Snacking On A Budget: A Tale Of The Kernel

Popcorn is a quick, healthy snack.


My Favorite Snack


I love popcorn.  It’s quick to make and tastes great.  I can add spices and change up the flavor.  Best of all, it’s both inexpensive and a good, healthy snack.  For a long time, I bought those little packets I could pop in the microwave, but then I heard of a couple of disturbing stories in the news.



It turns out that some of the biggest companies who make pre-package popcorn were using certain chemicals that are potentially dangerous to my health. And artificial butter flavoring, a prime component in microwave popcorn may contribute to Alzheimer’s.  (See:


Doing Popcorn My Way


The health scare didn’t turn me off popcorn, but it sure changed my mind about cooking it.  I used to own one of those hot air popcorn poppers.  I still see them now and then at a garage sale, and though air hot works well to cook popcorn I always found storing my unit a bother.


I also decided it was just as easy to pull my old stainless steel 3-quart kettle and lid out of the cupboard, pour some oil in the bottom and cook my popcorn on the stove.  This was by no means perfect.  Cooking at high heat, I had to keep the kettle moving at all times and several kernels would inevitably scorch the bottom of the pan.  That required extra scouring.  I didn’t mind the clean up, but when we bought a new set of kitchen pans, my steel wool scouring pads were off limits.  Here’s another tip: You won’t ever want to try this on a ceramic cook top as it will scratch the heck out of it.


Make My Own


In the not-too-recent past, I was cleaning out some drawers and came up with a splendid idea.  I thought why not use the brown paper lunch bags I found, pour in some popcorn and make my own microwave popcorn bag?  I could avoid the chemicals and still have all the convenience.  It turns out my idea worked, though as is typical with most ideas I come up with these days, it was not at all original.  For a make-it-yourself easy microwave recipe check AllRecipe.Com.


I should point out that all microwaves seem to cook a little differently, so don’t be surprised if you burn a batch or two to get this right.  While the above recipe has you mix oil, popcorn and seasoning first, I wait to put my oil on until after the popcorn is cooked—it works either way.  Also, I use olive oil rather than butter, as I like the health benefits.  Oh, and one other hint—use a piece of tape to close the bag and not a paper clip, as any metal in your microwave will cause sparks.


You can make your own microwave popcorn


Still Another Way


Deciding there might be some other popcorn cooking ideas I missed, I did a quick search on the internet and discovered that a number of companies now make a special bowl with a lid you can use in your microwave. You can find a variety of these on at at a cost between $7 and $21 (click here for an example).  I like this idea because (a) I don’t need to have bags around and (b) I don’t need to recycle the bags.  That feels a bit greener to me.


Convenience versus Cost


If you plan to stop using those pre-packaged microwave bags, you’ll soon discover the potential for saving money.  As with most pre-package foods, you’re paying someone for the labor involved in pre-packing and for all the extra packaging materials.  Plus, you don’t have an option to eliminate certain chemicals, fats or sugars the manufacturers may add.  If you’re on a tight budget, doing what you can on your own will save a lot of money over time.


An Example


A popular brand of popcorn.

Store bought includes the cost of labor and packaging.

At our local QFC I can buy a generic 4 pound bag of popcorn for $3.99.  At about 3 ounces per serving that bag equals 21 batches of popcorn (4 pounds times 16 ounces per pound divided by 3 ounces equal 21).  This makes the cost of the popcorn 19 cents ($3.99 divided by 21).  If I use the paper bag method, 50 bags costs me $1.99 so my individual bag cost is about 4 cents ($1.99 divided by 50).  The total cost to make my own microwave popcorn is therefore $0.23 (.19 plus .04).  Orville, a popular brand of prepackaged popcorn, works out to about $1.09 per package.  At my store, an Orville 3 pack goes for $3.29 so if you divide by 3 you get $1.09 per serving.  Now to take this math to the extreme, let’s say I eat one serving of popcorn a week.  There are 52 weeks in a year so if I multiple the prepackaged price per serving and the homemade price per serving by 52, I come up with the following:


Save by making your own popcorn.

Subtract to see how much you save by making your own.


As we can see, making your own saves almost $45 a year, keeps the potentially hazardous chemicals to a minimum and creates a smaller ecological footprint, since you can do away with some of the packaging materials.  It goes without saying, that if you invest in a microwave bowl, you could skip the bag altogether and save a couple extra bucks per year.


Add A Touch Of Spice


If you’d like to add some variety to your popcorn, how about adding a touch of spice? Check out this post at for several new popcorn taste sensations.  Also, check our recent post “The Spice Of Life” to learn all about spices.  By the way, popcorn is an ideal snack for dieters–just reduce or eliminate the oil to cut fat and calories.


I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to pop in a DVD, hunker down on the couch and munch on some popcorn.  Yum!


For other great recipe ideas click here.


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