Eat Well, Spend Less: Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples

Has anyone else noticed the rapidly rising price of food lately? That the usual grocery run is costing more and more? I have, and I’ve been comparing receipts with several other food bloggers. The results of our research has prompted us to bring you a series to help you spend less while continuing to eat well.

Spearheaded by Jessica of Life as MOM, our series Eat Well, Spend Less will touch on topics such as buying (and storing) food in bulk, frugal meals, menu planning, and much, much more. Besides Jessica and myself, on board and digging deep to help you eat better on a budget are also Shaina, Mandi, Katie G, Alyssa, Carrie, Katie K , and Tammy.

The series will run on Mondays or Tuesdays for the next 3 weeks, depending on the blog.  Simplebites will contribute on Mondays and we’ll link up everyone’s posts for the week on Tuesday. Get ready to learn a lot and be equipped for the rising costs of everyday food.

The Big Bucks: Organic Health Foods

The series is about both eating well AND spending less because let’s face it, spending less can be pretty easy: cheap food is abundant in heavily processed form. Sure it is possible to eat on a budget, but eat well?  And by well, I don’t mean filet mignon for Sunday dinner, I’m talking about providing our families with wholesome, healthy food. That is the goal of this series.

Robyn O’Brian has a fantastic TED talk where she partly highlights the need for us to reject processed foods and embrace the “real food” movement for the health of our children. It’s powerful stuff. If you haven’t watched the clip, I definitely recommend making it a priority. (My latest multi-tasking duo is folding laundry and listening to TED talks on YouTube.)

I think it’s fair to say that the more processed our food becomes, the lower the price drops.  The items that generally increase my grocery bill are the ones that are best for me: organic products, made with real ingredients, that have been treated with respect. Because I care about what I serve my children and I put into my own body, I pay a higher price for organic or natural products – unless I can make them myself for less, which is often the case.

Why pay $4 for a container of organic chicken broth when I’ve got the carcasses from last night’s dinner that I can simmer down to make fresh stock? Why get gouged $6 for a small bag of granola when I can get the raw oats for $1 and make my own with the kids after school?

Not only is it cheaper to make your own real food staples, you know exactly what is going into your food. You can customize each item- be it a condiment, salad dressing or spread –  to suit your family’s needs, avoid allergens and cater to taste preferences.

Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples: Important Factors to Remember

  • Food should be purchased and preserved in season. This is the best way to save money. Example: stock the pantry with canned tomatoes in September when they are practically giving them away.
  • Ingredients should be purchased in bulk when possible. The advantage is a reduced unit price. Go in on big purchases with a friend, if needed.
  • Set aside a realistic amount of time to make your homemade grocery staples. Accept that it is going to require some time, and remember that you will get faster as you gain experience. Team up with a friend on major canning projects and organize preserve swaps to gain a varied selection.
  • Start small. Don’t attempt everything on the list below or you may become overwhelmed and give up. Instead, start with two staples such as one salad dressing and one pancake syrup. Once you are making these regularly, add two more items, and so on.

Pantry Staples from Scratch

Katie from Good Life Eats and I are collaborating to bring you homemade versions of pantry (and fridge and freezer) staples.  She is covering ‘dry’ items and I will elaborate today on ‘wet’ products. So that means head over to Good Life Eats for baking mixes, granola bars, and more dried goods.

If you think about it, many basic ingredients and foods that we consume daily or weekly can be made from scratch for much less than it costs to buy prepared. As described above, smart shopping by buying in bulk and in season can also dramatically increase savings.

I can honestly say that, with the exception of ketchup and dill pickles (which I intend to attempt this summer) I make all of the following kitchen staples from scratch. And you know what? It doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Maybe because it’s become a way of life for me; a conscious choice. I know why I can my own food, I understand the importance of healthy food culture, and I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and put in some long hours in the kitchen to benefit my family – and save some coin in the process.

I hope you are encouraged to do the same.


Salad Dressing







Do you feel like it costs too much to feed your family RIGHT?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I just love this site…so many good recipes and such a great way to save money…thank you…

  2. That is a crazily impressive list, Aimee! Mine would not be nearly as long, but I have enjoyed learning to make many of our everyday staples from scratch.

  3. Beautiful and inspiring. You make all of that hard work look easy.

  4. Great series!I tripled the size of my garden due to the rising cost in groceries so I can’t wait to see what you all come up.

  5. I was just telling my husband that I’m going to try making yogurt this weekend. I’m adding maple syrup to that list! Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. A couple more things you could add to the list are spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce. Easy to make and so much cheaper!

    • I made enchilada sauce and gave it as gifts for Christmas! It was such a hit, and so easy to make.

      (I wouldn’t recommend trying it though if you’ve never pressure canned before. I found it quite challenging!)

      • Can either of you share your recipe for this?

        • Here is the enchilada sauce recipe that I use. It is from, recipe number 222519.

          Prep time: about 20 minutes, it says it serves 8, but….

          • 3 tablespoons oil
          • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
          • 1/8 – 1/4 cup chili powder, to taste with more chili powder the spicier. I use Penzey’s regular chili powder, and typically use closer to 1/4 cup, but base it on my table guests preferences.
          • 2 cups chicken broth
          • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
          • 1/2 teaspoon salt
          • 1 teaspoon cumin
          • 1 teaspoon oregano
          • 2 teaspoons sugar
          • cayenne, to taste if you want spicier

          1. Heat oil with cornstarch in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 1 minute.
          2. Add in chili powder and cook for another minute.
          3. Gradually stir in the broth, mixing well with a whisk to make sure you get out the lumps.
          4. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
          5. Simmer until thickened on low.

          I usually wind up putting in a whole can of tomato sauce, and then adding more chicken broth. It can get quite thick, but add more stock and it will loosen.

  7. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest says:

    I love this! Self-sufficiency is the key to the future, I believe. Learning how to do for ourselves will help us weather both recession and inflation with more grace. Now, off to bookmark all these great recipes!

  8. This is excellent, I can’t wait to try these out!

  9. This is great stuff. Would you consider making it into an e-book? If you and Katie put your two posts together with the recipes and made them into an e-book, it would be amazing. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. It would be awesome to have all of the recipes together, in one spot, so that I could print them and put the whole thing in a binder. It *is* a lot of work to cook everything from scratch, but it would really streamline the process if all of the resources were at my fingertips.

    Just a thought. 🙂

  10. Mum use to make preserves every summer and through out the year. But since growing up I thought it was too much work and effort. This year we had a massive crop of Tomatoes and with Pregnancy heartburn I couldn’t eat them which ‘forced’ me into preserving. I am loving it and if I give up a TV show during the evening it really doesn’t take much time, plus I feel more productive and we will eat healthier during Winter 🙂

    Thanks for the other ideas, Now I know how easy and practical it is to do homemade I plan to make one or two things on a regular basis.

  11. Fantastic – this is a really inspirational post! I’ve only just begun to do the homemade-pantry thing…I have a lot to look forward to, so thanks for the ideas!

  12. Um yes and how timely – I just posted on this last night

  13. Thank for these great ideas! I will definately add some of them to my pantry!

  14. Wonderful links. Thanks! We cook most things from scratch and find that it’s very affordable to feed our family natural and organic food on a super tight budget. Being vegetarian (and somewhat vegan) helps too, since meat and dairy can be some of the most expensive organic items.

  15. I appreciate this post so much! I couldn’t agree more about making your own staples. I’m in the process of doing just that. What a wealth of information here. Thank you!

  16. This is a terrific post! Making our own convenience foods is a great way to save money but more importantly, it’s healthier. I’m looking forward to visiting each of the links that you’ve listed. Thanks!

  17. Love this post!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  18. Excited! I love seeing new recipes. I will try anything once. I especially would welcome some new canning recipes…

  19. what an excellent post, many thanks

  20. Colleen P. says:

    I am LOVING seeing this! I spent most of my childhood school vacations at my grandparents home, and they were farmers. They grew or raised nearly everything they ate. But I grew up and forgot how great things you make yourself can taste. However my husband and I, in the last few years, have begun canning-our own tomato sauce, grown from our own tomatoes, jelly, jam, applesauce made from those bags of bruised or overripe apples that the grocery store practically gives away in the fall, etc. It astonishes me how inexpensive it has become now that we have a stock of jars and rings, not to mention how good the food is! We don’t even use any sugar in the applesauce-overripe apples are so sweet on their own that they don’t need it.

    I’m off to go print some of your homemade salad dressing recipes now! LOL! Thank you SO MUCH!

  21. I applaud the movement to make more of our food at home, eat in season, eat fewer processed foods – all of these make so much sense. I don’t think it’s fair, however, to say something like “Why get gouged $6 for a small bag of granola”.

    If we stop and think of all the people who are involved in bringing food to our plates, I would hope that we would be willing to pay a little more. Farmer, laborer, trucker, warehouse employees, sales reps, store clerks (not to mention executives/boards of directors who don’t like to share very much) – that is a lot of people to split that $1 can of peas or even that $6 bag of granola.

    I agree that some companies are just interested in making money off the organic trend but some companies actually try to run better businesses and take care of their employees and the environment. Shop locally, support family farms and local businesses. It may cost a little more now but everyone benefits in the long run!

    • Anon. budget-cutter says:

      Beti – you have to understand. My grocery budget is about $40 a week for three people. That’s all of our meals, snacks, beverages, etc. I am married to a teacher and am a stay-at-home Mom. All of us are healthy eaters (I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years) and have college degrees. We are not in debt in any way, but our budget is very tight. Pretending that it’s “just that easy” to fork over the extra is an incredible insult to me.

  22. It’s refreshing to read someone bets for home-made meals out there (beside me). It’s beyond saving a few coins a month, I think. It is a matter of being healthier for longer, above all.

  23. BRAVO. Thank you for all the hours and hours of work put in by untold people to make the information contained in here available to others. It’s more than a drop in the bucket. It’s a lifeline!

  24. Anon. budget-cutter says:

    Love this post! It’s so easy for people to blithely (and rather snidely, I might add) say, “Eat organic, eat unprocessed, eat local,” blah, blah, blah, without giving any consideration to the fact that some of us TRULY cannot afford those things! (And it’s not because we’re ignorant, fat, lazy or living in a trailer park either). Nor are we all filling our carts with Doritos and Ho-ho’s. I would be perfectly happy buying everything at Sprouts and TJ’s, but I can’t do that if I want to have a roof over my head. Thanks for the great tips and recipes!!!!

  25. I am with you – love making as much as I can from scratch. Getting into canning last year was one of the best things I’ve done yet

  26. love the saving money aspect, the preserving food and just trying out new cooking techniques

  27. AMAZING! This is a great post and resource. I have books upon books of recipes that it’s taken me years to gather. I am excited (and a little relieved ) to know there are others out there who value homemade food. Thanks!

  28. Stopped in my tracks when I came across your web site due to the mason jar photo. Brought back so many fond memories of canning all kinds of items. Thank you for sharing such yummy recipes. Gonna go find my box of canny supplies now!

  29. Sally Thompson says:

    It will definitely try this procedure! This is very useful.. This will surely saves us a lot of money! Thanks for sharing..

  30. Simple to make and a great way of saving money… thanks alot .. 🙂

  31. These are excellent ideas for affordable food stuffs. I can’t wait to try the salad dressing… Thank you for sharing these ideas.

  32. ~Natural Little Mother~ says:

    Thank you for all your great ideas.

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