40 Cents a Day

Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Three: Make it From Scratch

 

Cooking from scratch, rather than using a box mix or pre-prepared ingredients is an obvious money saver.

Taking it one extra step further by making the ingredients for those meals shaves a considerable amount from the grocery bill.

What can you make at home that will save you money (and also taste better) in the long run?

Balsamic Orange Vinaigrette The Prudent Homemaker
Salad dressing:
One of the first things that threw me off when I moved to France was that I could not buy bottled salad dressing anywhere. I ended up using vinegar and oil, but I kept thinking that it sure would be nice if I knew how to make salad dressing. What I didn’t know was that salad dressing is considered so easy to make that even though the majority of women work outside the home in France, they consider whisking up a vinaigrette as a simple thing before that night’s dinner.

When I moved to Switzerland, I found out a little more about making my own simple vinaigrette, from a German woman who always made the most amazing vinaigrette when I went to her house for lunch.

The dressings I make are usually:
Ranch (no recipe at this time)

If you prefer another dressing for your salads, do an internet search and try a few recipes for your favorite salad dressings. Most likely, you already have everything you need to create those dressings in your pantry. You might even have several recipes for salad dressings in your standard cookbook that is sitting on your kitchen shelf.

Bread:
Bread takes me about 3 1/2 hours, start to finish. However, most of that time is hands off time while the bread rises. If you’re making bread, you’ll want to be home, but you can do a lot of other things in the meantime. Just set a timer to let you know when to return to your rising bread to shape the loaves, and set it again to tell you when to put it in the oven after the second rising.

I usually make bread in the afternoon right after lunch, while we have quiet time. I have also started bread before dinner and it was done after dinner. I have done that while I am cooking something for dinner that is on top of the stove and not in the oven. I’ve started making bread before breakfast as well, to have fresh bread ready for lunch.

I usually make French bread and rosemary olive oil bread, but you can see the other breads I make here, including biscuits, chapatis, bagels, and all sorts of muffins, including lemon poppyseed muffins. A loaf of French bread costs me 25 cents to make, and it makes the best sandwiches.

 Whole Wheat Crackers The Prudent Homemaker
Crackers:

 

Spending $ 2.50  on a couple of cups worth of flour doesn’t sound like a great price to me! Yet, that’s what we’re doing when we buy a box of crackers. Crackers don’t need a rising time, and they contain simple ingredients that you already have at home: flour, water, salt, fat of some kind (oil, butter, or shortening), and possibly a teeny tiny bit of sugar. If you want to add a little more dimension to your crackers, you can add other ingredients, including spices.
Crackers are super easy to make. Mix the ingredients, flour the counter, roll them out and cut them.
The crackers that I make right now are:

Jams and jellies:

Jams are easy to make.

A friend of mine told me of a conversation that her neighbor had with the neighbor’s husband. The husband asked why in the world anyone would make their own jam. It seemed like too much trouble to him.

My friend then gave them a jar of her homemade jam.

Once he tasted it, the man realized why people make their own! He was amazed at how much better it tasted!

The price of making your own jams and jellies will depend on the cost of your ingredients. I find it is best to buy your sugar in bulk. (If you prefer a low-sugar or no sugar version, there are recipes for that, too!) There are usually coupons out for pectin in June of each year, as well as for canning lids. Summer is the easiest time to find jars, and if you haven’t canned before, you should know that the jars and rings are reusuable (the center part of the lid must be replaced each year). There are also reusable lids if you want to upfront (and then there are more expensive jars with rubber rings).  You can also make freezer jam, which doesn’t need to be canned at all.

The main part of your jams and jellies is the fruit. The least expensive (and best tasting) jam is made with fruit in season. When fruits are in season, they are also the least expensive. If you’re growing a garden and you’re growing enough fruit to can, your costs are even lower. Pick your own farms (click here to locate one near you if you are in the United States) are another source. Craig’s List and Freecycle are ways to find fruit for free that other people are growing but don’t want. One of my readers cans hundreds of jars of fruits and jams all made with free fruit that she picked. Let friends know that you’re looking for places to pick fruit for free, and opportunities to pick may come to you, too!

Apricot Vanilla Jam

I generally make:

Apricot Vanilla Jam (with apricots from my own tree and others that I pick for free)

Apple Butter or Pear Butter (with apples bought on sale, but sometimes with gleaned ones; I have made pear butter with gleaned pears and occasionally with a few from my trees )

Pomegranate Jelly (with pomegranates that I pick for free; you need a lot of pomegranates to make jelly and my tree hasn’t made that many yet)

Fig Jam and Fig Jam with rosemary, honey, and cinnamon (with Mission Figs from my tree; a Mission fig fruits twice a year)

Hot Pepper Jelly (Made with hot peppers that I grow in my garden and green bell peppers that I find on sale and freeze for when I want to make jam)

I will occasionally make strawberry jam, but the price of the strawberries has to be fantastic. (We love low-sugar strawberry jam in our yogurt; the low sugar jam is very easy to stir in). I have also made rose petal jelly (from the roses in my garden), johnny jump-up jelly (from johnny jump-ups from my garden) and tangerine jelly (from gleaned tangerines).

As you can see, my fruits are desert fruits, because those things grow well in the hot desert. If I lived in a cooler climate, I would make elderberry jam, blueberry jam, raspberry and blueberry jams, currant jelly, etc. I could make grape jelly (as I grow grapes) but we have more than enough jams and jellies to keep us going with what I have. Instead, I can grape juice from our grapes.

Yogurt and Granola:
Making yogurt is super easy, especially in a crockpot.
I have been following these instructions for making Greek yogurt. I strain the whey and use it in homemade popsicles.
I like to have granola on my yogurt. Granola is very simple–combine ingredients, stir, bake, and cool. Your mixture can be very expensive, with lots of ingredients, or inexpensive, with a few ingredients, like oats and honey bought in bulk.

 

Popsicles:
Super easy, popsicles can be as simple as juice poured into a mold. Since juice is pricey, I usually use the following ingredients: leftover syrup/fruit juice from home-canned fruit, leftover whey from making yogurt, and any amount of fruits that I have, blended together and frozen for a few hours. I don’t fuss over the measurements for the most part; it’s usually a simple smoothie poured into a mold. Popsicle making is not an exact science. If you do not own popsicle molds, you can usually find them in stores right around now in the northern hemisphere. Amazon has lots of popsicle molds.  Here are my more specific recipes:

Sprouts:

Sprouts are very simple to make: Add 1-3 tablespoons of sprouting seeds to the bottom of a jar. Soak them a few hours or overnight. In the morning, dump out the liquid. Rinse the seeds three times a day, dumping out the liquid each time. You can use a special sprouting lid, or simply use a clean piece of pantyhose from a torn pair, held in place by the canning lid ring.

I sprout lentils, mung beans (those are what you get when you buy bean sprouts for stir fry), and alfalfa seeds, but you can sprout lots of sprouting seeds. You can also buy seeds for microgreens (I bought arugula seeds this way before), and both kinds come in bulk (they work equally well in your garden, too!)

Cookies:

One day, years ago, I was in the grocery store looking at eggs. A woman who looked to be about 20 years my senior came near to me with her cart and a young child in it. She was looking at the cookie dough. She saw me with my small children and asked if I knew where a particular cookie dough was.

I told her I didn’t know, as I always make my cookies from scratch.

She said to me, “You must be one of those ‘homemaker’ people.”

Indeed I am.

Several years later I was at the store with my then 5-year-old son. He asked me if we could buy some of the things he saw at the store. I explained to him that we were only buying what was on the list. As we walked toward a few different things that he liked, he asked if those things were on my list.

When he saw an endcap of cookies, he said, “Cookies! I know those aren’t on the list.”

I should mention that I grew up with store bought cookies. They were okay. However, every single time that I make cookies, my mom wants one. She always asks if I saved any for her. (The children will see her through the gate and mention that they had cookies for snacks). I’m making it a point to keep a cookie for my mom. She loves homemade cookies.

For my husband, there is only Nestlé’s Tollhouse cookie recipe (without nuts and with extra chocolate; I always make a double batch). (A note to my readers outside the U.S. who have never had chocolate chip cookies; buy some chocolate bars and chop them into pieces and make these. They are wonderful!)

It’s not the least expensive cookie to make, however, so I’ll make others:

Fortune cookies
Oatmeal Raisin
Chocolate Wafers (good for making a chocolate pie crust)
Shortbread cookies with vanilla and almond extract

and then something different from different cookbooks when I want to have a change.

I don’t make cookies real often, as they are expensive compared to having fruit from the garden, but they are fun, and I like cookies 🙂 I do buy my ingredients in bulk to keep costs lower.

A few other random things that I make from scratch:

Steak sauce (this is really tasty on black bean burgers)
Fig Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce
Plum Sauce
Chicken flavored rice (like rice a roni)
Spanish rice
White Bean Dip
Pie crusts and tart doughs
Pizza Dough
Cheesecake
Whipped Cream
Carrot cake
Honeydew Sorbet

What fun things do you make from scratch? Do you make your own cheeses, or mustards? Both are on my list to try. I’ve been making a lot of Asian recipe ingredients from scratch lately, too. She Simmers has a great Thai Sweet Chili sauce. Do you give any of your homemade ingredients as gifts?

All posts in this series:

Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Introduction
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part One: Eat More Meatless Meals 
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Two: Buy in Bulk 
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Three: Make it From Scratch
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Four: Only Buy Food When It is at Its Lowest Price
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Five: Grow More in Your Garden
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Six: Glean
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Seven: Eat In Season Produce
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Eight: Eat More Soup 
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Nine: The Price Per Pound, or in Other Words, Comparing Apples to Oranges
Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Ten: Snacks

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28 Comments

  1. I have read (and used) that you can add a small amount of citric acid or lemon juice to your rinse water for your sprouts to prevent the growth of nasty stuff. It makes the environment to acidic for bad things to grow.

  2. My first attempt disappeared and it’s been several hours, so I appologize in advance if I am repeating.I cook from scratch almost all the time as well. I can make my gluten-free food more economically as well as saving big on the food that isn’t gf. This week our family all went to a camp and worked for a week. At the beginning of the time, when training was going on, and camp wasn’t officially open, 5 of us ate in the camper. I took a lot of pre-made food like enchiladas, chili, hot dogs to roast on a fire, etc. For the actual week of camp, the rest of the family ate in the cafeteria, for the most part, and I made most of my meals in the camper. I made home-made chicken soup in a mini crock pot I have, plus some other stuff, when I had time. Because I had duties and not much time, I bought a bunch of pre-made frozen gluten-free dinners. It was a great reminder of why I cook from scratch at home. I spent a bundle. It was about $30 for a half-bag of groceries. Whew! Although I didn’t like the price, I was grateful for the fact that these meals existed so I could go and help out without getting sick.When we returned home around 5:30 last night, it was back to normal, with omelets and fried potatoes. I had nothing thawed, obviously, but we always have eggs from our chickens.

  3. I love hearing about all the great things we can make from scratch. I make bread 3 to 4 times a week. It’s time consuming but we like to eat sandwiches. I also make almond milk. When you make almond milk you end up with almond meal. I used to store it in the refrigerator and use some to make pancakes but it would go bad before I could use it all. Today I learned you can dry it in the oven and it can last you for a month. I make pancakes and raw cookies from scratch. I make our own carrot,orange, and green juice. I have made my own granola and popsicles. I hope to make almond butter someday. I do need to get a better blender for that. I’d like to make crackers and jams from scratch.

  4. Adding: We also make our own maple syrup. Now obviously not everyone can do this. We live in Maine so it is pretty normal here. We have the right conditions for it. It is time intensive and expensive to get started. But it is also fun and we have enough syrup we only have to do it every other year. We had a bunch of people from church over for a sap boiling party this year. It was fun and we got some free labor. lol

  5. Not that I make these always, but I make from scratch: salad dressing, croutons, muffins, cookies/cakes/other desserts, ice cream/sorbet/popsicles, chicken broth, sauces for stir-fry (we eat a lot of asian flavors), etc. I want to be more diligent about making these all the time. I also want to start making bread. But I’m always afraid of the yeast and screwing it up. I have an old breadmaker I used to use. It’s gathering dust now. Maybe I’ll start there and have it make the dough(not a fan of it baked in the maker).. for breads, pizza, etc. We aren’t big jelly/jam people, so prefer to buy it for the rare occasion. I may have to try crackers at some point. We like crackers at our house.

  6. It is hard to think of what I don’t make from scratch. Well staples like vanilla and brown sugar and pasta noodles and other things I buy in bulk. Don’t make catsup as we seldom use it. I will try making anything at least once and if we like it will keep at it. Not everything turns out perfect the first time. I love cookbooks and collect them.I don’t make cheese or butter etc as we are in cheese heaven here.Fun things from scratch…I make sushi, Thai fresh rolls and spring rolls, stuffed grape leaves, baklava, Yorkshire pudding…hard to think as this all sounds everyday to me, nothing special.

  7. I love my pancake recipe. I’ll never use a mix for those again! I make a lot of stuff from scratch. Actually, one of my favorite cookbooks is called Make-A-Mix. It’s full of mix recipes that you can make ahead of time to cut down on time in the kitchen later. My staples from there are the hot chocolate mix, the pudding mixes–chocolate and vanilla, which can also make several different pies, and the snack cake recipe for carrot cake, chocolate-chocolate chip cake, gingerbread, applesauce raisin cake, and fruit cobblers.

  8. I would like to learn to make tortillas. Does one need a press or do you just use a rolling pin? I would like to make corn and flour. We use corn much more than flour.

  9. I can’t eat the sweetened yogurt from the store…it is too sweet. We use a lot of plain yogurt as toppings and garnishes. I use it in place of mayonaise or sour cream in some recipes. We also use it mixed with fruit and juice to make frozen yogurt. We go through about a 32 oz container every week. I used to make it myself regularly …kind of got away from that. I did get my old yogurt maker out and started up again but it only makes 5 small serving size containers. I used to make in a glass peanut butter jar back when my oven had a pilot light. It just seems to be one of those things that I could make but I think I am willing to put the money out in this case to buy yogurt.

  10. A lot of folks do maple syrup around here too. You just watch for signs along the road and just buy it from their houses. We like the real maple syrup.

  11. I make biscotti…it is much better than the store bought and much cheaper. I normally make either anise or almond flavored but I have seen many recipes with fruits and chocolate in them.

  12. I did a search on Google for bread making techniques and found several sources that really helped. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark them, but I found several on kneading and shaping that really helped improve my bread.

  13. We make most grain based foods our selves. Still increasing the bread, but we’ve eliminated store bought cereal, except for store-bought instant oatmeal for my husband to take to work. He eats it somewhat infrequently so I’m not sure if my home made instant oatmeal will stay fresh enough.I make maple flavored syrup. I grew up with Mapleine, but I just tried the maple flavoring from San Francisco Herb Co; it tastes great, but cost about $27 less in the long run.I make our Sweet and Sour Sauce, several marinades, ranch dressing, taco seasoning, pumpkin pie seasoning, and pizza from scratch.We have used a number of our seasoning mixes, jams, and pickle relish for gifts. The pickle relish is my husband’s favorite to give and is Very well received. This year I made 5 pints and 5 half-pints for less than $5. That’s about $0.50 a gift.

  14. I just found your blog and am loving it!On the granola recipe, can I substitute the vegetable oil with coconut oil? Will it change the taste of the granola?

  15. You can use coconut oil! I personally am not a fan of coconut oil as I feel like it makes everything taste like coconut, and I don’t really like coconut (except in Thai recipes) but if you are usually using it and like it, then I would use that! Granola is all about using whatever ingredients that you have.

  16. do our own canning, we use less sugar than stated/requiredHere’s what we can/home bottle…..we have a pressure canner for the veggies and meats, but also use it for water/steam bath by not putting on the weight/not bringing it to pressure, just putting lid on but not ‘sealing’ it~chunked chicken breast~beef chunks~beef broth~deer meat (I add a tsp. of beef bouillon to each jar and it tastes just like beef)…..we use this in a savory beef soup, stew, and for barbequed ‘beef’ on buns~chicken legs in broth~chicken broth: when I cook a whole chicken in water, I put it in a huge pot and add a gallon of water with it, some garlic salt, then when chicken is taken out/deboned for other uses, I bottle the broth, it must be pressure-canned~whole cransauce (wow…so much better than purchased)~pickled beets~apple pie filling and blueberry pie filling using clear jel/cooked kind~any bottled jam is made with clear jel/cooked kind….allows me to use less sugar: plum jam, blueberry jam, apricot jam, apricot pineapple jam, pineapple jam, peach jam, pear/pineapple jam….all the jams I bottle are from fruit we gleaned, others offered to let us pick what they didn’t want from their trees, or we found the fruit on a super good sale; the pineapple jam is made from canned crushed pineapple that the date is getting close to ‘use by date’…it does NOT need much sugar as pineapple is already sweet….we buy the kind canned in it’s own juice at a local case lot sale every year~chunky applesauce~chili sauce…though expensive to buy even one jar, it is inexpensive to make/bottle your own….don’t need a pressure canner for this~zucchini pulp lemon butter/curd~blueberry syrup (a local store was taking blueberries off the shelf and I asked how much they would sell them to me for…..got a super food deal to buy them…..still good for freezing and making jam/syrup!!)~peach sauce and pear sauce~chokecherry syrup~elderberry syrup~apricot syrup~garden vegetable soup~new garden red potato chunks~stew blend (potatoes, carrots, bit of celery, bit of onion, pearl barley…..don’t use too much celery or onion as when it’s bottled the flavor gets more intense)…..so then we just open the stew blend, add meat and seasonings for a fast meal~relish….from cucumbers or zucchini~bean n’ bacon soup~bottled tomatoes (we blend them up after the skinning process instead of bottling as whole stewed tomatoes)~tomato juice~tomato sauce (using a victorio strainer)~applesauce (using a victorio strainer)

  17. I make everything I can from scratch. I don’t usually buy any prepared convenience foods. I like to cook, but I am amazed at the people who can’t put a basic meal on the table. I make jam and jelly, as well as pickles and relish. You can save a lot of money making condiments such as ketchup, chutney, plum sauce and mustard. When you make it yourself you have complete control over what goes into it. No high fructose corn syrup! I also can meats and stock with my pressure canner. I can homemade chili, pinto beans, venison cut up in chunks. These things take time to prepare initially, but you can warm them up in a hurry when you don’t have time to cook a meal from scratch. I always have food on hand in case I have surprise company. When you live more than 20 miles from the grocery store, you learn to eat out of the pantry and freezer.

  18. Was recently at a Farmer’s Market and the lady was selling packages of dried ingredients to make cheesecake pies — all you add is the cream cheese. Ingredients include dried milk, sugar, dutch cocoa, gelatin, salt and spices. Has anyone tried to make this recipe? Mary S

  19. Hello everyone! Just wanted to chime in that I have a refrigerator/no bake cheesecake (I call it “Ditch the Box Cheesecake” that tastes just like a boxed no bake cheesecake. It doesn’t use gelatin but does use whipping cream/cream cheese. I only make this recipe and would never buy the boxed ones again LOL. I also have a chocolate version on my blog right now that is very similar to the Ditch the Box Cheesecake recipe except that it has chocolate syrup in it (which I make homemade). Don’t mean to push my blog on anyone but wanted to put the recipes out there in case anyone is interested in a homemade no bake cheesecake recipes (because they are so wonderful): http://athomemyway.blogspot.com/2013/02/no-bake-cheesecake-ditch-box.html.Brandy-I absolutely LOVE your blog and website!. What a wonderful resource!

  20. How do you save on milk to make homemade yogurt cost-effective? I’ve priced it before, and I won’t save much money (of course, we can shop at the military commissary, so we have a cost-advantage over many).

  21. Heidi, the cheapest I can get individual yogurt on sale is $1 each for a 5.3 ounce container. The quart-sized containers run around $3 each. A gallon of milk is $2.59, which makes 4 quarts of yogurt. If I buy a quart container as a starter, I can make several batches of yogurt, plus use that yogurt as a starter multiple times.

  22. If you buy cranberries when they are on sale, freeze them until you find strawberries at a good price. Then you can make Christmas jam

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