Do you get caught in the debate of which is more healthy and economical when it comes to making or buying food? Here's 7 homemade recipes to make – not buy, plus advice on what to buy instead of making!

By Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

There are homemade recipes out there for just about anything.  I have tried many of them over the last few years.

I consider myself a big “DIY-er” and I love to try anything I run across, or create my own recipe for anything I can.  Sometimes, it doesn’t last past that initial experiment — I really only do it that one time.  Other times, it becomes part of my normal routine and I do it over and over again.

Some things aren’t worth it to me to “DIY” while other things definitely are.  Curious which are which…and why?

My Favorite Homemade Recipes

There are some recipes I come back to, over and over again.  They are so easy, often frugal, and usually something I use a lot.  Your favorites may vary, of course!  Everyone’s needs are different.  I’m sharing what works for me.

Vanilla Extract

I do it a lot of baking, and in the summer we make a lot of ice cream.  I like things rich with vanilla, so we go through it pretty quickly.

Quality store-bought vanilla can be around $10 for 4 oz.!  That’s pretty pricey.  Instead, I make my own.

I can make 4 – 5 bottles in 15 minutes (I do it every few months; I have two “sets” of bottles and one is brewing while I use the others), and I spend less than $2.50 per 4-oz. bottle!

It’s easy. It’s frugal, and I use it a lot — all my requirements.  (Try this delicious, healthy vanilla buttercream frosting!  That’s another thing I like to make.)

Taco Seasoning

One of the quickest meals at our house is taco salad.  We serve it with rice since we don’t do corn now.

We don’t use store-bought seasoning since it contains maltodextrin (corn) and often MSG and other yucky ingredients.  I make our own 20 – 30 lbs. worth at a time and store it in a mason jar in the pantry (that is — enough to season that much meat, not that much actual seasoning!).

We use 1 – 2 tbsp. per lb. of meat, depending on how spicy we want it.  I also use it to easily season taco soup and chicken chili.  These are all really frugal meals!

Salad Dressing

The store-bought dressings are filled with soybean oil (we don’t eat soy), corn and even MSG sometimes.  It only take 5 minutes, maybe less, to make up a bottle of salad dressing!  I have a go-to recipe for a simple Italian-style vinaigrette I make often.

Nut Butter

For a long time, we went without.  I prefer to soak my nuts to make “crispy nuts” first, which increases the nutrition and digestibility.  You can buy soaked nut butters from a couple places, but they are very expensive.  We’re talking upwards of $18 for an 8 – 12 oz. jar.

I finally perfected it, and now I make almond and pecan butter pretty regularly.  It’s a great and fairly inexpensive snack on bread or as a dip for veggies.  My kids like to eat it with a spoon, too.  One of these days I need to make chocolate hazelnut “butter” again (like homemade Nutella!).


This is the one fermented food we really consume on a regular basis.  We’ve been brewing consistently for three years now.  The kids all drink it, and the oldest probably even knows how to make it!  (She’s 5 and not allowed to use the stove mostly, though, so she couldn’t make the tea.)

It costs almost $4 to buy a 16-oz. bottle in the store, but just over $1 to brew a gallon of it at home.  There are lots of other fermented foods that I dabble in, but we don’t consume them often enough for me to make them myself.  We usually buy pickles and yogurt even though I can make them.

My third baby, Jacob, in one of the cloth diapers. He was around 4 weeks old.

Cloth Diapers

I know — not a recipe.  But I do make them myself!

I have sewed over 9 dozen diapers that are still in use.  I just put away the 3 dozen newborn diapers a couple weeks ago.  I cannot believe my fourth is already 10 weeks old!

I am not the world’s greatest seamstress by any stretch, but the diapers are quite forgiving, plus, they’re just meant to catch poop!  I spend $2 – $3 per diaper in materials, and each takes about 30 minutes to put together.

My oldest set is 4 1/2 years old and on their third child.  They have literally been in daily use the entire time and they are going strong. Plus, despite my lack of talent in sewing, most people think the diapers are professionally made.  That’s always fun to hear. :)  (But it really isn’t hard!  My pattern is available online free, and I also have a photo tutorial to follow.  There’s a mama cloth pattern there too, which I also make.)

Magnesium Lotion

I love the idea of homemade body products a lot more than the reality.  I just don’t usually use very many of them.

(I use a no ‘poo system to wash my hair, and oil cleansing when I remember to wash my face, and basic Castile soap as body wash, hand soap, etc.  I need very few personal care items.)

This one, though, I keep coming back to.  It’s a wonderful lotion to keep skin soft, but it also contains magnesium, which can get rid of headaches, help insomnia, soothe sore muscles and muscle cramps, and even combat morning sickness (and a lot more!).  It’s my go-to “remedy” for anything and I use it on the whole family.  It only take 10 – 15 minutes to make a jar and that usually lasts several months.

Image by Jill Marks

Things I DON’T Make

There are lots of other things that can be made at home.  I don’t make many of them, though!  I’ll tell you why I don’t — but you might! — and where you can find the recipes.

  • Mayonnaise — We don’t like it and never eat it, so I don’t make that!  You can make it in 30 seconds though, using healthy oils, so if you use a lot, it’s worth it.
  • Ketchup — Although we like it, we barely go through a 24 oz. bottle in several months, so it’s not worth it.  Again, if you use a lot, probably worth it.
  • Laundry Detergent — I like my soap nuts a lot,  so I see no reason to do something new!  Since everyone’s water is different, homemade detergent may be a good option for you.
  • Baking Mixes — I haven’t found any that will really save me time!  I don’t do dried milk or eggs, so I still have to pull all that out fresh.  It only takes a couple minutes to get out the flour, sugar, etc. so why not do it as needed?  Or bake in large batches and freeze?  (I’m all about that!)  Try these quick and easy swaps to improve the nutrition in your favorite recipes!
  • Sunscreen — We don’t use it.  Even though I have very fair-skinned children, they don’t burn.  If we ever did need it, it would be so rare that I’d just buy some (probably Badger).  I do, however, make and use a sun lotion to try to decrease damage from UVA rays and increase vitamin D absorption from UVB rays.  I don’t know how well it works yet as we’ve only used it a few times, but I like it so far!
  • Yogurt — Although it’s fairly easy and my boys love it, I have just never gotten into the routine.  I think milk kefir is probably healthier, but I  haven’t perfected that yet and my boys are iffy about drinking it (although they love the store-bought version…).
  • Toothpaste — I “know” I should, but I just sigh every time I think about it.  Try this recipe, based on baking soda, or this version, based on clay.  (We buy Earthpaste, if you’re curious.)

I’m sure there are plenty more things I do or don’t make that I’m forgetting right now…but these are things that are on my mind.

Which items do you always make?  Which do you choose not to?

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Top photo by Emily