semi homemade dinner rotisserie chicken with corn and french fries side dish

Semi Homemade: How to Combine Quick-Service Food and Home Cooking

On those super busy days when you just don’t have time to cook at home but eating out is too expensive, semi homemade (combining quick-service food with home cooking) is your ace in the hole! 

semi homemade dinner rotisserie chicken with corn and french fries side dish

“Semi homemade” is a meal preparation technique that combines quick service foods with home cooking that is not as inexpensive as meals prepared from scratch but infinitely cheaper than eating out in a restaurant, picking up at curbside, or drive-thru.


By purchasing pre-made pizza dough along with my own sauce and toppings, I can have fantastic pizza on the table in no time. I often rely on this option, especially when we have last-minute guests. It’s impressive to quickly produce a high-quality, delicious semi homemade pizza; it’s my little secret.


The take-out pizza store in my neighborhood sells ready-to-roll pizza dough. I can buy a large ball of dough for $3.50, which makes a 16-inch thin-crust pizza. Not all pizza stores sell their dough (the national chains in my area look at me as if I have three eyes when I inquire), but independent shops are typically more than happy for the business — any business. In fact, one store near me even lists this on their menu board.


My local supermarket sells ready-to-bake pizza dough in the deli section for $3.49 (enough to make one 12-inch pizza).

Pizza Crust in a Can

I find Pillsbury Pre-made Classic Refrigerated Pizza Crust Dough in the dairy case ($4.49). All of these options cost more than making pizza dough from scratch, but when time is of the essence, this is a fast, cheap, reliable alternative.

You can freeze fresh pre-made pizza dough to use later to make semi homemade breadsticks and calzones, too.


Just because you don’t have an entrée for dinner doesn’t mean you have to replace the entire meal. You can supplement a big bucket of drive-thru chicken or a supermarket rotisserie chicken at home with your own salad and bread.

Or let’s say that you have the chicken but no sides. Large sides of coleslaw and corn, along with fresh biscuits from the KFC drive-thru or the deli section of the supermarket, will turn that into a complete semi homemade meal for far less money than buying the entire meal at a restaurant.


As easy as it is to make at home, it pains me to suggest buying rice at a quick-service or other restaurant. But this is a great solution to reduce an otherwise expensive meal replacement. Nearly all Asian restaurants, even the quick-service variety, offer plain white rice as a menu option, usually at a low cost. I can pick up a large container of white rice for about $3 in my neighborhood. It’s hot, fluffy, and perfectly cooked. At home, I can serve it plain or enhance it by adding scrambled eggs, soy sauce, leftover chicken, peas, carrots, and so on for super fast semi homemade fried rice.

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Soup du Jour

The fanciest fish restaurant in my community has a pricey menu. I mean take-your-breath-away expensive, to the point that receiving the check and then adding a gratuity all but ruins an otherwise fabulous meal.

However, this restaurant’s to-die-for New England clam chowder is renowned and available for take-out at a reasonable price. I can only imagine they are trying to discourage the annoying customers who come in on a cold winter night, take up space at a lovely linen-covered table, and linger over big steaming bowls of hearty chowder, turning down complete meals and desserts.

That’s fine with me because picking up a quart of steaming hot chowder and sourdough rolls (also a specialty) is a terrific way to avoid a huge restaurant tab when needing a meal replacement. This has been part of a semi-homemade meal I have served guests by adding a salad to the meal. And you can be sure I pour that soup into my own soup pot and discard all the evidence that might indicate I did not make it from scratch.

Many restaurants serve homemade soups that are available for take-out in family-size portions. Check around and then add that to your list of options when you need to fill out or replace a meal (relatively) inexpensively.

Big Salad

Pizza restaurants are notorious for offering large salads on their take-out menus. It might be called a large antipasto salad. Typically, it’s a big bed of lettuce and other greens, plus a variety of pizza toppings, such as onions, olives, peppers, tomatoes, pepperoni, and cheese. Fantastic!

Toss it at home with your favorite dressing, and you have a large, satisfying, family-sized salad at a side-dish price. In fact, you could make the salad the dinner entrée by adding your own ingredients, such as hard-cooked eggs, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), leftover chicken, beef, and so on.

Now is the time to start planning how to replace a regular meal more economically. You’re smart, so I am confident you will come up with ideas and strategies I haven’t considered.

Your Turn

These are only a few ideas for combining quick-service foods with home cooking to create semi-homemade meals. What are your favorite tricks and tips? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below.



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  1. Daniela Morgan says:

    I’ve bought the Panera Mac-n-Cheese quarts from Costco then add lobster meat, pour into baking dish and top with crushed potato chips. Bake till heated through. Decadent and delicious!

  2. Cheryl says:

    My local Sam’s Club will sell Meatloaf, take and bake for about 8.99, then i just make the sides to go with it. I generally always have potatoes of various varieties around. and sometimes I take the meatloaf and instead of cooking it to be meatloaf, buy a bulk pack of green peppers ,if I don’t have any in fridge, cut the tops off, deseed, then place balls of the “meatloaf” that i deconstructed into the pods and bake per meatloaf instructions, keeping an eye on it after about 45min. which gives me stuffed peppers, and in a pinch I can roll it into balls for meatballs for spaghetti! I can fix the meatloaf into Shepherd’s pie by topping it with potatoes and serving the veggies on the side. I love all the recipes everyone shares, I hope mine help someone else. Thanks for all you do Mary!! Happy Tantalizing Thursday!!! (Friday is just around the corner!!!)

  3. Nancy says:

    Adding to the many ideas for rotisserie chicken:

    1) After using the big pieces off the whole chicken, I put the carcass in a gallon ziplock bag and freeze it to make soup later when I DO have time

    2) I now buy 2 whole chickens at a time (preferably Costcos because it’s so much bigger)and eat one for dinner that night and cut up the pieces. I put one thigh and one breast in a ziplock bag which is just enough for my husband and I for a dinner later when I’m tired. And now I have 2 carcasses in the freezer for soup!

    3) I used the leftover cooked chicken later for fajitas, Thai chicken curry, or chicken salad. Anything that requires cooked chicken!

  4. Phyllis Clish says:

    There is only two of us.
    1. I like to buy a Costco rotisserie chicken and the first meal is legs/thighs with purchased potato salad or green salad.
    2. Next meal I shred the breast meat. Slice thin strips of onion and green pepper and sauté them in Better Than Bouillon Sofrita flavor with a little water. Add one half of the shredded chicken and serve in a tortilla shell with shredded cheese.
    3. Then what ever is left of the carcass I put in a small crockpot, cover with water, add an onion cut in quarters and a carrot rough chopped. Let it cook on low for about 12 hours or over night. Strain and use the broth to make chicken soup with the other half of the shredded chicken and egg noodles. Sauté a chopped an onion, add a small bag of frozen mixed vegetables, the broth and egg noodles. Cook until the noodles are cooked and enjoy.

  5. Pam B says:

    Aldi sells balls of pizza dough in their refrigerated area for around $1.29. We always keep a couple of those in our freezer for emergencies. Trader Joe’s also sells pizza dough for a low price, and have a couple of different varieties.

    A rotisserie chicken (Costco chickens are the best value IMHO) with either a couple of homemade side dishes like mashed potatoes & corn, or made into sandwiches is a fast and easy meal. Also an inexpensive carryout pizza with a grocery store bagged salad and a loaf of Italian bread

  6. Sandy H. California says:

    Dear Mary,
    I love you column which I receive everyday, My question is can we receive your column through text. Just wondering. Thank you for your time.

  7. Amy King says:

    Our local Safeway store serves deli soups, both hot and ready to eat or refrigerated and ready to heat. A quart runs about $10. I love their tomato bisque and their cheesy broccoli. Add some grilled cheese sandwiches for a great lunch or supper.
    Or get a rotisserie chicken and some tortillas. Chop a bit of lettuce, a tomato, and some onion. Put out some salsa, grated cheese, and sour cream–and guacamole if you have any. Voila! Chicken soft tacos. Another Sunday lunch or supper favorite. Serve with fruit for a complete meal.

  8. Pat Engfer says:

    We buy three Papa Murphy’s Sausage pizzas on $5 Friday. That’s $5 each large pizza. Freeze two, add onion, green pepper, mushrooms and black olives for a very good Supreme pizza for much less that we’d pay at most other places.

  9. Sandra C Wegmann says:

    Mary — in most of the bread machine cookbooks, there is a recipe for Pizza dough — I make it and freeze the dough ball for those nights when you don’t want to spend big bucks on take out or delivery pizza! Using a pizza stone in the oven, (preheat it nice and hot) makes the crust nice and crusty on the bottom. I always have a couple of pizza dough balls stashed away!!

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