Cooking foods from scratch can be more delicious, save you money and easier than you think. Here are seven foods you consider making at home.

Jessica Ball, MS RD
May 17, 2020
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Pictured Recipe: Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread

You may remember the sourdough craze from early quarantine days, or celebrities like Ina Garten plugging easy, homemade salad dressings. Cooking everything from scratch, may sound intimidating, but it doesn't have to be (it also doesn't have to be everything). There are so many foods that I much prefer to make myself instead of buying the prepared version, especially now that I am spending more time at home. Why? It saves me money and I get to control the ingredients and flavors.

Once you do some digging, scratch cooking doesn't have to be technical or complex, and even take a lot of time. With a little planning and know-how, scratch cooking can save you money and make your foods more delicious. Whether it's veggie stock or granola bars, these are a few of the things I make myself along with easy tips so you can do it too.

7 Foods to Make From Scratch

Here are some of my favorite things to make from scratch. They save me money, help me cut down on food waste and allow me to customize the flavors to my preferences.

1. Stock

If you only take one thing from this article, keep a container of veggie scraps in your freezer. Any time I am chopping up vegetables for a stir-fry or stew, I bust out my trusty gallon freezer bag (extra credit if it's reusable, like my favorite Stasher Bag, $19.99, target.com)

Things that wouldn't be good to eat on their own, like the ends of onions and celery or stems from peppers, are added to the bag and saved until I can make delicious homemade vegetable stock. Simply add water and any seasonings you like and let it simmer.

Not only is making stock from scraps totally free, but also it allows you to cut down on food waste. Traditional store bought stocks and broths typically have some added sodium to boost their flavor and extend their shelf live, so making stock from scratch gives you a healthier product while saving money.

2. Bread

This one can be as easy or as complicated as you want, depending on what you are trying to make. I don't bake much, but when I do, it's usually bread. Whether it's a quick no-knead bread in a pinch or a project like foccacia, I almost always prefer homemade bread to store bought. Something that totally changed my breakfast game is our Two-Ingredient Bagel recipe. They are simple, delicious and ready in just over a half hour. Baking your own bread let's you have fresh, bakery-style bread at a fraction of the price and you can add lots of whole grains to amp up the nutrition.

While, it can be difficult to find specific baking ingredients right now at the store for a sourdough starter, all you need is flour, water and time. If you don't have the time to spend but still want in on the deliciousness, we even have bread recipes that don't require yeast (a fairly hot commodity these days).

Pictured Recipe: Classic Hummus

3. Hummus

Homemade hummus is a game changer. Not only can you mix and match flavors to get the exact taste that you want, but also you can even experiment with adding other vegetables like beets and avocados. Hummus can be made with affordable, shelf-stable ingredients like chickpeas, olive oil and tahini. (You can use peanut butter in a pinch if you're out of tahini. I can confirm that it works.) Once you have all of the ingredients, all you have to do it pulse it together in a food processor and enjoy.

4. Salad Dressing

Once you start making your own salad dressing from scratch, you'll never go back. It can be as simple as Ina's four-ingredient fresh salad dressing, but there are plenty of other flavors to explore. We have ample salad dressing inspiration, from Avocado Buttermilk to Honey-Mustard with Lemon. Not only can you control the flavor, but also you can control the sodium and avoid any additives used in store bought dressings (especially the low-fat ones). This tool by Jokari allows you to store your homemade salad dressings and portion them out perfectly each time.

5. Pasta Sauce

The possibilities are endless with homemade pasta sauce, and it doesn't all have to be marinara. Whether you want to get creative with a traditional tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes or you want a quick meat sauce to pair with spaghetti, we have you covered. Store bought sauces are typically more expensive than homemade ones, and they also can have a lot more sodium.

If you make your own pasta sauce, consider making more than you'll initially use and freezing the rest for a quick dinner down the road. I currently have a freezer bursting with pesto from last summer's basil plants, and it reminds me of summer whenever I eat it. Especially if you garden, consider canning your leftover tomatoes to enjoy the fresh flavors all year long.

Pictured Recipe: Refrigerator Pickles

6. Pickles

They may be a garnish for a sandwich or charcuterie board, but however you use them, they're delicious when you make them yourself. Making your own pickles is as simple as water, vinegar, salt and spices. Add cucumbers to your pickling liquid and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. You can control the salt in homemade pickles compared to the high-sodium store bought versions. Bonus point if you get creative and pickle other foods, like onions, carrots, fiddleheads or flower leaves. We even have this quick pickle recipe that is ready in 45 minutes.

7. Granola, Bars & Bites

Granola bars are a great snack, but store bought versions can be expensive and full of added sugar. Making your own granola, allows you to choose your own flavors and know exactly what goes into your granola (key for people with food allergies or taste preferences). Granola bars can also be expensive, so making your own using pantry-friendly ingredients like nut butter and oats is a win-win. My personal favorite are our Peanut Butter Energy Balls, with only five ingredients and ready in just 20 minutes.

Tips for Grocery Shopping

Make a plan.

Before you shop, make a list of what you are planning to make. Check in your pantry to see what you already have, to prevent buying something twice. This will help you be efficient while you shop, and avoid buying things you don't need.

Buy in bulk.

For shelf-stable foods that I use for several dishes, I try to buy them in bulk, usually at Costco. I can get a big bag of flour or rice, or a pack of eight cans of chickpeas or tomatoes for a fraction of the price. They don't go bad quickly, so I like to also keep some on hand, for scratch cooking and some of my go-to recipes like shakshuka.

Be flexible.

Especially these days, it can be hard to find everything you are looking for at the store. It is important to make a plan, but also to be flexible within the plan. There are places were substitutions make sense, like swapping peanut butter for tahini in hummus in a pinch. However, there are other times where it makes more sense to pivot altogether. Want to make foccacia but can't find yeast anywhere? Try one of our no yeast bread recipes instead.

Bottom Line

Making foods like bread, hummus and stock at home has given a flavor boost to all of the meals I eat them with. Cooking from scratch can help you save money, eat healthier and cut down on food waste. With a little planning, it can be efficient and easy. If you are up for the challenge, there are several more advanced cooking projects that have been keeping me busy during this time.