Cooking from scratch all the time can seem intimidating. Who are we, the Pioneer Woman? Thank goodness for the luxury of premade foods. If we so choose, we have a bevy of ready-to-eat foods at our fingertips—we need only unwrap the twisty tie around the plastic bag to have a piece of bread, or open a can, pour and heat in order to enjoy a soothing bowl of soup.
But, let’s be honest, there’s a reason we crave home-cooked meals after traveling—just as there’s a reason kids come home from college and eat parents out of house and home. Homemade food is widely renowned as the best food.
Sure, you could argue this is because it’s made with love. Awww… But there’s more to it than that. The benefit of making things from scratch is that you control the ingredients. You can use fresh-from-your-garden produce, locally sourced protein and whole grains—and nix all the other additives that can come along with premade foods.
The doctor says …
Additives can have some nasty consequences: Artificial food coloring, often found in snacks and cereals, has been linked to hyperactivity in children; sodium nitrate in processed meats has been linked to an increase in cancer risk; and trans fats used to make fried and baked goods so delicious can raise your LDL, or bad, cholesterol level.
“It’s always best to make things from scratch, if you can,” says Virginia Marsico, a Florida chiropractor. “There can be preservatives and other additives in processed foods and you would have no idea.”
The FDA only regulates food to an extent, she says. “If there’s a trace amount of an ingredient in something—like flour used as a filler in processed meats—manufacturers don’t have to put it in the ingredients list.”
Start your from-scratch journey here
Below, the pros and (not-so) cons of making five convenience foods from scratch.
Pros: The possibilities for homemade soup are endless—from a Spicy Black Bean to a Cheesy Broccoli to a Comforting Chicken Noodle. Making soup from scratch is going to be, hands-down, more delicious than canned. Fresh ingredients often have far more flavor.
But the other bonus is you can lessen your sodium intake—some popular canned soups have up to 900 mg of sodium per 1/2-cup serving, and the American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of 1,500 mg of sodium daily for adults. Plus, some canned soups have been found to be high in BPA, a chemical used in the cans themselves, which, over time, is suspected of increasing the risk of certain cancers. If you do store-bought, look for soups in cardboard containers.
Cons: Of course, making soup from scratch takes a bit longer than nuking a bowl in the microwave. You may have to chop some carrots, blend some tomatoes, or mince some cilantro. But in the end, you may find the time is worth it.
Pros: Active cultures in yogurt have been linked to improved digestive health and a reduced risk of heart disease, so, yay! There are yogurt starters you can buy that contain the cultures you need (as in live cultures, not art). The combinations you can think up in your homemade yogurt lab are nearly endless. Want to do a raspberry vanilla coconut banana? No one is stopping you. You’ll control exactly what goes in it, and this includes the sugar—many store-bought brands are loaded with extra sugar or GMO (genetically modified) sweeteners.
Cons: You may want to buy a yogurt maker to help you in the process, but they’re often not more than $20. It’ll also take anywhere from six to 10 hours to make, and there can be a bit of trial and error before you find your groove. The cost of your homemade stuff will also depend on the quality and type of ingredients you choose, but many people attest that it does save money in the long run.
Pros: First off, pancakes are pretty much the easiest type of cake you can make from scratch. Here is a simple recipe for pancakes that you can add any number of things to: blueberries, chocolate chips, peanut butter, cinnamon, apples — even bacon. Bonus, you get to skip the sodium caseinate, tocopherols and diglycerides that come in the box mix.
Cons: It’ll take you 6 minutes to make pancakes from scratch and 4 to make them from a mix.* (*OK, this is just a guess, but it can’t be too far off.)
Pros: What goes better with pancakes than homemade breakfast sausage? And making it is no harder than combining some ground meat with lots of yummy spices—no sausage-making machine or casings required. Just form into patties and brown in a skillet. You can even make a double batch and freeze them for up to three months.
Cons: Your family will probably never want to go back to frozen sausage patties again. You may start earning the nickname “Sausage Queen/King” and you’ll just have to deal with that.
Pros: Homemade bagels are surprisingly easy to make, says cook Jennifer Reese, author of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Dropping them in boiling water before baking may seem intimidating, but “boiling is what gives bagels their unique, tight, shrink-wrapped crusts.” You can watch her tutorial on bagel-making, and then try out these Cinnamon Bagels with Crunchy Topping.
Cons: Again, just time. About 1 hour to make from scratch versus 5 seconds to open a package of premade ones. But, you get to skip the preservatives by making your own and take out some aggression when it comes time to punch the dough.
In an ideal world, we’d have time to make all our food from scratch, but that’s not always possible. Luckily, there are a lot more healthy, premade options now than there were 20 years ago. There are organic microwavable meals with no GMOs, low-mercury canned tunas, low-sodium boxed soups, and natural peanut and almond butters with no added sugar.
So cut yourself some slack. Adds Marsico, “If you’re going to eat premade foods, at least pair them with a fresh vegetable. If you’re going to eat frozen pizza, have a side of broccoli as well.”