Food & Drink

7 foods you buy that cost less to make at home

Homemade macaroni and cheese takes the same amount of time to make as the stuff from the box.
Homemade macaroni and cheese takes the same amount of time to make as the stuff from the box.

Honestly, the results from this story can be less work than cleaning out your closet, which you promised to do to get your act together for the new year.

Well, maybe it’s time to get your act together in the kitchen. As in, serving better, healthier food at home by making it yourself. And saving money at the same time.

Really. It’s a win-win situation. Ah, but you’re not convinced.

I think many home cooks who have very busy lives have been sucked into the belief perpetrated by food manufacturers that we can’t get along without convenience food that comes in cans, jars and boxes.

Or, that sitting in the car at the driveup at a fastfood place to order dinner is OK for the family.

Come on, people. In our hearts and ever-expanding stomachs, we know that’s wrong-headed thinking.

And you’d have to be living in a cave to not know that canned, jarred, boxed and processed foods are full of chemicals, sugar, artificial dyes and preservatives (including way too much sodium) our adult bodies do not need and your kiddos’ bodies really don’t need.

How can you get off this particular chuckwagon and onto the one that doesn’t have you giving up your job just to cook your family a wholesome meal?

Start by looking at your grocery list. Then take a gander at the seven food items mentioned here that can be made easily and more cheaply at home. Then do some subbing: Make the pasta sauce instead of buying the jarred version. Mario Batali’s recipe is so simple. Salad dressing is a snap. Mac and cheese? As easy to make from scratch as from the package.

Yes, you’re right. You will have to invest some time making some of them. No, you don’t have to be great in the kitchen to make any of them. (Even homemade bread.) Many can be made in bulk and frozen for later use, perhaps saving you a little time in the end.

So, I’m glad you invested time in cleaning out the closet. Now, it’s time to invest in recipes that might save you money on your next trip to the grocery store and provide a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. The Washington Post provided most of the following information:

▪  GRANOLA — A 12-ounce bag of gourmet granola likely costs somewhere between $4 and $6, if not more, depending on the brand. This chunky date granola recipe from Epicurious recipe yields about 6 cups (48 ounces) of granola for roughly $10, or roughly half the price per serving. Total prep time is an hour and a half, including baking and cooling. (That estimate assumes that you already have sugar, honey and butter at home, but if you don’t, the amounts needed are pretty small.)

▪  HUMMUS — A 10-ounce container of hummus typically cost $5. But you can make that much hummus at home in about 10 minutes and for half the price. You need one 15-ounce can of chickpeas, which costs about $1.20, and some garlic, lemon juice and tahini. You might even chop up some red pepper to make things more interesting. One can should lead to roughly 10 ounces of hummus, or about the same amount you can get at the supermarket. The rest of the garnishes are things you probably already have at home. It should be good in the fridge for about a week.

▪  PESTO — Don’t know what to do with that basil that’s about to spoil? Chop it up with garlic and olive oil in a food processor and you have pesto. Total prep time is five minutes. You can also make a bigger batch and freeze the pesto sauce, which you can store in the freezer for up to three months, according to the recipe here from the Food Network. Gardeners will come out ahead here by picking fresh basil from their gardens for free in the summer. Others might break even, since the pack of basil needed to make one cup of pesto will cost roughly $3, about the same as a 6-ounce jar of the stuff.

Editor’s note: You’ll save more money if you substitute walnuts for the pricy pine nuts and fresh Parmesan for the Pecorino. Both subs are commonly found in pesto recipes.

▪  BREAD — It’s hard to argue that making bread is easy, but some of the recipes out there actually require very little work. Food writer Mark Bittman of the New York Times has a simple no-knead recipe that a novice can make and have ready in about 5 hours. Basic ingredients needed are flour, yeast, salt and oil. A pound of instant yeast costs about $9, and 5 pounds of all-purpose flour will cost about $4. That’s $13 for enough ingredients to make at least five loaves, with yeast to spare for next time.

▪  MAC & CHEESE — Many young children survive on this for years. It seems to be the one dish that parents find their kids will eat when all else fails. At the store, you grab the blue box and go.

But, if you have milk, any kind of pasta, your child’s favorite shredded cheese and flour at home, you can make macaroni and cheese yourself. In the same amount of time it takes to make the boxed version. Remember, that neon-orange pasta from the box has about 20 ingredients in it, including artificial dyes and preservatives.

▪  PASTA SAUCE — Yes, it takes longer to make pasta sauce than it does to grab a jar off of the shelf, but not that much longer. Mario Batali has a simple recipe for a basic tomato sauce that takes about 30 minutes — and it tastes far better than the stuff off the shelf. Simmer some diced onions and sliced garlic in olive oil, then add carrots, thyme and canned tomatoes. The biggest expenses will be the two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, which will probably cost about $3, and the onion, which might go for $1. (Savings here will vary based on how much you tend to splurge on a jar of pasta sauce, which can cost between $2 and $9, depending on the brand.)

▪  SALAD DRESSING — Rather than grab a $4 bottle of salad dressing next time you’re at the store, think about making some in the kitchen for practically pennies. And you can make it as needed, instead of storing a whole bottle in your fridge that may go bad before you’ve used it all up.

There are so many options here for anyone who keeps vinegar, olive oil, mustard and salt and pepper at home. Those are the ingredients for a basic vinaigrette, but you can come up with a series of combinations by switching out the type of vinegar, by adding extras like cheese, chopped veggies or fresh fruit. See four varieties here, but go to to 50 simple possibilities.

Homemade Granola

Sunflower seeds are high in Vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant shown to support heart health. The oats contain special antioxidants called avenanthramides, known to prevent heart disease, and a lot of dietary fiber necessary for cellular health. The dried fruits provide vitamins, minerals and additional antioxidants.

8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut

1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup dried blueberries

1/4 cup flaxseed

1/2 cup sliced (skin-on) almonds

1/2 cup raw honey

1/2 cup olive oil

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Have 2 large baking sheets at hand.

Combine the oats, sunflower seeds, coconut, dried fruits, flaxseed and almonds in a large mixing bowl. Add the honey and olive oil; toss gently to coat evenly.

Divide the mixture between the baking sheets, spreading it in an even layer. Bake about 20 minutes, until the mixture turns golden brown, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Stir the mixture on both baking sheets, then bake for about 10 minutes, until evenly browned.

Let cool completely before serving or storing. Makes 13 1/2 cups.

Easy Smooth Hummus

To make this recipe, you’ll need a mesh strainer or colander, food processor, silicone spatula, measuring cups and spoons.

15-ounce can chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon

1/4 cup tahini*

Half a large garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, depending on taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 to 3 tablespoons water

Dash of ground paprika for serving

In the bowl of a food processor, combine tahini and lemon juice. Process 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl then turn on and process 30 seconds. This extra time helps “whip” or “cream” the tahini, making smooth and creamy hummus possible.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, cumin and the salt to the whipped tahini and lemon juice mixture. Process 30 seconds, scrape sides and bottom of bowl then process another 30 seconds.

Open can of chickpeas, drain liquid, then rinse well with water. Add half of the chickpeas to the food processor, then process 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, add remaining chickpeas and process 1 to 2 minutes, or until thick and quite smooth.

Most likely the hummus will be too thick or still have tiny bits of chickpea. To fix this, with the food processor turned on, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until the consistency is perfect.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with paprika.

Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups or enough for 4 to 6 snack portions.

To Store: Store homemade hummus in an airtight container and refrigerate up to one week.

*Tahini is a creamy paste made from sesame seeds. You can usually find it in larger grocery stores or specialty markets.


2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an airtight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Food Network Kitchens

Speedy No-Knead Bread

3 cups bread flour

1 1/2 cups very warm water

1/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)

1 packet (1/4 ounce) instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Oil as needed

1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and vinegar and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (Keep out of drafts.)

2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.

3. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. No greasing is necessary. (Dough should have a little oil on it from the work surface.)

When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

4. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

New York Times, adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove

Parents will like this easy stovetop dish because it requires almost no thought to pull together at the end of a long day.

1 pound pasta, any shape

1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 to 3 cups shredded cheese, like Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Colby

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard

Boil the pasta: Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat in the pasta pot. Add the pasta and a tablespoon of salt. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Warm the milk: When the pasta has finished cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. Begin warming 1 cup of the milk in the saucepan over medium heat. Separately, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the flour until there are no lumps. When you just start to see tendrils of steam rising from the warming milk, whisk in the milk-and-flour mixture. Continue whisking gently until the milk thickens slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 4 minutes.

Make the cheese sauce: Turn the heat to low and begin mixing handfuls of cheese into the milk. Stir in the salt and mustard. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Remove the sauce from heat.

Combine the pasta and cheese sauce: In a large serving bowl, combine the pasta and 1/2 of the cheese sauce. Stir to coat the pasta evenly. Add the second half of the sauce and any extra add-ins.

Serving and storing leftovers: Serve the mac and cheese immediately while still warm. Leftovers will keep for up to a week and can be reheated in the microwave. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk to make it creamy again. Serves 4 to 6.

Basic Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, cut in 1/4 inch dice

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried

1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded

2 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

Kosher salt to taste

In a 3-quart saucepans, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often.

Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt. Makes 4 cups.

This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Mario Batali

Classic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper to taste

1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in oil.


Shallot White Wine: Make Classic Vinaigrette, replacing the red wine vinegar with white wine vinegar; add 1 minced shallot.

Spicy Honey-Mustard: Whisk 2 teaspoons each honey and Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon each lime zest and kosher salt. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup each olive oil and vegetable oil, then add 2 teaspoons chopped thyme and 1/2 minced jalapeno.

Creamy Italian: Blend 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons each sour cream and olive oil, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1 garlic clove and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a blender. Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.

Food Network