While I’m a big believer in a real food diet, some foods just aren’t worth making yourself for the price and quality you can buy them at the store. That said, others are totally worth it, especially for how much you’ll save over the store price, let alone the increased nutritional value of your homemade food. Here are 12 staples I make and use all the time and that I never buy at the store. Maybe you’ll be inspired to do the same.
Benefits of Making Your Own Staples
We often regularly make the same meals every week, from pastas to salads and stir fries. If you’re doing the grocery shopping, you well know the staples that always get thrown into your cart. However, it may surprise you to learn how easy and inexpensively it is to make many of them. A number of benefits occur when you make your own staples, some that are obvious and some that aren’t immediately apparent. Here are just a few:
You save $$. Why pay $8 for a staple that you can easily make for $3 or practically nothing? Even $3-5 foods we eat regularly add up over time.
Quality. Maybe you’d love to eat more natural or organic foods but the price tag is way too expensive. When you make your own staples, you can choose higher quality ingredients for better nutrition at a fraction of the store bought cost.
Healthier. If you’re making the food, you’re making it fresh, which means you don’t need to add preservatives, artificial flavors, emulsifiers, stabilizers and texturizers, artificial coloring, etc. You also get the peace of mind of knowing what’s really going into your food – regardless of label claims.
Portion flexibility. When you make your own, you can control the amount. Often we can save even more when we cook in bulk to store for later use.
Variation. Making your own lends itself to unique and awesomely delicious variations that you just won’t get from the store. For example, you can make sauces more or less savory, spicy, sweet, thick or thin. Basically the edge is that you make the food match your palate.
Amateur chef street cred. When you make your own staples, you embark on training that develops a plethora of culinary skills. Over time this not only makes you familiar with a host of spices, ingredients and cooking methods, but produces insights that allow you to be more creative in the kitchen. You can truly become a kitchen genius just by making foods you love and over time, developing new recipes and fusions that will astound your taste buds and those who dine at your table.
Low footprint. A little recognized benefit of cooking your own staples is the amount of waste you cut in terms of garbage. Because you’re not buying bottles, jars and boxes of premade staples, your trash can doesn’t fill nearly so quickly with glass, plastic, cans and cardboard. This is great for landfills. Instead, you produce more kitchen waste like peels, cores, scraps, etc. Many of these are actually useful for making further staples or can go into the garden as compost if you have one.
These are just a few benefits of making your own staples beyond just saving money. Now, onto the growing list of staples I make rather than buy.
#1 – Nut & Plant Milks
It’s quick and easy to make your own nut and plant milks, let alone cheaper and healthier. One cup of almonds, walnuts or oats will make me a quart of milk – the perfect amount to use in its 5-7 day freshness window. It’s also a 5 minute process. Watch my 5 Min Super Silky Almond Milk Tutorial (Video) or read my article DIY 5 Minute Dreamy Almond Milk.
While my milks aren’t fortified, they also lack the added sugars, preservatives and other dodgy chemicals and “natural” flavors loaded into your average nut or plant milk these days.
#2 – Yogurt & Ricotta
Until recently I wasn’t a vegan so I saved tons of money just making yogurt and ricotta from leftover milk my Airbnb guests didn’t drink each week. It’s a quick and easy process of just heating the milk and either adding vinegar and straining the curds to make ricotta or adding a cup of leftover yogurt and letting it set in the oven under the light all day and overnight. Easy peasy and only about 10 minutes work altogether. I refused to spend $5.99 for a quart of yogurt!
#3 – Guacamole
Making this is super quick and easy, more flavorful than store bought, made with real ingredients instead of loaded with preservatives, and pretty cheap to make. You can whip up a satisfying batch in 5 minutes. It’ll be gone before you even have to worry about it going bad.
#4 – Salsa
I disdain store bought salsa. The ones in the chip aisles are nothing but sugar and questionable ingredients while the “deli fresh” versions are typically half onion. Ugh. Making my own is tastier, healthier and full of real ingredients in the ratios I love. I almost always have the ingredients in my pantry and they’re super cheap. Again, it takes 5 minutes to prep your salsa and the varieties seem endless.
#5 – Bean Dips
From hummus to black bean dips, I make mine at home. I’m always cooking beans so I scoop out a cup to blend, which means that I frequently have quick and yummy dips on hand to snack on. They take minutes to make and are loaded with nutrition since they are made with real ingredients and no preservatives or additives.
#6 – Tapenades & Bruschetta
These can be incredibly pricey to buy at the store. I make mine for the fraction of the cost using figs and olives for tapenades and olives and tomatoes for the bruschettas. Buying the ingredients allows me to make several batches for the price of one tiny jar at the store. When I slather them on whole grain crackers or breads, I feel decadent and cultured. Meanwhile my taste buds feel like they’ve won the lottery!
#7 – Kimchi
I cook with this enough to make it. Depending on where you live it can be quite expensive – if you can find this awesome probiotic at all! A minuscule jar of kimchi costs $5.99 at my local grocer and the probiotics may or may not have died thanks to import-required homogenization or sterilization. Meanwhile I can buy a head of Napa cabbage for $4 or less, matchstick carrots for $1 and make 2-3 empty yogurt quart tubs of kimchi that store and freeze well.
#8 – Curry Sauces & Pastes
Recently I made my own curry paste following a recipe from Minimalist Baker. I can tweak it to make yellow, red or green curries and of sweet and hot varieties. I spread the paste into ice tray and chocolate bar molds to freeze and store in easy to grab and use serving amounts.
This way I can make my curries to my hotness levels with fresh and real ingredients for super cheap. The ingredients cost me far less than a jar or packet at the store and make tons more besides. Mine are also free of all those chemicals, preservatives and emulsifiers common to store bought jars and pastes. The process is prep heavy but ends up in my blender for easy processing. I doubt I’ll have to do it more than once a month if that. Score!
#9 – Peanut Butter
I love making energy bites, aka vegan cookie dough, as a snack. This means going through peanut butter fairly regularly for the bites I like to make. Being OCD about ingredients, I hardly ever find a peanut butter without hydrogenated vegetable oils, molasses, corn syrup, etc. The more natural peanut butters are PRICEY while I am a frugal foodie. Since I can buy 16 oz nuts for $2 or less, I decided to make my own. I found a lovely 5 minute recipe from Averie Cooks that’s just peanuts, though the site has plenty of different peanut butter recipe variations to suit any taste (including one that uses Bailey’s).
#10 – Pasta Sauce (and Indian Sauces)
These days I don’t eat pasta but even when I did, I never bought my sauces. They’re loaded with sugar and a variety of questionable preservatives. Instead, I’d just buy cans of tomato puree, diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce for my base and add in fresh veggies and herbs for flavorings. Quick, easy, flavorful, cheaper and far healthier. Vodka sauce and pesto are just as easy to make. You’ll definitely save over store bought pesto!
Similarly, I make my own Indian sauces like tikka masala, butter chicken sauce, korma, etc. I love me some Indian sauces! I don’t always have every ingredient or I’ll substitute coconut milk and that’s fine. They’re highly adaptable, more flavorful and authentic than what you’ll buy at the store. Plus cheaper if you keep a stocked spice rack and pantry. If you’re only cooking curry in a blue moon, then certainly buying at the store is cheaper. I eat curry weekly or more so making my sauces is far more economical. And more fun.
#11 – Dipping Sauces & Marinades
Basically I never buy sauces. Whether it’s an Asian marinade or Hollandaise, tartar, or other dipping sauce for fritters or dumplings, I make my own. This was especially easy when I wasn’t vegan as mayo is the base for most commercial sauces. I would combine mayo with mustard or ketchup, add in cayenne or garlic powder for great dipping sauces many dinner party guests mistook for fancy and pricey sauces.
When it comes to Asian sauces, either for stir fries, dumplings, spring rolls, etc., I also make my own. Soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and ginger powder make a phenomenal base for most everything in Asian cooking. Then I just mix and match from my spice rack or pantry to embellish or alter the flavor.
#12 – Cooking Broth
This is ridiculously easy to make and so much more flavorful and healthy than anything you’ll buy at the store. Most store bought broths are chock full of additives and chemicals. No thanks! Plus you can make broths for FREE using your own cooking scraps. Whether you conserve vegetable scraps or chicken bones, you can add them to a stock pot or sauce pan with water to cook up a delicious broth. They freeze well and you can use ice cube trays or silicone muffin trays to make individual servings for later use.
#13 – Salad Dressing
This is so quick and easy to make with ingredients at hand that I never buy dressings. A quick and flavorful vinaigrette of vinegar and either olive oil or sesame seed oil goes a long way on a salad. You can mix in balsamic vinegar, red or white wine, or soy sauce as well. For salad dressings like ranch or thousand island, you just need a mayo base and some cream cheese, feta or ketchup. They’re ridiculously easy to make per serving but most people don’t realize it.
High Flavor & Health, Low Cost
These are just a snapshot of the staples you could easily make yourself to save tons of money over store bought versions. On top of that, you’ll be upping the nutrition, quality and flavor content of your food while keeping more waste out of our landfills. These are all wins. Who doesn’t love that?
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