There’s just something about the flavor of making food from scratch that makes it more satisfying.
And while I would love to be one of those moms who has the time (and patience) to make everything from scratch, the truth is that I’m just too busy.
It wasn’t always that way.
When I first decided to eat healthy, unprocessed foods while cutting my grocery bill twenty years ago, I made everything from scratch. And I mean everything. After a full week at the office, I spent the weekend in the kitchen cooking and prepping for the week.
But scratch cooking doesn’t always save you money.
(And sometimes store-bought tastes just as good as homemade.)
That’s why I don’t feel guilty about reaching for store-bought ingredients when making meals for my family. And you shouldn’t either.
Here are seven foods I’ve made from scratch that might not be worth your time.
Homemade tortillas are made from flour, salt, baking soda, and oil and are relatively easy to make.
So why did I give up on homemade tortillas?
They’re time-consuming, and the result didn’t taste good enough to justify the effort when there are healthy store-bought options.
Homemade tortillas always seem to be too thick or too dry, or they fall apart when I try to roll them up.
Many brands are loaded with additives and preservatives. But there are plenty of store-bought tortillas made with whole wheat or other nutritious ingredients and have fewer additives. So if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to traditional white flour tortillas, there are definitely options out there for you.
And tortillas aren’t that expensive.
2. Nut Butter
Nuts are the main ingredient in nut butter. Natural nut butter only has one or two ingredients and isn’t full of additives. It’s a healthy option, but they’re not cheap.
But nuts are just as expensive.
You probably won’t save much money making your own nut butter, and it’s definitely not a time saver.
Nut butter is time-consuming to make, and it requires a high-powered food processor or Ninja to get that smooth, creamy texture we all love. And if you can’t achieve the desired consistency, you’ve wasted an expensive ingredient.
Clean up? What a mess!
Certain nuts like pecan butter or flavored varieties like chocolate almond butter are specialty items that are expensive and hard to find. When I was topping my oatmeal with pecan date butter daily, I made my own instead of ordering it. In those instances, making your own flavored nut butter might be the way to go.
If you’re like me, you don’t want anything to go to waste, including leftover Italian bread.
Making your own breadcrumbs seems like a great way to avoid throwing out stale bread, but the product may not be as satisfying as you hoped.
Homemade food tastes fresher and doesn’t have additives and preservatives. The downside of no preservatives is that fresh breadcrumbs can get moldy, just like bread. You can store breadcrumbs in a freezer-safe container or bag until you need them, but the consistency of the crumbs will be softer.
Do you need breadcrumbs for a recipe? Plan ahead if you want to use fresh.
And unless you have a lot of leftover stale bread, you probably won’t end up with enough breadcrumbs to make a big difference in your recipe.
There are easier ways to use leftover bread so it doesn’t go to waste. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Make croutons
- Make garlic bread
- Make it taste fresh by sprinkling it with water, wrapping in foil, and heating it in the oven.
- Make egg in a hole for breakfast
4. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is thick, creamy, and higher in protein than plain yogurt. It’s made by straining yogurt to remove the whey, resulting in a thick, creamy product.
Since you’re straining the yogurt, you will yield less than if you make regular yogurt using the same ingredients. And it takes several hours longer.
For example, one gallon of milk yields four quarts of regular yogurt. It takes about two hours to prepare and then 13.5 hours in the Instant Pot on the yogurt setting to get the desired consistency.
If you’re making Greek yogurt, you’ll yield approximately two to three quarts and add several more hours to the process for straining.
(Don’t strain it too long or you’ll end up with yogurt cheese, which has an even thicker consistency.)
One of the biggest downsides to scratch cooking is not being able to replicate the texture and consistency of your favorite brands. For example, quality Greek yogurt like Fage has a distinct creamy thickness that might be hard to replicate.
5. Ice Cream
Homemade ice cream is delicious, but it can be expensive to make, and you’ll need an ice cream maker for the best results. The cost of ingredients like cream, sugar, and vanilla can add up quickly.
The best ice cream I’ve ever had is Ina Garten’s Deeply Chocolate Gelato. The main ingredients are eggs, cream, and chocolate morsels. But when you add up the cost of all the ingredients, it’s way more than even Häagen-Dazs.
Yes. It’s fresh and additive-free, unlike most brands of ice cream.
But some brands like Breyer’s, Turkey Hill’s natural line or Häagen-Dazs contain only a few natural ingredients. So if you buy them on sale, you’ll spend less than the cost of the ingredients to make homemade and save a lot more time.
Time is another factor.
You need to plan ahead if you’re in the mood for homemade ice cream. Depending on your ice cream maker, you might have to freeze the bucket first. Then, after you make the ice cream in the machine, you need to freeze it for a few hours.
6. Pumpkin Puree
Can you use real pumpkins for pie? Yes, but not all pumpkins are used to make pumpkin pie, so your fall pumpkin is best left to the squirrels to eat when you’re done with it.
First, remove the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds.
Sugar pumpkins are small pumpkins that are sweet, firm, and dense, making them ideal for baking. But the effort required to cook and puree fresh pumpkin may not be worth your time. The consistency doesn’t come out as thick as canned puree, and the flavor isn’t as rich.
Canned pumpkin is thick and flavorful. Some canned veggies are as nutritious as fresh, including pumpkin puree and tomatoes (next on the list). Canned pumpkin is packed with nutrients like vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. Look for 100% pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie mix containing sugar, spices, and other ingredients.
7. Tomato Sauce With Tomatoes
Making tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes can be time-consuming, and the sauce isn’t the thick puree you get with canned tomatoes.
Like pumpkins, not all tomatoes are ideal for making tomato sauce.
I ordered a share of extra Roma tomatoes from my CSA (community-supported agriculture) to make homemade sauce once. The tomatoes were harvested and ready to be picked up while I had my first baby in the hospital. My mother volunteered to parboil, peel, and process all the tomatoes into sauce.
It took hours.
And the result was a watery sauce full of seeds that didn’t taste as sweet as canned tomatoes.
Unless you have a large tomato garden and need to use them up before they spoil, this may not be worth the time investment.
Wrap It Up
Most of the time, cooking from scratch will save you money on groceries. But not always.
Consider the cost of the ingredients and the amount of time and effort needed to prepare the food. Of course, the quaintly of using fresh ingredients is often worth the extra time. But sometimes homemade doesn’t taste any better.
What foods have you tried to make from scratch but realized you were better off buying? Let me know in the comments below.
About Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD
I’m a food loving Registered Dietitian. I help families plan meals, reduce food waste and save money on food!