Real Food Tips: What to Make vs. Buy

Providing real food meals is totally worth the extra preparation time, but that doesn’t mean every. single. item. has to be completely 100% homemade (thank goodness)! There are some decent store bought options out there, many of which only have one ingredient, and there are also plenty of food-like substances I’d recommend steering away from no matter what.

So here’s a little guide to help you decide when to go that extra made-from-scratch mile…

Real Food Tips: What to Make vs Buy from 100 Days of #RealFood 

Salad Dressing

If you’re eating a salad, it’s got to be healthy, right? Well, not if you aren’t paying attention to the dressing that you put on top! Store bought salad dressings are often FULL of unnecessary processed additives that you would not use at home (including high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils—i.e. trans fat). So my answer to this one is always to make your own. And if you don’t have time, just drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top—easy enough!
Answer: Make (recommended equipment: salad dressing bottle)

Yogurt

People frequently ask me if I make my own yogurt. Truth be told? I’ve never even tried it. I’m sure it tastes awesome and all, but why would I add one more thing to my to-do list when there are quite a few perfectly “clean” yogurt brands out there? I buy a 32-ounce tub of plain, organic, whole-milk yogurt almost every week at the store and just flavor it ourselves at home.
Answer: Buy

Bread

Bread is one of the trickiest real food items to find! I can tell you this: Most standard grocery store shelves are lined with highly processed versions of that pure whole wheat loaf we are all seeking. Just check the ingredients to see for yourself. And the bakery at the grocery store is usually no better. It may look like they are baking fresh bread back there (same trick as Subway), but what they are really doing is just baking some highly processed dough that was premade in a factory. So in the case of bread, either find a real bakery that is making real bread (it only takes 4 or 5 whole ingredients), or make it yourself.
Answer: Make (recommended equipment: bread maker / or find a good bakery to make it for you)

Crackers

Now there aren’t a lot of whole grain cracker options out there, but there are a few—enough to get us by if need be! My favorite (ingredients wise) is ak-mak, but I do also occasionally buy knock-off Triscuits and Crunchmaster Original. It’s also super easy to make your own, and if you use my recipe, it only takes 3 ingredients.
Answer: Buy or Make (depending on your mood / recommended equipment: food processor)

Applesauce

Yes, I know. Making applesauce is so easy (just throw some sliced apples in the crock pot!). But many days I already feel like I spend enough time in the kitchen, so my health food store’s one ingredient organic applesauce is very tempting…and usually wins me over.
Answer: Buy (although it is easy to make)

Ice Cream

You’ve gotta just trust me on this one. Homemade ice cream is easy to do and deeeelicious. The consistency is just perfect, and not only can you use your sweetener of choice, but you can also control how much. I tried ice cream out of a box after a year or two of exclusively making our own, and strangely enough the only thing I could taste was the box. Plus we’ll make Michael Pollan happy by “eating all the junk food you want as long as you make it yourself.”
Answer: Make! (recommended equipment: ice cream maker)

What items do you make versus buy?

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201 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: What to Make vs. Buy”

  1. Thank you for the DIY tips. Home cooked meals are always amazing and these tips will surely help people from all walks of life. I’ll take notes and will try it myself and will also post some of these tips on my blog as well.

  2. I would like to be able to make so many things, but I live in a small apartment with limited counter space (so a bread or ice cream maker is out). But I pretty much always make my own pasta sauce instead of buying the kind that comes in a jar. I also love making my own pickles!

  3. Elizabeth Wickland

    I make my own applesauce, but that’s mostly because the apple trees outside provide me with free apples and drop enough for a batch of applesauce every couple days. I’d rather not throw them away, but the early apples aren’t good for much other than cider or applesauce, and we do love our applesauce more than any other!

  4. Ok, one of my favorite posts! This is exactly what I need. I have tried to go all real food but met resistance with kiddos and hubby I’m thinking if I do just a couple things at a time and not try to do it all at once I can just ease them into it this time. Making bread Monday! Also totally agree with applesauce. I love some homemade applesauce, but as a person who bought 2 bushels of apples last year to slice and can in scant syrup. (We like having apple slices in January and can’t get good ones at store) It is way cheaper to buy…and easy to find good applesauce without all the junk in it. Feel the same way about yogurt too. Cereal/granola is another one I want to transition to make at home- but met with resistance everytime. They like their cheerios

  5. Oh, try the homemade yogurt! It’s the one thing in your last I’m surprised by! It’s so easy, much easier than applesauce, and tastes amazing. Plus it’s cost effective and really interesting! I make it in a cooler with mason jars.

  6. I recently started making my own yogurt. My kids live it and it is pretty pricey. I found a crock pot recipe that is super easy… You don’t need any other equipment besides a crock pot. Ingredients are milk and plain yogurt ( you use it as a starter the first time and then use your own homemade yogurt each time after that.) we like to sweeten ours with homemade strawberry jam or honey. Yum!

    1. I have been making yogurt also…..love the taste of the homemade yogurt. It isn’t too much trouble, you just have to be available to check the temps every once in awhile when it is cooking in the crockpot. After that, you put it in the oven all night with no heat, just the light on for warmth. In the morning, you have yogurt. You can use it just like that for regular yogurt or you can strain it and get thicker Greek yogurt. Lasts well over a week in the refrigerator and you get more than twice as much for the price of a gallon as you would if you bought the large container of Greek yogurt in the store. Look up instructions on the internet for “making yogurt in the crockpot”.

  7. Hi! I have bread questions! I stick to a mostly real food diet both for health reasons and financial. I balance cost and health when deciding to “make or buy”. The most “dangerous” foods you’ll find in my kitchen are store bought bread and… Coffee creamer. I know, I’ve tried, but it’s my one vice give me a break! Anyway, I was given a bread maker, found the most perfect 4 ingredient (vegan, for honey eating vegans) whole wheat bread recipe and was in love! However, I did not know how to store it. I wrapped it in parchment and put it in a cake pan and that worked fine but I don’t have enough counter space to house a large unsightly cake pan. Second, I could not control my slice sizes or make them thin and even enough for a pb&honey. I got SO frustrated. And I feel I wasted a lot of bread. And thirdly, I did a cost analysis and making my own actually cost more per load at $2.76/loaf. Typically my grocery store bread is $3-$5, however, my grocery store always seems to have one or the other BOGO. And! My third loaf turned out TERRIBLE. Doughy, and dry, and raw tasting and I feel defeated! Do you have any tips to make this process easier on me, or even enjoyable! Any recommends for whole sale ingredients or where I may find them at a lower cost?
    I

    1. to Kiki
      these would just be my solutions,so hopefully they will work for you or give you the spark for some ideas…..1.Storage and slicing…measure your loaf and get a suitable container that can be stored upright on your counter or in the fridge,slice it with a electric slicer not an electric bread knife but an electric slicer (smaller version of what the deli’s use to slice the meats up with)and store it on the counter,the fridge and/or the freezer in smaller packages and if you get the right slicer you can use it to cut up a lot of things,as for ingredients,I’m not sure what you are buying but if you put the ingredients one at a time in your search bar and research it I am sure you will find either local markets,co-ops and so on and/or online solutions to the cost issue……hope this helps

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      In addition to Ieshea’s very helpful comments, some people use their microwave as a breadbox which I think is ingenious. :) The fridge will dry bread out fast but the freezer is a great option. Also some decent store bough bread options are Food For Life’s Ezekial bread, Daves Killer Bread, and Alvarado Street Bakery brands. Question: Are you using powdered creamer? If so, I can’t give you a break on that one….it is BAD stuff (hydrogenated oil and many other “evils”). :) ~Amy

      1. You guys have been so helpful! Amy- I don’t use powder, I try to stick to soy creamers but I still kick myself about it! I think I may try freezing the next loaf, or trying your recommended store boughts, I just can’t cut thin, even slices to save my life!

        Thanks again for all the great feedback!

  8. While you’re right, there are some ‘clean’ brands of yoghurt out there, making it is one of the simplest things ever and you can save so much money by doing that!! You do not need a yoghurt maker, but you will need a candy thermometer. I encourage you to try!

  9. Farmers Markets are a great place to buy your bread. Also, check out ETSY. I make my own bread from freshly milled spelt and whole wheat grain and sell at Farmers Markets. Some bakers will offer classes to help you master making your own. Happy Baking..

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