Posted on November 4, 2014 at 6:00 am
Alright run to your pantry right now and pull out the xanthan gum, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, and disodium phosphate, we are going to make some ranch dressing!
Wait. What? I don’t have those ingredients.
Sound familiar? Too often factory-produced products contain unnecessary ingredients to prolong shelf life, alter appearance, and extend the manufacturers bottom line. After I started reading labels and ingredient lists on some of our favorite foods I came to the conclusion that I was going to need to make a lot more things from scratch. So I made a rule for myself; if I can’t buy an ingredient, then I don’t buy a product made with it. Now I have more control over what is in my family’s food.
Additionally, cooking from scratch saves me money. But this can be a trade off. Yes, I save money when I make large batches that I divvy up myself, but I also have to spend more time in the kitchen. Saving money wasn’t a huge motivator for me, but I do try to make big batches of things like soups, chilies, and snack bars, that I can freeze in individual or family size portions. Saving money has turned into a side benefit.
For me, the greatest benefit has been that my homemade goods taste light years better than their store bought counter parts. Think about the difference in taste between strawberries bought in February, versus those picked straight from the field. It’s the same idea when you make things from scratch. It’s worth it. Trust me. Plus, when you control the ingredients, you can alter the flavor to suit your family’s taste buds, and maybe even get your family to eat things they didn’t think they liked.
On the downside, cooking from scratch can be very time consuming. I am fortunate that I have a shorter work day than most people, so I am home about the same time my kids get home from school. This usually means that I enter the kitchen at 3:30 for snack prep and don’t often leave until after dinner is served around 6pm. It also means that I spend a couple hours, every weekend, cooking and prepping to keep our supplies in stock. I realize that not everyone can make this sort of time commitment, but I encourage you to pick one or two things to make from scratch instead of buying. The benefits are worth it.
For me it did take some trial and error to figure out what was worth it for me to make from scratch. Below is my lineup of my most popular recipes. You can also follow our From Scratch Pinterest board for all these recipes. I will continue to add more as I try new things.
Salad dressings are probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to yucky ingredients. Once I started reading labels, and saw so many unpronounceable “foods” used to thicken, sweeten, and preserve, I knew that this was a place I had to make a change. Now, I make the following two salad dressings on a regular basis.
Ranch from the Wheat Belly Cookbook
This can be left thick and used as a dip, or thin for a more dressing-like consistency. I usually shoot for somewhere in the middle. We use this on salad, for dipping veggies, and on top of baked potatoes. My kids like to dip grilled chicken in it as well.
Creamy Balsamic Dressing from Intoxicated On Life
I typically make a half batch of this dressing, since I am usually the only one who eats it. This tangy dressing is perfect on what I like to call “foo-foo” salads; usually a combo of fruit, nut, cheese, and baby greens. This dressing makes me feel like I am dining out at a top-notch bistro.
I started buying my spices in bulk when I decided to organize my spice drawer using baby jars. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was saving quite a bit of money buying spices in bulk. This practice also lends itself nicely to creating my own spice mixes. Rather than buying those individual envelopes with unnecessary ingredients like gluten and MSG, I buy the spices I need to mix up a container to have on hand whenever I need. I have two mixes I use on a regular basis.
Pumpkin Pie Spice from My Blessed Life
A flavorful combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves, pumpkin pie spice is not just for Thanksgiving. I use this in my granola recipe below, to flavor oatmeal and pancakes, and obviously it’s perfect for pumpkin pie. My husband dislikes the taste of nutmeg, so I tailor this a bit to his palette and dial back on that particular spice.
Taco/Chili seasoning from My Baking Addiction
This seasoning was a bit hot for my family, so I omit the cayenne and red pepper flakes. The result has just the right amount of heat for my family. It’s very versatile as well. I use it in taco meat, for chili, mixed into refried beans, and sometimes we even sprinkle it on chicken before grilling.
When we went gluten free I was a wee bit desperate in looking for breakfast foods that my kids would love as much as cereal. It took some time but I was able to find some alternatives that quickly became family favorites.
Granola from Our Plate Full
I stumbled upon this granola recipe and decided to give it a try. This has been a staple in our house ever since. I buy all the ingredients in bulk, trying to have enough to make at least three or four batches before I have to stock up again. This is probably one of the more costly recipes, but when you look at the prices of prepared granola in the stores, I still think I am coming out ahead. We usually go through a batch of this every two weeks. We all like it in our yogurt, but the kids will also eat this with milk just like cereal.
I was never into buying instant oatmeal packets; but before going gluten free, oatmeal was also not in my weekly rotation for breakfast. Now I buy a big bag of oats for less than $5 and we have it once a week for breakfast and sometimes I pack it in a thermos for lunch. My kids get to pick their choice of stir–ins. Our two favorite flavors are peanut butter and jelly, and diced apple with nuts. If you want it even more convenient, you can easily portion out the oats and flavor into snack sized baggies and make them a to-go item. (What a great job for a kid!) Just add water and microwave for a couple of minutes.
I think my list of snacks could go on and on, mostly because this is the area I like to try new recipes the most. But as far as my family goes, here are the two things that are my most requested.
Coconut Cream Larabars from My Whole Food Life
At $1-2 a pop in the store, making these from scratch is a no brainer if you want to save some dough, although I have to say that I don’t feel bad buying these on occasion, as the ingredient list is always short and very pronounceable. I have made the peanut butter chocolate chip, and lemon versions, but our favorite are these coconut ones. I like the rounded balls from the lemon recipe, so I always use a cookie scoop and make mine round.
This is one of those things that I don’t think my family would have been eating if I couldn’t have altered it to suit their taste. I use the recipe on the side of my tahini jar, but I alter it a bit to suit our palette by adding a dash of cumin and dialing back a bit on the lemon juice and garlic. We dip tortilla chips and veggies in this tasty spread. I will often pack this for lunch, and sometimes we even make a light dinner out of it.
I hope that you can find something from this list to inspire you to make more things from scratch. I would love to hear which things become your family favorites.