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. Thanks so much for this post. What great resources. I’m slowly converting my “store bought” staples to home made. It’s not that hard. Just a newer way of thinking and training myself to break habits that are just automatic.

  2. What a resourceful site! I tried ketchup this year and recommend this one… The spices she uses make it more like BBQ sauce (still delicious) so for plainer ketchup added only salt and a bit of sugar. Yum.

  3. I totally fit into that category of feeling like I’d spend too much if I truly fed my family on the food I want to. Our budget doesn’t seem to have space to increase, but this month we’re trying something new to us. We are doing a no-spend month (drastically reduced anyway) to try and make me create more from scratch. I hope to build some more habits and begin to make my own list of homemade items :) Thanks for the inspiration. I happened upon this post just at the right time!


  4. Thank you so much for the inspiration! I’m living in Istanbul where I can’t find any vegetable stock sold in the grocery stores and am excited to start making my own :)

  5. This is so old fashioned but it has been revived today. You just can’t get away from the wonderful taste of home canned like products just as Grandma use to have in the cellar.

  6. well it’s been two months since our no spend month and we are all still alive. I found an awesome cookbook called Homemade Pantry that I have used more than any other cookbook ever!! I felt like I had a oaradigm shift and I wondered if you ever read it? :-)

    I felt like I can finally feed my family well on a budget cause I can make so many more of our staples, or pantry items!

  7. Judy Hendrickson says:

    If you send updates, recipes, etc. by email, would you please add me to your list?

    Thank you!

  8. I LOVE this post! This is amazing; just found it on pinterest and can’t wait to make all these yummy recipes.
    Have a great week, Aimee!!

  9. Wow! What a wonderful resource you are compiling here! I can’t wait to get expand our homemade pantry! Food costs have been through the roof, and I find myself having to shop at 3-4 stores just trying to find the bargains on organic and healthier foods. I am trying syrup this weekend! Thanks!

  10. I found this post via StumbleUpon. Thumbed it up!

  11. Maybe it’s just my silly laptop but I was curious about the mayo recipe, and everytime I click on it, it just takes me to the same page we’re on now! I have my own recipe..local eggs, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and oil..but love finding new ones to play with!

  12. I’d like to add Brown sugar, which costs me about $8 per kg to buy. But I make it myself for $2-3 per kg. brown sugar is just regular sugar with treacle stirred in to colour and flavour it

  13. Do you have a “pin it” button? I’d really love to save this.

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