Is Cooking From Scratch Still Financially Beneficial For Small Families?

I have a family of 3 and am wondering if cooking from scratch can be financially beneficial for such a small family. I'd love to do it but am afraid it won't be cost effective. I read a lot about cooking and freezing items - do you freeze food in Ziplock baggies or plastic containers?

Thanks in advance for any advice/suggestions.

Mary from Gibsonia, PA

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

I am a single father with a teenage daughter. For just the two of us, cooking from scratch is financially beneficial. With proper meal planning (every meal is designed to use up leftovers) and shopping techniques, you can buy the basics extremely inexpensively (salt is salt is salt, no matter what the price tag is. Dried beans, rice, etc., are largely the same.) We eat higher quality, more interesting and varied foods that are tailored specifically for our likes and dislikes than we could if we didn't cook from scratch, and spend less money to do it.

The trade-off is time and effort, naturally. But we make that time serve double-duty: cooking is something we do together, so it's fun and valuable family time.

I do have a couple of tips, though. The first is, as I said, meal planning. Leftovers are inevitable, and they are a plague that can easily grow out of control. Food tossed out is money wasted. So, use them up in subsequent meals. For example, We always have sloppy joes a day or two after we have spaghetti -- the leftover spaghetti sauce becomes the bulk of the sloppy joe mixture.

Second, don't try too hard to save money on fresh vegetables. I buy vegetables on the day I'm going to cook them, and buy exactly the amount I need. It costs a little more when you figure it per ounce, but if I buy larger amounts then they end up going bad before I can use them up. When all is said and done, for me, it's cheaper on the buy-as-I-go system.

Also, don't buy premixed seasoning packets (Taco seasoning, sloppy joe mix, italian seasoning, etc.) You'll see very large savings when you make these mixtures yourself (without sacrificing the convenience of using them.) Recipes for these items are everywhere. Google is your friend.

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

I think that cooking from scratch is the only way to cook! I can't believe the prices for all that premade, frozen stuff that just doesn't taste quite right. I menu plan with the grocery sale paper right in front of me, I buy the sale items that I need and I stick to my list so I won't overspend. I use all leftovers in a different menu; chili pizza made from left over chili, soup made from leftover beef, ect. I grow a vegetable garden so that I can have some fresh vegetables; for a small family like yours you wouldn't need a very large garden. And, you would also be showing your child how to garden! And, I too, think that the premixed seasoning packets are too costly; the Thriftyfun site has lots of recipes for making your own seasonings, gravy mixes, instant oatmeal mixes, ect. I hope that you have a good experience when you start your cooking from scratch lifestyle!

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

I belong to a great Yahoo! group that discusses ALL aspects of cooking and freezing. Go to groups.yahoo.com. Join frozen-assets. Have fun!

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

Thank you so much for the encouragement and tips, and I will definitely sign up for that Yahoo group. I'm really excited about getting started!! I will have to wait until next year to start a garden but that gives me time to create an area that will keep the deer out.

Wish me luck!

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

I don't know if it's financially beneficial but I do know you can freeze it in baggies or containers. Obviously containers are better for liquidy or runny things

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August 12, 20070 found this helpful

Yes! it is definately financially beneficial. Also, nothing beats the homemade taste! If you have only a small freezing space, you may be able to freeze more if packed in plastic bags - stronger bags for liquids and thinner bags for non-liquids. On the other hand, if you freeze in re-usable containers, it will save you a bundle on containers in the long run. And do use up left-overs. Good luck!

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August 13, 20070 found this helpful

I have cooked from scratch for most of my adult life. I still think it's beneficial, not only financially, but healthier too. Prepackaged foods have too much sodium and additives/preservatives. I started canning my own veggies, etc. in 1981. Still doing it today and there are only two of us. I use some of my home canned things as gifts. Not another gift like it anywhere! Anyway...

I keep a stash of spices/herbs on hand for cooking. There are lots of books out there for "stocking up".

As you are probably aware, time is the trade off. However, you can make two dinners at one time and freeze one. It is important to use the leftovers. Throwing food out is like throwing money down the drain.

Good luck to you. I hope you learn to love it! I did and still do!

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August 13, 20070 found this helpful

I COOK FROM SCRATCH AND IT ALWAYS SAVED US MONEY. I HAD TO LEARN TO COOK FROM SCRATCH WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE YOUNG TO AVOID GOING BACK TO WORK. I LEARNED TO BE CREATIVE IN THE KITCHEN, USING WHAT WE HAD AND "STRETCH" A MEAL. I LEARNED TO BAKE BREAD, BISCUITS, COOK DRIED BEANS, POTATO RECIPES, BREAKFAST RECIPES, ETC. I ALSO LEARNED TO BUY THE STORE BRAND ITEMS AND "TEST" THEM FOR TASTE. I USUALLY BOUGHT THE STORE BRAND ITEMS AND SAVED A LOT OF MONEY.

WHEN THE INTERNET ACCESS AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE NOW, COOKING FROM SCRATCH CAN BE EASY. JUST LOOK RECIPES UP ON COOKING WEBSITES OR WATCH FOOD NETWORK!

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August 14, 20070 found this helpful

I certainly hope so. I am going to retire in a year and plan on doing a lot more scratch cooking. I used to make everything from scratch, but caved in to the easy convenience foods several years ago. I think they are terribly expensive.

So - scratch cooking is a part of my way to save during retirment.

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August 14, 20070 found this helpful

You need to use my method. It makes life simpler. I should have thought of it 20 years ago.

Serve the same entree Mon and Wed. Vary the veggies and bread both nights.

Serve the same entree T and TH. Vary the veggies and bread both nights.

This way you only need to make 2 large quantity entrees, and by changing the veggies and breads, it's not 'dreary leftovers' any more, you've got 4 days taken care of and everything you are serving seems new.

You might even think of something you can make for the second day that uses the entree from the first day.

Like, hamburgers on Mon and Chili on Wed.

Or, roast chicken on T and chicken salad on Th.

Or, broiled fish on one day and fish stew on the next.

The biggest problem with this method is making sure your family doesn't eat up all of the planned-overs for snacks.

Keep one thing in mind. Food that has been frozen or served by restaurants has added fats, msg and who knows what else. Your goal is to keep your family living a long and healthy life. The only way you can ensure that is by having control over what goes in their tummies.

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August 14, 20070 found this helpful

I am a family of one!! with 4 dogs. I watch the sales [just bought pork chops for 89¢ lb! Needless to say I bought 3 pks. Meat and fish-I cut into 3-4 oz portions and freeze. Buy store brand frozen veggies and canned things like tomatoes w peppers. The only thing that I splurge on is milk in that I have it delivered weekly and don't have to carry 1 gal. containers [milkman puts them in refrigerator],plus I don't drive in snow. Just watch for the sales. Also buy dog food from wholesaler and save about $6 per bag!

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August 14, 20070 found this helpful

I tried my first "from scratch" meal last night and laughed the entire way through. It was spaghetti and it was my first attempt at using fresh tomatoes for the sauce. After cleaning the ceiling and floor several times (when I squeezed the tomatoes the juice squirted up to the ceiling and then down to the floor) I did manage to get the job done. The recipe I used was not very flavorful and I am not a cook by nature so I couldn't add a pinch of this and that, but my husband was thrilled because it was from scratch, so that made it worth while. I planned to use the remaining sauce for sloppy joes later this week however because the sauce was too watery and not very tasty I froze it for another time (hoping I can come up with a plan later) and will have to do something else for the sloppy joes.

Thanks for all of the comments. I think as long as I keep a good sense of humor about this it will be fun.

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August 14, 20070 found this helpful

Mary, try out our $10 Dinners. We try to use mostly "from scratch" recipes that are healthy and not too expensive. Here is a link to the category:

I also like recipes from magazines like Cooking Light. They are always healthy and usually not too expensive. I'll often google a specific recipe and look at several versions. Allrecipes.com has some cool technique videos and I love to watch Alton Brown's show, "Good Eats" for the why of cooking. CookingForEngineers.com is another one I check out often.

Tomato sauce can be tricky from fresh tomatoes, most recipes use canned tomatoes (which I count as from scratch as tomatoes aren't in season all year round!). I did just make a batch the other night from some tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market. I didn't bother to take the skins off but the sauce will turn out better if you do. You cut a shallow X in the bottom, pop them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then put them directly in ice water. The skin should just slide right off. To seed it, I will cut them in half and sort of scoop the seeds out into a garbage bowl. Then chop them up pretty finely and add them to a large pan where you have already sauteed onions and garlic. You could also saute finely chopped carrot and celery to give it more nutrients and flavor. Add oregano, salt, pepper and basil and let them simmer on low for a couple of hours. The longer you cook it, the better the flavor. It will thicken up over time. A crockpot is also nice for this, but I would saute the veggies first. It is nice to make a whole bunch at once. It freezes pretty well or you could go whole hog and can your own sauce.

Good luck. I love to cook and try to make stuff from scratch whenever possible. Don't be afraid to use shortcuts like frozen veggies or good chicken broth (I buy Pacific Foods in the box and also make my own whenever I roast a chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken), just be aware of the ingredients. If there are things that are unintelligible, it's hardly from scratch.

Jess

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August 15, 20070 found this helpful

All good ideas-- and here's one more....

That "dab" of veggies with cooking juice you are about to throw away-- pour it in a freezable container-- next veggie, do the same.... When you have enough-- or are ready, use that "dab" of left over beef or chicken, adding anything else you want and make a soup. This is actually wonderful-- all the different seasonings and all. Dump it all in a soup pot and heat it up-- I've even dumped the veggies in while frozen-- makes no difference. Try it.

good luck, and enjoy.

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August 17, 20070 found this helpful

I love to cook and try new recipes. My husband has always preferred home-cooking so I cook most of our meals. For many years it was just the two of us but I always felt that it was still more economical for me to cook than to eat out or buy prepared meals. Even now with the 4 of us I still feel the same and I believe the quality of the food I prepare to be better and tastier. It's not to say that I don't enjoy eating out, I do but there's just certain home-cooked meals that are so good and you can't get in any restaurant!

I used to join my hubby on many a business trip and we'd be eating out for a week at a time or longer. It would start out being fun but boy I would really miss getting in the kitchen and preparing a good home-cooked meal!

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September 1, 20070 found this helpful

I love cooking from scratch, but like you was scared to start for a long time. To start with it seemed expensive because I had to by all those herbs and spices, extra flavorings, and things I have never had to use before, but, after less than two weeks of cooking, with a few mistakes, I discovered I was actually saving money, AND the food I was cooking tasted so much better than the ready made variety. Now when I look at the shelves in the supermarket that contain the ready made foods, I wonder how I ever managed to survive on such a narrow variety of dishes!

The two tips I would give you are; taste everything before you serve, so you can make adjustments, and invest in a slow cooker for the days when there just isn't time to prepare a full meal at night, that way you won't break your resolve before you start saving both your money and your health!

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September 1, 20070 found this helpful

Oh and I cook for just the two of us, but everything is made for four, and half is frozen to eat the next week. :-)

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December 1, 20070 found this helpful

When stocking up for spices, shop in the bulk section. The stores around me have a lot of basic spices in bulk (garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, pepper corns, etc.) at a fraction of the cost of name brand bottles of spices. I literally save 60-70 percent.

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January 7, 20080 found this helpful

Mary,

Cooking from Scratch can be most beneficial if you work with a group of small families. Many of the members of our church pull together to buy groceries in bulk save various containers to devide the large quanities smaller

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February 16, 20080 found this helpful

To be completely honest, I don't know what I would have done with out recipes. I find my husband eats more healthy, and he actually enjoys how much we save. We have a fixed amount for food and since I started full meals, we can actually make it to the end of the month without going over. And my husband is a very picky eater. So I can make everything the way he likes it.

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August 18, 20090 found this helpful

About 30 years ago I read a cookbook that had an article on meal planning. Her acronym was DOLODOL. D stands for DOUBLE - a meal that is designed to have leftovers for later. O stands for one time meal. L stands for leftovers. It keeps you from boring your family with the same food two days in a row, but also reminds you to use your leftovers before they go bad.

Cooking from scratch does require an investment of time, but saves so much money. We just retired and now have just the two of us in the house again. I am cooking three meals a day and spending much less than when I worked and used convenience foods or ate out a lot.

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