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A trip to the grocery store can be a fun experience when you're shopping for your favorite items, or it can be a stressful ordeal full of price comparisons and time spent trying to pick out the best product worth your dollars.
Luckily, there are two questions you can ask yourself to make the most of your trip: Is the item more expensive to buy than to make at home? And is the item inferior to a fresh version prepared in the comfort of your kitchen? If you answer yes, it’s time to put on those oven mitts and become the home cook you’ve always wanted to be. The most comforting foods are made from scratch for a reason.
Baking mixes are convenient for lazy weekends when you want to make classic pancakes or delicious waffles, but those premixed boxes can be swapped for the homemade variety without sacrificing taste. It’s really not that complicated — simply combine all of the dry ingredients in your favorite recipe and store them in an airtight jar until they’re ready for use. All you’ll need are pantry staples — like flour, sugar and eggs — to make sweet milk homemade waffles or next-level pancakes.
If you’ve been feeling like you don’t drink enough water, you might feel tempted to load up on your favorite bottled water. However, bottled water is one of the least eco-friendly things you can buy from the grocery store. Use reusable water bottles and a water filter pitcher to get your daily dose of hydration instead. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also be more sustainable in your everyday life.
Canned fruit and vegetables are one of those ingredients nobody really cooks with anymore for a reason. They’re loaded with sodium and have that indistinguishable tinny taste. Ideally, fresh produce is the way to go. And if you’re eating healthy on a budget, buy frozen vegetables instead of canned — frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh produce.
One secret that every home cook knows is that it’s better to make your own stock than to buy it. And if you have a slow cooker, stock — from beef to chicken — is the perfect recipe. Combine leftover bone and vegetables in a pot, bring it to a bowl and voila. You have stock.
The one ingredient you should never buy from the grocery store is cooking wine. The varieties found in grocery aisles are loaded with salt and preservatives. Use regular, drinkable wine to cook, and pour a glass for yourself while you’re at it.
Don’t spend money on those dry, sawdust-like breadcrumbs that seem to have an indefinite shelf-life. Just make your own. Turning stale bread into croutons or breadcrumbs is one way to make your food last longer. Just slice the stale bread into small pieces and bake it in a low-temperature oven for croutons or throw them in your food processor for breadcrumbs. Store them in an airtight container in the freezer until you need them and never rely on the store-bought stuff again.
Making your own granola and granola bars is cheaper and ensures you know exactly what’s going into it. Granola bars are often touted as healthy snacks, but all too often, the versions on the shelf are loaded with sugar. Whip up your own granola bars — they’re delicious and make any kitchen smell absolutely heavenly.
Most places that offer hot bars make you pay by the pound — and that’s where they get you. While you may not think your food is that heavy, you’ll end up shelling out a lot more than if you were to just prepare that same food yourself.
Instant anything might make life a bit easier, but when it comes to making a breakfast staple like oatmeal, instant might not be the way to go. Some instant oatmeal packets are loaded with unnecessary sugars. Those handy packets also tend to be more expensive than plain oatmeal. You can make perfect oatmeal in a flash with just a pinch of salt, oats and water. And if you want to recreate those packet flavors, add brown sugar, maple syrup or berries to take your oatmeal to the next level.
Although it may be convenient, buying a jar of minced garlic is an easy way to waste money. Fresh garlic is readily available, and garlic peeling hacks will make it easy to mince.
It’s pretty easy to make homemade nut butter, meaning you’ll never have to settle for the overpriced variety the next time you want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Pesto is a cinch to make, and by making it at home, you can tailor it to your taste buds. Not a fan of garlic? Add less. Trying to find a use for some arugula that’s looking sad at the back of the fridge? Throw it in. The only thing you need to make the ultimate pesto recipe is a food processor or blender, garlic, basil, pine nuts or walnuts and parmesan cheese.
The pre-cut packages of fruits and vegetables may seem tempting as you walk into a brightly lit supermarket, but they are often overpriced and might not be as ripe and delicious as you like. Find your favorite fruits and vegetables that are in season and chop them yourself for a snack that’s just as tasty, but much cheaper.
Premade salads are great because you don’t need to buy leafy greens and toppings separately or do any chopping, but you’re most likely paying for something you could prepare in a snap. There are countless salads that can be made with fruit, meat, eggs or whatever your heart desires. And if you’re craving a salad from your favorite restaurant, you can even make the famous Olive Garden salad at home.
After you make your homemade salad, pair it with homemade salad dressing. Salad dressings are packed with artificial flavors, colors and sodium-rich preservatives. They may also contain full-fat cheese, added sugars and unhealthy trans fat. A homemade Caesar salad dressing takes just 10 minutes to make. Experiment and make your own dressings with balsamic and other vinegars, spices or lime and lemon juice.
A famous Tex-Mex recipe, refried beans are a staple if you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine. Instead of buying cans of the tasty side dish, make a pot of refried beans from scratch. The recipe is simple: only pinto beans, onion, garlic, cheese, hot sauce and lard are needed to recreate the taste you love.
Rice can be part of a delicious, hearty meal, but using a box of rice mix to take your dinner to the next level can be bad for your wallet and your health. Rice mixes are loaded with salt and can be overpriced depending on the ingredients. Dishes such as Louisiana dirty rice or cilantro lime rice can be made with ease at home.
Sure, Costco’s famous 3-pound rotisserie chicken costs just $4.99, but it’s pumped with salt (which is why it tastes so good). Although you’ll have to spend a smidge more for a whole chicken, at home, you can control the salt content of your meal, the skin will get nice and crispy and the meat will be flavorful and moist.
For the price of whatever you’re paying for one sandwich at the store, you can buy all of the ingredients and make a sandwich better than mom used to make. You can also control the ingredient ratio and its freshness will be guaranteed.
If you’re in a hurry, those bags of grated cheese may seem like a harmless way to cut corners and save some time. And if you’re making a tasty sandwich, sliced cheese can take your sandwich to the next level. But buying grated and sliced cheese instead of a block of cheese is a waste of money. Buy a block of your favorite cheese and pass on the pricier bagged stuff.
Taco seasoning is just a blend of ingredients that you probably already have in your spice rack — like chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, paprika, ground cumin, sea salt and black pepper. As for other spice blends, like all-purpose poultry seasoning and Italian seasoning? If your spice rack is up to snuff, you can just mix and match until your heart’s content.
If making your own tomato sauce seems like a tall order in the middle of the week, try making a big batch over the weekend and store it in the freezer for the same sense of convenience that store-bought sauce provides. Whether made from canned tomatoes or fresh heirlooms, homemade tomato sauce is always superior to the store-bought kind. The next time you’re searching for groceries, here’s how to save money.
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