By making food from scratch on a regular basis and making sure to use them up in a monthly meal plan, you can save money and feed your family healthy whole foods. Choose these 9 foods to make instead of buy!
By Tiffany, Contributing Writer
One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to cook food from scratch. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.
I remember the days of having two little ones at my feet all day. Between nap times, changing diapers, nursing the little one while feeding the older one, plus making sure I had carved out a few minutes to shower myself, spending any more than 15 minutes in the kitchen was practically impossible!
This is just one of multiple scenarios. Some parents work multiple jobs, families are barely home long enough to eat dinner together and there are seasons of life that are so over the top busy that the mere thought of spending a free precious minute cooking is enough to push you off the cliff of sanity.
And there’s the money factor too. What if cooking from scratch actually cost more? What if your family hates what you cooked and you end up throwing half of it in the trash? You’ve not only wasted your time, but you’ve wasted your grocery dollars too.
That’s why each family must decide for themselves what is worth cooking from scratch, and what is worth buying from the store. After spending the past several years cooking various items from scratch, I’ve come up with a list of the top 9 items I always make instead of buy. By making these few items from scratch on a regular basis and making sure to use them up in our monthly meal plan, I’m able to save $480 every year, keep our grocery budget at $330 each month and feed my family healthy whole foods!
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- 16 Things You Should NEVER Buy at the Grocery store (and where you should buy them instead)
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- 13 strategies to be a Savvy Shopper (so you can OUTSMART the grocery store, every week!)
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9 Foods to Make Instead of Buy
Store-bought bread is often hidden with unhealthy fats and processed sugar, which seems silly when you can make bread with as little as four ingredients. If you’re new to baking bread, No-knead Overnight Artisan Bread is practically fail-proof. If you’re short on time, Man Bread is ready in just 90 minutes and is so easy, even the most novice (or husband) can make it!
Time: 90 minutes for Man Bread; 5 minutes + overnight rise + 90 minutes for No-knead Overnight Artisan Bread
Cost: as little as 72¢ per batch
Savings: 78% over store-bought
Work Smarter: Make either recipe when you’re already in the kitchen working. Man Bread literally takes 90 minutes from start to finish, so you could easily make the bread while making dinner and bake while you’re eating. No-knead Overnight Artisan Bread is similar, except you mix the ingredients the night before. If you bake bread the same day every week, it makes monthly meal planning a whole lot easier!
Ranch dressing was originally banned from our house because of the hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, but ever since we came across this dry seasoning mix, it’s become our favorite dressing again!
Time: 5 minutes
Work Smarter: Make a double or triple batch of the dry seasoning mix at the start of the month. Use it on veggies or meats as desired and when you’re ready for dressing, measure out a couple of tablespoons and mix!
It’s really hard to find mayo that tastes good and doesn’t have weird additives or preservatives, so we prefer to make it ourselves. Plus this mayo recipe is fail-proof, and super easy to adapt based on what you have in the pantry and to accommodate food allergies.
Time: 2 minutes
Savings: up to 90%
Work Smarter: You can make this in literally 2 minutes, so there’s no need to make it until you actually need it. However, you can make homemade mayo last up to six months in the fridge. And if you need a lot of mayo, the recipe can easily be doubled.
Time: 5 minutes hands-on, 24 hours cooking, 10 minutes packaging
Cost: 1¢ per quart
Work Smarter: Make a batch of stock at the beginning of the month and store all the remaining bones in a freezer-safe bag, in the freezer. Add additional bones to the bag as the month progresses, and when you’re down to one quart of stock, start another batch with the bones before you go to bed using the slow cooker method. Repeat this process and you’ll never run out of bones for stock!
Apple Cider Vinegar
A few weeks of hiding in the cabinet turns apple cores and peels – originally destined for the trash – into delicious and versatile homemade apple cider vinegar. In our kitchen, apple cider vinegar is most often used for homemade salad dressings and chicken stock, but my daughter and I also use it as a natural hair conditioner.
Time: 5 minutes hands on, 3 weeks fermentation
Cost: 2¢ per quart
Work Smarter: Collect apple cores and peels as you go through apples, storing them in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer. When you have about a half-quart worth, make a quart of vinegar. If you go through as many apples as we do, you’ll never run out of homemade apple cider vinegar!
I haven’t met a single kid who didn’t like a popsicle, and parents can join in when they’re made at home without all the fake sugar. Cherry limeade popsicles taste just like the drink from Sonic, coconut cream popsicles are an indulgent dairy-free treat and elderberry popsicles help to boost the kids’ immune systems without them even knowing it!
Time: 5 minutes hands on, 4-6 hours to freeze
Cost: as low as free
Savings: up to 100%
Work Smarter: Since any fruit juice and puree can be turned into a popsicle, save the juice from all canned fruit and puree any beyond-ripe fruits and freeze separately in an ice cube tray. Store frozen cubes in a freezer-safe bag and when there’s enough, re-blend cubes to achieve the desired flavor popsicle.
Bonus Tip: Add homemade yogurt to the popsicles for a boost of probiotics!
Okay, so we don’t exactly “make” green onions, but it’s close! Green onion, lettuce and 8 other foods will regrow in water. We do this at least once, and although we don’t have a full vegetable again, it’s enough to contribute to meals and help offset the grocery budget!
Time: 1 minute to “plant,” 1-3 weeks to regrow
Work Smarter: Cut off the bottoms off the vegetables when you bring them home and immediately “plant” in water so you get a jump start on growth. Wash veggies with free homemade produce wash and dry with a DIY salad spinner. Store in a sealed bag or container with a paper towel and they’ll last twice as long. (Be sure to change the towel if it becomes saturated.)
Oat flour is the secret to my zucchini muffins with apples and carrots, but since you can make oat flour with any oats, it just seems silly to buy it separately! Plus it allows me to make just what I need, and not have several partially open packages of flours in the pantry (which can contribute to various pantry bugs).
Time: 2 minutes
Cost: the equivalent price of oats
Savings: 100% over buying pre-made flour
Work Smarter: Make oat flour when you already have the oats out, making traditional porridge or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Run the blender while you’re already in the kitchen waiting on the oats to cook or as the cookies bake.
A good pesto is our secret to an awesome grilled sandwich, a simple way to fancy-up pasta and a great way to add flavor to vegetables. Plus this pesto uses carrot tops, which would ordinarily get thrown in the trash!
Time: 4 minutes
Work Smarter: Save random, small bits and pieces of nuts for this recipe instead of using whole nuts. Also, make this recipe only when you have fresh carrot tops. Adjust your meal plan to use the pesto at least twice in a week, so you’re not wasting what you’ve made.
I said earlier that I can’t tell you what’s in the best interest of your family, but I can say that five of the items listed cost nothing to make. And if you commit to making just bread and apple cider vinegar from scratch, you’ll save nearly $300 every year. Add up everything above and you’ll save $40 every month!