Swap these easy cooking recipes for your favorite supermarket shortcuts. You don’t have to resort to box cooking. Make your family’s favorite foods at home!
On a budget? Try some of our favorite bean recipes.
I’m no stranger to convenience foods. Or packaged snacks. I grew up in the era of Jell-O pudding and Cap’n Crunch, for goodness sake. Even so, a recent stroll through my local grocery store left me shaking my head at the sheer audacity of corporate food mongers to make us think that homemade recipes are just too hard to make at home.
Five minute roasted potatoes – too good to be true?
The real kicker for me, though? Something called Potato Jazz, a plastic tray filled with one pound of “real” potatoes that will be ready in five minutes in your microwave. Imagine a young person with no cooking experience whatsoever spotting this gem. Five minute roasted potatoes, he might think. Making roasted potatoes must be hard, he might think. And thus we have indoctrinated another person into believing that cooking real food is too much of an inconvenience.
The Handcrafted Pantry
Ready to DIY your pantry with healthier ingredients? Check out my ebook, The Handcrafted Pantry! Filled with delicious recipes for some of your favorite condiments, snacks, and toppings, it’s the guide you need to start skipping packaged products and embrace homemade.
These easy recipes make cooking a breeze
I’m no Cordon Bleu chef, but I cook from scratch (almost) nightly and nobody here is complaining. You can too. Check out some of the “food” products on offer at my local grocery store, along with homemade versions from some of my blogger friends.
5 Easy Steps to Transform Your Pantry!
Ready to switch from store bought to homemade? Let me help you make some changes! Grab my FREE five-part guide to getting started.
Let them show you how to do homemade! Cooking recipes from scratch is almost always going to be less expensive and healthier — not to mention the fact that it generates much less packaging.
Hungry Jack hashbrown potatoes contain: Idaho® potatoes (dry), salt, dextrose. Freshness preserved with sodium bisufite and bht. Contains sulfite ingredients.
Hungry Jack cheesy hashbrown potatoes contain: Idaho® potato (dry), canola oil, (preserved with citric acid and bht), salt, contains 2% or less of: cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized milk, enzymes), nonfat dry milk, onion, maltodextrin, hydrolyzed soy protein, natural flavor, garlic, sugar, butter (cream), spice, yeast extract, disodium phosphate, extractives of annatto. Freshness preserved with sodium bisulfite and bht. Contains milk, soy and sulfite ingredients.
A one pound package costs $5, about the same as an entire 15 pound bag of fresh russet potatoes. Do the math!
Recipes to replace store bought hashbrowns:
- Homemade hashbrowns [Nourishing Minimalism]
- Homemade Frozen Hash Browns [Queen of the Red Double Wide]
- Immune-Boosting Hash Browns [Homestead Lady]
(There is no consensus on proper spelling of
hashbrown hash brown.)
Bring home these magical potatoes and you’ll also be bringing home a plastic tray that you don’t need. A Potato Jazz package has one pound of potatoes and costs about $6. An entire 15 pound bag of fresh russet potatoes costs about $5. Roast your own potatoes? Hello big savings!
Recipes to replace packaged potatoes:
- Red Potato Salad with Avocado [Attainable Sustainable]
- The Best Fried Red Potatoes [Attainable Sustainable]
- Cheesy Herb Potatoes [Live Simply]
- Homemade French Fries [Schneiderpeeps]
- Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon and Coconut Sugar [Real Food Outlaws]
- Apple and Sweet Potato Bake [Live Simply]
- Potatoes and Onions [Schneiderpeeps]
- Oven Roasted Potatoes [Tastes of Lizzy T]
It simply is not that hard to pour a few ingredients into a bowl. And that’s about all it takes to make pancakes from scratch. This Shake ‘n Pour plastic container is meant to be used once and tossed away. Plus, you’ll pay $4-$6 for a dozen or so pancakes with this product. Cost will vary depending on the type of ingredients you choose for a homemade version — but cooking these pancake recipes at home will result it a healthier and less wasteful breakfast.
- Homemade Pancake Mix [Attainable Sustainable]
- Persimmon Pancakes [Attainable Sustainable]
- Pumpkin Pancakes [Attainable Sustainable]
- Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes [Reformation Acres]
- Mulberry Sourdough Pancakes [Real Food Outlaws]
- Einkorn Flour Pancakes [Healthy Roots, Happy Soul]
- Soaked Pumpkin Pancakes [Real Food Outlaws]
- Gluten Free Pancakes with Salmon and Egg [Strands of my Life]
- Mango Sourdough Pancakes [Real Food Outlaws]
- Gingerbread Pancakes [Live Simply]
- Pumpkin Pie Coconut Flour Pancakes [Real Food Outlaws]
- Blueberry Crunch Sourdough Pancakes [Homestead Lady]
Do you quote the “l’eggo my eggo” waffle advertisements as you lift a hot, ready-made waffle out of the toaster? What if I told you that homemade waffles are not hard to make? And you can freeze them yourself for a fast breakfast??
Recipes to replace ready-made waffles:
- Homemade Freezer Waffles [Attainable Sustainable]
- Banana Chocolate Chip Waffles [Cultured Table]
- Coconut Flour Waffles [Cultured Table]
- Carrot Cake Waffles [Cultured Table]
- The Perfect Belgian Waffle [Cultured Table]
Chicken for Sandwiches (or Meals)
Maybe (maybe) this is a better option than pressed lunch meat. But for the cost of this six-ounce package of pre-cooked chicken bits you could buy an entire chicken (conventional, not GMO free), roast it, and net three or four meals and less packaging.
Recipes to replace packaged chicken:
- Roasted Chicken [Nourishing Minimalism]
- How to Roast a Chicken [Live Simply]
- Herb Roasted Chicken with Vegetables [Real Food Outlaws]
- Roasted Veggie Chicken Bake [Conveying Awareness with Jessica David]
- Solar Oven Chicken Dinner [Homestead Lady]
- Baked Sheet Pan Lemon Chicken [Cultured Table]
Oh Rice-a-Roni. The San Francisco treat. Couldn’t you have just stuck with the cardboard box? Do we really need more cups-o-food in our world?? Admittedly, there is a bit of a learning curve to cooking rice just right, but bulk rice is an inexpensive addition to your pantry — unlike these silly conveniences that cost more than $2 a pop. Not to mention the trash generated.
Recipes to replace instant rice:
- Spanish Rice [Attainable Sustainable]
- Shrimp & Pea Risotto [Cultured Table]
Hot Oatmeal or Porridge for Breakfast
Everybody loves the Quaker Oats guy, but recently he seems to have lost his way. Sure, he’s still offering quasi-wholesome food for people who eat grains, but individual serving cups? Really? The basic recipe for cooking porridge is oats + water. Flavors optional. He’s added convenience to a food that’s already pretty darned convenient.
Recipes to replace instant oats:
- Five-Minute Oatmeal in a Jar [Attainable Sustainable]
- Soaked Oatmeal [Live Simply]
- Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal [Healthy Roots, Happy Soul]
- Peach Pie Crockpot Oatmeal [Real Food Outlaws]
- Stovetop Cinnamon Maple Oatmeal [Attainable Sustainable]
- Berry Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies [Untrained Housewife]
- Cherry Pie Crockpot Oatmeal [Real Food Outlaws]
- Apple Pie Crockpot Oatmeal [Real Food Outlaws]
- Pumpkin Pie Crockpot Oatmeal [Real Food Outlaws]
- Tropical Baked Oatmeal [Homestead Lady]
Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese in a box isn’t hard to make, but Kraft felt the need to get in on the cup-o-food action. I say we should take our cue from Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, authors of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. We can cook it at home. It’s easy and it will taste better.
Recipes to replace boxed mac and cheese:
- Homemade Cheese Sauce [Untrained Housewife]
- Baked Macaroni and Cheese [The Culinary Life]
- Spaghetti Squash Mac and Cheese Bites [Untrained Housewife]
- Gruyère and Emmentaler Macaroni and Cheese Casserole [The Culinary Life]
Homemade Pizza Crust
Pizza is surely one of the most beloved foods in the whole entire world, no? We can get it fresh from restaurants and cafes, as takeout fare, from the frozen food section, and now, from the Pillsbury Doughboy. But there’s no need to settle when it comes to pizza dough. Cooking your own is simple with these recipes. Really.
Recipes to replace canned pizza dough:
- Freezer Pizza Doughs [Attainable Sustainable]
- No Knead Sourdough Pizza [Grow Forage Cook Ferment]
Related: Ridiculous Supermarket Products You Can Make at Home
Breading and Breadcrumbs
You know, you can buy a cardboard can of bread crumbs at the store and dredge your chicken, pork, fish, or veggies in it. But Kraft decided it would be an even better idea to provide consumers with a plastic bag, pre-filled with a breading mix for cooking breaded recipes. Let me assure you: You don’t need no stinkin’ mix. Make your own breadcrumbs or breading mix. Easy, peasy.
Recipes to replace pre-made breadcrumbs:
- 30-Second Sprouted Breadcrumbs [Scratch Mommy]
- Homemade Breadcrumbs [The Browning Homestead at Red Fox Farm]
Related: Supermarket Products You Can Make at Home, Holiday Version
Bottled water is the second largest commercial beverage category by volume in the United States. But you know. It’s kinda boring. So we should totally add ingredients like Potassium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Polysorbate 60, Red 40, Potassium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate to make it taste better, dontcha think?? (What is wrong with us??)
Recipes to replace fake water flavors:
- Herbal Water [Mama Rosemary]
- Cucumber Lime Water [Ancestral Chef]
This post was originally published on 12/13/2013; it has been updated.
This is a great post! I have been trying to encourage people to try making these items from scratch because it usually does not take more time but better planning and is much better for you. Thanks for this pretty comprehensive list.
I just shake my head at some of what I see on the grocery store shelves. At one point after our local store was “redesigned” someone asked me if I was finding everything okay. I said “I’m having a really hard time finding the actual raw ingredients!”
I work in a large grocery store and see these products come and go all the time. I used to use some of them for the convenience, but decided to trim our food budget by doing more “scratch” cooking. I began by making a weekly menu and planning ahead, cooking extra chicken, for example, for use in another recipe later in the week. Once I got organized, I really started to save a lot of money! My kids like helping me plan our menu and I really love when they compliment my cooking. All three of my boys are learning to be pretty good cooks, too! Their friends like to eat over because most of their moms don’t cook much. I’m surprised at how many of them eat fast food almost nightly. Talk about unhealthy!
my biggest problem is my hubby LOVES the boxed scalloped/ Au gratin potatoes. I use the side dish pasta and rice dishes because I have not yet found recipes that are close to the taste. Just started to think there have got to be alternatives out there some where. My hubby is fine with most home made foods that I make but the sides are the most problematic so far. My retired mother in law ( does very little besides cleaning and cross stitch or crochet) says that she does not have time to cook from scratch and it is easier/ cheaper to buy convenience foods. Thanks for the new recipes to try hope we find something we like.
I truly believed we have been mentally and physically made sick with most of the food in our super markets today. We believe it is too hard, or wont turn out right, if we cook from scratch. I have many times ruined homemade food. However, it usually works out. Dont let a few mistake, there will be many, ruin cooking real food from scratch. Just laugh, learn, and move on. I also wanted to share that your local Mexican market is a huge resource for fresh, inexpensive produce. It has cut my grocercy bill in half. Happy cooking folks.
I really stink at making my own pizza dough. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t ever like the way it turns out. I’m definitely going to try out these recipes you have posted to see if I can find a fail safe one. 🙂 Lol… Thanks for this awesome post. I totally agree that food is much easier to cook than people think it is.
My pizza dough recipe (linked above) is a really, really good one! (If I do say so myself…)
While I agree that it isn’t hard to make these items from scratch, for some if us it’s about TIME. I mean it must be nice to be able have all the time in the world but when I get In at 6:30 I don’t have time to wait 45 minutes for roasted potatoes. This post is extremely judgmental.
The intent isn’t to be judgmental, at all. My intent was to make people think. We fall into habits and then start to think there’s no other way, you know? Our busy schedules – we’ve all got ’em – DOES make it hard, but rethinking things allows us to reassess. Maybe your oven or microwave has a cook timer on it that would allow you to “schedule” your potatoes to start cooking before you get home? Rice cooker? Slow cooker? Make them on the weekend to have ready for midweek? And maybe you answer no to all of these and prefer to stick with the precooked taters – absolutely your call. But stopping to think about alternatives *might generate another solution. Thanks for stopping by!
My sister (who works full time) makes three different meals on Sunday that they eat through the week. Cooked food will last and still taste good three to four days in your fridge. Cooking from scratch takes time until you get used to it and don’t have to follow a recipe anymore. Eating right only takes a little (okay, a lot) of forethought. Planning is the key. If you don’t plan your meals ahead of time you waste money and feed your family chemicals and probably junk. If you aren’t aware of what manufacturers are putting into these boxed and frozen meals (like preservatives, chemicals and artificial coloring) then you should bone up on it. It will shock you. Remember this; they don’t care what you put in your stomach. It’s all about profit and making money off your ignorance. The FDA is too liberal with their approval. Anything you need to know about how to cook, you can find on the internet. Your dinner doesn’t have to be world class. A little meat or fish and an array of cooked and/or fresh veggies and maybe fresh fruit for dessert is all you need to nourish your family. Once a week you can splurge with a gourmet meal and dessert.
I think you’re right – *planning to cook from scratch is the hardest part! At least until it becomes habit.
While I agree that so many of these items have simple substitutions, I’ve actually used many of them!
While staying in a condo on vacation, my goal was easy meals that required little prep. That just add water pancake mix was perfect. Sure, I could have measured all my dry ingredients at home and taken them with me, but that might have put me over the weight limit on checked bags. And I doubt the FAA would appreciate a mystery white powder in my carryon 🙂
The $2 for that bottle saved me from buying a ton of different dry ingredients I’d never use up on a one week beach vacation. Saved my family from dining out that meal.
As a college student living in a dorm room with only a microwave to cook with, those roasted potatoes would have been great!
Just because you think it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean these products don’t have a place!
And people have pointed out that they’re good for elderly folks who don’t get around very well.
Who can’t make rice or roasted chicken? TBH, I can’t – when I’m in a hurry or one of my kids is cooking. I’ve used a number of these products, not as staples, but as convenience foods, which is what they are.
When I need leftover chicken for a recipe but have no cooked chicken, I used to buy the pack you have criticized here. More often, now, I buy a store-cooked rotisserie chicken.
Convenience foods are very good to have around for when you’re in a pinch. Now that I have a kid in college, I’m sure our family’s use of convenience foods will increase by quite a bit, particularly the just-add-boiled-water items.
Thanks for the recipes. I look forward to trying some of them!
But perhaps someone will make a product to save us from embarrassing typos and autocorrect malfunctions. Think instead of tunk.
Uncrustables was the one that really made me shake my head. Who can’t make a PB&J?! But I tunk it’s hilarious that the ad I am seeing at the bottom of your page is for Chex Mix Popped.
This is crazy! I expected something more challenging to think of as home-makeable like pasta (flour+egg) or mayonese (oil+egg yolk, vinegar and lime juice) or jam! (fruit+sugar) or crepes (flour+butter+egg+beer and any big pan) or Ketchup (tomatoes+sugar) or lasagna! peanut butter!!
Not everyone is at the same place on the path, John. A lot of my readers are just at the beginning. My mayonnaise recipe is here, though: https://www.attainable-sustainable.net/homemade-mayonnaise/
Actually, John, most Italians would NOT make their own pasta, they buy the dried stuff. You may enjoy making it, and I have done so myself, on occasion, but frankly I think it a little pretentious to suggest not making your own pasta is giving in.
I love this list! Just earlier this evening I was ranting to my husband about companies marketing and selling “food” just to make a profit. I guess by now it was last night. The line between night and day seems to blur when your feeding your baby “homemade” milk! but thats a whole other can of worms…
My pet peeve is mashed potatoes from a box. My mom was an adult before she realized it could be made otherwise. I know someone who uses a specific boxes brand to “bulk up” her mashed potatoes because it has real potato in it!
My (adult) son was with me in the grocery store. He just shook his head and commented that there’s just no FOOD there. We didn’t come out with much, that’s for sure!
My 9yo son told me the other day “Mom, your homemade bread is the best!” “It isn’t sweet like the store bought kind.” Teachin’ ’em while they are young! (O:
Awesome. My boys are grown now, but they have “picky” palates in that they expect homemade all the time. I tease them that they might have a hard time finding a life partner who cooks from scratch these days. Good thing they both know how to cook themselves! 😉
Brilliant list. Thank you for sharing! I grew up with a mother who made almost everything from scratch. She was from a rural, frugal family where nothing went to waste. I now live in the ‘burbs, and still try to apply these principles to my cooking. My 7 year old daughter equates buying something pre-made as a rarity, and much prefers homemade. I can only hope she passes that on to her children! 🙂
My philosophy which I really try hard at maintaining is this: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
Thank you for including my einkorn flour pancakes. What a great collection of recipes!
The only times I use prepared foods is in a car emergency kit when I really wouldn’t be able to cook. Having a nasty migraine might make me break out something I don’t have to do anything for. But really! Homemade food tastes better.
I’m still shocked at the number of grown (?) women I know who can’t boil water and are proud of it.
I think there’s a time and place for everything. A car kit? Makes sense. But the being proud of a lack of cooking skills, I could never understand.
This is a great list and there are so many more that you could go on and on for months. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.
Whatever happened to regular- email yourself a post? I would like to read this later, but don’t want to add an account etc.
There’s an email option – the little envelope – at the bottom of the post where it says: Sharing is caring.
Yes, these things can be made cheaper but there’s something to be said for convenience. Those cups of macaroni and cheese, for instance, have saved my life more than once when I have a migraine, nothing sounds good and I have no energy to boil macaroni, grate cheese, make cheese sauce, stir it all together and then bake it. Nope, a few minutes in the microwave and I’m on the way to feeling much better! There’s a time and place for just about anything!
that’s why I make ahead a little more than I really need and freeze it. I get homemade food & it’s quick to heat up in the micro (if needed. I really don’t like using my microwave – I prefer my stove or toaster oven).
DIY frozen meals have saved the day around here more times than I can count!
Of course you are right; we shouldn’t sneer at folks buying convenience food for “emergencies”. But spending extra on a REGULAR basis for food we can prep ourselves is just self-indulgent foolishness. For goodness sake, pack leftovers and portions of bulk food in reusable containers for lunches!
For another good trash reducing product, get a Soda Stream. I often make fizzy water and flavour with a squeeze of lemon. Lovely, no sugar and no single use plastic bottle.
Ive wondered about some of these things often. Who cant make hash browns or pancakes from scratch? And those oatmeal cups are so expensive when I can get a whole tub of oatmeal and bag of dried fruit for less! Love that you included some great recipes.
I know! And I used to buy instant oatmeal packets until I learned they are just regular oatmeal chopped finer!
Packaged frozen fruit for smoothies??? What are you doing with the fresh fruit you have on hand when the surplus is going bad? smdh
I just stumbled across your page and this is the first post I read. I definitely agree with you on the ridiculousness of the “cups-o-food”. My husband and I have a 1 year old daughter. We couldn’t help but shake our heads and discuss the silliness of the yogurt smoothies at the store that they market for young kids. Is it really so hard to mix some yogurt and fruit together? It’s a heck of a lot cheaper too!
the one that really gets me is the prepackaged breadcrumbs&cheese mix. any boxed mix, really..
dehydrated gravy packets? potato flakes in a box? seriously? and bisquick?! no self-respecting southern woman should ever be caught dead with bisquick in her pantry
Thanks for including my cucumber water recipe!
The only one I ever use is the pizza crust – and maybe only once a year. I have one can in the fridge right now and it’s the first I’ve bought in over 3 years. I just never have the time to make one when inspiration finally strikes. I have some leftover sauce and meat so that will probably be tonights dinner since today will be a rush.
I use flour tortillas for my pizza crust. I’ve never looked buy I’m sure they have less calories that traditional dough. Plus, they come in different sizes. My favorite is to put onions, peppers and broccoli on it. Yum!
It’s super easy to make tortillas, too! A dozen 8 inch tortillas costs about $0.25 and takes 10-15 minutes to make. 🙂
Thanks so much for this great post! You are SO right, and the thing that totally drives me crazy about this too is how much waste these convenience products create! Tons and tons of garbage created just so you can add water and shake and pour your pancake batter?? It is craziness! I recently started listening to the book The End of Food (I have the audio version) and the author was taking about how food companies basically have to keep coming up with more and more food products to keep customers buying and keep their profits growing – it really is a terrible trend of our food system!!
Great post! One “convenience” food that gets my goat is guacamole. How easy is it to take a fork, mash an avocado and add some garlic salt? Getting fancy means pouring in a little salsa…. which, by the way, is also super easy. No rocket science degree needed for either of these! My 12 yr old niece has been making guacamole for years now, she even made a video for me on my You Tube channel! 🙂
Can we have the next step in a grocery list of all the ingredients that we need to cook with. I try to buy what I need and have it for 1-2 recipes and then find I am missing something else……..I live 2 1/2 hours from major stores as the nearest store is horridly expensive. So when I shop I shop and try and make it the whole month with out needing anything.
I made my first pie last night, honey instead of sugar and butter insread of shorten. Best pie ever.
Good for you! Pies can be intimidating.
I cook a lot. Breakfast every morning and usually something else later in the day. This post really hit home with me because I’m such a frugal cook. I would never dream of using these convenience products! But I have a friend who is all about convenience and buys everything prepackaged. The one product that I didn’t see you list was frozen cooked white rice. My jaw dropped when I saw that in the frozen section. I was with my friend at the time and she was looking at it. I thought to myself, “If you EVEN think of buying that, I’m going to knock you across the store….” I think it was $4 for a cup of rice….
That’s hilarious. You’ll note that I didn’t even address the whole frozen food aisle. 😉
I used to rely on packaged food a lot. It was so freeing to realize how easy it is to cook from scratch, and that ‘convenience’ almost always translates to 1. expensive 2. wasteful 3. filled with yucky additives. Thanks for this nice post, with so many new recipes to check out! Love it!
Great post, thank you!
i am laughing, but actually it is rather sad.
Here in Germany the latest convenience food “fashion” is to offer packaged foods that contain serveral packages to be mixed together during “cooking” to give the impression you have actually prepared a whole meal. This is so ridiculous!
Too bad, people cooking that stuff probably won’t read your blog.
When I see those prepackaged stir-fry veggies (and so many others) I really do sneer and say to myself “Thanks, but I can cut veggies myself for free.”
OMGosh I love this post, and the explosion of convenience foods on the shelves is something I’ve been shaking my head at as well. The ‘convenience at all costs’ mindset is puzzling and I think you’ve gotten it right, the big boys have decided they want us to think cooking for ourselves is just too complicated. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing, what a great list!
Wolfe City, Texas
Rice is surprisingly easy to cook. Put equal parts rice and water in a double boiler for 20-25 minutes for thin grained rice. Add an extra 25% water for brown and arborio rice. If you want a pilaf, just add the ingredients at the beginning of the cooking time.
It’s pretty much an error proof way to make rice and it requires little attention while you make the rest of dinner.
You put equal amounts of water and rice to make rice? I have always used 1 part rice and 2 parts water…as in 1 cup rice and 2 cups waters. And it always comes out right. Hmmmm….
I use 1 part rice, 2 parts water. Did you see that in a recipe? Typo, I’d expect.
Not a typo. Since the rice is in a double boiler, none of the water is boiled off. What I like about the process is that once the rice is on the stove, you don’t need to tend it while making the rest of dinner. It’s neither going to get burned nor overcooked.
Ah, sorry. I missed the first comment and wasn’t sure what Kat was referring to. Thanks for clarifying, Michael!
For white rice, I use equal amounts of rice and water. But for brown rice, I use a 1:2 ratio. One part rice to two parts water.
Many people, especially in Louisiana where rice is a staple, use rice cookers. You can have hot rice all the time with these.
Yes ! Rice cookers are awesome ! I love mine. Perfect rice every time & no watching it. 🙂
What a great and helpful post! Thank you for including many of my recipes. 🙂