13 Foods You Should Make Yourself

Photo: maizers

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).

1. Sandwiches

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.

2. Applesauce

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.

6. Bacon

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.

8. Soup

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.

12. Salsa

Use fresh ingredients from a farmers market and make large batches.

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?

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Guest's picture

Not only will it save you money to make these items at home, you can make them so they only contain fresh ingredients that you know about. Salsa and salad dressing are two of my favorites to make myself and are super easy. Other good ones are guacamole, trail mix and protein bars.

Aaron Crowe's picture

Buying produce in season is important, and avocados are cheap now. A good time to make guacamole!

Guest's picture

I'm not sure about some of those but I'm definitely going to try the peanut butter. My husband loves natural peanut butter and it's getting really expensive. He would love being able to make it himself. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
Kathy Robertson

If you make applesauce with apples with pinkish skin, and keep the skins on when you cook and then put them in the mill, you will have the most lovely pink applesauce! And just today, I bought 4 pints of cherry tomatoes that were marked down, and not one of them was bad. So I put them in a blender for a few seconds, and then froze them for future pasta sauce....guess I could have frozen then whole to make chunky salsa, too.

Aaron Crowe's picture

That's a great idea to freeze items that are fresh now and can be saved in the freezer for later. Same thing can be done by canning fruit in season. There's nothing better than summer cherries in the winter.

Guest's picture

While I love the idea of making staples yourself, I don't see how the math adds up for the almond milk. Even in an urban setting, 64 ounces of almond milk runs about $3.99. How does 1 pound of almonds—at a cost of $10—save money if it only makes 24 to 32 ounces?? According to these calculations, making almond milk yourself would cost over $20 for 64 ounces...versus purchasing 64 ounces of premade almond milk for $3.99 or LESS.

Guest's picture

I buy a half-gallon on almond milk (not organic) for about $1.50-$2.50; to make that with fresh (non-organic) almonds would be about $10 according to the recipe listed here. Yes mine has some extra preservatives in it, but not many, and is just so much cheaper. For hose of us without the financial resources o make fresh, that's a much better choice.

Guest's picture

I would think bread would be the obvious front-runner. I use an old Betty Crocker recipe, and it's so easy there's almost no excuse for not making it. Yogurt is another, and you don't need a yogurt maker: scald milk in a large pot, cool to 100 degrees, stir in 2T plain yogurt, wrap the pot in a towel and place it on heating pad on "low" overnight. Broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable) is also probably cheaper than if you but the organic kind. Granola or muesli too

Aaron Crowe's picture

Great ideas! I don't know how easy bread is to make for you, but we used to have a bread machine that was fun to use and the baking bread was one of the greatest smells ever. But without the time to make bread, I think it's cheaper and easier to buy good bread at the grocery store.

Guest's picture

Great list! We can truly save a lot when we are the one who should be making these foods. We will also be sure of the quality of the products we made.

Guest's picture

I am definately going to try the alternatives

Guest's picture

Soups, definitely. Home-can them in a pressure canner and they do not taste one bit like that nasty "C" brand. Rotel-type products, made with farmers' market case tomatoes, will cost far less than the store product. Pickles of all sorts are cheaper: pickled eggs and pickled okra are economical to make and both are nutritious, low-cal foods. Kim chi is $5 a jar in many places and can be made for under a buck; make Red Rooster sauce when jalapenos are in season and cut your cost up to 75%.

Guest's picture

Hard to beat homecooked meals and the savings you get, but when I want to take my family to eat out I get great meal discount deals from www.strictlydining.com

Guest's picture

My family prefers home-cooked meals. It may be be time-consuming but we grew up with this kind of tradition. Digging deeper, using fresh fruits and vegetables is a healthier option. Furthermore, buying fresh produce in season is cheaper; thus, saves a lot of money. We normally prepare sandwich, salad, soup, stew, smoothies, sauces, and dips.

Aaron Crowe's picture

I agree. I think it's a great skill to teach children, not only for the money and health issues, but as a fun way to spend time as a family. Cooking at home should be a family event, with everyone helping.

Ashley Marcin's picture

This is a great list. Once I started making my own peanut butter, I never went back!