When it comes to rocking the frugal life, homemade food is one of the best ways to save money. I didn’t always make food from scratch and looking back I can’t believe how much money I spent on food that comes together so easily.
When I choose what foods to make from scratch I base it on a couple factors: time, cost, and family preferences.
Time: Our time is precious. Whether we work at home, outside the home, or stay at home (or any combination of the above) we only have 24 hours to divide up each day. Take out sleeping and all our other obligations and sometimes convenience wins out. Certain foods aren’t worth the time investment to me, at least not right now with lots of young kids.
Cost: I’ve come across a few foods where the ingredients cost me just as much as if I bought the food at the store. Some choose homemade in this situation anyway because they want to control what’s in their food. It’s really a weigh your options moment and often time will play into this choice.
Preferences: There are certain ingredients and foods that my family cannot do. Onions are the biggest. Never will you ever see us cook with onions. Onion powder has been deemed acceptable but only in small amounts and mixed with other flavors. Pepper chunks and tomato chunks are also not in family dishes. This means that buying lots of pre-made foods can’t happen and is part of what set me on the path of making so much food from scratch to begin with.
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Taking those three factors into account we (almost) always buy these foods from scratch. The rare times we have bought these from a store? It’s usually because we got them free with purchase or a deal made buying the food as inexpensive as making them at home.
I can’t believe I used to buy croutons. Most grocery stores sell a 5oz bag for $1-2. I don’t know if you know what 5oz of croutons looks like but it’s enough croutons for about six salads. To make my own croutons I pick up marked down loaves of french bread at Walmart for less than $0.60. Following this recipe that calls for a little oil, salt, and pepper I can make a gallon sized bag of croutons!
I am genuinely shocked at how much stores charge for six English muffins. How can they charge nearly $3 for six little muffins? Oh sure, it’s only 50 cents for each muffin which isn’t bad if you are only feeding one person. But I’m feeding seven. That means either we each only eat half a muffin to make a pack last or I’m paying $3 for not all of us to have breakfast. I have great results with this recipe. They don’t have as many deep craters as store bought English muffins but I actually prefer the smoother version - easier to spread on the peanut butter!
I’m trying really hard to not serve rolls with dinner all the time but some meals call for a side of carbs like soup and anything with gravy. I grew up on the canned biscuits for weeknight meals because they were quick and convenient with two working parents. Now I make up a batch or two of these brown and serve rolls to keep in the freezer for nights when we want a roll to soak up gravy or make small sliders.
I get the appeal of premade cookie dough - no extra dishes, no partial bags of ingredients taking up space, less time from wanting cookies to having cookies - I get it! But I can make a batch of basic chocolate chip cookie dough and add in other flavors like m&ms, different flavored chips, pretzel bits, or diced peanut butter cups, and make flavors of cookies I can’t get in the store. I freeze my dough in preformed balls so I can put a few on a cookie sheet and have fresh cookies anytime I want. Or I can bake all the cookies and freeze those for snacks that are ready to go, even if I’m running behind! Find a base you like (we like this one) and go crazy with the mix-ins!
We’ve been doing our family pizza & movie night for years but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that we started making our sauce from scratch. Before then there was only one brand we could find that didn’t put some form of onion in the sauce. We were paying $1-2 for each 16oz jar and it would last us two weeks. Not terrible but at that point we were only feeding two adults and two children. Now there are two adults and five kids. We’d definitely be going through a jar a week if we still used store bought! Now I can make 15-20 cups of sauce for about $5. And we like the flavor better!
We love pizza and we love our pizza tradition. When we started doing pizza/movie night it was actually calzone/movie night. We used frozen bread dough because I was afraid of yeast dough. I didn’t want to screw up so I didn’t bother trying. Eventually I realized I needed to face this fear if we were ever going to stand a chance of saving money on groceries. Now I whip up batches of pizza dough every Friday and don’t even bother with the recipe because I’ve made it so many times.
We use a good amount of enchilada sauce in this house. Between cheesy enchilada soup, breakfast pizza, enchiladas, and enchilada pasta we probably use three to four cups per month. Typically, canned sauce at the store comes in 15oz size so we would need at least two cans at about $1 each per month. I can make a batch of nearly 10 cups for that same price, possibly less! I did a live video this week so you can see me make it - caution, the focus got screwy but the content is still fabulous ;)
Cream of ___ Soup
Have you ever tried to make cream of anything soup? It’s soooo easy. I use this cream of chicken soup recipe any time I need a can. I usually double it because just about any recipe I’m making needs to be doubled for our family anyway. With only a bit of butter, flour, stock or broth and milk it probably costs about $0.30 and I know what’s in it. Want cream of mushroom or celery instead? Swap out the chicken stock for veggie stock!
Tacos and similar style foods can be great budget savers because you can stretch the meals out by using foods like beans, rice, and corn. In our early years we would buy the large container of taco seasoning from Sam’s Club but once his mom shared her recipe with me it became our go-to. I used to make it each time we needed it but now I mix up large batches to keep in a mason jar in the cupboard so it’s always on hand.
Honey Mustard Dressing
Jamison and I are the only two in this house that like honey mustard dressing. It’s the only way he will eat salad and it’s one of the few ways I’m willing to eat mustard ;) Thankfully it’s incredibly easy to throw together with a few staple ingredients so we can make a new batch each time we have salad for dinner because a single batch doesn’t last much beyond salad night plus a few meals worth of french fries!
Beans are a super frugal food and are packed with fiber. We try to buy our pinto and black beans in bulk to cut down on cost even more. We use the pinto beans to make refried beans and chili beans and the black beans we cook up then freeze for future use. They are perfect for making taco meat stretch, adding to breakfast burritos, or throwing in a stir fry.
3 Foods I Don’t Make From Scratch
Despite my desire to save money on groceries, there are some foods that I don’t bother making on my own. I’ve attempted all of these but after several tries I decided to buy them instead.
I tried making tortillas. I wanted to love them! I saw the pictures of these fluffy, beautiful tortillas and wanted that for us. We eat tortillas frequently, at least once each week, so it was a natural recipe to try. After multiple batches I was burnt out. The tortillas were stale or crumbly after a day or two and we couldn’t eat a whole batch all at once. They required far too much effort - lots of rolling - for the little bit of food. I’d much rather save my effort into making large batches of beans and sauce to use with the store bought tortillas.
Hot Dog Buns
I love making bread products but hot dog buns have never worked for me. No matter how many times I’ve tried I can’t get them to be the right size for the dogs and we end up with WAY too much bread to hot dog. I’m super okay spending $1 (or less if I grab them at Aldi!) on buns.
Because the big boys are really the only ones in the house that eat sandwich bread a loaf can last a week or more. When I’ve tried homemade bread it gets dried out after a few days and we end up turning it into baked french toast or croutons… not terrible but also not helpful if I need sandwich bread and not croutons, ya know? Again, we can grab a loaf of whole wheat bread for less than $1 at Aldi and it doesn’t bother me in the least that it’s not homemade.
Are you looking to ditch some of the store-bought foods? Want to make cooking from scratch (or a little from scratch) a goal for 2018? I've got something you might be interested in!
It's my new Meal Planning Facebook group. It's small right now but I think it's going to be a fabulous place to share ideas, strategies, and problem solve with each other about feeding our families meals that are good for us and aren't incredibly repetitive. If you want help with menu planning, batch cooking, and grocery shopping, or have great ideas you want to share come check it out here.