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)

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”

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  1. Thank you for the ice cream maker recommendation! I know exactly what you mean about being able to “taste the box.” I notice this most strongly with ice cream brands that use low-quality ingredients. I have found “clean” ice cream brands that don’t taste “cardboardy,” but at $3-$4.00/pint, buying ice cream for a party or something gets expensive fast. I haven’t ever seen a small ice cream maker like this one. My memories of homemade ice cream involve a huge bucket, salt, ice and a whole lotta churning! I’ve never thought about getting one because of the time and space involved, but I really like the looks of this model. Thanks again!

  2. While ingredient checking is useful, I also think finances play a part. It is much more economical for me to make yogurt than buy. (Organic or not) I follow a very easy recipe by Jillee and don’t use the dry milk powder but follow her temperature guidelines. I also love her tip about leaving the oven light on.

    1. Yep, finances definitely play a role – it’s a LOT cheaper to make yogurt at home than to buy it. We eat a lot of yogurt so I make a batch or two every week. I haven’t tried Jillee’s recipe but now I’m curious so I’ll take a look :)

  3. All great advice. Mostly, my home made items are dressings, marinades, bbq sauce. I don’t really like bottled anything. Due mostly to the ingredients added for shelf life, second for the plastic it is generally housed in.
    As for making bread, do you have any suggestions for bread makers? My concern is the plastic mechanism inside bread machines. I have rid my home of all plastics 7 years ago and am pretty strict about not having plastics of any kind. Any input on this subject is much appreciated.
    Thank you

    1. I started making my bread in a machine initially but once I understood the process (which is so much more intimidating than it actually is) I started using my stand mixer instead and gave the bread machine away. You can even just use your hands and a glass bowl if you want! This way I can bake two loaves at a time. I basically put all the ingredients into the stand mixer and mix it on low for several minutes, let it rise until doubled (about 30-40 mins) and then by hand shape the dough into two smooth ovals and let rise in greased glass bread pans. Then I bake for 30 mins at 350.
      3 cups whole wheat flour (I prefer white wheat)
      1 and 1/4 cup of warm water (more or less depending on weather) you want the dough to stick to bottom of mixing bowl but be smooth on sides – like a tornado
      1 tsp salt
      1-2 tablespoons of an oil
      1/4 honey
      1 tablespoon instant yeast or you can use a packet of fleishmans

      Of course Lisa has a great recipe too!!! Hope this helps. :-)
      Good job eliminating plastics!

      1. I use 1/4 cup for more of a honey-wheat flavor but you can absolutely use less. I just eyeball a couple tablespoons worth fairly often.

    2. Marie,

      Any easy recipes you can share? I hate all the high fructose corn syrup & carmel coloring in salad dressing & bbq sauces.

  4. Make:
    Bread
    Beer
    Hummus
    Guacamole
    Tortilla and potato chips
    Pita chips
    Roasted coffee
    Ice cream
    BBQ sauce
    Buffalo wings
    Jams
    Jellies
    Trail mix
    Laundry detergent

    Buy:
    Yogurt
    Ice cream
    Cheeses
    Crackers (can’t wait to try your recipe!)
    Teas
    Laundry detergent

    I enjoy making much of wrap hat we eat and use however, I don’t get hung up on the idea that I “must” make everything!

  5. Hi everyone, I have a request… if you have posted that you make your own tortillas would you post your recipe? I have made them before but they are never as soft as store bought and they just end up tasting like paste… any secrets? Because my family practically lives off of them! :) Thanks!

  6. We make our own bread and pizza dough (well actually my husband does)and he calls the recipes in the breadmachine book “Guidelines” to making something really good. He “tweaks” recipes to taste by adding spices, herbs or cheeses to the dough and everything always turns out better than store bought.
    We’ve had our bread machine for 4 years and make bread at least 2 times a week and pizza dough about once a month. My mom & sister & daughter all ask us to bring bread everytime we get together, because its so good!
    I’m hoping to add homemade salad dressings and condiments to the list this year, although convincing the husband, is a little difficult starting out, until I show him a savings and its easy peasy lemon squeezy after that!
    Homemade tastes so much better too.

  7. Thanks so much for the great insights! My kids go crazy for a fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread any time of day… breakfast, snack time, or alongside dinner. For the recipe I refer to as “the spontaneous breadmaker’s dream come true!”
    GO TO http://www.simplyfunfamilies.com/
    and read the blog post for Delicious Homemade Bread…Super Quick and Incredibly Easy!from April 20/14. Each recipe prepares enough dough for 2-3 loaves, and it can be baked after only a few hours OR refrigerated for up to 3 weeks for a warm loaf of homemade bread whenever the urge strikes!

  8. We make our own bread using turkey red heritage wheat (I can’t handle modern wheat anymore). I sometimes make my own yogurt.
    Also make our own:
    vanilla,
    applesauce & pear sauce
    Jam & fruit butters
    canned or dried fruits
    pizza dough
    toothpaste
    popcorn

    occasionally ice cream or cookies

    i buy crackers (I like 7 ancient grain ones from Crunchmaster), hummus (Oasis, I think, is the brand.. it’s only 7 ingredients, and everything is basic, not even a preservative), trail mix (organic from costco), cheese (from a local vendor), and rarely Unreal candy.

  9. We’ve been making our own bread for 25 years. Mix it in the breadmaker (was so wonderful with small kids who always ‘needed’ me when I tried to knead dough – what a mess). Bake it in the oven. I get a 50 pound bag of organic whole wheat flour every 12-14 months & keep it in the freezer. Couldn’t be cheaper & avoids all the chemicals in store bought bread.

  10. We make:
    -bread (most of the time – still haven’t found the perfect recipe)
    -tortillas
    -granola
    -yogurt (just for fun!)
    -salad dressing
    -marinara sauce
    -pasta (sometimes, again – for fun)
    -any baked goods; otherwise we’d eat nothing else! :)

    I definitely buy applesauce, jam, crackers, peanut butter and a whole host of other things I haven’t even ventured towards making at home.

  11. We found Great Harvest Bread Co locally from your blog and loved their bread! I got very brave, dusted off my bread maker, and tried the recipe for whole wheat bread here. My family liked it better! 😄 We are just starting the real food journey but some things we make at home are…
    Hummus
    Coffee syrups & flavored creamer
    Salsa
    Bread
    Applesauce & apple butter
    Peanut butter
    Vanilla
    Taco seasoning mix
    Salad dressing (most)

    We eat a lot of yogurt, a lot, so I’m interested in how many people make their own! I will have to look more seriously at that!

  12. I just recently (a few months ago) started making our bread. To be honest it’s a simple white bread because I haven’t put any effort in to find a recipe for anything else, but I figure it’s better than an overly processed, overly priced “healthy” bread.

    We actually got a yogurt maker from my sister in law a few years ago and have never used it. It’s just one of those things I haven’t really had a chance to (or urge to) try.

    But I definitely want to try making crackers and I’m hoping to find another ice cream maker at a yard sale this summer because we lost the last one we had when we moved a few years ago. Coconut ice cream was my favorite!

  13. Make:
    24hr bone broth
    Yogurt & kefir
    Jam (not super healthy but a fav way to use the abundance of raspberries from our yard)
    Applesauce
    Canned pasta sauce
    Ginger beer
    Granola
    Laundry soap
    Nut butters
    Hubby is a great brewmaster too so we get to enjoy homemade beer.
    Most dips and dressings
    Buy
    Bread (want to want to make this, but havent found a recipe I love so I get discouraged)
    Crackers, tortilla chips and wraps
    Salsa
    Lara bars
    Pasta

  14. Make:
    24hr bone broth
    Yogurt & kefir
    Jam (not super healthy but a fav way to use the abundance of raspberries from our yard)
    Applesauce
    Canned pasta sauce
    Ginger beer
    Granola
    Laundry soap
    Nut butters
    Hubby is a great brewmaster too so we get to enjoy homemade beer.

    Buy
    Bread (want to want to make this, but havent found a recipe I love so I get discouraged)
    Crackers, tortilla chips and wraps
    Salsa
    Lara bars
    Pasta

    1. We like this recipe … it isn’t whole grain, yet, but it does get us away from some of the chemicals in the storebought stuff. Now if I could just get more consistent about making it!!

  15. I have been wondering about cold cereals. My husband LOVES cereal and I haven’t been able to find one that has all whole ingredients. any suggestions? Thanks!

    1. Here’s a recipe I ran across 10 or so years ago and still use it today. It’s quite tasty. I did try it “cold” once but as the recipe said, it does get soggy quickly. I heat up some milk and eat it “hot”. I’ve sweetened it with raw honey (to taste) with wonderful results. Also, there are thousands of granola recipes out there for a breakfast treat (or anytime).

      Better than grapenuts cereal:

      3 cups coarsely ground whole wheat flour
      1/2 cup wheat germ (optional, use 1/2 cup more of whole wheat if you choose not to add wheat germ)
      1 tsp. baking soda
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1 cup brown sugar
      1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
      2 Tbsp. malted milk powder (optional)

      Combine all ingredients. Stir well with a spoon. Dough will be very sticky. Pour onto greased cookie sheet, pressing to 1/2″ thickness with a metal spoon. Dip the spoon in water, or spray with Pam to keep cereal from sticking to spoon. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Will be firm but not crisp. Turn the oven off. Remove pan and cut into strips about 1″x5″ and flip each strip upside down. Return to the warm oven until dried thoroughly. About another 1/2 to ¾ hour. Cool down the strips. Grind each strip in meat grinder using the coarse disc, then place in a wire strainer. Shake to separate the coarse from the fine crumbs. Use the coarse crumbs for cereal, the fine crumbs use as if they were graham cracker crumbs in desserts or even a graham cracker crust.

      Honestly, the cereal gets soggy fast, so I add a little at a time to my bowl of milk or I eat it like a normal bowl of cereal and when it gets to the soggy point I heat it up and finish it off as a hot cereal. Great either way.

  16. One note about homemade vs. store-bought yogurt:

    Although it is easy to find yogurt to purchase that is free from all but the basic ingredients, most of that will have been pasteurized to some degree or another. Homemade yogurt tends to have more of a punch in terms of lactobacillus and is therefore more beneficial to your micro-biome, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    Probiotic pills are OK but have limited benefits. Yogurt is a natural and time-tested delivery mechanism for beneficial microbes because the microbes are active and growing even within the delivery agent, presuming they are not killed by pasteurization.

  17. The thing about the yogurt is if you tried making it yourself, you would feel the same way about it as you do the ice cream. Good brands or not homemade yogurt is the best!

  18. I have found a local bakery that specializes in “real” bread. It is whole grain and no junk. I couldn’t make bread this good at home. It doesn’t have a very long shelf life, so i have to refrigerate it. My kids love it too. Big Sky Bread Company.

  19. I make my own mayonnaise. I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t have ingredients I don’t want. I love how smooth mine turns out, and it is truly tasty! From there, I can make more of my own dressings, dips, and sauces too!

  20. This is a great article. I can’t make everything. Well I could but when would I work, play with my kid, go for a run, spend time with friends/family, etc. So thank you. Now I want a bread maker. :-)

  21. I once ran to the grocery store to pick up a package of “bakery” cookies for my daughters school party and they didn’t expire for 6 months! I put them right back down. Even the simplest goods that should only contain a few ingredients have a long list when processed to allow them to sit on shelves for long periods. DISGUSTING!!!

  22. I think an important consideration is all of the packaging that store bought requires. Even if the material is recycleable, it still uses energy and there will inevitably be waste. It is more eco-friendly to do homemade if you can. And you don’t have to worry about checking as many labels.I make my own bread, yogurt, applesauce and any desert food we eat. I don’t use a bread maker, I find it is relatively simple to make a loaf once a week from scratch and I really enjoy the process. I have a yogurt maker that makes the yogurt pretty simple as well. I can things like applesauce so I only have to do it once a year.

  23. I’ve been making my own bread for the past year, after finding only one, expensive brand locally that meets the real food criteria. I use the bread machine as a back-up, but I like my own better. We store it in the fridge, so it’s not super soft, but for toasting or sandwiches it works just fine. Making bread was new to me and I know my technique could use some improving, but it’s working!
    We make many of the items mentioned by others, but also our own mozzarella – so easy and less expensive – use The Cheese Queen for a starter kit and instructions. Up this weekend – homemade chocolate peanut butter eggs for Easter. I can’t wait!

  24. I began making a lot of things at home including bread, gluten free bread, granola bars, salad dressings, waffles & pancakes, dumplings, corn bread, chicken nuggets, soups, fries, rice dishes (like the boxed mixes), ice cream, cookies. I also make my own lip balms and body scrubs.

  25. When making bread (or buying from say.. Great harvest) how do you keep it from going bad within a day or two? I used to make bread (used the 5 minutes a day method) and have also purchased from bakeries with no extra ingredients, but I guess we just don’t use that much bread because half the time it would go bad and moldy within a couple days! I was told by one local baker that it’s because there is no sweeteners in it. Do you keep it in the fridge or freezer? I know this sounds super lazy, but the idea of having to thaw bread out in order to have some just sounds like a pain in the butt! But I agree that homemade tastes best. Maybe I should mess around with it some more..

    1. slice it and keep it in the freezer divided how however many slices you think you will want at one time. I rarely eat break but every once in awhile I want a grilled cheese or a sandwich – I would buy a loaf and then it would go bad so I started freezing it. I usualy do two slices per package. The only downside is if you are not going to toast it, you do need to plan in advance and remove it from the freezer to thaw. Actually I would do that even if you are going to toast it so it’s faster.

    2. Actually, I buy sliced bread in bulk from trader Joe’s and freeze it. Toasting is easy, as the bread can go straight from freezer to toaster. Sandwiches can be made the night before and the bread will be thawed by lunchtime. For other applications, like French toast, it is best to take the bread out ahead of time to thaw (covered). I have tried making my own wheat bread (by hand), but I found that it took a long time to get an acceptable result and I eat WAY to much bread when it is fresh. I find it much easier to eat bread in moderation when it is in the freezer! Now I stick to making whole wheat dinner rolls, for an occasional weekend treat.

      My applesauce rule is, make it in the fall when apples are tasty and cheap from my local orchard. I make it fresh to serve warm with dinner. Once I revert back to grocery store apples in winter, the same is true for applesauce. Fresh applesauce just doesn’t taste as good with grocery store winter apple varieties.

  26. I make a lot of flour based things myself (muffins, scrolls, cheezy rolls, biscuits, crackers, pancakes, waffles, scones and tortillas). I don’t however make my own loaves much. I used to make a sourdough everyother day from my own sarter but the wholemeal loaf at my local bakery is delicious has few ingredients and costs the same as making so I buy it. I have made yogurt in the past and want to start again as it’s not tricky. I seem to go through stages and I just started a new job so a lot of making at home has stopped but I’ll get back in the swing.

  27. It’s getting easier. I just made hummus for the first time and it was really good. I made YOUR tzatziki and it was wonderful, and also about 6 times what I could ever use before it went bad. Made salad dressing for the first time, and it was a whole lot better than our favorite bottle, surprising. Sometimes it is just as easy to make yourself as to go buy, but I’m still figuring it all out. Gonna try making no-knead bread next, wish me luck (!!).

  28. Interesting post. I usually go with the rule if I can buy something that has clean ingredients and isn’t out-of-this-world expensive, I just buy it instead of making it. If there is something I can improve on by making it at home or I can save a lot of money, I do!

  29. I make bread and have definitely become a better baker using my bread machine! For those of you struggling and making a lot of bricks, I picked up a few ways to still use them. Either make breadcrumbs by grating the bread, cube and toast for croutons, or slice it horizontally for sandwich bread. Slicing horizontally gives you a chance to get an actual slice out instead of cracker sized bread! I also put up freezer jam and have recently discovered Pomona’s Pectin. It lets you use little to no sugar, of your choice. There is a cookbook, but most of the recipes are canned. Getting ready to freeze some strawberry freeze jam now!

  30. Always Make:
    Granola bars, larabars and meusli
    Hummus, rice crackers, sweet potato chips
    Salad dressing
    Spice mixes, marinades, and sauces (like stir-fry sauce)
    Coconut milk (just started making recently, love it and no carageenan or guar gum!)

    Usually buy:
    Spaghetti Sauce (have found a clean, jarred sauce at a local market)
    Veggie Stock (kitchen basics unsalted is pretty much clean)
    Bread (berlin bakery spelt sourdough)
    Pita bread (clean from a local Mediterranean restaurant)
    Yogurt (clean whole milk plain)

  31. How do you feel about Almond or Soy Milk instead of Whole Milk? Whole milk for me is so heavy and a lot of calories. I have been enjoying unsweetened plain Almond milk to drink or make things with.
    Thanks!