11 Real Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making

Wondering how to feed your family better while also saving money at the grocery store?  Skip the store and start making your favorite pantry basics from scratch.  Here’s 11 real food versions of pantry staples like ketchup, mayonnaise, coconut milk, bread, crackers and more that you can stop buying and start making.

Ketchup

While making your own ketchup may seem daunting, it’s actually relatively easy (there’s about 5 minutes to mix and up to 5 days to ferment).  Ketchup, like many other condiments, finds its roots in the dark and bubbly past of fermentation.  It wasn’t the last few hundred years that ketchup that home cooks skipped fermentation in favor of vinegar and water-bath canning.  Further, in that time, ketchup also lost some of its unique flavor profiles.  Where it was once flavored by spices like clove and allspice, it mellowed into a puree of tomato, vinegar, salt and corn syrup.

What you need: Tomato paste, unrefined sea salt, vinegar, raw honey or other sweetener and organic spices like allspice and cloves (I typically by them in bulk online).  As this ketchup is fermented, you’ll also benefit from using a starter culture like fresh whey though the brine from fermented vegetables, beet kvass or a purchased starter culture (find them here) will work just as well.

I also typically use a special fermenting crock when preparing condiments like ketchup. It’s a simple glass jar fitted with an airlock and you can find them online; however, a mason jar will work fine but is more likely to develop a film of mold at the surface of the ketchup.

Recipes to Get Started: My basic spiced ketchup recipe includes both honey and apple cider vinegar. Those new to fermentation often wonder if the antimicrobial properties of vinegar and honey impair fermentation, and the answer is that they don’t – at least in the minute quantities called for.  If spiced ketchup doesn’t appeal to you, there’s also several other ketchup recipes included in Get Cultured! and in Nourished Kitchen Meal Plans.

Coconut Milk

Organic coconut milk can be super expensive, plus you have to either contend with cans (that often contain the endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA) or cartons of refrigerated coconut milk which are likewise loaded with synthetic vitamins, emulsifiers and additives.  You can make your own from fresh or dry coconut in just a few minutes, and it tastes so much better.

What you need: Fresh coconut or dessicated coconut (get it in bulk here) and water.  You’ll also need a blender.  While a basic blender works fine, if you’re preparing coconut milk often, you might consider a high-powered blender.

Recipes to Get StartedBasic Coconut Milk from Fresh CoconutsCoconut Milk from Dry Coconut.

Bread

There’s a distinct pleasure that comes from making your own bread – the feeling of the dough on the palms of your hands as you knead a wet mass of flour and water into a manageable loaf, the comforting perfume a loaf of just out of the oven.  While sourdough bread offers benefits far beyond that of the regular, whole-grain variety, a loaf of artisan-quality sourdough bread can set you back $6 to $7, but you can make it at home for about $0.65.

What you need: A good loaf of bread requires nothing but flour (I typically use high extraction einkorn flour but bread flour and sprouted flour also work), unrefined sea salt and a source of yeast. This yeast might be packaged baker’s yeast you find in the grocery store, but a natural sourdough starter will offer a more complex flavor coupled with greater health benefits.

Recipes to Get Started:  No-knead sourdough (but do note that if you endeavor to make it, you must also use my recipe for sourdough starter or your hydration levels will be off).  Classic sourdough rye breadMilk and honey bread with sprouted wheat.  For those who are gluten-free or grain-free, you might try this coconut flour bread.

Crackers

Making crackers is one of my favorite activities.  Though it’s a bit more labor intensive than the other foods included in this list, the buttery goodness of a fresh cracker still warm from the oven is an unparalleled joy.  Many commercial crackers are dry, flavorless and even natural crackers can contain a slew of additives that are better left out.  Plus, when you make crackers at home, you can flavor them as you like it: a bit of cinnamon and honey for a sweet cracker, dill and yogurt for a savory cracker.

What you need: To make crackers you need flour (sprouted flour if your crackers will not be soaked), salt and a source of good-quality fat like olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee (and if you’re not sure which is best, read my take on healthy fats).  You also need a rolling pin to roll your crackers very thin so they’re flaky and not tough, as well as a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the crackers.  A good quality baking stone is also helpful.

Recipes to Get Started: Yogurt and Spelt Crackers, sprouted wheat cracker, or even these easy grain-free crackers if you’re on GAPSTM.

Salad Dressing

Sally Fallon Morell, author of the landmark book Nourishing Traditions and the founding president of the Weston A Price Foundation, cites making your own salad dressing as one of the most effective first steps you can take toward a healthier diet.   It’s no wonder why, most store-bought salad dressings (even organic salad dressings) are loaded with unhealthy fats and additives.  Plus making your own is incredibly easy – usually taking only about five minutes.

What you need:  Unrefined extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed nut oils and vinegar or citrus juice can make a super simple dressing, but you can also add onion, shallot, garlic, herbs and enrichments like tahini, egg yolks, buttermilk, miso or homemade yogurt.  Whisk these together and store in the fridge or on the kitchen counter if it’s a simple vinaigrette.

Recipes to Get Started: Super basic vinaigrettehoney mustard dressing or homemade ranch dressing.  You will also find loads of basic salad dressings in Nourished Kitchen meal plans – roasted shallot dressing, fig and honey dressing, roasted tomato dressing, caesar and more.

Mayonnaise

Similar to salad dressing, most store-bought mayonnaises are prepared using vegetable oils which have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and whose fragile polyusaturated fatty acids do not stand up well to the modern high-heat extraction process required to make them.  For this reason, it’s wise make your own – and it comes together almost instantly.

What you need: I typically make my mayonnaise with olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, egg yolks and a pinch of salt.  If you’re making a fermented mayonnaise, you’ll need to add a starter such as fresh whey, the brine of fermented vegetables or a purchased starter.  If you don’t care for the strong flavor of a pure olive oil mayonnaise, you might try a combination of olive oil, bacon fat or coconut oil (get some here).

Recipes to Get Started:  Try wasabi mayonnaise or cultured mayonnaise, and if you’re still stumped, check out these video recipes from Mommypotamus and the Real Food Forager.

Broth and Stock

As long-time readers know, I’m a big advocate for homemade broths and stocks.  Bone broths support the adrenals, bones and teeth.  They also provide your body with easy-to-assimilate minerals and amino acids, and even clinical studies support the healing power of old-fashioned broth.  Further, broths and stocks are some of the most cost-saving foods you can prepare at home.  Commercially prepared stocks at your local health foods store can cost upwards of $6/qt, but made at home they’re almost free.

What you need:  Bones, the frame of a roast chicken, a fresh chicken and water make the easiest stock.  You might also add vinegar or wine to better extract minerals from the bones, or vegetables and herbs to flavor your stock.  You’ll also need a large stock pot or a slowcooker (if preparing perpetual soup).

Recipes to Get Started: Bone Broth from a Roast ChickenPerpetual Soup: The Easiest Way to Make Bone BrothFresh Chicken BrothAsian-style Chicken Foot StockHomemade Beef Stock.

Pickles

As with ketchup, traditionally pickles were prepared through fermentation and it is only when water-bath canning took hold as a food preservation method that home cooks began to favor vinegar pickles rather than pickles that acquired their sourness through fermentation. Fortunately, making pickles is relatively easy.

What you need: At its most basic, a fermented pickle requires little more than cucumbers, salt, water and time.  You might also add pickling spices, garlic, horseradish, hot peppers or dill to the mix.  Some cooks prefer to add a starter culture to their pickles, but it is not typically necessary.

Recipes to Get Started: This is my standby recipe for sour pickles.

Yogurt and Kefir

Yogurt and kefir are easy to make at home, requiring only a few minutes of mixing (some heating in the case of yogurt) and up to 24 hours to culture.  As a result you can prepare yogurt at home and save about $4 to $5 / quart over purchasing store-bought varieties.  Moreover, many store-bought yogurts are made with low-fat or skim milk and, to make up for the lack of texture and flavor provided by wholesome fat, manufacturer’s substitute additives to give the illusion of a real yogurt.  Make it at home and you can skip the additives, and mix in the flavors that suit you.

What you need: To make yogurt at home you simply need milk and starter culture (which you can find here or at well-stocked health food stores), you’ll also need something to keep the yogurt warm while it cultures.  This can be a dehydrator, an oven with the pilot light on or a yogurt maker.  To make kefir, you need milk and kefir grains (you can find them here) and a jar or bottle.

Recipes to Get Started: Matsoni (the easiest yogurt you’ll make), Raw Milk Yogurt, Milk Kefir.  If you’re dairy-free, try this coconut milk yogurt.

Hot Sauce

My husband and son pour hot sauce over just about anything, but I prefer to make it at home.  Hot sauce is a traditionally fermented food and many commercial hot sauces are still fermented before being mixed with vinegar and pasteurized. If you have a glut of hot peppers in your garden, take the time to make your own hot sauce (and hot chili paste).

What you need: At its most basic, a fermented hot sauce recipe requires little more than salt and hot peppers; however, I’ve had better success with recipes that also use a bit of starter culture to speed up fermentation, a bit of sugar to feed the microbes (this is metabolized by the bacteria and very little, if any is left in the final product), and a bit of garlic to deepen the flavor.

Recipes to Get Started: We make this fermented hot chili sauce quite often.

What other pantry basics do you make from scratch?