Eat Well, Spend Less: Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples

Has anyone else noticed the rapidly rising price of food lately?

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.

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.

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 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. Hi Aimee! I found your website from Tidy Mom and it looks like I’ve found a website to subscribe to. 🙂 I can totally agree with you that food costs are rising and the need to be “creative” in the kitchen is needed. I have a link from my website that goes along with your thoughts and wanted to share that with ya. Thank you!

  2. Aimee (great name btw),
    I love what you have done here. I stumbled you and love what I see. I’m going to have to pin this page so I can come back when I need to stock up. The grapefruit-pom marmalade sounds divine and I’m intrigued by the maple poppyseed dressing. My sister-in-law makes an awesome vinigrette with a kick that I posted if you like dressings with bite. I think keeping staples is such an easy way to manage my food budget. I need to go check out Katie’s blog now!

  3. Lu Jasperson says

    To save money on organics out of or in season find a buying club in your area- The larger the group order is the more you save-well worth the time spent. I have been a co-ordinator for 20 years and look forward to every delivery.

  4. Great post! I’m attempting to make more of my own food. My latest being yogurt. I was surprised at how simple it actually was. This post gives me more to add to my list. 🙂

  5. Hi! last summer my husband and I had tomatoes growing out of our ears! So after we got done canning everything we wanted we decided to try Catsup. It is soo amazing and sweet, we got the recipe from the Ball Blue Book all recipes are certified as safe if you follow all the directions! You can find more canning information and safe preserving practicies at your local University Extension Office! Trust me their great people, I’m one of them!

  6. Very interesting. I should add more homemade items to my list. I have always made my own tartar sauce and 57 sauce because we never could use an entire bottle up before I felt it may be going bad. I have a recipe for bisquick (or biscuit/pancake mix) but I havent tried it yet…

  7. Thanks for the tips! We will have a garden for the first time this year so I plan on using many of these recipes using my homegrown fruits/veggies. I’m always trying to save on my family’s grocery budget and this is a fantastic resource!

  8. I have an even easier way of saving money – we don’t use easily 80% of the items on this list.

  9. Well the list looks daunting, but I suppose I can start with one and build on my list as I get better. Thanks for taking the time to compile such an amazing list of recipes.

  10. Great post! I agree that the price of food has skyrocketed. This is the first time that I have started a vegetable garden because of food costs.

  11. Thank you so much for this list!

  12. Claudi Neff says

    I also can tuna, tomatoes, pickled beets and sweet pickles. i love to have on hand peach, apple and pie fillings. All easy to make and can:-) Love the salsa idea though…never thought about that…thank you

  13. What an amazing post! Thank you and I’ll be sharing this with everyone I know 😀

  14. My girlfriend sent me this link because I just started gardening this year and cannot wait to begin using items from my garden to make my own food!

  15. Kay Bruce says

    I’m looking for a grain free recipe for Worcestershire Sauce, let me know if you have one. Thanks, Kay

  16. June Coker says

    I know I saw a recipe for cauliflower pizza, but can’t find it now. Could you point me in the right directions. Thanks………….

  17. I’m hearing more and more about organic foods I use to thank eating healthy ment substituting unhealthy food for a bad taste but their making eating health taste better and better what types of organic food is on the market these days say like sides for dinner

  18. All those recipes sound delicious.It is a great idea to separate the stuff into wet and dry,particularly as there are so many recipes-more manageable that way.

  19. Thank you so much for this great post! I grow a bunch of food at home to preserve and then use our a local co-op called Know Thy Food (in Portland) to supplement the rest for preserving and buying in bulk.

    The part I am really struggling with is how to reduce the sugar in all the canned goods. I was flipping through the Blue Ball book the other day and I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t include sugar. I am all about eating healthy and preserving my own food but if that means buying 20lb bags of sugar then I am going to have to find a different path. Just a little rant…not much to do other than not use that book 🙂

  20. I am really looking forward to this series! Being fresh out of college I don’t have a lot of wiggle room with my budget. But I have seen how a poor diet of processed foods has had a huge negative impact on my fiance and I want to feed us both well while still paying the bills!. As someone who also has a lot of food allergies I realize the necessity of making food at home because you do control what goes in it. I am hoping that now with a steady job and no more essays to write and tests to study for, I can begin to incorporate more homemade items into our lives.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!


  24. 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 🙂

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. Judy Hendrickson says

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

    Thank you!

  28. 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!!

  29. 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!

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

  31. 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!

  32. 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

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

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