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Make It OR Buy It? A Fun Kitchen Experiment (with recipes!)

I recently read a fun article in the brand-new All Recipes magazine. The author was doing an analysis on made-from-scratch versus store bought items. I thought this was brilliant, so I decided to test a few items for myself.

Pricing below is taken from Walmart and I used recipes from AllRecipes.com  for simplicity sake. I’ve rated each item in FOUR categories: 1) cost, 2) time, 3) taste, 4) health.

A few things you’ll need to know: First, I’m not a math geek. I’m good at rough numbers, so expect that what it comes to the “cost” category to find a lot of approximation going on. Second, “time” is kind of a stupid category. Generally speaking, it’s always going to be faster to drop something pre-made into your grocery cart… unless you have to make a special trip for salad dressing, for example.  Lastly, taste and health can sometimes contradict one another. I think things should taste good AND be healthy.

Now on to the experiment!

BISCUIT MIX

Bisquick

1)      Cost: ($3.28 for 40 oz. – approximately 28 servings) This stuff isn’t expensive.

2)      Time: Fast.

3)      Taste: It’s not bad, especially if this is what you’re used to using in your cooking/baking.

4)      Health: Contains enriched flour, partially hydrogenated oil, and dextrose.

Home-made Biscuit Mix

1)      Cost: ($15 to buy all supplies; about $3.50 cost breakdown – approximately 48 servings) Cheap! Considering you have most of these items already in your pantry, the cost is very low.

2)      Time: Fast. You can mix this together is less than 10 minutes. (And like the store bought kind, you just add milk.)

3)      Taste: Very good – in my opinion homemade is always better.

4)      Health: You decide on your ingredients, so you control salt, type of flour, etc. Be sure to store in the refrigerator.

SALAD DRESSING

Kraft Salad Dressing

1)      Cost: ($2.98 for 24 oz. – approximately 24 servings  Reasonable. And if you use coupons you can probably get it for pennies.

2)      Time: Fast.

3)      Taste: I’m generally not a fan of bottled salad dressing, so I’m biased. Some are better than others… let’s just leave it at that.

4)      Health: Obviously varies by type of dressing. Sugar is almost always added. Things like “Xanthan gum” and “natural flavors” I can do without.

Home-made Salad Dressing

1)      Cost: ($1.75 for about 12 servings) This is a very reasonable price. I chose a recipe with a few special ingredients (lemon, poppy seeds) to reflect a potentially higher cost. The cost will vary based on your ingredients. A simple vinaigrette can be oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper – now were’ talking pennies.

2)      Time: Fast. Throw all of your ingredients into a jar with a screw on lid and shake. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

3)      Taste: Delish. Fresh and you can adjust to your liking.

4)      Health: Again, there’s no guess-work – you know what you’re putting in there. This recipe calls for sugar, but since you’re making it you have the freedom to use agave or honey.  

BREAD CRUMBS

Progresso Bread Crumbs

1)      Cost: ($2.36 for 8 oz. – about 8 servings) I don’t know about you, but I usually only need bread crumbs once in a great while. Two dollars isn’t going to break the bank.

2)      Time: Fast.

3)      Taste: Okay. I’m usually not wowed by store-bought breadcrumbs.

4)      Health: This particular brand uses malodextrin and adds caramel color. I’ll pass, thank you.

Home-made Bread Crumbs

Recipe: This is so basic that a recipe really isn’t needed. Use your past-its-prime bread (or salvage those ends that always go to waste) and break it up into your food processor. Whirl it with some garlic salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Done. You could leave it out overnight to get dry or just put it in a tightly sealed container. I keep mine in the freezer.

1)      Cost: (Practically $0) You can’t beat it. You’re actually saving yourself money.

2)      Time: Fast. Your biggest enemy will be reminding yourself to save the bread so that you can make it when you have time.

3)      Taste: Very good – adjust seasonings to your liking!

4)      Health: You can use whole wheat bread if that’s what your family normally eats. No additives.

Two more notes:

1)      Croutons are another great use of day-old bread. Instead of putting it in the food processor, just cube it and lay the cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Spray with oil, shake your preferred seasoning on and toss.  Put in a 250 degree oven and check often (the time will vary depending on the size of your bread cubes – I’d start checking at 15 minutes).

2)      If you like to cook with fresh herbs (I do!), then buying them at the grocery store can get expensive. A packet of seeds costs less than $2. Organic potting soil is a steal – $5 for way more than you’ll need. Buy it! Plant your own seeds… find a sunny spot and reap the benefits all year long.

 Jenna lives in Littleton with her husband and two kids. She’d much rather spend money on a vacation than on groceries. And she’d much rather be on vacation than cooking. You can see more from her at www.jennahallock.com.