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Jul 21, 2014 12:05 PM

Is this tacky?

It used to be that when I had people over for lunch or dinner, I would cook everything (maybe have one or two premade appetizers), but def. cook the entrees and sides. Lately I’ve noticed that on those rare occasions I have guests, I would make one or two side dishes from scratch but would serve ready-made entrees (e.g. ribs, roasts, fish) and appetizers from the stores (Trader Joe's, Sprouts). I just feel like I have more energy to enjoy the company when I don’t have to slave over the stove. However, it got me wondering how the guests would perceive the short-cuts. If you were invited to someone’s place for a meal, would you be disappointed if everything wasn't homemade?

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  1. Eh. You're opening your home to me and serving me a meal. As long as it's not, say, Kraft mac n cheese or hamburger helper, I'd just be thankful.

    47 Replies
    1. re: linguafood

      What is wrong with Kraft Mac and Cheese or Hamburger Helper. I would love to try Hamburger Helper. I don't think I have ever had it.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Hamburger helper is legally palatable only if you are in some states if you know what I'm saying....

        1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

          I promise you. I will buy hamburger helper sometime this week (or next week). I got to try this stuff.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I had it 4-5 times as a kid, I think you have to buy the beef separately, then mix it all up or something like that.

            1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

              <I think you have to buy the beef separately,>

              About than 20 years ago, I was this close to buy the hamburger helper until I realize I need to buy the meat separately. Then, I didn't.

              I think it is time for me to follow up a life long journey.

            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Please report back! Could be an interesting thread! How about a Hamburger Helper thread - only those who participate by buying one and eating eat can comment and compare observations!

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                No you don't. Trust me. My father (and grandfather before him) worked for General Mills and got stuff at discount; my mother was a horrible cook. So I grew up with Hamburger Helper. It's essentially dried pasta or rice, amped up so it cooks quickly, with dried or manufactured spices, sauces, etc. The point is you brown up a mess of hamburger, then add the contents of the box and water and -Voila!- instant dinner. It did introduce me to things I never had before - like their stroganoff - but if you have anything like an adequate kitchen and time I don't think they're worth it.

                Kraft Mac and Cheese: again, it's powdered stuff to be reconstituted. If you can make a basic white sauce, it's just as easy to add your favorite grated cheese to it and pour it over macaroni. (Disclaimer: I last made Kraft Mac and Cheese several decades ago: it may have been "improved" since then).

                As for the original topic: if you invited me for a meal and served a store-bought entree or sides or dessert I'll say "thank you" and appreciate the trouble you went to for me. And I'll enjoy the company and conversation.

                1. re: tardigrade

                  Once, long ago, I made my stroganoff for a friend (before she became vegan!) She complimented me saying, that is so much better than mine, so I though wow even though she wasn't really into cooking, and then she laughed and admitted that, well, hers was Hamburger Helper. I still appreciated the compliment though!

                  1. re: coll

                    OK, the bar was low, but still, it's a compliment!

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Go for it. I can tell you it's not nearly as interesting as Spam.

                3. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                  In the same league as Hamburger Helper is the godawful Tuna Helper. My mother served that all slop the time in the 70s; she thought it was healthier than Hamburger Helper because it had fish instead of beef. I just threw up in my mouth even thinking about it.

                  1. re: Kat

                    Tuna Helper seems more healthy, but less iconic. I will try hamburger helper first.

                    <My mother served that all slop the time in the 70s>

                    They have tuna helper as early as 70s? I thought it is a relatively new thing.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Introduced in 1971. I don't specifically remember Mom making it although she may have, she was always on the latest fad. But it was ubiquitous in the '70s.

                      1. re: coll

                        Thanks. I didn't know people were into the "seafood is healthier" in the 70's. I thought it is a newer thread. I looked up wikipedia. You are correct. Thanks again.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Hey, there are also the Asian Helper too. Got to try that one too, eventually:


                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Asian Helper! I'd almost give this a try sometime. But it surely can't beat the La Choy cans.

                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Tune was viewed as a "diet" food for the "ladies" back then. And therefore, healthier, I guess...

                            1. re: sandylc

                              In the 1970s, I worked with a woman (granted she seemed to be anorexic before I ever heard the term): she ended up in the hospital because ALL she ever ate was canned tuna. To this day, I try to only make tuna salad or whatnot once or twice a month, at most.

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          I recall that a few years ago they renamed it just "Helper" so that the choice of animal was up to the consumer. But since I haven't bought it in decades, I don't know if that caught on or if they went back to different packages for different proteins.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Yes, they currently have Tuna, etc. Helper, and have for as long as I can remember. I will say that I used to be a fan of the Tuna Helper Fettucine Alfredo made with all milk/no water, but they have recently ruined it by bringing the sodium down to extremely reasonable levels. It's not good anymore.

                            1. re: foiegras

                              I think the Tuna Helper came a little after the Hamburger, but it's definitely an oldie but goodie.

                              1. re: coll

                                After reading these responses yesterday, I had to throw together a tuna noodle casserole.
                                Total comfort food!
                                Am I the only one who LOVES the leftovers even more?

                                1. re: monavano

                                  If you're the cook, it's only natural to like the leftovers more. Queen for a day!

                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            No, I distinctly remember tuna helper as the Friday night sub for hamburger helper for a few years in the mid 70s. Thankfully my mom eventually went back to cooking "real" food.

                            1. re: debbiel

                              for us it was a treat as we only got any type of fish when dad was out of town.

                              1. re: debbiel

                                That's what I'm saying, Hamburger Helper in early '70s and Tuna Helper a few years later, after seeing the market for this type of thing.

                                  1. re: grampart

                                    Ha, I remember that! Love their Jetson kitchen table, guess it was food of the future.

                          3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Haha. Yes, Mac and cheese and sautéed veggies. That's a meal. :)

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              A serving size is 1/4 cup (!) and contains 33% of your daily sodium intake, for starters.

                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                Ugh maybe I should retract my above remark.

                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                my ex wife was the master of Kraft Mac & Cheese and Hamburger Helper. 5 to 6 days a week. Did I mention ex wife?

                                  1. re: genoO

                                    Let me guess. When you two got in arguments, she used them are leverages and weapons, right? :)

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Well, I believe you just answered your own question. It is pretty awful.

                                      Like many on these boards, I do have a soft spot for Kraft dinner, but I would not serve it at a dinner party.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        For years, I begged my mom to make Hamburger Helper. She insisted on a home-cooked meal every night whereas my friends all got the "good stuff." My dad convinced her to let us give it a go and well...should've listened to my mom.

                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                          My mom was the exact same. My cousin got all the "cool" stuff-frozen tv dinners, boxed spaghetti dinners and things ike Tang and ho hos. I was convinced I was deprived until I had to spend a long weekend at their house. That stuff got old quick!

                                          1. re: foodieX2

                                            Less than one box and I was over it. We actually ordered out from the local Italian deli that night while mom grinned in victory! I must thank her for so many years of wonderful, loving, home-cooked, balanced meals. More and more I'm realizing just how critical that is to long-term habits and behaviors.

                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                              Apparently, they (hamburger helpers) must taste pretty good to many people since they sold well.

                                            2. re: foodieX2

                                              <That stuff got old quick!>

                                              This described my experience as well. I bought three hamburger helper because they were on sale. The first box was pretty good, but the second box got old. Now, I don't have the urgent to make my final box.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                and so to the furthest back of the pantry it goes, where it was born to live out its cursed and unwanted days.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  I remember a lot of food pantries ordering Hamburger Helper from my company. Just sayin', better than throwing it out!

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    Had Hamburger (and Tuna) Helper through 3 1/2 years of college (the 2nd half of the 3rd, then 4th years, got married, so lived in married student housing and got to cook for real). No cooking (legally) in the dorm rooms, but we had an electric skillet hidden in a trunk, then boxes of H.H. and raw ground beef in the teeny weeny fridge--beef got so old it turned black, but we just cooked it into the H.H. anyway. It's a wonder I lived to tell the tale. No H.H. in my household in 40 years now.

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      coll - that is far better than languishing.

                                          2. re: linguafood

                                            I agree linuafood. Usually I do try to let guests know what's on the menu ahead of time. Sometimes they even say wow that's a lot to do, let me bring something.

                                          3. Speaking as someone who avoids processed foods as much as possible, I'd hate to be served prepared food from the supermarket (who knows what additives are in it). A home-cooked meal is what I expect at a friend's house, but it can be VERY simple (salad, baked potato, roast chicken, e.g.). Olives/nuts for apps, a scoop of good ice cream, and I'd be happy.

                                            10 Replies
                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              Great points. I don't want to be a food snob when people are being gracious enough to invite me over, but I don't want all of the sodium, sugar, and additives, either.

                                              Where is the line between health and snobbery?

                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                If I tried to avoid the sodium, sugar, and additives from processed foods in eating at people's homes - I'd have to decline just about every meal invitation from a good percentage of my family members. Which I think falls pretty squarely in the "snobbery" category.

                                                That being said, I think there are all sorts of ways of dealing with friends and family who aren't the world's greatest cooks. Whether it's not showing up hungry and eating a 'polite' amount but not a lot or offering to bring a dish (and then mostly eating your own food), there a ways to deal with less than awesome food.

                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                  sandylc: who says that most of the folks who cook at home don't use sodium, sugar, and additives?

                                                  plenty of folks think that stuff is just fine along with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor and color, saturated/hydrogenated fat, etc.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal


                                                    I agree...

                                                    But not everyone does, which is the point,

                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                      AND not all purchased foods contain them.

                                                    2. re: westsidegal

                                                      My pantry has all sorts of stuff, everything from sodium hexametaphosphate to Ultra-tex 4. I'm sure some people would object to some or all of it but they generally aren't invited.

                                                    3. re: sandylc

                                                      I suspect the line is right here. Really? You can't ignore the sodium, sugar, and additives for one meal at the home of a friend?

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        Lately I've gone with: eat some, but eat less.

                                                        Today for instance I roasted a couple of pork tenderloins since some family members were coming over. The sides they brought were Bob Evans microwave things. I didn't pile my plate but I had some. It's not going to kill me; in fact, the real problem is those things can taste good enough to take a person off the home-cooked path (from which I've strayed a lot over the last year, over this very problem).

                                                      2. re: pikawicca

                                                        This is frankly the kind of bar that would cause me not to invite someone for a meal, even though I generally cook from scratch. I just can't guarantee that I don't run out of time/energy for whatever unforeseeable reason, and have to order (very good, non-chain) pizza, which I am not going to guarantee the ingredients of.
                                                        If an actual allergy were involved (celiac, anaphylaxis) I'm very conscientious. For example we recently met a family whose child has a mystery anaphylactic allergy, as in they have not yet determined the cause and currently have a long list of foods to avoid including additives, food dyes etc. I'd jump through hoops to feed this family. But to accommodate general othorexia, not so much.

                                                      3. Just be honest about it. I dont know which stores you are talking about but if you mean regular grocery stores, the guests will definitely be able to tell. I know a few people who would believe that I roasted a chicken if I bought a rotisserie from the grocery story..but definitely not many. Just find some easy recipes .... homemade is so much better.

                                                        However, your guests will never say anything if you dont.

                                                        You could always just invite them over for a wine and cheese.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: kpaxonite

                                                          Yes, I'm honest about Trader Joe's catering my dinners, but I'm beginning to think I need to step it up a bit. :)

                                                          1. re: SilverMoth

                                                            If the food is good and you are happy, that's all that matters. Breaking bread with friends is not so much about the food.

                                                        2. First of all, as much as I love good food, when I go to a friend's house I am more interested in the company and the conversation than what is served. Unless I am served something like raw chicken, I tend to be very forgiving about food in that setting.

                                                          I have had a few all-homemade meals at friends' houses recently that included tough overcooked scallops, soggy slimy roasted chicken, and cheddar and swiss cheese squares on toothpicks.

                                                          Not great food, but great people and nice evenings. I am perfectly happy if the host considers what I might enjoy (i.e. most of my friends know that cilantro tastes like soap to me) and made sure I had it.

                                                          More power to you that you can find well-made entrees that you can take home. You could invite me over any time.

                                                          7 Replies
                                                          1. re: chicgail

                                                            Right. That's how I feel when I've been invited to someone else's place. As long is it's not overly processed or "mac n cheese" or "raw chicken", I'm happy with what's served and spend time with people I enjoy. I guess I just don't want people to feel like I didn't make an effort for them.

                                                            1. re: SilverMoth

                                                              If you're spending high quality time with them and eating tasty food - I really don't think that a 'lack of effort' would be a fair criticism. One of my first dinner parties that I planned, I placed a very ambitious "to do" list for myself. By the time the party actually took place I was exhausted and could not have been that much fun to hang out with. Lesson learned.

                                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                                Yes, thank you for that. I used to prep for days and I'd be exhausted.

                                                                1. re: SilverMoth

                                                                  It's no fun to host a meal if you don't enjoy the work. We'd prep and cook for a couple days before a party and we were tired, but we never dreaded it. Give yourself a break and do potluck. This way you and your guests still get homemade but the onus is not all on you.

                                                                  1. re: SilverMoth

                                                                    There are people on CH who would think you were dropping the ball if you used dry pasta in your homemade lasagna rather than making your own fresh pasta sheets, or bought the vanilla ice cream that tops the cherry pie you made from scratch. Don't sweat it. Do what you are comfortable doing. There is no need to advertise your shortcuts. It wouldn't bother me, and to those who WOULD criticize, I say "Go stuff yourself!"

                                                                2. re: SilverMoth

                                                                  the fact that you have gotten your home in shape for the event and will be doing most if not all of the clean up is very much AN EFFORT imho

                                                                  1. re: SilverMoth

                                                                    Pleasant company with a relaxed hostess is a recipe for a great evening.

                                                                    If you make a couple of killer sides and serve me a good supermarket rotisserie chicken, I'll be a happy guest. If you have the time and energy to step it up, there's room to do that without going to the other extreme.

                                                                    Fantastic food with an exhausted, stressed-out hostess is no fun, all-around.

                                                                3. My go to stores are Trader Joe's and Sprouts. So I usually get from their frozen food section things like Spanakopita and Samosa. And from their refrigerator section, ribs and fish. I'd just reheat them in the oven.