The more you read labels of packaged foods, the more you can ask yourself what is all this stuff in my food? Does it need to be in the food? The answer is no. For generations most of the food you enjoy was made at home in a kitchen with a few simple ingredients that had pronounceable names. Today, convenience is the name of the game, leading to more and more store bought food on our pantry. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are many foods you can easily make at home that will be cleaner and maybe even cheaper than storebought.
Why Make it Yourself?
There are a lot of reasons to make some of your pantry staples yourself. Like mentioned above, store-bought foods can be filled with mysterious chemicals, colors, additives and preservatives. While not all of those ingredients are harmful, they’re not really necessary. You don’t need them when you make it at home, so why do you need to eat it?
When you make food yourself, you also have a lot more control of what goes in your food. In addition to additives and colors, you can also control the amount of sugar and salt that goes into your food. You can make the food how you want it to taste. Can’t find something hot enough? Love garlic but nothing’s as garlicky as you want? You now have the power to flavor your food how you want.
If you’re making this food consistently, you can also save some money. You probably have a lot of the basic ingredients already (oils, spices, vegetables) and you can buy other ingredients in bulk for a lower price. This will yield a larger quantity for a lower price, saving you money in the long run.
What Should I Make Myself?
Look through your fridge and pantry and see what foods (not ingredients) you’re constantly buying or using. Check the ingredient labels to see what’s in the food you’re considering making. If it’s got a lot of funky, long-winded names, consider making it yourself.
Starting out, there are some things that, unless you’re really passionate or have a lot of time, you should leave to someone else, like bread, butter, yogurt, or nut milks. Below is a list of foods that are easy to make yourself. If you eat these regularly, try making them.
Some of these foods will require some additional equipment to make them, like a blender or food processor. If you don’t have one of these already, borrow someone’s at first to try making the food before you decide to make the investment into one. These tools are pretty versatile that they will pay off over time and with the amount of different things you can do with either.
Salad dressing: If you love salad dressing and buy it on a regular basis, seriously consider making your own. You probably have most of the ingredients for a vinaigrette-based dressing at home. The basis of vinaigrettes is olive oil and vinegar, which can be kitchen workhorses for lots of different recipes.
A good ratio to go with when making vinaigrettes is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Add any other seasonings (including fresh herbs) you’d like. You can change the kind of vinegar up to get some variety, and there are a lot of vinegars out there. Most of the country prefers ranch, and if you like ranch, you can definitely also make that at home. Ranch can be a little on the indulgent side, with most made from sour cream and mayonnaise. You can swap out those for greek yogurt instead, and there are a lot of cleaner ranch dressing recipes for you to try.
Dips: Hummus, bean or veggie-based dips are very easy to make at home. Just toss your beans or roasted vegetables into a food processor, add some garlic, seasonings, olive oil and run the food processor until your dip has a consistency you like. Store-bought hummus can range from $4-6, two cans of store brand organic garbanzo beans cost around $2, and you’re getting far more hummus with two cans of beans than most store-bought hummus packages. This way you can also flavor your hummus however you like, add more garlic, throw in some chili peppers to make it spicier, whatever you enjoy.
Salsas: There’s nothing better or more festive at a party like a bowl of salsa. And when tomatoes are in season in the spring and summer, it’s not that hard to make. If you like a smooth salsa, throw the tomatoes, onions, and peppers in a blender and blend up until smooth, adding any salt or lime juice to your taste.
If you like green salsa, look for tomatillos at the market and blend those up. If you like a more pico style salsa, you can sharpen your knife skills and cut up these ingredients yourself, no extra equipment needed. During the spring and summer when tomatoes are in season, tomatoes will also be more affordable to make salsa affordably and to the heat and taste you want.
Guacamole: Like salsa, guacamole brings that extra something to a party or meal. Instead of buying one from a box or pouch, make it yourself and taste the difference. Sometimes people don’t make guacamole because they only have rock hard avocados and they want some guac ASAP. You can always ask someone at the grocery store or farmer’s market to find the ripest ones for you. You can also throw those avocados in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana and let them sit for a day or two. The banana can speed up the ripening of the avocados by a few days.
Once you’ve got ripe avocados, simply smash the avocados up in a bowl, add in diced tomatoes (or some of your homemade salsa), garlic, onions, cilantro, and any other seasonings you like. If you want to keep the guac green (since it will oxide like apples and start to brown), keep the pits and place those inside the bowl until ready to eat.
Pesto: This sauce is a great alternative to red sauce with spaghetti, spread for sandwiches or a vegetable dip. Rather than buying a small jar, you can buy herbs (or any greens) and make this at home with the help of a food processor.
Classic pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, seasonings and cheese, but you can easily adapt and omit certain ingredients and still get a great tasting pesto. When basil isn’t in season or on sale, go to any other green like swiss chard, beet greens, or spinach. Don’t have pine nuts or scared off by their price? Swap them out with walnuts, almonds or sunflower seeds. Vegan? Omit the cheese and it doesn’t affect the taste too much. Depending on how much pesto you use each week, you may have leftover greens to use for other meals in the week, and leftover nuts to make next week’s pesto. You can also freeze pesto very easily in ice cube trays if you’ve made too much (or want to make a lot for later).
Granola: Small bags of granola at the store can easily cost $7-10 dollars and be filled with a lot more sugars than you think. If you start making them at home, you make a lot more for $10. Head to the bulk bins and get your old fashioned oats there, as well as any other dried fruit, seeds or nuts you want to add to your granola.
If you love granola, consider heading to the internet and buying these ingredients in bulk there as well for even more savings. You can use coconut oil and honey as the binders, which you can easily use in other cooking. All you have to do to make granola is to mix the ingredients together and lightly bake.
As always, start small. Choose one thing to make one week to see how you like it. Adjust the flavors or try a different recipe until you find the one you really like. If you really enjoy it, add in some others. Maybe you can find different things to make yourself. Whatever you choose to make, rest assured that you’re making clean food for yourself that will make you feel good and help you health and fitness goals.
Healthy Eating 101 returns with healthy appetizers you can whip up at your next get-together that people will love.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Eric Urquhart/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: cobraphotography/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: HandmadePictures/shutterstock.com; Sixth Photo Credit: Gam1983/shutterstock.com