolled out as moms flooded the workforce in the '50s, '60s and '70s. But the new kits and starters go beyond just browning meat and throwing evaporated cheese and seasonings into boiling water — the idea is to make people feel like they're making their meals from scratch.

General Mills Inc. has a line of "Progresso Recipe Starters," which are pre-made sauces in flavors such as "Fire-Roasted Tomato" and "Creamy Portabella Mushroom" that can be a base for a variety of dishes. Kraft Food Group Inc.'s "Sizzling Salads" dinner kits pair a meat marinade with salad dressing: you provide all the other ingredients. And Campbell Soup Co. has "Skillet Sauces" that can be mixed with fresh meat and veggies. Total prep time: 15 minutes.

Scott Jones, a public relations specialist in Fort Worth, Texas, uses Kraft's Velveeta Skillets, a deluxe version of mac-n-cheese in a box with flavors such as Chicken Alfredo and Lasagna.

Jones likes that the box suggests ways to customize the recipe by doing things like using different types of meats. He says the creamy cheese packets are a step up from powder mixes. And he likes adding personal touches (Think: diced tomatoes and peppers.)

It's not the same as the pot roasts feasts that he cooks on Sundays but on weekdays it allows him to give his family a "satisfying meal, quickly and conveniently."

Cooking shortcuts long have been an American way of life, of course. But demand has grown for time-saving recipes as busy Americans eat more meals at home to save money. The NPD Group estimates the average number of meals eaten at home at 902 last year, up from 870 four years earlier.

At the same time, there's a growing "foodie culture" that values authenticity and fresh ingredients. It may be why sales of Rice-A-Roni — essentially a box of rice and powdered seasoning mix — have dropped 16 percent to $196 million from five years ago, according to the market researcher Euromonitor International.

The companies that make the new starters say it's too early to make sales projections but the hope is to appeal to the people who want it both ways: a home-cooked meal that doesn't require much sweat and labor. In particular, companies are aiming for those in their 20s and 30s whose cooking skills may be outmatched by their increasingly sophisticated tastes.



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