13 Foods You Should Make Yourself
Some food just tastes better when made at home. From soup cooking on a winter's day to chocolate chip cookies coming out of an oven, these edibles are just worth the extra expense and effort to make yourself.
If you have the time — a commodity that is sometimes worth getting back by paying more for conveniences such as meal planning and having groceries delivered to your door — there's an added bonus to cooking at home: saving money. (See also: Avoid Dinner Stress: Pay Someone to Plan Your Meals)
I've written before about products to avoid buying at the grocery store because they're too expensive and can be bought for less elsewhere, but there are also some groceries that aren't worth buying because they can be made a lot cheaper at home. They'll likely taste better, too, although you'll have the hassles of preparation, cleanup, and possibly having to make a few trips to the supermarket for missing pantry items.
Here are 13 foods that are worth making yourself at home that will save you money (but probably not time).
This is where I often get too lazy and rely on the deli counter at Safeway, Togos, or elsewhere. It probably takes me more time to get to the sandwich shop and have them make it than if I made it at home myself, but laziness and a lack of planning on my part too often lead me down this path.
Having fresh sandwich items in the refrigerator takes some planning, and the bread at Panera is a tempting treat. Before heading out on a recent family trip to the zoo, we stopped at a Panera and paid more than $20 for three sandwiches and a drink to take with us. Ouch.
Apples are inexpensive at the farmers market this time of year, so stocking up on cheap apples is easy. But then you've got to peel, slice, and cook them. The smell of apples simmering on a stove is worth the effort, and it's cheaper and tastier than applesauce from the store.
3. Hummus and Other Dips
Cooking with beans, spices, and vinegar can cost about $1.50 per container versus $4 for store-bought hummus, says Nicole Truog, who blogs about eating healthy. And like everything else you make yourself, you'll know the exact ingredients that are going into it.
4. Peanut Butter
This may not be for everyone, since the taste of homemade may not be to your liking. But it is cheaper. With some peanuts, oil, honey, and five minutes of time, you can make homemade peanut butter that your kids will love and can help make. Forget $5 jars of peanut butter from the store.
5. Smoothies and Protein Drinks
If you buy one of these at Jamba Juice or some other juice place, expect to pay $5 or so. Comedian Jim Dailakis says he makes a protein drink at home with about 50 cents worth of ingredients, including fruit, milk, wheat germ, and nutritional yeast. Smoothies are easy to make too.
This sounds like a stretch, but if you've got the time (a week), a grill, and can get some specialized ingredients such as curing salt and five pounds of fresh pork belly, then you'll appreciate the better taste and cost savings of making bacon at home. Personal chef Demetra Overton has a bacon recipe that she says costs less than $2.99 per pound to make, compared with buying bacon at $6 or more per pound at the grocery store. Go ahead, impress your family with your bacon-making skills.
7. Beans and Grains
Pressure cooking expert and registered dietician Jill Nussinow says she cooks beans and rice with a pressure cooker to save time and money, saving 25 to 40% of the cost of the least expensive organic canned beans, and at least half the cost of frozen or packaged cooked rice by cooking brown rice at home.
Nussinow, Truog, and many others agree that soup is a big way to save. Nussinow says she can make a quart of soup for $2.50, compared to $8 to $10 a quart at the store. Check almost any cookbook you have at home, and you'll probably find dozens of soup recipes.
9. Almond Milk
Marissa Vicario says she makes non-dairy milk such as almond or oat milk for about half the cost of what it is in the store. Her almond milk recipe is simple but takes two to four hours to soak the ingredients beforehand. A pound of organic almonds is about $10 (non-organic are less) and is enough to make 24 to 32 ounces of almond milk, Vicario says. She adds her own flavorings, such as vanilla and sea salt, and avoids the additives, sweeteners, and emulsifiers added to the store brands.
10. Salad Dressing
This is so easy you'll wonder why you ever bought a jar of salad dressing from a store. Buy a bottle of good balsamic vinegar and some type of oil, and in 30 seconds you've got a dressing. If that's not good enough, wait until April when Michele Anna Jordan's book on vinaigrettes comes out.
11. Pasta Sauce
Instead of buying a jar of premade pasta sauce, either make it at home with fresh ingredients or do what supermarket expert Phil Lempert does — combine a can of crushed tomatoes with olive oil and a few other pantry items.
Using fresh ingredients from a farmers market, Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers says he saved about $8 by making tomato sauce and salsa simultaneously. Schrage made four pints of salsa and a gallon of tomato sauce for about $16.
13. Hash Browns
Registered dietician Jen Brewer, who blogs about food and motherhood, says she saves by making hash browns at home when she finds potatoes on sale. Brewer bakes the potatoes, lets them cool overnight in the refrigerator, and the next day gets her kids to peel them so she can shred them. She puts four cups of shredded potatoes in a freezer bag, getting about six bags for $1.60, compared to $2 to $3 for one bag at the store. If those don't fit your tastebuds, there are many other hash brown recipes to pick from.
What dishes do you cook at home to save money?