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The List: 4 More Grocery Staples You Should Make Yourself

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Learning how to make some basic pantry items cuts down on waste and is better for your health.

Most of today’s kitchen staples are already prepared, canned or jarred, and ready (or basically ready) to eat. But it wasn’t so long ago that most cabinets contained primarily fresh or dried staple ingredients, often bought in bulk — and rather than only being able to be eaten one way, those staples could serve as the basis for a whole array of homemade food.

In an effort to eat healthier and to be more environmentally responsible, I’ve been weaning myself off convenient packaged ingredients, and just making them myself. In most cases, they’re better for me and my family (less sugar, fewer preservatives and other artificial ingredients), and they create less packaging waste: Being able to buy fewer ingredients that go further — and storing them in reusable glass or plastic containers — means fewer disposable plastic wrappers, paperboard boxes, and cans, too.

There are six groceries I’ve been making at home the last few years — yogurt, butter, granola, cheese, bread, and ice cream — and recently, I’ve add a few more to my repertoire. These are some of my favorite from-scratch staples worth making instead of buying pre-made from the supermarket:

1. Cooked beans instead of canned: I’d heard that buying bags of dried beans is better for the environment than buying them canned, but it wasn’t until my husband started watching his sodium intake that I started buying and cooking my own dried beans from scratch so that I could control the salt content. And while beans can take hours to cook, a pressure cooker can drastically cut that cooking time, especially when you soak the beans the night before. I tend to cook a couple of pounds of beans at a time and freeze what I don’t use in 2-cup portions. Having a freezer stash of these beans is almost as convenient as cans of them in the cupboard.

2. From-scratch salad dressing instead of bottled: How many gunky bottles of salad dressing do you have in your fridge right now? And how many times do you end up throwing away half-used bottles because they’ve expired before you have the chance to finish them? I proud to say I finally tackled those problems, and haven’t bought a bottle of dressing in years. Instead, I make my own with ingredients I always have on hand, and chances are you have them too. All it takes is a teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard whisked into a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with a generous pinch of salt, then a drizzle of olive oil while you’re whisking. A few grinds of black pepper and you’re done. Depending on what I’m eating, I might vary the type of vinegar — rice vinegar is nice for an Asian-inspired salad, for instance — or I’ll add some fresh herbs or some finely minced shallot. Once you get the hang of making from-scratch vinaigrettes, you’ll be able to clear up some real estate on your refrigerator door.

3. Homemade peanut butter instead of jarred: If you’ve ever surreptitiously thrown an empty peanut butter jar in the trash rather than go through the onerous task of scrubbing the peanut butter out of it so it can be recycled, I’ve got a solution for you. Just make your own. All you need is a blender and some peanuts (a store with a good bulk selection makes for an affordable and sustainable source for the peanuts), and maybe a pinch of salt or a drizzle of oil for a better flavor and consistency. And I keep my peanut butter in a shallow tub: It’s much easier to wash than a tall, skinny jar.

4. Scratch chicken stock instead of packaged: I always feel a bit guilty when I’m making a soup that calls for a large quantity of stock — those big aseptic cartons aren’t recyclable where I live. Whenever I get the chance, which is to say, whenever I’ve made a roast chicken, I make my own stock instead. It’s an eco-friendly move in more ways than one: You’re making use of chicken bones and vegetable trimmings that would otherwise go to waste, and you’re eliminating the resource-guzzling trip that commercially produced stock takes to get to your kitchen. As with my homemade beans, I’ll portion the stock into one- or two-cup containers and freeze it so it’s ready next time I’m making a batch of soup.

What grocery items do you make from scratch? Share your favorite recipe ideas in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • christine f. 4 months ago
    time to make stock? it's so easy! after you clean the meat from the carcass, put it in a pot, cover with water. bring to a boil, turn to low and let it simmer an hour or so. strain. done. this works for chicken or turkey.
    and remember to save leftover vegies in the freezer so that you can add them to broth to make soup.
  • E J. 5 months ago
    Sounds good... in theory. But who has the time? It also sounds energy intensive (e.g., beans or stock), so I wonder just how eco-friendly (or cheaper) it is. Healthier -- yeah, I'll give you that.
    • Laura B. 2 months ago
      So easy in the crockpot overnight! Whole chicken, one lemon and one onion cut up, cover with water. Tons of recipes on YouTube.
    • E J. 1 month ago
      For a chicken meal or for stock? I do make meals in the crockpot, but this article -- and my question -- is about self-prepping meal components, rather than buying them.
  • john h. 5 months ago
    Bar chocolate chips cookies use much less baking time and are quick to make from scratch. Melt the butter first.
  • Michelle H. 5 months ago
    I didn't realize peanut butter was so easy to make! I'm going to give it a try this week, and if I am successful, then I'll be switching to this permanently. This will eliminate washing that stubborn oil off the plastic container for recycling also - my biggest recycling challenge
  • Patricia N. 5 months ago
    I grow a lot of my own veggies and freeze them. Some of them you don't even have to blanch, like spinach. My hot peppers go into hot pepper jelly. I also get free cranberries from a local grower; these are the ones left over at the end of the harvest. I make my own cranberry sauce, both jelly and whole berry. If you can in the winter, the heat from the boiling bath helps to warm up the house.
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