One thing I learned early on after switching to real food, is that it requires a lot more time in the kitchen.
You CAN save a lot of money by making most meals and snacks (like homemade Larabar bites) from scratch, but the downside is it can take A LOT of time.
More time spent planning, preparing, cooking, and cleaning up… I’m guessing you don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen, right?
Whether you’re busy with little ones, school-age kids, multiple jobs, or other important aspects of life, it is a challenge to manage some extra time to cook from scratch. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it – your sanity IS important!
But if you are determined to make food at home and can squeeze in a few chunks of kitchen prep, it will make a difference in your grocery budget.
When to Make Food From Scratch
When you are deciding whether it’s better to make food from scratch or buy it from the store, consider these three factors.
- What you eat or don’t eat often. Your time is best spent making food from scratch that your family will actually eat.
- The nutritional value. When you make food at home, like salad dressings, you are able to avoid weird ingredients and processed sugars. Prioritizing foods your family loves that have a high nutritional value is time worth spending in the kitchen.
- The amount of savings. The amount of savings for you will vary depending on where you source your ingredients, but overall your budget will look much better when you plan to make more foods from scratch.
How to save money cooking from scratch
Saving money cooking from scratch is simple. Once you’ve determined the three factors above, make a list of the foods you’d like to consistently make from scratch. Begin trying recipes and saving money!
There are 13 foods that I regularly make from scratch. I found that keeping these foods in my routine helps to keep my grocery budget right around $330 each month for my family of four.
Note: I teach a whole lesson on cooking from scratch in Grocery Budget Bootcamp. This 8-week course goes in-depth on balancing food priorities, the value of your time, and how to make the most of your budget!
The Best Foods to Make From Scratch on a Budget
Easy Homemade Bread
With as little as four ingredients, you can make your own bread and avoid the unhealthy fats and processed sugars found in store-bought bread. You can also save A TON of money if your family eats bread on a regular basis.
And if using yeast is a little overwhelming, this beginner’s guide to yeast can help.
Our favorite, simple bread recipes include:
- No-knead Artisan Bread
- 90-Minute Man Bread
- Little Bother Oat Bread
- Rosemary Olive Oil Bread
- Soaked Whole Wheat Bread
- The Best White Sandwich Bread
- Time: varies
- Cost: as little as 79¢ per loaf
- Extra Tips: Most breads can be started while you are cooking something else in the kitchen. Get the dough going and allow it to rise while the kitchen is already warmed up from cooking. Making bread on the same day every week makes meal planning much simpler, and if you can make extra bread one week, freeze it for the next!
Yogurt is full of probiotics and healthy fats and is a real food staple in my kitchen. I have it every morning in my smoothie, but you can turn it into Greek yogurt, use it as a base for dressings, and substitute for sour cream in recipes. It also freezes really well (this is the method I use to freeze yogurt). Here’s how to make homemade yogurt.
- Time: 5 minutes hands-on + 24 hours incubating + 5 minutes storing
- Cost: $9.72 for one gallon
- Extra Tip: Making yogurt doesn’t require any fancy equipment. I use a heating pad and incubate yogurt once a month on my countertop.
Homemade tortillas are a family favorite. Besides just tacos, we love to use tortillas for wraps and breakfast burritos to mix up the meals.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to make tortillas either. We get it done with a rolling pin and a griddle, but we used our hands and a skillet when we were in Costa Rica. (I do have my eye on this tortilla press which would make my tortilla making even easier!)
- Time: 15-20 minutes depending on batch size
- Cost: $1.25 for about 20 tortillas
- Extra Tips: Like many other baked goods, tortillas freeze well. I love to make up a big batch at the beginning of the month and have them ready to go. I can pull out just what we need when we need it.
Homemade salad dressings are simple to make and a practical way to cut out processed ingredients.
Here are some of my favorite homemade dressings:
- Ranch. (Here’s a dairy-free ranch if you need it!)
- Caesar Dressing
- Greek Dressing
- Sesame Ginger Dressing
- Time: 5 minutes or less
- Cost: $3 or less per batch
- Extra Tip: Make a few dressings at the beginning of the month so they are ready to go. Salads are much more appealing with a delicious topping!
It seems really convenient to grab an already cooked rotisserie chicken off the rack at the checkout line. But honestly, you aren’t getting the most bang for your buck.
Most rotisserie chickens are very small (3-4lbs) and often coated in less than desirable seasonings. A homemade whole chicken in the slow cooker is much more cost-effective.
- Time: 5 minutes hands on + 8 hours cooking + 10 minutes shredding (optional)
- Cost: $2.00 per pound for organic chicken
- Extra Tips: You can get bigger birds and stretch the meat to make more meals. Also, save the bones from your whole chicken and make it into chicken stock.
If you eat chicken or soup, you need to be making chicken stock. It’s essentially a free food and doesn’t require much of your time. Chicken stock is a kitchen staple for real food families.
- Time: 5 minutes hands-on + 24 hours cooking + 10 minutes storing
- Cost: 1 cent per quart
- Extra Tips: Use up kitchen scraps to add extra nutrients to your homemade stock.
When the kids are hungry on an extended outing, you need snacks if you want to avoid the drive-thru. Many snacks are extremely easy to make from scratch. And I know exactly what’s in them which makes me confident I’m feeding my kids well.
Here are my favorite snacks to make at home:
- Homemade Granola Bars
- High Protein Trail Mix
- No-bake Sweet and Salty Energy Bites
- Pumpkin Larabar Bites
- Fruit Roll-Ups
- Soft Pretzels
- Time: 10 minutes hands-on + 30 minutes freezing
- Cost: granola bars $0.32 each
- Extra Tip: Bars, bites, and trail mixes are a great way to use up random nuts and dried fruits in the pantry. Throw in an assortment of flavors to give your snacks a one-of-a-kind taste!
Homemade salsa is in high demand at my home. The savings on a big batch of salsa makes it well worth the time spent making it.
- Time: 5 minutes
- Cost: $2.50 for about 24oz
- Extra Tip: You can adjust the spiciness of your salsa by adding more or fewer jalapenos.
The savings add up fast when you incorporate a lot of bean-based foods into your real food menu. Beans are an inexpensive protein, so even if your family isn’t a huge fan of beans straight up, you can add them to soups, treats, or even smoothies!
Our favorite bean recipes include:
- Tortilla Soup
- Hearty Minestrone
- Northern Beans and Ham Soup
- Black Bean Brownies
- White Bean Blondies
- Chocolate Hummus
- Cookie Dough Hummus
- Time: 16 hours soaking + 1 ½ hours cooking
- Cost: $1 per pound
- Extra Tip: Making a big batch of beans for the month and freezing in smaller portions saves you a lot of time spent in the kitchen. De-gas and cook traditionally on the stovetop or make them in the Instant Pot or slow cooker to reduce kitchen heat in the summer.
Like most store-bought condiments, BBQ sauce can have a lot of weird ingredients and processed sugars. Making your own BBQ gives you knowledge of the ingredients and the flexibility of flavor to suit your taste.
- Time: 10 minutes
- Cost: $2.20 for about 24oz
- Extra Tip: Making a delicious BBQ sauce requires tomato sauce or ketchup. Ketchup can also contain many of the weird ingredients you find in condiments. Instead of buying it, you can make your own ketchup, too.
Homemade Baking Mixes
Making baked goods from scratch is worth it for me on all levels. My mini chocolate chip scones are to die for and aren’t complicated to make. I’d much rather take a few extra minutes to put together my own mix instead of opening a pre-made mix from the store. No nasty ingredients and I can tailor to our favorite flavors!
Here are my favorite homemade mixes:
- Time: 10 minutes hands-on + varied baking time
- Extra Tip: If you don’t eat baked goods very often, making them from scratch is still a great option. You can easily freeze bread and baked goods and thaw when ready to eat.
It’s hard to find mayonnaise at the store that tastes great and isn’t loaded with bad oils and weird ingredients. This fail-proof method is easy to adapt to what you have in the pantry and to accommodate food allergies.
- Time: 2 minutes
- Cost: $1.21 for about 16oz
- Extra Tip: This recipe is easy to double if you need a lot of mayo for a party or recipe.
Kombucha gives you amazing digestive health benefits. Following this kombucha recipe saves you TONS of money compared to buying a jar at the store. And aside from the fermentation, making kombucha doesn’t require a lot of time.
An added benefit of making your own kombucha is mixing up your favorite flavors!
- Time: 5 minutes hands-on + 2 hours steep + 4-7 days ferment
- Cost: pennies per 16 oz
- Extra Tips: To save on initial expenses of getting started, you can find some of your supplies at thrift stores or other shops. Or you can get a starter kit.
Popsicles & Ice Cream
Frozen treats are a necessity over the summer.
Here are some of my family’s favorites:
- Cherry Limeade
- Coconut Cream
- Ice Pops
- Fruit and Yogurt Popsicles
- Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
- Apple Crumble Ice Cream
- Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream
- Time: 10 minutes hands-on + 6 hours to freeze
- Cost: 10 cents each
- Extra Tip: Save fruit juice from canned fruits like pineapples or puree overripe fruits to add to your next batch of popsicles. It gives you a wider variety of flavors without having to buy juice!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Instead of throwing away the peels and cores of apples, you can make apple cider vinegar right in your pantry. We use it in dressings and chicken stock, but it’s useful beyond the kitchen for things around the house like natural conditioner and removing moles!
- Time: 5 minutes hands-on + 3 weeks fermentation
- Cost: 2 cents per quart
- Extra Tip: Stock up when apples are in season and store apple cores and peels in the freezer until you are ready to make a batch of vinegar. Start a new batch when you are about halfway through the last quart.
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Cooking from scratch tastes better
More often than not, food made at home tastes way better than store-bought and is much better for you.
The foods you prioritize to make from scratch may be different from mine. Come up with your own list of “best foods to make from scratch” and consider what you eat, the nutritional benefits, and the savings you make when you decide to spend extra time in the kitchen.
Remember, your time is valuable and so is your sanity!