5 Convenience Foods You Should Be Making from Scratch

by Amy Shaw on February 8

soup

How often do you hear that convenience foods are bad for you? Warranted or not, the health and diet industries have succeeded in convincing all of us processed foods and most take-out are capital “B”, Bad. And so what do you do? You buy the “healthy alternative” products instead: organic tortilla chips instead of Lays, frozen veggie patties instead of a Big Mac, pizza with vegan “cheese” instead of Domino’s.

My opinion? Well, I love “healthy” processed food, too. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to cook. But really, most “healthy” convenience foods are sham, and we all know it. “Healthy” products often use the same preservatives and can contain even more ingredients than conventional options.

What the health and diet industries don’t advertise is how to opt out of the system altogether and make your favorite convenience foods from scratch. It may not be “convenient” at first, but once you get the hang of it, making food from scratch is healthier, cheaper, and most importantly, highly delicious.

Here are some of the my favorite foods to make from scratch (and how to do it!)

Pizza
Let’s get one thing out of the way: my desire for health will never eclipse my desire for pizza. There is no more perfect food than pizza, and it’s stupidly easy to make from scratch.

For the dough, use a dry pizza crust mix from the Italian aisle of your grocery store. They also sell wet, pre-made dough in the refrigerated section, but I like the dry kind better. I get mine at Stop & Shop, and it costs 50 cents a pack. Follow the directions on the bag, which usually requires adding water and letting it sit for 5 minutes.

Pre-bake the crust according to the directions, and top with some good-quality pizza sauce (I love Don Pepino’s, which comes in a yellow can) and whole-milk mozzarella and fresh-grated Parmiggiano. Do not skimp on the cheese! Whole milk mozzarella is much more flavorful than skim or part-skim.

The whole process, including cooking time, takes only 30 minutes. Why aren’t you making pizza right now?

Salad Dressing

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list of your typical store bought salad dressing bottle? Yeah, don’t.

There are so many different kinds of salad dressings, and I love making them from scratch because you know the ingredients are wholesome and fresh. If you have a few fresh herbs like basil or thyme, those are perfect to clip off and toss in with your dressing.

There are plenty of recipes online, but to get started, make sure you’re stocked up on the staples for any dressing:

Oil: Extra virgin olive, sesame, and vegetable.

Vinegar: white, red wine, apple cider, rice.

Sweetener: sugar, honey.

Spices: salt, pepper, fresh herbs, cayenne, paprika.

With those ingredients, you can make a variety of homemade dressings.

French Fries

Homemade fries are so good, you’ll never want to eat McDonald’s again. Slice up some potatoes into skinny, ¼” thick strips, and toss them in some olive oil and a good amount of salt and pepper. Spread them out on a cookie sheet, making sure none are touching, and bake them at 450 degrees. Check on them every five minutes and toss them around to make sure they cook evenly.

If you’re feeling frisky, you can toss them in some sautéed garlic and fresh herbs at the end.

And if you need a more detailed recipe than that, use this one.

Soup
While canned soup is nice to have around on a lazy day (I guess?), there is no substitute for homemade soup that’s been simmering in a pot for hours. I always keep onion, carrot, and celery on hand because it’s the basis for so many soup recipes. It’s also really tough to mess up, since basically, all you’re doing is throwing shit in a pot. There are so many recipes online, but my one tip for soup is to add enough salt. Since soup is mostly water, the salt helps to accentuate the other flavors.

The best thing about soup? It’s so easy to make a ton of and save, either in the fridge or freezer. Soup + salad, sandwich, quesadilla = perfect lunch.

Macaroni and Cheese

The first time I successfully made Mac’n’cheese from scratch, I wondered why I ever ate the boxed stuff at all. I like this recipe for the basic technique, but I choose to substitute real cheddar cheese (or whatever I have on hand) for the Velveeta. Powdered cheese does not even approach the rich, silky mixture of real butter, milk, and cheese in this dish.

Finally…

While I don’t claim this is the easiest or healthiest list, it’s so satisfying to make things yourself. Part of the fun of home cooking is trying things over and over until you get them perfect, something you can never do when ordering at a restaurant or eating something from a box. And the more you do something, the easier it gets, and the less time it takes.

In a few weeks, I’ll be writing about cooking essentials—what are the basic cooking techniques you need to be successful in the kitchen? Stay tuned!

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Amy Shaw

Amy is a part-time teacher, part-time freelance writer and editor, and full-time building a life out of her passions. Always seeking new, fresh ways to improve herself, Amy's approach to personal development has shifted over time: she has been influenced by everything from Tibetan Buddhism, to New Age spirituality, to Mark Manson's "slap you in the face" style of self-help. She claims no status of guru-ship, but she hopes that you can find yourself in her down-to-earth, reflective writing. Amy is Spiraling Up's editor, and she can also be found at Fiction Edit. She loves cooking meals from scratch, drinks espresso multiple times a day, and plays in a rock band called Dr. Martino.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Annalize February 12, 2016 at 5:19 am

Sandra, this is precisely what I do! And these home made foods are much tastier and I have even lost weight this way!

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Stephanie D'Laroy February 13, 2016 at 1:45 am

Great post Sandra. My mum use to make me homemade pizza when I was little as she didn’t trust what ingredients were going into the pizza you buy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Lucia February 13, 2016 at 3:53 am

I am all over making homemade! Mac and cheese, you are right…how can we even look at the box stuff evah again! I have to say, my pasta fagioli brings me back to my heritage and of course, I’m the quickest marinara sauce maker in the west now!! Thanks for sharing!!

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Andrea (Happy Careerista) February 20, 2016 at 7:06 am

Saving this!

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ScrewtheSystemJoe February 26, 2016 at 4:10 pm

I’m a big pizza fan as well. Great list here and I’ll be looking to implement some of the recommendations.

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