Are ’ready to cook’ ranges a rip off?

'ready to cook': is it worth the money?
'ready to cook': is it worth the money?

'Ready to cook' is the new convenience food. The meals come from the supermarket with the vast majority of the preparation done, so you can technically cook your own food, but without the faff. They don't have quite the convenience of a ready-meal, but then they go through fewer manufacturing processes, and tend to come complete with fewer additives, so we can feel less guilty about our convenience habits.

So what's the catch?

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These ranges include everything from chopped, mixed vegetables - ready to stir fry, to basted joints of meat, in their own metal roasting tray. There has also been a boom in kits that contain all the meat, vegetables, carbohydrates and spices you need - so you simply assemble it according to the instructions - and have what's essentially a meal cooked from scratch, without any bother.

They are available in the chilled section of the supermarket, and Hello Fresh has also established a booming business - delivering boxes containing everything needed for a number of meals.

They appeal to time-poor households, because you can come in from work, and just bung something in the oven, without any preparation. They also appeal to those who don't have the energy for following recipes and buying lots of separate ingredients.

Sales figures would seem to indicate that we're convinced of their appeal. Last year it emerged that sales were up 8% in a year - growing at twice the rate of ready meals.

The catch

The only catch is that we pay dearly for convenience combined with freshness. Hello Fresh, for example, has a tie-up with Sainsbury's where you can pick up a box for two people for £10.

Tesco's range costs between £7 and £9 for two people. And Aldi recently entered the market with an impressive range for just £2.99 for two - which it says can save 71% if you usually get your ready-to-cook meals from Hello Fresh.

It means that you'll pay between £1.50 and £5 per person, per meal, for a 'ready to cook' meal.

Rip off?

You only have to glance at the boxes of any of these items to realise that you are paying someone else to slice your carrots and spring onions, portion everything up in the packaging, and sell it to you.

If you compare the price of whole chickens in Tesco, you can see you're paying up to £1 more for someone to baste it in butter, and seal it in the kind of bag you can cook it in.

Even the Aldi range can be beaten on price with incredibly little effort. Take a chicken stir fry, for example, you can buy the ingredients for four people from Aldi for a fraction of the cost - including chicken breasts, noodles, carrots, onions, garlic, oil, soy sauce and babycorn - for just over £1 each.

A far cheaper option is to actually cook from scratch. Ideally you can cook up batches at the weekend, and freeze them, so you have healthy, convenient meals for a fraction of the price.

The question is whether you can make enough space in your life to do this - or whether you would rather settle for the extra additives, or pay up to five times more for a 'ready to cook' range.