Cooking from scratch can be time consuming but it can also be healthier and even save you money. Here are 10 foods that you should make from scratch!
I think that the key to cooking from scratch is knowing which foods are worth the time and effort and which are not. Foods that are worth it for me are ones that save money, are healthier than their store-bought counterparts, or both. If you can find an equivalent at the same price that’s just as wholesome, I don’t consider that worth the effort of cooking from scratch.
Cooking from Scratch: Tips and Tricks
Go big. Like I mentioned above, the thing that can be intimidating about cooking things from whole ingredients is that it’s more time consuming. To make that easier, I suggest making these things in big batches and then – where appropriate – freezing them. For example, if you’re going to make beans in your crock pot, why not double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe, then store the extra for a rainy day?
Get social. Turn your from-scratch cooking into an activity! Get your family or some friends together for a leisurely afternoon of cooking from scratch. Multiply the recipes to make big batches of a few different items, then divvy it all up. You’ll have more fun when you team up with friends, and you can walk away with a few different items, instead of just one.
Related Reading: Plan a Fall Soup Swap
Plan ahead. Some of these items take a while to complete – from a few hours to a few weeks (don’t panic!). Extracts are a good example here. Don’t wait until you’re out of vanilla extract to start steeping a new batch. When you’re three fourths of the way through your jar, start the next one. That way you won’t run out.
Ready to get cooking? On the next page, check out items that you should make from scratch instead of buying prepared.
Canned beans are inexpensive, but dried beans are downright cheap. You can make your own beans for pennies a pound, and it’s really not that difficult. Different types of beans require different amounts of preparation and cooking time, so it’s best to start with a basic recipe. I really found this page from Whole Foods helpful. It breaks down all sorts of different types of beans and explains how to prepare and cook them.
Pro tip: You can make smaller beans, like lentils and split peas in your rice cooker in under 30 minutes. Check out my recipe for rice cooker lentils vindaloo to see how easy it is!
Fall is apple season, and homemade applesauce is a great way to preserve that bounty! You can make applesauce easily in the crock pot with just two ingredients, so there’s really no reason to ever buy it pre-made from the store. Toss everything into the crock pot on a lazy morning, and you’ll have applesauce by supper time! If you score a big bag of seasonal apples, your homemade applesauce won’t just be healthier and fresher than store-bought – it’ll be cheaper too.
Premade extracts for baking are often made with artificial flavors and even artificial colors. Boo on that! You can make your own extracts from organic herbs and spices. All that it takes is a few minutes of prep and a lot of patience. Extracts have to steep for a few weeks to get good and potent, so you can’t make vanilla extract on the same day that you’re planning to bake cupcakes. The good news is that since they’re made from alcohol (all extracts are), they keep for a very long time. I’m still using the vanilla extract that I made 10 months ago!
Check out this recipe for vanilla extract and this one for mint extract. Start today, and your holiday cookies will never be more special. You can also give homemade extracts as gifts to foodie friends!
Related Reading: 5 Easy Vegan Desserts
4. French Fries
Did you know that pre-made french fries that you buy in the freezer section of the store are already deep fried? You might think that when you bake them, you’re doing your heart a favor, but since they’ve been fried already, you’re still serving up a fried food. Oven fries are super easy to make, and they’re much healthier than the frozen sort. Try making your own sweet potato fries from scratch – you’ll never go back to frozen fries!
5. Veggie Burgers
Store-bought veggie burgers often have a lot of filler ingredients and preservatives. They can also be pretty pricey. Remember that big batch of beans you made? Set some aside to make yourself veggie burgers! You can fry them up and freeze them to reheat in the oven for a quick meal. If you need a recipe to get started, try these red lentil veggie burgers.
6. Baby Food
Is your baby on solid food? Organic baby food uses a lot of packaging and be very pricey. You can save time and money and make your baby additive-free baby food by making homemade baby food from scratch.
Pro tip: If cooking and peeling veggies feels too time-consuming, try using frozen veggies. They’re just as nutritious as fresh, and they’re already peeled and blanched. I make my son’s peas, green beans, and peaches from frozen to save time in the kitchen without losing the health benefits of from-scratch baby food.
7. Granola Bars
Many of the pre-made granola bars you can find at the store are full of preservatives and other processed ingredients. When you make your own from scratch, you save on money and packaging and you get to control what ingredients go into each bar. Check out this dairy free granola bar recipe, if you need some inspiration!
8. Almond Milk
Nut milks like almond milk are easy to make yourself, and unlike premade nut milks, they don’t have chemical stabilizers and thickeners. The cool part of making nut milks is that you can use the solids left behind after straining as a gluten free flour! Almond flour, for example, is normally just finely-ground almonds, but you can also dry the leavings from homemade almond milk in the oven to make almond flour. Check out how to do both here! Are cashews more your speed? Here’s a recipe for homemade cashew milk.
Related Reading: Non-Dairy Milk Additive Could be Making You Sick
Even if you’re not great at baking, it’s hard to mess up a batch of cookies. Cookie recipes are very forgiving, and when you make your own, you know they won’t contain icky ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. The other benefit to baking instead of buying your cookies? Baking takes some time, so you’re more likely to eat fewer cookies. And as Cookie Monster reminds us, “Cookies are a sometimes food.” Want a cookie recipe that’s extra special? I love these lacy chocolate cookies from The Little Foxes.
10. Ground Herbs
Whole dried herbs stay fresher longer, so grinding your herbs as you need them means you get the freshest flavors in your cooking and baking. You can dry fresh herbs and grind them yourself or choose to only grind your own when you can get the whole dried herb at the store. Herbs and spices like peppercorns, cardamom, coriander, and fennel all come dried and whole, for example.
Pro tip: It’s easiest to grind herbs in a food processor or an old coffee grinder.
Are there any foods that you prefer making from scratch rather than buying already made? Let’s talk cooking from scratch in the comments!