Homemade Pantry Staples – Eat Well Spend Less

Frugal Recipes | 60 comments

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Yesterday the hosts of the radio morning show I listen to on my way home from dropping the kids at school asked: “You cook ____ times a week?” Answers were sent in via email and the hosts read them on air.

I was shocked at the number of people who said things like: Does putting frozen pizza in the oven count? If so, I cook 4 times a week. OR I make up an excuse to get take out at least 5 times a week.

Thoughts raced through my head: Do they know how much money they’re wasting? How bad that food is for them? How cooking at home is not just tastier, but healthier, thriftier, and often times faster when you consider the time it takes to order, pick up, and drive home with take out.

eat well spend less

Do we enjoy convenience food? Yes, on occasion. We have a few local joints that we enjoy for birthdays, special family date nights or on the rare occasion that I just don’t feel like cooking (or rather, cleaning up the mess!). But the vast majority of our meals consist of what I’d call real food.

So, naturally, when Jessica approached me along with a few other bloggers about a series called Eat Well, Spend Less I was eager to jump aboard. Over the next 3 weeks Aimee, Alyssa, Carrie, Katie K, Mandi, Shaina, Tammy and I will be discussing topics such purchasing (and storing) food in bulk, inexpensive meals, menu planning, and more.

Our goal? Show that you don’t have to go broke to eat well.

I don’t mean eating like a king day in and day out. Eating well to me means eating delicious, healthy for your body and the planet foods. Cooking with your family. Being creative in the kitchen.

For this week’s topic, Aimee and I have teamed up to offer pantry staples that are simple enough to be made at home, and often cheaper than their high-quality grocery store counterparts. Aimee is tackling “wet” products while I am sharing a few “dry” options to add to your pantry.

Why Homemade?

Homemade version offer unlimited customizations specific to your family’s needs and desires. I ventured into this realm out of necessity. Many of the items we love to eat just aren’t an option for Logan with his peanut allergy. I had to start making more and more from scratch.

And through that process, I found that Logan’s difficulty eating has been helped some (not cured) by encouraging him to help me prepare these homemade alternatives.

For example, he loves to help me grind all of the whole grains to prepare our homemade, 5 Grain with Flax Pancake Mix. We talked about how there are so many kinds of grains and you grind them up and they’re flour just like you can buy in the store, only better. After a few times, he was sold. Pancakes are now a favorite of his.

Some Ideas for Getting Started

  • Shop around and shop in bulk. Compare prices. Flour in bulk may be cheaper at stores like Costco, but other items might be less expensive when purchased online or at a natural foods grocery store. Do a little research before getting started
  • Decide which items you’d rather make homemade vs. which you’d rather purchase. Some items might be less expensive to prepare homemade, but are so laborious that you’d just rather purchase them – and that’s okay! Find the right balance for your family.
  • Don’t – I repeat – Don’t attempt to do it all at once. You’ll only stress yourself out. Instead, pick 1-2 items to focus on and each month add another. After a year you’ve made several changes that along the way are rather simple.

Basic Breads

With Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day I have found that homemade bread is an easy reality. I highly recommend checking out that book.

Rustic Garlic Rosemary Bread

Baguette | GoodLife Eats
Pizza Crust | GoodLife Eats
Rustic Bread | GoodLife Eats
Sandwich Bread | Babble

Homemade Mixes

Homemade Mixes are easy to make! Just take the dry ingredients for your favorite recipes and sift them together.

If you make a larger batch for multiple uses, be sure to calculate how many cups of the mix per recipe you need. Then, prepare as usual with the remaining wet ingredients.

homemade jar gifts - 5 grain pancake mix

Brownie Mix | Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures
Bisquick | Kitchen Simplicity
Pancake Mix | GoodLife Eats
White Cake Mix | I Am Baker

Spice Cabinet

Many basic spices are available in bulk or at club stores, such as Costco. Bulk spices are often a fraction of the cost of a traditional sized spice jar and can be used to prepare your own homemade spice blends for relatively little cost.

taco or chili seasoning

image credit

Breadcrumbs | Make and Takes
Croutons | GoodLife Eats
Cinnamon Sugar | The Kitchn
Dry Your Own Herbs | Martha Stewart
Fajita Seasoning | Food for My Family
Greek Seasoning | Food for My Family
Taco Seasoning | My Baking Addiction

Pantry Treats

Personalize some of your favorite snacks such as granola and fruit and nut bars by making them from scratch. Purchase ingredients such as rolled oats, dried fruits, and nuts in bulk to cut cost.

how to make homemade granola bars - recipe

Fruit and Nut Crisps | Simple Bites
Granola Bars | GoodLife Eats
Granola Cereal | Gourmande in the Kitchen
Marshmallows | GoodLife Eats
Whole Wheat Graham Crackers | Deliciously Organic

How do you cut costs so you can still eat WELL while spending LESS?

Katie Goodman

About the Author:

Katie’s lifelong interest in cooking good food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. She is: Mom. Writer. Photographer. Recipe Developer. Website Founder. Lover of all things good in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week at GoodLife Eats™. Katie and her family reside in Colorado.

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  • 1
    Mark Scarbrough - April 05, 2011 @ 6:21 am

    How right you are about cooking at home. Bruce and I did a lot of research about it last year for our book and discovered that U. S. government statistics indicate the average American spends less than 13 minutes a day cooking food–ALL the food they eat. It’s a recipe for big expenses, as you point out. And for weight gain, too.


    • Adrienne @ Whole New Mom replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 2:21 PM

      So now I don’t feel so bad that my kitchen is always a mess – because we cook EVERYTHING! And I also know that this is part of how we have managed to not go into debt.

      Literally, I think that our culture’s obsession w/ a neat house together with our willingness to live beyond our means are two things that make it harder for us to convince people that they should cook and make things from scratch! And, these things have probably, though I hadn’t put the pieces together until now, have added to the prevalence of obesity in our culture.

    • Kelly replied: — April 20th, 2011 @ 4:42 PM

      Adrienne, what a very interesting perspective! I seem to only have the energy to clean my kitchen once a day, and that’s usually in the morning before I start another round of cooking. So when I’m done that day I just don’t have it in me to clean again, so the kitchen seems to be perpetually messy! I thought it was because there isn’t much coutner space, maybe it’s just the way things are when cooking at home?!

  • 2
    MsBrownBird - April 05, 2011 @ 6:25 am

    I’ve actually been meaning to get into making my own ‘pantry treats’ for a while, partially because every homemade granola bar I’ve seen looks amazing… and because knowing I can cut out all that extra sugar and salt is hugely tempting. I’ve never thought of making my own flour, though. Thanks for all the ideas!


  • 3
    Lynn - April 05, 2011 @ 6:42 am

    I agree, I love to be able to make mixes and items at home and customize them to my family’s likes and needs. It is also usually a cheaper and healthier version. I also love the Bread In five book. It is a great resource for bread making. Thank you for putting such a great list together.


  • 4
    Sofya @ Girls' Guide to Guns and Butter - April 05, 2011 @ 7:17 am

    Very good subject!! Well you know, my situation is a little unusual for most people because we chose to live in the country (because we love it, among other things), but this also means that we have a plot of land where we raise what seems like a large proportion of our own food, and that makes it much cheaper – especially when it comes to premium, grassfed-free-range-organic meats – too expensive to buy, cheap to raise – and we were huge, huge meat eaters. Cooking at home too is something that sort of goes without saying – I grew up that way in the Soviet Union, and frozen pizza might happen once in three month, but that’s about it. But anyway, we raise/hunt all of our own meat except bacon (beef, venison, chicken, ducks, what not), eggs, potatoes, tomatoes (which I can), freeze a ton of vegetables so hardly have to buy any, garlic, onions in a good year (these are the things that go all year round), and then of course when there is summer abundance (and I mean at that point we grow herbs, cucumbers, squash, asparagus, berries, apples, just about everything) we shop even less. I bake all of our bread and yogurt (which we eat up to 2 gallons weekly!) and then I buy the rest, but pretty much always basics. Granola I buy though rather than making my own. Right now we just about got done collecting maple sap for drinking, since I don’t buy juice or frozen concentrate (husband does often though).


    • Kelly replied: — April 20th, 2011 @ 4:43 PM

      Lovely description of your life!

  • 5
    Karyn Good - April 05, 2011 @ 7:25 am

    We are in the process of trying to convert to a healthier lifestyle. This post is very helpful. I like the idea of trying one thing a month. It seems doable and therefore a more successful route to go. Will be following along and trying the ideas!


  • 6
    Aimee @ Simple Bites - April 05, 2011 @ 7:46 am

    Great post, Katie. You make some excellent points. I agree – don’t take on too much at once! Hmm, I’m thinking that brownie mix is a good place to start. ;)


    • Kelly replied: — April 20th, 2011 @ 4:44 PM

      Me too!

  • 7
    Michaela - April 05, 2011 @ 8:00 am

    I made a rule that I couldn’t eat anything unless I knew how to make it myself. That meant learning how to make things like granola bars and bread.. but now I’ve found it’s difficult to go back to the store bought stuff.


  • 8
    kitchentinker - April 05, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    Home cooking is one family activity that i was aware of ever since i was a kid. This was my folks way which I adopted because of the advantages that went with it. It’s not just a matter of costing less but more importantly a matter of cooking healthy foods for the family. This is simply cooking from scratch. Your ideas about this are great they are very useful. Thanks for sharing


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:57 PM

      I couldn’t agree more! My parents definitely shaped my attitude towards home cooked, healthy meals. It was our lifestyle and one that stuck with me. I also like the quality family time that is involved with cooking and sitting down together.

  • 9
    Rebecca - April 05, 2011 @ 10:08 am

    Thank you for creating this new series. I will definitely share this with my family and friends.


  • 10
    Louisa - April 05, 2011 @ 10:56 am

    I love the idea behind this series! It’s true that there are so many things that are relatively easy and cheaper to make yourself. Plus better for the environment (less packaging!) and better for your family. Can’t wait to follow along!


  • 11
    new2natural - April 05, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    Wow! Thanks for this series! I’m definitely going to be paying attention. I can’t wait!


  • 12
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies - April 05, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    I am absolutely loving this series! Such great ideas, and money saving too.


  • 13
    Shaina - April 05, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

    Fantastic post and great lists of pantry items you can make at home!


  • 14
    Amanda - April 05, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    My goodness this post is awesome. I would love to print off the whole thing and every link and make over my kitchen pantry!!! Thank you guys SO much for doing this!!! You are seriously providing such a huge service… all this amazing information in one place. THanks!!!


  • 15
    Jenna - April 05, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    With various diet restriction for both my husband and I we have not choice but to eat at home or pack our meals.

    I love the spice blends posted. If I can suggest one more..try your own sausage blend. http://thefeistyfairy.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/italian-sausage-seasoning-blend/ This one has become a staple in our house. You can season plain ground turkey, ckicken, or pork yourself for a fraction of what you can purchase ground sausage. Best of all you can talior it to your own taste.


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:50 PM

      Thanks for that link, Jenna! That is a good one to add to the mix, especially if you can get ground turkey or pork for a cheap price. I admit, I’ve never though about making my own sausage seasoning. Definitely going to give that a try!

  • 16
    Stef@hauteapplepie - April 05, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    Great post! Before I grab something at the grocery store, I think, can I make this myself? The answer is usually yes, with some ease. Especially things like rubs, gravy and seasoning packets. Reading ingredient lists is key. Other things like homemade oatmeal are so easy and SO good: http://hauteapplepie.com/2011/04/01/the-art-of-toddler-food-breakfast-time/


  • 17
    Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama} - April 05, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    What a great list of resources here! I am bookmarking this page.


  • 18
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen - April 05, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

    Great post Katie, so much good advice here. I like to buy staples like grains and flour in bulk to save money because I know that they store well and it saves me money in the long run.


  • 19
    Rana - April 05, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

    I’m loving this. There are some great links here for refreshing my pantry. I like what you said about taking a couple of these ideas to start. This way I won’t feel so overwhelmed.


  • 20
    Melissa@EyesBigger - April 05, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

    What a great series you are all doing. I try to do as much of this as I can mostly because the middle of the grocery store scares me – I don’t like things I can’t pronounce being in my food! Plus it’s gobs of extra packaging being produced for all the preprocessed food! And you have so much more control of what you put in your food! Thanks ladies!


  • 21
    Gina - April 05, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

    Great tips here, especially on buying bulk. I’ve not bought spices in bulk but am going to as I run out and need to replenish.

    We’ve saved so much money by eating at home and cooking real food from scratch. We’ve practically cut our grocery bill in half.


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:52 PM

      I can get things like cinnamon, chili powder, dried herbs, etc. in a container at least 5x the size of a regular jar at Costco for just a fraction more in price. I wish they had more variety but they do a good job of representing some of the basics that we all use most often.

  • 22
    Lisa - April 06, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    Thank you so much for your post! My husband became passionate about watching of our food sources after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. We strive to cook with natural ingredients while supporting our local farmers. Going out to eat is a rare treat for us. We are on a tight budget for a family of 2 adults and 3 boys. Even though our weekly grocery bill feels high, we could only go out to eat four or five meals a week for the same price we pay to make 21 meals at home. As you said, it becomes easier and it truly is more frugal!


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:53 PM

      That is so true, Lisa! Two meals out with our family is probably about as much as a whole weeks worth of groceries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is nice to eat out on occasion to take a break, but I still can’t figure out those people who eat out every day. Yikes!

  • 23
    Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) - April 06, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    Thanks for participating in this series. Great post – and I love the Artisan Bread book too! I cook for my family almost every night, with the rare exception (about once a month) when I give myself the night off. I do this both for budget reasons but also for health. (Oh, and it helps that I love being in the kitchen. I find it therapeutic!)
    You just can’t get the same nutrition out of a store bought meal as you can out of homemade stuff. Cooking doesn’t have to be a fuss! It can be some simple raw veggies, a bowl of pasta or grains, and some roasted beans or an egg.


  • 24
    Kristen - April 06, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    It’s so hard to go back to store bought too when you start making your own. When you have control over what goes in, let’s say, your taco seasoning, it makes it more customizable to your taste, which you can’t get at the store!


  • 25
    Tracy - April 06, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    Fabulous post! I’m with you and try to make as much from scratch as I can. Not only is it healthier but I think it’s fun, too!


  • 26
    Jenn - April 06, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

    Great post Katie. Home made food is the best -it taste so much better than that of restaurants!

    I just started making granola last month, using Mark Bittman’s recipe (http://content.markbittman.com/recipes/granola).

    Really good.

    Next experiment is to try homemade granola bars, :)


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:54 PM

      Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. Gotta love homemade granola!

  • 27
    Happy When Not Hungry - April 06, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    Great post! I’m definitely a lot more conscious about food that I buy. I also love making my own homemade stuff. It’s so much better!


  • 28
    Daisy - April 06, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    Great points! I do keep a supply of canned items in the pantry. I admit it. But the majority of weekdays, I cook from scratch. My husband cooks weekends. We shop sensibly, watch sales, and we keep our kitchen well-stocked so we don’t have to resort to frozen pizza. Homemade pizza is much better, anyway!


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 6th, 2011 @ 7:55 PM

      I do keep canned items like black beans, white beans, diced tomatoes and tomato paste on hand. I can get a good price at Costco and they’re often the foundation for other inexpensive, healthy meals. So nice that your husband cooks on weekends! :)

  • 29
    Tickled Red - April 06, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

    Great points and ideas! I can’t wait to put some to use and restock my pantry :)


  • 30
    Jill Anderson - April 06, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

    Thanks for the great tips and ideas. I am always looking for new ways for my family fo eat healthier and budget friendly is always a plus.


  • 31
    Jenn - April 07, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    If you have extra time, dried beans taste better than canned ones – and without all that sodium. It doesn’t take that long to process, you need to soak it overnight and then cook about 1-2 hour. Pinto beans cooks faster than black beans – and just as tasty. Lentils cooks in less than 1 hour (doesn’t need soaking).


  • 32
    Anne @ Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy - April 07, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I LOVE this post! Thanks for the great article and the excellent links. I would love to join you guys next time you do a similar collaboration – this is right up my alley!


  • 33
    Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday - April 07, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    How about home made nut butters? They are so easy to make and much much less expensive than the store bought variety. Plus, you can add in any flavours you want!

    I made some almond butter here:


  • 34
    Kerry - April 07, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

    As a student in a catered residence at my (Scottish) uni, I don’t get to cook much for myself. I do, however, keep olive oil, coarse salt, chilli flakes, curry powder, cinnamon and allspice in my cupboard, as well as wholemeal pasta (just as cheap as the refined white stuff most of the time), red lentils, rice, risotto rice, flour (strong brown and white plain), noodles and sesame oil for stirfries. I only have a small pot, a pan, a couple of sets of cutlery, a baking sheet and a sharp knife to cook with, but I can still make my own flatbreads to serve with lentil dhal, or a stirfry with frozen peas and green beans…My two top tips are to learn recipes that don’t need expensive equipment and buy frozen fresh vegetables, because you can use them as many times as you want because they keep for ages! I’ve started making my own sauces for pasta and freezing them, too.


  • 35
    Angela - April 08, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

    Thanks for a great post. I found you by way of the Craftzine blog. With two small children and a ton of processed junk available out there, I try my best to provide healthy but fun food. I’d like to share our favourite easy pizza dough recipe: http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/valentinos-pizza-crust/Detail.aspx

    we love pizza and this is a quick dough that kids can help with. Cheers!


  • 36
    Debbi - April 09, 2011 @ 4:01 am

    Raising a good part of our food has saved us a lot of money. Last year was the first year I was able to can and freeze a great deal of fresh produce, and now that our stock is dwindling, I can really tell a difference. I’ve already planted peas, cabbage and onions. The garlic planted last fall looks terrific. The asparagus is delicious and we’ll soon have strawberries. If you have any room at all, gardening is an excellent way to save money and eat more healthfully. Mother Earth News is a good resource for small-space gardening. Cooking from scratch with homegrown ingredients satisfies the soul and the budget!


  • 37
    Karen - April 09, 2011 @ 5:48 am

    I totally agree I hope people start doing it. Too much pizza is not good.


  • 38
    Erin - April 09, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    I’ve always cooked homemade. It just makes sense, dollars-wise. AND tastes so much better. I usually double recipes and freeze half, for those nights when I don’t feel like cooking. :)


  • 39
    Jan - April 09, 2011 @ 9:45 am

    So glad I found this post on Craft! Ive already commented on your Croutons post.
    I’ll be referencing this a lot in the future!


  • 40
    Wendy Blackheart - April 09, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    These are great ideas! I’ve been doing Weight Watchers after having already lost 50lbs with weight loss surgery, so the ability to cook/bake my own foods it awesome for me. First, I enjoy cooking and baking. Plus, I get to know whats going into my food, and I can make it how ever I want!

    I’ve been working out a happy balance between what I buy pre-made and what I bake. Often, I buy pizza dough (I used to get it from the pizzaria, but since I moved to philly…the dough here isn’t up to my standards, so now I use pillsbury) but I’ve taken to making my own biscuits to go with soup. My partner, a man who’s claim to fame in the kitchen is ‘making the best cereal’ is amazed at how much food we get out of a shopping trip, and how tasty it is to eat home cooking.

    Plus, lots of my friends have issues with food – in one group, we have a vegetarian, someone with crohn’s diseas, and someone who can’t eat gluten. Myself, I can’t have fish or fish sauce. Granted, sometimes we only get 3 out of 4 when we’re cooking for each other, but since we can customize our meals from scratch, its pretty nifty.

    And saving money is great – a decent frozen pizza is close to 10 bucks. I can make a pizza that is healthier for 7 or less depending where I shop! I can make stir fry for four for dirt cheap. We get the same thing, super simple, super quick, and with whatever we want.

    We do order in sometimes – since I’m the one who cooks, if I’m too pooped from work we’ll order in, or for special occasions. There are lots of great local places we enjoy supporting when we can. And since we cook more, we can afford it. We also save money on eating out for lunch, since we have leftovers that my partner can take with him (i’m usually home to eat something)

    I’m looking forward to trying some of these snacks, and the taco seasoning mix. If I can make my own taco seasoning, I don’t have to buy those silly pre packaged boxes of stuff. I can get tortillas from somewhere else!


  • 41
    Zahra - April 10, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

    oohh! I’ve been looking for a good granola bar recipe for EVER! :D

    Question though…is this soft and chewey? Or hard and crunchy?



    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 10th, 2011 @ 12:29 PM

      Yes, they are soft. They are no of the crunchy variety.

    • Zahra replied: — April 10th, 2011 @ 1:31 PM

      awesome! I’ve been wanting a soft one! All the ones I found online were hard :( Thanks a bunch! :)

  • 42
    Becky Jo - April 17, 2011 @ 12:49 am

    After figuring out how much of my income goes to pay taxes, we decided I should be a stay at home mom again, but accepted we would have to sacrifice some. We’ve discovered that by not buying convenience food and eating out less, we see no difference in our bank balance at the end of the month. My family loves the homemade goodness of cooking from scratch! Great series!


  • 43
    Kim Kenty - May 05, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    I think I’ll try to make the Brownie Mix jars to give away! Everyone loves brownies! THANKS.


  • 44
    Salena Begley - May 06, 2011 @ 6:37 am

    I can’t wait to try some of these delicious recipes. Thanks for sharing them.


  • 45
    Vicki N - May 08, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    thanks for these tips! I stumbled here from your kitchen aid give away!


  • 46
    Christine - May 09, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    Wow! I’m learning a lot from this post!


  • 47
    Tamara - May 20, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

    Hi! I found you through Carrie at DenverBargains. I am SO EXCITED to try out your recipes. Thanks!


  • 48
    Julia - April 16, 2012 @ 11:20 am

    It makes my heart happy when I see people making so many kitchen staples from scratch! What a great round up of recipes!


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