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

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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)


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 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)


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)


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”

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  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… 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?

    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..

  10. I agree that bought applesauce is easy to buy and healthy options can be found. However, homemade applesauce compared to bought is comparable to homemade cookies to bought. There is a WORLD of difference. If you want to make a lot, I highly recommend investing in a victorio strainer. They are about $50 and can be bought from Amazon as well as other places. You don’t need to peel, core, or take the stems off of your apples. Just cut into slices (approx. 8) and cook in a pan with about 1″ of water until tender. Put in victorio strainer and turn the crank. It’s done!

  11. I just started making my own yogurt. I just love it. I think it’s pretty easy.

    I don’t have the ice cream maker, so I don’t make my own.

    1. I made an awesome BBQ sauce from it’s the bourbon bbq sauce one. You’ll have to use your own healthy ingredients, but gives you a starting point and is super awesome!

  12. I buy great bread at our farmer’s market. I have a bread machine, but the square loafs make it difficult to make sandwiches because whole slices are too big, half slices are not enough. I would like to find a bread machine with a more conventional shape loaf result.

  13. I would love if you could do a secondary post like this for the following: granola/snack bars, tortillas, pita, chicken broth. I’m sure there are more, but these are ones that I always seem to cave on!

  14. Brooke Lewis-Slamkova

    I know regular yogurt is a little tedious to make but I found that making my own kefir is extremely easy and has more probiotics than store bought. You can blend it into a ton of smoothies or eat it on it’s own with a little vanilla and honey.

  15. Do you make and immediately eat your ice-cream, or do you store some for future consumption? If you store it, what type of container do you use and how long does it last? Thanks!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Molly. It is usually served right away but sometimes there is a little to freeze. Any airtight container will do for freezing. Airtight is important as ice cream can very easily pick up “flavor” from other items in your freezer. ~Amy

  16. Definitely make your own yogurt. It’s incredibly cheap and easy. Heat milk, stir in yogurt starter, pour in yogurt maker. 7-12 hours later you pop it in the fridge.

    1. Agree! And actually you don’t even need a yogurt maker. I just preheat the oven to 180 then turn it off and put the yogurt (heated milk at this point) in there overnight. In the morning it is yogurt and ready to put in the fridge!

  17. Is there a “real food approved” bagel in existence? Preferably one that I can buy??
    (& I do live in Charlotte so local store suggestions are fine!)

  18. Thank you for sharing this. I have been struggling with the bread idea for sometime. My husband and I don’t eat bread at all. I do buy if for the kids though. We do whole food lunches and sometimes its just nice to toss in a sandwich. I don’t feel good about the bread I have been buying even though I get the “best” one out there…I never thought to get it from the one/only bakery in town. Thanks!

  19. I make my own granola, can my own tomatoes, pasta sauce, jams, jellies, smoothies, chicken broth, and pesto.

  20. salad drsg,jam/jelly,almond butter,bread,sauces,own seasonings/spice mixes,graham crackers (have a recipe for soda but haven’t had time to try it yet),mozzarella cheese (with organic milk). Oh, and laundry soap.

    I have a list of foods I like and am trying recipes to make them myself. Some I’ve had success, some not so much. Awsome responses everyone!

  21. Regarding salad dressing, use fresh squeezed lemon juice instead – much nicer and better for you.
    Yoghurt is so easy to make – it’s so so easy and heaps cheaper.
    Still trying bread recipes for the perfect one that always works, right size and quick to make.

  22. I really enjoyed my home made whole wheat bread but I did not like being stuck for five hours to do the various steps on time. I bought a bread machine and truly like the change! I put the yeast, fluids and sugar ingredients into the pan to proof the yeast and then come back in 15 minutes and add the rest. It costs about $4 for a loaf of better bread in the store, $1.88 for my bread. After slicing the loaf, half goes into the freezer as my homemade bread don’t have any preservatives. Unbleached and unbromated whole wheat flower makes a better loaf.

    1. If your GF bread is a “keeper” would you mind sharing the recipe. I have yet to find one I like so pretty much avoid bread.

  23. I am absolutely making those crackers tonight! I do a combo of store bought and homemade bread, make my own freezer jam, buy tortillas, half make half buy salad dressing…BUT I’m headed back to all homemade dressings soon.

  24. Great article and LOVE all the info in the comments!!! Have gotten some great ideas above and beyond what I have ever thought of to try and DIY when it comes to food!

    We do garden, can and also plan to use our new dehydrator this fall. We go to orchards in season for U-pick fruits and use that for canning as well.

    So we can our own spaghetti sauce, salsa, applesauce (reg, cinnamon and strawberry), apple butter, Asian Plum Sauce (to die for), sour cherries, pie apples, jams in very small batches, tomato sauce, tomato paste.

    I’m going to try my hand at making/canning my own mustard and ketchup this year. Also eyeing a recipe for homemade/canned Apple Cider Molasses.

    THANK YOU to the person who commented about making/freezing apple juice!!! Awesome idea!

    We’re growing a huge crop of green beans and great northern’s this year so we’ll be canning some and drying some of those.

    I’m also venturing into making our own “basic” grocery store products as well.

    I love homemade bread but we are trying to keep down on the carbs. But I’m liking the idea of making, slicing and freezing for as needed use.

    Coffee creamer is on my list to try DIY’ing next. That whole wheat tortilla recipe looks really good too! Ultimately I plan to DIY most things, but am curtailed somewhat by current living situation.

    A house fire has us displaced into a small apartment for now. Garden is at MIL’s this year! Once we get back home I’ll be able to have a big garden again and our lives won’t be so hectic – I’ll be able to DIY more of our foods.

    I have a thermomix and it allows me to make items really easily as its temperate controlled – white you still need an oven for bread.. you only need the one machine (no breadmaker, yougart maker, icecream maker etc – it does it all)

  26. Thanks for the list, I agree with the salad dressing as the most important thing to make at home. The store bought stuff is just terrible. Some are even deceptive, they advertise “olive oil” until you look at the ingredient list and other oils in addition to olive oil is used.

    Another item I would add to the list is Mayo, it is pretty easy to make at home with a few simple ingredients and a stick blender.