If you love food (and who doesn’t?), a trip to the supermarket can be a glorious thing — zipping up and down the brightly lit aisles, grabbing items from bountiful shelves and eagerly anticipating digging in. But it can just as easily be a stressful experience, full of price comparisons, wading through difficult-to-understand ingredients lists and the eternal struggle to pick out the best product from a shelf of seemingly identical items.
There are, however, some grocery items that might be better to avoid entirely. Some contain unexpected and undesirable ingredients, some don’t provide the nutrients you may be expecting, some are way more expensive to buy than to make at home, and most of them are vastly inferior to a fresh version prepared in the comfort of your own kitchen.
From convenience items, canned goods and items that most people assume are healthy to products that are as easy to make at home and taste more delicious when you do, it’s easy to save money and eat better by avoiding these 25 grocery items on your next trip to the store.
Sure, baking mixes are convenient — who doesn’t love a lazy Saturday morning spent making waffles or pancakes from a box? Just a scoop, some eggs, a splash of milk and voila! Batter is done. But those premixed boxes, while handy, are kind of a waste of money and, once again, could be loaded with unpronounceable ingredients. So why not just make your own mixes? 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.
You can buy bottled water and soda cheaply, but it’s 2019, and in case you haven’t been paying attention, plastic is making our planet very sad. Do Mother Earth a favor and buy some sort of eco-friendly water filtration system so that you can have clean-tasting water without creating unnecessary waste. Water filter pitchers and bottles aren’t all that expensive, and you can buy them practically anywhere. Or just drink tap water. As for soda, it may be more economical to make your own at home using Sodastream or a similar device.
If you have access to fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, those really are the better-for-you options. Canned vegetables sometimes have a really high sodium content, and canned fruit is often swimming in sugar syrup, so if you’re using them in lieu of the fresh stuff, you might be missing out on a lot of their natural goodness. Of course, if there’s no other option, a meal made from canned goods is not going to cause irreparable harm, but try not to make canned fruits and vegetables the center of every meal.
When something is so easy to make yourself, it’s just silly not to, right? Like canned vegetables, store-bought chicken stock can sometimes contain high levels of sodium. These days, there are tons of low-sodium options available — but even with those, you are spending money, which is kind of unnecessary when it comes to stock. Any time you roast a chicken, just store the bones in a bag in your freezer until you have enough to fill a large pot, along with any onion ends, carrot peelings, parsley stems and other aromatic vegetable scraps you would have otherwise thrown away; here’s a great recipe. The magic of homemade stock is that you are making something that’s so superior to anything you can buy, and you’re making it from things that would normally get thrown out. It’s a no-brainer, really.
You should never use cooking wine. Why? For starters, it doesn’t taste good. The kind you find in American supermarkets is cheap, low-quality wine loaded with salt and preservatives. You might recognize brands like Roland, Goya and Holland House, all of which are labeled “not for sale or use as a beverage.” Stay away from those and just use regular, drinkable wine to cook with instead — 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. If you have a stale loaf of bread that has seen better days, just slice it into manageable pieces and bake them 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.
The convenience of warming up a frozen pasta dish in a matter of minutes via microwave is pretty incredible, but most are loaded with fat and sodium. It doesn’t really take that long to boil noodles and make your own sauce (or use some from the store if you must), and it tastes a million times better.
Homemade granola is delicious and makes any kitchen smell absolutely heavenly. As with other homemade treats rather than store-bought grocery items, making your own granola ensures you know exactly what’s going into it — and it can end up being so much cheaper than the store-bought varieties. It’s the same with granola bars. They’re often touted as healthy snacks, but all too often, they versions on the shelf are loaded with more sugar than you might realize.
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. Oh, and eating from buffet-style hot bars increases your risk of developing foodborne illness. No thank you.
Instant anything tends to make life a bit easier, but when it comes to getting breakfast made in a hurry, instant oatmeal might not actually be doing anyone any favors. Like so many other items on this list, prepackaged sachets of instant oatmeal tend to contain a lot of unnecessary sugar, which most people try to avoid first thing in the morning. Those handy packets also tend to be way more expensive than plain oatmeal.
You can make a big batch of regular oatmeal and portion it out to eat throughout the week, or just make your own instant oatmeal. All you need to do to make your own homemade instant oatmeal is pulse some rolled oats in a food processor until the oats are roughly half their initial size — this is the secret to instant oatmeal. Then all that’s left to do is mix in different delicious things to flavor it. Try chia seeds, some brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and don’t forget a pinch of salt.
All K-Cups will be recyclable by the end of 2020, according to Keurig, but do you really even need to use them in the first place? The pods are great for people who want to make a single cup of coffee rather than a whole pot, but many companies, including Keurig, make reusable ones. K-Cups are kind of expensive too, and you get a lot more for your money by buying ground coffee and just brewing up a pot.
It may seem more convenient, but buying a jar of minced garlic (or ginger) is something no one should ever do. Fresh garlic is readily available and tastes much better than the minced stuff; pre-minced garlic may be convenient, but you end up paying a lot more for it, and it usually contains additives like citric acid and occasionally even high-fructose corn syrup.
By now, we all know that some brands of peanut and other nut butters can be loaded with unnecessary oil and sugar. But often, the “good” ones — the organic, raw, nothing-added kinds — are prohibitively expensive. Luckily it’s pretty easy to make homemade nut butters, which means you never have to settle for added ingredients you don’t want in your PB&J (and you don’t need to spend tons of money, either). Turn once again to your trusty food processor and enjoy freshly made peanut butter — or cashew, or almond… the possibilities are endless.
Pesto is a cinch to make, and by making it at home you can seriously tailor it to your taste buds. Not a fan of garlic? Add less. Trying to use up some arugula that’s looking sad at the back of the fridge? Throw it in. Do you fancy using cheese that’s not Parmesan? Use it. The world is your oyster when it comes to pesto, and making it at home will open your eyes to the numerous different ways you can use this classic Italian sauce and condiment.
It’s easy to cut your own fruit and veg, and doing so allows you to choose produce that’s actually ripe and delicious. The pre-cut packages of fruit and vegetables may seem tempting as you walk into a brightly colored supermarket, but they are overpriced and basically just a waste of money.
Premade salads are great because you don’t need to buy leafy greens and toppings separately (or do any chopping), but nine times out of 10 you’re overpaying for something you could prepare in the blink of an eye. You don’t know how long it’s been on the shelf, its container is a waste of plastic, and even if the label says “triple washed,” that doesn’t mean its safety can be completely guaranteed. This goes for salads that aren’t actually salad, too.
Grab a can of refried beans off the supermarket shelf and you may be surprised by the contents — there’s often a lot more fat and sodium in them than you would expect. Instead, make your own using a simple can of black beans; add garlic, jalapeños, salt and chili powder to a pan, then throw in a can of beans (and a bit of water if things are looking dry) and smash things about with a potato masher until it is the consistency you like. Homemade refried beans will taste better and cost less, so it’s a win-win.
Boxed rice is super easy to make, but beware the sodium content. One cup of prepared chicken-flavored Rice-A-Roni contains 960 milligrams of sodium. That’s almost half of the recommended daily intake. You can blame that on the included seasoning packets. Instead, get some brown rice and add your own broth, herbs and spices.
Sure, Costco’s famous 3-pound rotisserie chicken costs just $4.99, but it’s literally pumped with salt (which is why it tastes so good). You can make your own for a smidge more (whole chicken averages $1.28 per pound, and can weigh anywhere from 2-and-a-half to seven pounds). 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.
Here we go again with unnecessary ingredients. It’s pretty common knowledge these days that a lot of salad dressings are masquerading as healthy but actually contain refined vegetable oils, preservatives, stabilizers, artificial food coloring and lots of sugar. Once you learn the basic salad dressing ratio — two to three parts oil to one part acid — you’ll be able to throw together delicious dressing in no time at all.
A sandwich is practically the easiest meal to prepare on the face of the Earth — and have you ever even had one from the store that’s as good or better than one that’s homemade? For the price of whatever you’re paying for one sandwich at the market, you can just buy all of the ingredients and increase the number of sandwiches you end up with. And when you make it at home, you can control the ingredient ratio and its freshness will be guaranteed. Nobody likes an hours-old tuna sandwich on soggy white bread.
If you’re in a hurry, those bags of grated cheese may seem like a harmless way to cut corners and save some time, but the reality is, there’s probably more than just cheese in that bag. In order to stop the cheese from sticking together and forming a lump of cheese at the bottom of the bag, most shredded cheese contains additives to keep it from clumping together. It might not be the worst thing in the world — but it is made from plant-derived cellulose a lot of the time, which isn’t exactly an appetizing thought. Buying the grated stuff instead of a block of cheese is also a waste of money, and the whole blocks are always of higher quality than what’s grated and bagged, especially Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Grocery store sushi is safe to eat, but it’s most likely been hanging out in a refrigerator for hours. One of the worst things you can do to sushi rice is refrigerate it, because it gets hard and dry and loses its flavor. A lot of the time it’s packed loosely too, so it falls off when you dip it in soy sauce or right before it reaches your mouth. Because the fish is coming from larger suppliers, it’s probably not high in quality, and the fish loses flavor when it’s been sliced and chilled as well. Most grocers will try to hide the lackluster fish flavor by adding a flavorful drizzle of chipotle mayo or something similar; don’t be fooled.
Taco seasoning is just a blend of ingredients that you probably already have in your spice rack, such as 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 Montreal steak seasoning? If your spice rack is up to snuff, you can just mix and match to your heart’s content.
Once again we come face to face with the demon that is added sugar and preservatives. 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 (here’s a great recipe) and storing it in the freezer for the same sense of convenience that store-bought sauce provides. Whether made from canned tomatoes or fresh heirlooms at the height of summer, homemade tomato sauce is always superior to the store-bought kind. If you are in a hurry and need to pick up a jar, though, we tried, tested and ranked the best premium pasta sauces.
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