8 Packaged Foods You Can Make Yourself

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Save money, eat more healthfully, consume less packaging and find a better connection with food and the process of making it at the same time.

It’s a pretty great thing that we no longer have to chase after mastodons and struggle with fire to cook, but there’s a point when food becomes convenient to the point of abstraction. How can we have a connection to the land that grows our food and the animals we eat if our meals come in a carton that goes directly from shelf to microwave to mouth? I think if we all got our hands into real food a bit more, we’d begin fostering a deeper appreciation for it, leading to better health and more responsible food systems.

The following things are pretty simple. Will they save you time? Probably not, but as a workaholic single mom of two, I know I can find the time – it’s not a matter of leisure, but of priorities and routine (they get faster the more you do them) – not to mention the meditative pleasure of putting ingredients together and ending up with something tangible. And certainly, making these things at home will save money, save the excess packaging, allow you to control the ingredients ... and will definitely make you feel more connected to what you are eating.

1. Granola

In my neck of the woods, granola is stupidly expensive and/or loaded with added sugar. My solution? Homemade. It is so easy – bake rolled oats with a variety of odds and ends that need to be used up; dried fruits, nuts, etc, and voila. Here’s a recipe to get started, but you really can mix and match to suit your taste: Make your own granola.

2. Tortillas

Corn or flour, both are basically a matter of gently kneading together a few ingredients, letting it rest, flattening and quickly cooking on the stove top. I love Mark Bittman’s recipe here for corn ones; find it here.

3. Tortilla chips

Commercial tortilla chips taste mealy and basically like flavorless Doritos to me. But making homemade chips is very easy, and delicious whether using the homemade tortillas you’re making now (see above), or store-bought ones. Preheat the oven to 400F, brush both sides of tortillas with olive or vegetable oil, stack them up and cut into four or six wedges, salt, bake for 10-12 minutes flipping them once halfway through cooking.

4. Salad dressing

Homemade salad dressing lacks the preservatives and stabilizers used in many commercial ones, which makes them healthier. And more delicious! Plus, you can scale the amount you make to the amount you need, which means no more half-used bottles of dressing dying a sad slow death in the refrigerator. I go simple with balsamic and olive oil, but for some wonderful simple other ideas, see 7 fantastic salad dressings you should make today.

5. Bread

I only make one kind of bread and it’s time consuming and fussy and a bit ridiculous. But here is Katherine’s take on a great master recipe she loves:

[It} literally takes five minutes to mix up, and then sits in the fridge for up to two weeks, ready to use whenever you need fresh bread. All you have to do is cut off a hunk of dough, shape it, let it rest while you preheat the oven, and voilà, fresh bread with all the artisanal goodness that I’ve come to associate with a prolonged, drawn-out, and somewhat finicky process. The longer the dough sits, the better the bread tastes, since it takes on that yeasty, sourdough aroma that is so enticing.

More here: Make homemade artisan bread part of your daily routine.

6. Pasta

Rolling out your own pasta might sound a bit precious, but I love it. I have an Atlas hand crank contraption, and after a lot of practice, from start to finish it takes no more than 30 minutes. It might not be everyone’s first choice for a busy weeknight, but it is very, very satisfying. Plus, costs next to nothing and you can add fun flavors – lemon, herbs, smoked paprika, flower petals, etc – to suit your mood. This how-to from The Kitchn has all you need to know.

7. Pesto

If you have a food processor or a blender or even a mortar and pestle, you’re halfway there. Making pesto is as easy as rinsing off herbs or greens, tearing them up, and mashing them with olive oil, nuts and salt. Add cheese if you want. Done! Here’s a basic recipe – it focuses on offbeat greens, but you can go as classic as you like using the same proportions: Make pesto with herbs or winter greens.

8. Tomato sauce

If like me you did not have homemade tomato sauce as a childhood staple, you might think, like I did, that it is a labor-intensive all-day-simmering kind of affair. You also might not realize how much added sugar and other junk is in innocent-seeming jars of tomato sauce. Which is all to say that making your own does not take all day and you can make a much healthier version than that available commercially. Here is a great quick cause recipe from The New York Times. A decidedly less-quick but nonetheless dizzyingly delicious recipe comes from Scott Conant of NYC’s Scarpetta restaurant – this is a transcendent thing: Making Scarpetta's Tomato-Basil Spaghetti with Scott Conant.

So that's a good place for starters, but don't stop there. Try mayonnaise, crackers and flatbreads, yogurt, hummus ... and keep on going.