The old made from scratch versus store bought debate has been front of mind since moving out of the city.
Living on a farm with no easy access to the things we typically buy (milk, yoghurt, bread, etc.) means we either have to make those things ourselves or do without them.
I’m the kitchen elf in our family, so cooking, baking and the like is fun for me.
That’s not the case for everyone though, I get that. But hopefully by the end of this post I’ll have convinced you to try your hand at making at least one or two things from scratch.
What Does Made From Scratch Even Mean?
Let’s start by unpacking what made from scratch means.
According to Merriam-Webster, “In cooking, to make something from scratch means to use only the most basic ingredients, with nothing premade.”
This could be anything from baking a loaf of bread or a batch of choc-chip cookies to cooking a veg Thai curry or distilling your own pineapple beer.
Anyone else desperate enough to do that during lockdown?
Another way of explaining what from scratch is, is to look at what it isn’t. Box cakes, for example, do not fall into this category (obviously). Making your own filling from scratch and using store bought pastry, on the other hand, is more of a grey area.
It really depends on you. When you’re first starting out, making your own pie filling will seem like a feat. Eventually you’ll feel confident enough to attempt your own pastry as well.
Until then, you do you. There’s no right or wrong here. There’s only more or less convenient. How far you’re willing to travel down that road is up to you.
7 Reasons Why Made From Scratch Is Better
I’ve been our family’s resident kitchen elf for many years. When Sporty and I first got together she was actually a much better cook than I was.
Somewhere along the line I developed a love for cooking and baking and over the years my skills improved. Nowadays, the kitchen is my happy place. It’s where I find my flow state.
There are plenty of other reasons why I think made from scratch is the better route. I’ve outlined seven of them below, but I’m sure there are more.
1. It’s Easier to Avoid Dodgy Ingredients
A lot of times manufacturers add questionable ingredients to increase a product’s shelf life. By making something yourself, you’re able to avoid this.
Homemade plant-based milk is a great example. All you need is the main ingredient (almonds, pumpkin seeds, tahini, etc.) and filtered water for a batch of delicious milk.
Even if you decide to jazz things up by adding dates and/or cinnamon, you’re still only looking at two or three ingredients aside from the water.
2. You’re in Control of the Calories
Along with avoiding dodgy ingredients, making things from scratch also puts you in control of the calories. Depending on your goals, you can add more or less of a specific ingredient or you substitute one thing for another.
In baking, for example, if you’re after a low fat option you can swap out some or all of the oil with applesauce. You’d be surprised how tasty a cake can still be using this approach.
These blueberry applesauce cake bars from FatFree Kitchen are a case in point. They’re fluffy, super tasty and contain zero oil or butter.
I’m not advocating them for weight loss, mind you. Although…
3. It’s Much Easier to Be Zero-Waste
Striving to be zero-waste is super important. Unfortunately, most manufacturers still opt for single-use plastic when packaging their wares. This is especially prevalent with convenience foods.
By making your own [whatever] you’re able to sidestep that problem with relative ease. Particularly if you choose to shop at package-free stores like Nude Foods.
4. From Scratch Tastes Better (Mostly)
I’ll caveat this by saying that if you’re used to buying everything readymade, it might take a while for your taste buds to update. They’ve likely grown lazy from all the flavour enhancers prevalent in most store bought items.
However, once they begin recognizing (and enjoying) the simpler, made from scratch versions, there’ll be no turning back.
Granted, there will be times when your efforts aren’t rewarded with great results. Don’t worry about it. And definitely don’t let the occasional failure stop you from having another go at it.
5. You Feel a Sense of Achievement
It’s funny, but you get a childlike sense of achievement when you make something you could have bought at the store. Maybe it’s just me (I doubt it, though), but I love the challenge that comes with making things at home.
6. It Makes You Grateful for What You Have
Choosing to make something from scratch is a great way to instill some gratitude in your day to day life. Firstly, just being in a position to make something is a reason to be grateful.
But then, when you do decide to splurge on the store-bought version you’re super appreciative that there are people out there who decided to make [whatever] for a living.
For me, that’s vegan yoghurt. I’m in awe of these entrepreneurial angels, because I can’t fathom how much effort that must take. Maybe it’s not a big deal for them, but it certainly seems like that to me.
7. It Keeps You More in the Moment
It’s hard for your mind to wander when you’re making something from scratch. This is especially true when you’re still in the learning phase. You have to concentrate or you risk messing it up.
I love it when I notice this happening because I’ll suddenly look up from what I’m doing and realise my mind has been quiet for ages. (My mind can be super annoying, so I love it when it shuts up for a while.)
Is There a Place for Store Bought Convenience?
Now that I’ve regaled you with my reasons for going the from scratch route, let’s see if there’s any room left over for store bought convenience.
Simply put, yes, there is definitely a place for buying readymade. Life is busy. There won’t always be time to make your own almond milk or pasta sauce or whatever.
Sometimes, a faster, easier solution for dinner is needed. When that happens it’s helpful to have an emergency stash of supplies in the freezer as well as in the pantry.
I like to have tins of tomatoes and tomato paste on hand for pasta. I’ll also keep some readymade soups and meals and a box or two of Fry’s sausages in the house as well.
The latter doesn’t have the greatest ingredients, but we eat them anyway ‘cos they’re super delicious, easy to prepare and made with love.
In other words, a vegan dream come true.
Convenience Versus Slow Living (a Balancing Act)
The video above clearly takes convenience a step too far. I included it for a little lighthearted comic relief. It’s definitely not an excuse to fill up on junk at your local 7-Eleven.
You wouldn’t, would you? Wait, come baaaaack…
Before we left Cape Town, I told Sporty I’d be making everything from scratch. I was determined to live as zero-waste as possible. She agreed, but pointed out that it might not be that easy.
True to form, I insisted it would be and quickly came to my senses and saw that she was right (as usual). Making everything from scratch isn’t so much difficult, as it is time consuming.
If you don’t have a lot of other endeavours (work, drinking all the wine, etc.) vying for your attention, opting to live a zero-waste, made from scratch lifestyle isn’t that much of a challenge.
I have a lot of other things I’m focusing on (aside from drinking all the wine), so I don’t always have time to spend in the kitchen. However much I might enjoy being there.
The longer we’re away from the city, the more I realise that it’s about balance. Yes, it’s important to avoid packaging and not add to the landfill, but expecting to be perfect isn’t realistic.
I have to keep reminding myself that it’s about being mostly mindful. You’d think by now I’d have grasped that point, but no, every now and then I still find myself striving for (and insisting upon) perfection.
Oh well. At least I come around eventually, right?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Rinse and Repeat)
Sporty and I may not be in the same league as some of the zero-waste advocates out there and that’s fine. We’re getting there. If you’re in a similar position, know that you’re getting there too.
I think if we can all aspire to reduce, reuse and recycle, together we’ll make a huge difference. It starts with being aware. Once you notice how much trash you’re making, you’ll want to find a way to reduce it.
Making food from scratch is one way to do that.
Made From Scratch Recipes Anyone Can Make
What better way to end off the post than with a bunch of delicious and easy to make plant-based recipes. If you’re keen on the idea but sceptical that you can make it work, these recipes will help you see it’s not that daunting.
Homemade Plant-Based Milk (How To Milk Everything)
It doesn’t get easier than plant-based milk. All you need is a base ingredient, filtered water, a high speed blender and a sieve or nut milk bag. The latter is better but a sieve will work fine as well.
Of course, you’ll always find recipes that are more complicated than what I’m implying. That’s fine. If you’re feeling it, give them a try.
My point is that you can just as easily whip up a bottle of almond milk using nothing but almonds and water. It won’t be Almond Breeze, but for smoothies and baking it’ll do the trick for sure.
Bread and Sweet Treats
While it does require more skill, time and effort to bake a loaf of bread or a batch of peanut butter cookies, the effort to reward ratio is invariably skewed in your favour.
Start with something simple like vegan chocolate chip cookies or chickpea flour bread before tackling something more complicated. Sourdough rye bread is doable, it just takes practice to make it from scratch.
Of course, you could always buy yourself a bread maker, in which case you can try your hand at baking a loaf of ciabatta without worrying whether or not it will rise.
Other sweet treats you could experiment with are energy balls and chocolate. Both are super easy and therefore super rewarding to make and, more importantly, to eat.
For the chocolate you don’t need anything special in the way of kitchen equipment, however, in most cases, the balls will require a food processor.
You can definitely try to make them by hand but it’s tricky to chop the ingredients fine enough and mixing is also a challenge. What you’ll end up with is a very rustic version of a store bought energy ball.
Nothing wrong with rustic, just sayin’.
Sauces and Dressings
Homemade sauces and dressings tick all the boxes. You can avoid the ick ingredients, keep them low fat (if that’s your thing) and avoid single-use plastic and other unnecessary packaging.
Best of all, they’re ridiculously easy to make. If you have a high speed blender great, but if not, you can get by with a stick blender. In a lot of cases, you can just shake the ingredients together in a jar or whisk them in a cup.
Take a look at our juicer versus blender post for more blender options as well as to learn why we prefer blending to juicing.
Cooking is oftentimes also not a prerequisite. I’m not a fan of eating raw per sé, but I’ll happily draw inspiration from raw foodies if it’ll make my life easier.
Take a look at these raw vegan sauces from Epic Self for inspiration. They’re guaranteed to take any meal from meh to amazing. (I’ve got my eye on that raw vegan cheese sauce.)
Making Versus Buying: some Final Thoughts
As much as Sporty and I enjoy going the from scratch route for a lot of our culinary requirements, it’s not for everyone.
It’s time-consuming for one thing, and it won’t always produce the store-bought results you may be used to.
If you’d rather buy everything, go for it. There are plenty of other ways to live more mindful and sustainable life. Take a look at the posts below for ideas.
- 10 Sustainable Living Ideas for Busy City Dwellers (& Convenience Addicts)
- Save the Planet: From Eco Worrier to Eco Warrior
However, it’s my hope that after reading this you’ll feel inspired to have a go at some of the recipe ideas I shared.
Making things from scratch is, as I mentioned earlier, super rewarding and a lot of fun. Start with something basic and expand your repertoire as you gain confidence.