Is Cooking from Scratch Worth It?

Last month I was talking to a friend about cooking from scratch. We were discussing the pros and cons of buying versus making items like tortillas, English muffins, bread, granola bars, spaghetti sauce and other foods.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know I love to cook from scratch. It can be cheaper, healthier, and the food almost always tastes better. But sometimes I buy a loaf of bread, a bag of bagels, or a jar of spaghetti sauce. Well actually I always buy spaghetti sauce, because I stink at making it from scratch. Anyway, we decided that there is a time for making food from scratch and there is a time to buy food already made.

I came up with some guidelines that help me decide whether I should bake or buy.

Store Bought Just Doesn’t Cut It.

There are a few things I just don’t buy from the grocery store, pancake mix and chocolate chips cookies are at the top of the list. Our family doesn’t like the taste of these items from the store. When my family has a preference I try to make it from scratch, or we eat something else.

I Want to Have Fun in the Kitchen.

I like to cook. It is relaxing and creative outlet. For me it is a challenge to come up with new healthy recipes that my family will enjoy. Making pasta was my latest cooking adventure and I love it! It is fun to experiment with different flours and seasonings to come up with new pastas. But, if I am in a hurry Barilla will do just fine.

Making it From Scratch is Just Too Much Work.

Well, at least it is for me. Lasagna is in the category. My family loves store bought lasagna and it costs about the same as making it from scratch. I realize that there are people who can make a delicious lasagna that puts the store brands to shame, but I am not one of them. As long as my family prefers the ones in the freezer section I won’t be making it from scratch.

The Time Spent Outweighs the Potential Savings.

It is probably cheaper to make your own cheese. I am sure homemade cheese tastes much better than store bought cheese, but the bottom line is, I don’t have time to make my own. Maybe one day, when my seven kids grow up….

Short on time.

I find that if I am short on time it is cheaper for me to buy pre-made items than “think” I am going to make them. Having a loaf of bread or easy dinner meals available saves us from a trip through the drive-thru because of lack of time.

Short on money.

If the budget is tight, I find that I am able to create delicious from scratch meals using what I have on hand in my freezer and pantry. It is amazing how long you can live off the food in your pantry if you have some basic cooking skills, flour, and a bag of potatoes.

Cooler Temperatures.

This was true especially when we lived in smaller homes. Using my oven for lunch and dinner really warmed up my home. A loaf of bread, batch of granola and a casserole kept our house warm throughout the day.

Warmer Temperatures.

When the thermometer starts creeping towards the three digit mark my oven goes on summer vacation. I usually buy most of my baked goods throughout the summer and only turn my oven on once or twice a week.

It’s Up To You.

It is up to you to decide what is best for your family. I think having the skills to make food from scratch is a great service to your family. You can eliminate many of the preservative laden items from your pantry with some basic cooking skills. Many items like whole grain bread or granola take only minutes to prepare and are healthier and cheaper than their counterparts on the grocery store shelves.

Just don’t make cooking from scratch an idol or something you feel makes you a better wife, mom, or neighbor. It doesn’t. You love your kids the same whether they have whole grain pancakes or Lucky Charms for breakfast. If you spend all your time in the kitchen you might be missing out on some valuable experiences with your husband and children. Find a balance that works for your family.


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Comments

  1. karen says:

    Cooking from scratch def. has its pros and cons. If it’s nutritionally better, cheaper, and a time saver…Go for it! I have enjoyed learning new recipes and the satisfaction of serving them to my family.

  2. Thanks for this post! One other thing to add . . . sometimes it helps someone out to buy their “from scratch” items, so that will sometimes play into my decision. For example I have a friend who supplements her family’s income by selling bread, so I try to buy a couple of loaves whenever she advertises a batch on FaceBook.

  3. This is a good, middle-of-the-road list. Good for you! I make almsot everything from scratch, lasgana included :) (but my husband is Italian, so I don’t have a choice on anything Italian), but when I buy something pre-made, it usually folows this kind of list.

  4. Tonya says:

    Excellent, well thought out list. Ditto for me on whether it’s scratch or homemade. Usually there is something homemade in each meal, but not necessarily the entire meal.

  5. Jennifer says:

    For us cooking from scratch usually wins, but I do have my holdouts. But, I just made my own baked beans for the first time and wow, they definitely win over store bought. Our favorite cans of baked beans are now over $2 a can. I grabbed a bag of pinto beans for less than a dollar, used ham broth from the last time I made ham, added 4 slices of bacon and 1/2 cup maple syrup and they were the best beans I have ever had. We got twice as much for half the cost. Well worth it.

    There is a time and place for cooking from scratch and buying convenience foods. Whatever works for you at the time shouldn’t make anyone feel bad.

  6. Kim says:

    I love Lucky Charms! :)

  7. TheHappyHousewife says:

    I put that in there for you. It’s all about grace. ;)

  8. I love cooking from scratch but sometimes time just doesn’t permit it. If I can get myself back into the routine of cooking ahead and freezing, I think I would have more time to make completely home cooked meals. Great article.

  9. Crystal says:

    The picture looks delicious. I was wondering if I could get the recipe.

  10. April says:

    What a great post! When you are trying to switch over from hot dogs and easy mac to homemade/quality…you get quite a guilt trip and feel like you have to switch it all at once! I still buy store bought bread because I can’t make good bread to save my life. But my homemade spaghetti sauce puts Prego to shame. :) We prefer homeade granola over yougurt, but that’s not terribly portable, so I still buy granola bars once in a while. It’s all about balance. With baby #4 due in 8 days, I’m choosing my battles! :)

  11. Casey says:

    LOVE this post! I think *most* busy SAHMs would agree with you as well. I try to cook everything from scratch, but some days it’s just not gonna happen. And you are soooo right about having a loaf of bread to save you from going to the drive thru. I don’t know how much it would be to drive thru for your large family, but just for our family of 5, it can get to be pretty pricey!

  12. Diana says:

    I try to keep a loaf of bread in the freezer so that in those emergencies when we eat the homeade loaf up and I haven’t had time to make another one, we can still have a sandwich or French toast. It’s been a money-saver many times!

  13. Sherry says:

    Great post! I tell others that to start cooking from scratch is to start where they are at and do what is comfortable. I feel sometimes people are intimidated that I cook so much from scratch, but they cook what they feel comfortable with as do I. Not everyone will have a homemade meal but will use Hamburger Helper. That doesn’t make them any worse of a person.

  14. Diana says:

    a loaf of *storebought* bread, that is. If I could keep a loaf of homemade bread in there, I’d really be on top of things! :)

  15. Jen Kindle says:

    We use both methods but all of us are adversely affected by to much “store bought” my oldest son and myself especially. ( for us to much is anything more than 3 meals a week) I save the “store bought” for the days when i work and my husband is getting the kids lunch. (We home school so the kids are at home all the time. ) My oldest is 11 and is learning to cook so that she can make at least one of the lunches from scratch. Right now, her specialty is waffles. I make a lot of simple meals and prep the day before or morning of so that I’m not overwhelmed

  16. Nina T. says:

    I love this post! You are so right on everything! I love to cook….absolutely love it! So I do a lot of homemade items….as much as possible…..but there are things that I just can’t do because of time. I find that cooking from scratch also gives my kids the opportunity to learn also, and we always have fun….especially tasting :) There are a lot of basics you could do in your crock pot and then freeze in portions…including spaghetti sauce. But I always keep stuff on hand for when I’m too tired or short on time.
    Thanks for posting this!!!

  17. Christine says:

    I know you prefer not to make lasagna but it really is very easy. I use the lasagna recipe on the box of Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles and it comes out great every time. The lasagna from this recipe is very firm and has good flavor. So if you buy all the ingredients on sale the cost is less than purchased lasagna and does taste better, in my opinion.

  18. Johanna says:

    This is just what I needed to read today! I prefer to cook from scratch for many reasons (money, health, flavor, and I just like to cook). However, with our house being on the market and having 2 kids under 2, that has gone down the drain a bit, and I have felt guilty about it. It is good to remember that scratch cooking isn’t always better and it isn’t how to measure a good wife or mother. Thanks!

  19. Evy says:

    Thanks for the little paragraph at the bottom not condemning those that don’t cook from scratch as much as they’d like.
    Do you have any good casserole recipes? Anything that doesn’t have cheese or where I can omit it. You’re such a blessing to us all with this blog! Thanks Toni!

  20. Amomto4sweeties says:

    What a thoughtful post. Thank you for not bashing those of us who choose to buy our bread pre-made and our flour pre-ground. It really is all about balance and what works for each family.

  21. Serenity says:

    Wow! This was perfect timing for me. I really struggle with feeding my family anything that isn’t healthy and feeling like a terrible mom when I do. However, with baby #5 due any day, I know my cooking time will be limited for a season. Thanks for the reassurance that my family won’t suffer terrible damage in the meantime, LOL! :)

    PS: Do you have any tips for feeding your family during the “brand new baby/ no sleep” phase?

  22. katena says:

    I do a little bit of both. My neignbor does a lot of hamburger helper Ill add to it to make it my own. I do a little bit of both not totally but do enjoy strecthing the budget.

  23. Anne-Marie says:

    I cook from scratch when I have time or if it’s something for dh & me. Kid’s are to unappreciative of my time for me to bother trying to make things from scratch n a regular basis. Someday when they decide to broaden their palettes, I will do more from scratch.

    Also, after I went of forever about wanting to make my own pasta, my dad bought me the attachment for the Kitchenaid. Ugh! I like my pasta Al Dente, not tasting like boiled raw dough. Maybe I did something horribly wrong, but it’s been years since I made it & no one here has any desire to make another attempt.

  24. Leslie says:

    I feel the same way as you do about when it’s worth it or not. This is our first summer in years when we probably won’t have air conditioning and I know the tempation to bake is going to shrink rapidly as the temperature rises!

  25. Emily says:

    I’m wondering what brand of lasagna you buy from the store. I think the only one we’ve tried was On-Cor, and I don’t care for it, mostly because of the sauce. I don’t make my spaghetti sauce completely from scratch–what I do is take a jar/can of one of the cheaper brands of spaghetti sauce and add a can of crushed tomatoes (or diced tomatoes which I’ve put in the blender). I add a pinch or so of sugar to help take out some of the tartness of the tomatoes and then add lots of dried oregano, basil, and whatever other italian seasonings I have (majoram right now).

  26. Emily says:

    I have no experience making pasta, but I’d think you’d have to dry the pasta first before cooking it it you want it firmer.

  27. Molly says:

    Our first decider is your first – does store bought cut it? Cookies, no. Other baked goods, no. Pizza, no. Then there’s a time/money weighing: spaghetti sauce I can buy pretty cheaply, so I’m fine buying that, and homemade bread can sometimes take me all day. Plus, right now, I have a busted wrist and can’t knead very well, so it’s store bought bread and bagels until I’m better. Good list!

  28. Molly says:

    And after making homemade yogurt for the past few months, storebought does not even compare. It is TOTALLY worth the 25 minutes it takes me to make it from scratch. And my yogurt maker (a gift) will have paid for itself in a year. Yay!

  29. Meg says:

    I just try to find a happy balance between healthy, tasty food and convenience. Some things I make from scratch, some things I buy premade, but most things fall in between.

    And “from scratch” means different things to different people. For example, I bake my own lasagna, but do I make my own noodles? Grind the flour for those noodles myself? Press the olives for the oil and make my own tomato sauce from homegrown tomatoes? No to all of that. I usually make my own vegan “cheese” for it (tasty, tasty stuff), but while some of it starts as whole foods (like almonds), some of it uses premade ingredients (like tofu). And now that my local grocery store sells Daiya I’ll probably be using that a lot.

    If I only made things truly from scratch, I’d miss out on a lot of great foods and not have a lot of time for other more important things. However, by not relying too much on convenience foods, I also eat healthier, tastier food and often for much cheaper. So, again, I think it’s mostly a matter of finding the right balance for you and each particular situation.

  30. I am a great believer in cooking from scratch as I don’t think you can beat homemade dinners, those processed meals just don’t taste anything like homemade. HOWEVER life is much too short to make everything from scratch and in my opinion bread is one of them. I have a bking day every couple of weeks but the rest of the time it is quicker and easier to buy. No-one should feel bad about buying some products from the store.

  31. Michelle says:

    Between my two children, we have a soy allergy and a wheat allergy in our house. So, most of our meals are from scratch, as convenience foods that are safe for them are insanely expensive. I do keep certain pastas and sauces and a few other “short-cut” foods on hand for busy days, though. I also do a lot of cooking ahead and freezing so I can throw something together quickly.

  32. Amy says:

    Molly,
    Any tips on making your own yogurt? What type of machine do you have? My kids could eat it by the gallon. I want to explore making my own.

  33. Love this post Toni! Life…it’s all about balance.. is it not?

  34. Betsy says:

    I have slowly been adding to my cook from scratch repertoire. My criteria:
    –we eat it all the time
    –it’s not that hard to make
    –some cost savings

    So far — bread, hummus, granola. I’ve always done muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc. from scratch. One thing I never do from scratch — brownies. Too much work, and the Trader Joe’s or Ghirardeli’s mixes are SO good.

  35. Kimberly says:

    I guess you do what you know. My mom’s idea of cooking was making hamburger helper (no offense to her). I have so much to learn and feel SO stupid in this area. Thanks for the well written post, it gives me an idea of where to start.

  36. Candace O says:

    I love cooking from scratch, but don’t nearly as often as I’d like. I find my problem is lack of preparation. I begin dinner too late, no time to make torillas so hubby walks to the store and back in 10 minutes. Maybe if we didn’t live so close to the market….

  37. Cheri says:

    Michelle, just wanted to let you know that my daughter has multiple food allergies too, including milk and wheat. She also can only have eggs baked in things and limited soy. I try to spend my food dollars for her as thrifty as possible. I just hate how expensive the specialty items are, and they really have you over a barrel. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one out there dealing with allergies!!

    Great post! I needed to read this today too!!

  38. Our family has been eating so much better in the last year or so than we every could have imagined. It started because of our son’s food allergies and has turned into an awesome lifestyle choice for us. We love cooking together even with the kids! They are the best little eaters too and I think they appreciate healthy foods so much more than so many other little ones their age. I think this is because we do cook from scratch, we shop at our farmers market, we have a garden etc. I agree with you though that sometimes it just is not possible based on the time it takes and my pasta sauce never turns out either! I have to tell you you should try throwing in all of the lasagna ingredients you like into a slow cooker and by the end of the day you will have an easy and yummy lasagna! I am currently looking for more of the whole wheat pasta we found that tastes amazing made from Kamut Khorasan Wheat (healthy and yummy). Thanks for the insight…great post!

  39. Marsha says:

    You are so right- balance is key! Still haven’t made my own spaghetti sauce yet but I sure do make a delicious alfredo sauce. The only problem is that now I can never eat “alfredo” anything when we go out. This is my I refuse to learn to make a good enchilada. Sometimes you just want to go out to eat!

  40. This is a wonderful post. Scratch cooking is truly something worth learning if you want healthier meals for the family. I’ve been trying to be good at this and I think you have inspired me all the more. BIG thanks!

    Van

  41. maggie says:

    I have moved toward always cooking from scratch with the exception of an occasional take out pizza or chinese food. What helps me is making large batches and freezing – for instance I have 6 bags of ready to heat fried chicken (bought the chicken at $.59 / lb, breaded and fried it before freezing). I also have 4 trays of eggplant parm from my garden that I froze (cooked over 2 days first). I canned spaghetti sauce for the entire year, some with sausages or meatballs bought on sale. I made saurkraut, pickles, relish, roasted red peppers, and made my own hot pepper powder in the dehydrator. Keep in mind, all the veggies were free.

    One thing I should point out that, while this was a bit of work, it was mostly seasonal with most of the preparation done at the end of August into the beginning of September. I made a weekly menu plan and find that my shopping trips only cost about $50 a week, unless I do a freezer stock up on meat on sale which is only about 4X per year. In the winter I’ll generally be baking which I don’t do much of in the summer except for breads, bisquits, etc. We just don’t eat that heavy in the summer.

    I would say that cooking from scratch generally saves you a fortune, but you should try to scratch cook higher priced items if you can’t find the time to do everything. If you really want to save a fortune, learn gardening and canning and take advantage of sales on meat, veggies and fruit.

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