Steadfast FinancesDIY Alternatives to Processed Foods that Save You Money

DIY Alternatives to Processed Foods that Save You Money

Filed in Frugal Living , Good Eats , Saving Money 13 comments

Being a foodie and wannabe chef, I always get a kick out of making my own unique versions of processed foods that I’ve historically bought pre-made off the grocery store shelves. Similarly, being something of a frugal living advocate, I like to cut costs where I can, so it’s just a natural fit that I would try to cut as many of these processed foods out of my diet as possible, while trying to save a few bucks in the process.

I’ve started slow by targeting those “convenience foods” that I would normally buy just to save time that might cost $2 to $5 per item, but after a little DIY magic, might conservatively cost 50% or less of what it costs for me to make it myself.

Naturally, if you’re not into cooking your own meals or enjoy the convenience factor more than I, the video recipes below aren’t going to be that attractive of an option. However, you can save you some serious money in the long run if you’re the type that buys the gourmet croutons for $6 per bag every week, when you can make the same thing at home for $0.60 with ingredients you probably have and 30 minutes of your time.

Not to mention… they taste way better too!

Homemade Ciabatta Bread

If you haven’t experienced what it’s like to walk into a home while making a fresh loaf of homemade bread, I would highly suggest you experience it at least once in your life. Nothing beats it, and nothing reminds me of Grandma’s kitchen like the smell of freshly baked bread. Yes, it’s that good!

So if you managed to get through your high school chemistry lab with your eyebrows in tact, you can make this very simple, yet very tasty bread recipe at home. And don’t let the false believe that baking is too difficult for the average person to make for themselves at home. That’s why I use video recipes to talk you through the process, so bookmark the page, and come back to it as many times as you need to for advice (or confidence).

Freshly Made Garlic Parmesan Croutons

First let me say that: you will not find a better store bought crouton than you can make for yourself right here from Period. And no, I’m not exaggerating!

So next time you have some medium stale bread lying around the house and you’re about to toss it in the garbage, you’re throwing out the main ingredient of a homemade recipe that will match, or beat, any salad crouton you would eat at an upscale restaurant.

Plus, this recipe might cost $0.50 to $1 to make yourself considering that you’ve already bought the bread (or made it yourself), with the only remaining high cost items are the olive oil and cheese. If you time it properly, you might enjoy serving them hot out of the oven.

Homemade Salad Dressings

Salad dressings are, by in large, very simple to make. To prove my case, this basic Greek vinaigrette salad dressing takes less than 5 minutes to make. Yes, certain ingredients of this recipe can be on the expensive side (mainly extra virgin olive oil), but because you’re only using small amounts per serving, the costs are minimal on a per serving basis.

I’m sure I’m completely biased, but freshly made salad dressing has a more crisp and vibrant taste than most store bought dressings since the ingredients are fresh picked or just been opened. I can also control how much salt/sodium goes into each dressing, and if you want to be shocked, take a look at the sodium content in your favorite dressing. The numbers are even higher if you prefer the low fat or fat free dressing varieties, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

Fresh Homemade Salsa

That boiled tasteless salsa like substance you buy in a glass container can’t hold a candle to freshly made homemade salsa. If you don’t agree, I would encourage you to try this recipe, or at the very least, checkout the salsas at Chipolte or Baja Fresh.

While the ingredients to make fresh salsa aren’t exactly cheap (tomatoes, limes, etc.), I’ll take quality over quantity any day. If you have a raised garden bed in your backyard or container garden on your deck, you can reduce your costs by planting some tomatoes and fresh cilantro.

(Please note: I included this video because it shows how to prepare raw tomatoes versus using canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes contain high concentrations of Bisphenol A, and has been shown to have adverse health effects.)

30 Minute Chicken Fingers

All this grown up food and nothing for the kids? Okay fine, you busted me, I’m still a fan of frozen chicken nuggets or chicken fingers like Mom used to serve up as an after school treat. The problem is these things are usually overpriced, high in fat since they were fried prior to freezing, and may contain high concentrations of sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite (both known to have carcinogenic properties). I’m not trying to be a “Health Food Nazi” here, but personally, I like my foods to have as few mutagens as possible.

So with just a few minutes of prep work and the cost of a pack of chicken breasts, you can make several dozen high protein, low fat, oven baked chicken fingers in a relatively short amount of time. I like to make these in bulk, and keep them in the frig as finger foods for post workout protein cravings, or if I’m really lazy, I’ll store them in the freezer so I can nuke them at a later date.

Final Thoughts…

Cost savings aside, after you try a few of these, you’ll probably begin to rethink why you ever wasted your time with lesser quality processed foods that have questionable health effects, high profit margins, and more than likely, have been sitting on the shelf longer than you realize.

Remember, an increase in your convenience usually means a trade off in the end product. So whether you want to save money, eat healthier foods, or just like to tinker around in the kitchen (like me), you’ll probably find making a few of these dishes a win-win proposition.

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Posted by CJ   @   28 January 2010 13 comments
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Jan 28, 2010
9:21 pm

I love that you have so many posts about food. It’s the third highest category for our family with respect to monthly expenses. The savings one sees from a) not eating out, and b) buying smart at the grocery store is pretty exciting to a guy like me!

More importantly, a delicious meal goes a long way in terms of personal satisfaction of one’s daily activities.

Jan 28, 2010
10:16 pm
#2 Matt SF :

Thanks Andrew. I’m doing the food posts thing around once per month to avoid going too far off the personal finance ranch. But like you said, the monthly cost of food ranks pretty high in the family budget, so it pays (or saves) to cut corners where you can without sacrificing nutrition or quality of the ingredients.

As I tried to show in this post, the most expensive or most popular brands doesn’t always mean better quality.

Jan 29, 2010
12:42 am
#3 Bytta @151 Days Off :

Oh dear, this makes me feel hungry and guilty at the same time. I always blame my old rugged kitchen as the main culprit to why I don’t cook as much as I’m supposed to :). I’m gonna try that chicken finger tomorrow.

Jan 29, 2010
11:55 am
#4 Matt SF :

An old and rugged kitchen means it’s been used, and if it could talk, I’m sure it would thank you for making it feel useful again.

I spice my chicken fingers up with garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper, so might want to give it a try. Of course, the Frank’s Red Hot sauce works equally well – think of them like a healthier version of chicken wings.

Jan 29, 2010
7:39 am
#5 Ariel :

Wonderful, thanks for sharing! I’ve started making my own granola bars for snacks at work and its much healthier and saving me money.

Jan 29, 2010
11:57 am
#6 Matt SF :

You’re welcome. I don’t make granola as much as I probably should, but that’s a good idea for a future post. Thanks!

Mar 14, 2010
1:47 am
#7 e :

It’s well worth it. I just started making granola(not bars) and it is so much better then what you can buy.

Jan 29, 2010
3:14 pm
#8 Tracy :

Thanks Matt, always love the recipes. I am usually scrambling to see what I can put together from the weekly farm box, but since it almost always includes a lot of salad material, I am going to try the greek dressing and croutons with a little dinner party I am hosting this weekend.

Jan 29, 2010
3:18 pm
#9 Matt SF :

You’re welcome Tracy. I usually try a bunch of new recipes each month and post the gems. Really suggest you give the croutons recipe a try – good stuff!

Jan 30, 2010
8:03 pm

Thanks for posting the videos. I really like Chef John and am looking forward to trying out the ciabatta bread recipe.

I hope everyone sees the secret to making honey mustard in the last video – it’s honey + mustard (minus the high fructose corn syrup sweetener). The homemade salsa is awesome too, and it’s fun to tweak your recipe each time and experiment with different ingredients. I haven’t tried it myself but some friends of mine tell me the Magic Bullet gadget you see on TV makes salsa as good as they say it does, and it only takes a few minutes. I used a blender which works fine but is a little messier.

I like this idea for a post, and hope to see another one soon.

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