Four Things To Cook, Not Buy

I’M SURE SOME PEOPLE HAVE NATURAL COOKING ABILITIES. I’M NOT ONE OF THEM. But these four things can be made at home by anyone, no special cooking abilities needed. Homemade tastes better, is better for our bodies, and costs less. A triple win!

Food makers want – no NEED – us to buy their products. One way they hook us is by convincing us it’s cheaper and/or easier to buy something than make it. But it’s not always true.

These four things were among the first I started making rather than buying. Once I started and got into the groove of making things from ingredients, I made even more things from ingredients – because I had more ingredients sitting around the house to be used, because everything tasted so much better, and because it was so much more satisfying to eat a meal we spent some time preparing than one just heated up.

1. Pasta Sauce

Food companies want you to think homemade pasta sauce is something Italian grandmas slave over for a full day in the kitchen. But the fact is, if you have a slow cooker and 15 minutes, you can have homemade sauce for dinner.

Basically, pasta sauce is made of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices. If you can saute onions and garlic then pop ‘em in a slow cooker with crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper, you can make pasta sauce.

SAVINGS: The cheapest jar sauce I found* was $.10/oz. A can of crushed tomatoes, an onion, and a head of garlic made more sauce than the jar for about $.06/oz. That works out to a savings of about $1.00 when you don’t buy the jar.

Like most things made from scratch, the more you make, the more money you save. Making extra sauce and freezing it costs less than buying multiple jars.

WHAT YOU GIVE UP: One or more of: HFCS, sugar, soybean or corn oils, flavorings, mystery spices.

2. Cookie dough

That tube of slice and bake cookie dough seems like a quick cheap way to make some cookies and the commercials to make it seem just as good as homemade, but the fact is cookies from scratch aren’t hard to make, kids enjoy doing it, the recipe makes more cookies, and they taste better.

Sugar cookies are just flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, and baking powder – things you probably keep in the house anyway. And really, how often are we all eating cookies? They should be a treat, with the preparations and rituals that come with any special occasion food.

If you like to have dough around to slice and bake, make a batch of dough then form it into a roll and freeze it.

SAVINGS: A tube of slice and bake may seem cheap, but it doesn’t make as many cookies as a full batch from scratch. Plus, the cost to scale up homemade cookies is small compared to buying additional tubes.

A roll of sugar cookie dough is $3.49 and it makes 16 servings. Making sugar cookies from scratch costs about $1.64 a dozen (depending on the brands you buy – because YOU control the quality of the ingredients.)  If a serving is considered one cookie, the savings works out to around $1.00 a dozen.  If a serving size is two cookies, the cost is about the same.

But to make the same amount of cookies with rolls as from the homemade recipe (5 dozen), you’d need at least four rolls, which would cost $13.96 compared to $8.19 for the homemade cookies. That’s a difference of $5.77. Wow.

WHAT YOU GIVE UP: One or more of: Hydrogenated oils, artificial flavorings, margarine, Vegetable Mono- and Diglyceride, sodium benzoate.

3. Chicken soup

Making chicken soup was a revelation for me. For some reason I thought soup would be complicated, but it’s one of the easiest, cheapest, most satisfying meals you can make. Soup is surprisingly filling and can be made from simple ingredients you probably have in your kitchen all the time.

The best part about making chicken soup is that it uses the remains of one dinner to make another meal: chicken bones. You can use the carcass from a whole roasted chicken, or the bones and meat left from breasts. Either way, boil it up in water for several hours, strain out the bones and bits, add veggies (I use carrots, celery, and onions) season with salt, pepper, and garlic, boil some more and voila!  that’s soup.

One chicken carcass makes a lot of soup so this is another great thing to freeze.

SAVINGS: A can of Progresso chicken soup is $1.25 (on sale). It is 2 half cup servings (about $.62 a serving).

When you make chicken soup at home from your leftover roasted chicken, half a bag of carrots, half a bunch of celery, an onion, and spices you have on hand, you get a giant pot of soup for $2.54. How many half cup servings is it? I don’t really know, but I’m positive it’s more than the four you’d get for the Progresso price.

WHAT YOU GIVE UP: One or more of: modified food starch, corn and soy proteins (hydrolyzed), egg white, potassium chloride, yeast extract, sugar, soy protein isolate, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, egg yolk (dried), mystery spices, soy lecithin.

4. Salad dressing

Salad dressing is another one of those things that most people don’t think they can make at home. Sure, making up a batch of creamy Italian or blue cheese dressing is time consuming and probably costly  but maybe we should all be laying off the creamy dressings on a daily basis anyway.

Making a basic oil and vinegar dressing for daily use isn’t complicated or time consuming. And while there are almost as many variations on homemade dressings as there are pages on the Internet, I’m going to focus on a basic one.

On a daily basis, I dress my salad with a drizzle of olive oil, a couple shakes of salt, and a splash of vinegar. If I get ambitious, I whisk those ingredients together with a dab of mustard and some garlic powder. Let’s compare that to Wishbone Balsamic Vinegrette.

SAVINGS: My basic dressing above is made from things I always have in the kitchen. My best calculation of cost is about $.42 a serving.

The Wishbone dressing is $3.39 a bottle, $.21 a serving.

So, okay, this isn’t a money saver. But before you put that bottle of dressing in your shopping cart, check out what you give up. I think it’s worth the extra $.21 a serving.

WHAT YOU GIVE UP: In Wishbone Balsamic Vinegrette: soybean oil, sugar, mystery spices, caramel color, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, calcium disodium, citric acid, natural flavor, sulfur dioxide, annatto extract.


The next time your getting ready to purchase one of these four things, stop and consider making it instead. It could save you money and it will definitely save you from some additives and chemicals.

Once you start buying and cooking from ingredients, you’ll have ingredients on hand to make even more food. Cooking at home – and getting the kids involved if you can- teaches kids just want we want them to learn: the best food comes from home, cooking isn’t hard, and making the time, even once in a while, to make a home cooked meal is an important family ritual.

Plus, you’ll get to hear your kids say “You make the best _____!”

*All my product prices and ingredients were researched using Stop and Shop’s

2 comments for “Four Things To Cook, Not Buy

  1. Chris
    April 6, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Hello (just found your blog),

    Couldn’t agree more about what you wrote, especially about soup! We do the exact same thing: buy a whole chicken, roast it, and then boil it and throw in whatever we have on hand that week — soup in a can has nothing on that (price or taste)!

  2. Maria
    November 4, 2011 at 2:27 am

    I LOVE making my own salad dressing! Only in addition to the olive oil and vinegar, I add hemp oil! Very delicious and sooo healthy! If I’m not in a huge hurry or I remember to make it a day in advance, I will add some spices. Hopefully, one day, I will have my own herb garden and can use fresh stuff! Thanks for a wonderful blog!

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