plunger-317748_640The key to cooking from scratch is knowing which foods are worth the time and effort and which are not. Foods that are worth it are ones that save money, are healthier than their store-bought counterparts, or both.

Cooking from Scratch: Tips and Tricks

Go big. The thing that can be intimidating about cooking things from whole ingredients is that it’s more time consuming. To make that easier, make these things in big batches and then – where appropriate – freezing them. For example, if you’re going to make beans in your crock pot, why not double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe, then store the extra for a rainy day?

Get social. Turn your from-scratch cooking into an activity! Get your family or some friends together for a leisurely afternoon of cooking from scratch. Multiply the recipes to make big batches of a few different items, then divvy it all up. You’ll have more fun when you team up with friends, and you can walk away with a few different items, instead of just one.

Plan ahead. Some of these items take a while to complete – from a few hours to a few weeks (don’t panic!). Extracts are a good example here. Don’t wait until you’re out of vanilla extract to start steeping a new batch. When you’re three fourths of the way through your jar, start the next one. That way you won’t run out.

Ready to get cooking? Check out items that you should make from scratch instead of buying prepared below.

Applesauce

Fall is apple season, and homemade applesauce is a great way to preserve that bounty! You can make applesauce easily in the crock pot with just two ingredients, so there’s really no reason to ever buy it pre-made from the store. Toss everything into the crock pot on a lazy morning, and you’ll have applesauce by supper time! If you score a big bag of seasonal apples, your homemade applesauce won’t just be healthier and fresher than store-bought – it’ll be cheaper too.

Extracts

Premade extracts for baking are often made with artificial flavors and even artificial colors. Boo on that! You can make your own extracts from organic herbs and spices. All that it takes is a few minutes of prep and a lot of patience. Extracts have to steep for a few weeks to get good and potent, so you can’t make vanilla extract on the same day that you’re planning to bake cupcakes. The good news is that since they’re made from alcohol (all extracts are), they keep for a very long time. I’m still using the vanilla extract that I made 10 months ago!

Almond Milk

Nut milks like almond milk are easy to make yourself, and unlike premade nut milks, they don’t have chemical stabilizers and thickeners. The cool part of making nut milks is that you can use the solids left behind after straining as a gluten free flour! Almond flour, for example, is normally just finely-ground almonds, but you can also dry the leavings from homemade almond milk in the oven to make almond flour.

Ground Herbs

Whole dried herbs stay fresher longer, so grinding your herbs as you need them means you get the freshest flavors in your cooking and baking. You can dry fresh herbs and grind them yourself or choose to only grind your own when you can get the whole dried herb at the store. Herbs and spices like peppercorns, cardamom, coriander, and fennel all come dried and whole, for example.

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