From-Scratch Cooking Confession: I Can’t Keep Up!

by Sally on March 3, 2014

From-Scratch Cooking Confessional by Real Mom NutritionI believe that a diet based around whole foods is the way to go. I believe we should know what’s in our food, that we should strive to eat food that isn’t laden with preservatives and artificial flavors. Over the years, my suspicion about ingredients like artificial colors has grown, and I’ve become increasingly annoyed with food marketing designed to manipulate and deceive.

As a result, I buy fewer packaged foods than I did even a few years ago. I experiment in the kitchen, making homemade versions of store-bought staples. Sometimes I post those recipes here and on my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook page because I want to share something that’s worked for me.

What I DON’T want to do: Give you the impression that everything in my house is homemade.

It’s not.

I love to cook and bake. I love the satisfaction that comes from making something myself.

But making everything from scratch? While I’m in awe of people who do this, it appears to be statistically impossible for me. Four of us eat nearly every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home (or a packed lunch made at home). My fourth grader’s appetite is becoming alarmingly robust. And if the mountain of dishes I create every day from prepping all that food gets any higher, I’m afraid it will topple over and bury my husband, the designated dishwasher.

Here’s how from-scratch cooking goes down in my house:

What I always make from scratchvinaigrette dressing, pizza dough, hummus, barbecue and pizza sauce, cookies, pesto, and chicken soup.

What I sometimes make from scratch if I have time: bread and rolls, applesauce, French fries, granola bars, nut butter, and macaroni and cheese.

What I very, very occasionally make from scratch (or in some cases, have made only once just to see if I could do it): donuts, tortillas and pita bread, knock-off pop-tarts, pasta, fruit leathers, and sushi rolls.

And here’s what that looks like for our family:

  • If we have from-scratch hummus, we’re probably eating it with store-bought pita bread.
  • If we have homemade nut butter and granola bars that week, there’s also a bag of pretzels in the snack cupboard.
  • If there’s a pot of chicken soup on the stove and homemade rolls in the oven, we are likely having boxed pasta and jarred sauce the next night (or fish sticks and French fries from the freezer).

In some circles, all packaged food seems to be demonized–that to admit you buy packaged foods is to somehow admit failure, laziness, or a lack of concern about health and wellbeing. And don’t get me wrong: I love a good Pinterest challenge. Homemade graham crackers? Maybe I’ll attempt that some lazy Sunday afternoon.

But in the meantime, I don’t feel guilty about using packaged foods because I choose them carefully by reading labels (read: “Does the Food Label Even Matter? Here’s Why I Say YES.”). We keep junk to a minimum in the house. And for me, relying on some packaged foods does help my health and wellbeing because it preserves my sanity.

How about you: What do you always make from scratch–and what do you usually buy instead?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Marian March 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I agree. I strive for a balance. I make my own bread all the time, and usually make my own hummus. I like to make my own pizza–crust and sauce–but I try to keep a few frozen pizzas in the freezer. I’m also a big fan of frozen veggies that can quickly turn into stir-fry with packaged pasta or brown rice plus some cashews or almonds.

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Thanks for your comment Marian!

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Stephanie March 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I always make: tortillas, soups, stock, all snacks (i.e. Granola bars), pizza dough, guacamole, cookies/desserts

Buy: BPA free canned beans, veggie purees, salad dressing, pasta, pasta sauce, salsa, french fries, bread, nut butter

I’m always experimenting with something new just to see how long it takes, or how hard it is, or to see if it’s something I could possibly make.

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Hi Stephanie–Ditto on guacamole! And yes, I like to experiment as well and see if it’s “worth it” to me to make the homemade version, factoring in time, cost, hassle, etc.

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Sam March 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm

You deliver on the “real” in your name, and I so appreciate that. As a fellow RD, I am encouraged to learn more about what happens in your house and how it works for you. This sounds very similar to my house, although the types of items differ somewhat. Finding this balance is also what I recommend to clients, as I do feel there is a place for convenience items in order to make the changes we desire. I did use my snow day today to make some homemade bread and it’s delicious!

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Thanks Sam, glad you enjoyed the post. Balance is so important, and that will look different for everyone. I’m a fan of homemade banana bread too. :)

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Beth March 3, 2014 at 5:29 pm

YES!!!!! A million times, YES!!!!

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Thanks Beth!

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meagen March 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

On the things you buy, any recommendations or what brand do you buy?

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 10:51 am

Meagen–some of my usuals are:
*Triscuits
*Boxed cereal: I wrote a post about my favorite ones here: http://www.realmomnutrition.com/2014/01/27/my-5-favorite-boxed-cereals/
*Sore-brand whole wheat pasta
*Smuckers natural peanut butter
*Frozen fish sticks from Trader Joe’s (TJ’s brand I think)
*Cascadian Farms shoestring frozen French fries
*Hodgson Mills whole wheat macaroni and cheese or Annie’s whole wheat macaroni and cheese
*Mott’s Healthy Harvest natural applesauce

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carrie March 3, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I can’t tell you how nice it was to read this! I am constantly trying to remind myself that I can’t do it all (soak grains, make green juice each and every day for my entire family, grind my own flour, make my kombucha, and the list just goes on and on). Can get very discouraging. I do what I can, with the time I have. Nice to read about a fellow ‘real mom’ who simply does her best – Thank you.

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Thanks Carrie. Glad you enjoyed it. Sounds like you are doing quite a lot! And no, you can’t do it all. Not unless you want to be in the kitchen all day everyday. :) I like to cook and bake but I also like to play a board game with my kids, watch a movie with my husband, enjoy some downtime. Those things are as important as preparing healthy foods because it means we’re also taking care of ourselves!

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edie March 3, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Refreshing honesty! This is similar to our home – sometimes when I read blogs I wonder, how do they do it!!….thanks for this real Mom post!

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Thanks Edie! I am guessing those bloggers buy some packaged foods too. :)

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Barbara March 3, 2014 at 9:52 pm

I always make salad dressing, soups, tomato sauce and ragu and pasta dishes. My one exeption is pesto sauce. Most of the times I make pizza dough. Maybe a couple of times a year my son and I make home made fettuccine, they taste like nothing you buy, but it’s a tret, not enough time to make pasta every time we eat it. We occasionally eat fish sticks or frozen burritos. I try to buy organic for the stuff that is on the “dirty list” and I always buy seasonal food. That’s pretty much how I grew up, I am from Italy, and I saw no reason to change when I moved here.

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Sally March 3, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Barbara–thanks for the comment. Sounds like a pretty good system to me. And being from Italy, you probably make some amazing homemade dishes!

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Sara from Ode To Mrs. Katz Cohn March 3, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Great post! I shared it on Facebook. Cooking from scratch doesn’t need to be all or nothing in my opinion. There are so many die-hards out there it can feel like the only way to improve my family’s health thru food is to grow everything we consume and cook it myself . It’s nice to see someone who is professionally trained say it’s ok to have a little store bought food.

Thanks!

Sarah

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 10:43 am

Thanks Sarah! I agree, doesn’t need to be all or nothing. :)

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Theresa Gassler March 4, 2014 at 3:30 am

I am interested and concerned about what we are hearing about the ingredients in Pillsbury products and Subway bread. Can you elaborate.

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 10:47 am

Hi Theresa, the ingredient in question in Subway breads (and other breads) is a dough conditioner (though Subway announced it was removing it). I’ll refer you to Food Babe for that one: http://foodbabe.com/2013/09/23/are-you-eating-this-ingredient-banned-all-over-the-world/

For the Pillsbury products, I’m not familiar with the controversy there. Do you know which ingredients are in question?

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Jenn March 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

I hear you. And I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be this total, all-in, completely processed-free house which is nigh impossible right now. Maybe eventually, I don’t know.
We always make most of our own bread products (my husband is addicted to sourdough) and baked goods, from cookies and cookies to tortillas and hot dog buns. We only eat homemade granola for cereal and pizza sauce (we have THE easiest recipe which doubles as a super easy pasta sauce).
I tried with pasta, but some of it went bad and I was totally deflated. Same with crackers (a lot of work and the kids prefer No Name extra salty saltine, of course).
I guess we do what we can and move on when we’re ready.
Thanks for being such an encouragement to do your best without being perfect (impossible, or so I’m told…) :)

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Jenn–thanks for your comment. I agree that many of us do put pressure on ourselves to get it perfect and “right”. And I totally hear you on the saltines. I bought some of those recently when my son had a stomach bug and both of my boys went crazy for them. Ditto for the white bread at my parents’ house. :)

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Bree March 4, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Thank you for this – I live in an area where it is hard to admit I work outside the home and therefore cannot always feed my family from scratch whole perfect unblemished organic food.
But… working keeps me sane, and sanity keeps my children alive. I think it’s a fair trade off.
We love cooking from scratch a few times a week and we love eating together and trying new flavors and new foods – but sometimes we need a break.
Also, I have found that letting my kids have packaged food is a great way to remind them how much better “real food” tastes – and how much better it makes them feel. These are good lessons for later when I’m not cooking for them anymore!

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I hear you Bree! I work as well and there never seem to be enough hours in the day, just to keep the house and the kids clean, much less make all the food from scratch. And some weeks are much crazier than others in that respect. Eating together as a family is so important, details like whether you made the bread from scratch are, in my opinion, much less important than being together. Thanks for your comment!

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RJ March 4, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I make it all from scratch. Cookies. Tortillas. Stock. Fruit Leather. Jerky. Because I have to though not because I want to. When (hopefully) my daughter grows out of her food sensitivities that will change some. For now though that just means that those things aren’t an every day or even every month thing. We eat pretty boring.. meat and vegetables or soup for pretty much every meal… and a lot of fruit.

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

RJ–you certainly bring up a good point. Sometimes it’s simply necessary to make things from scratch because of food allergies/intolerances. Thanks for chiming in!

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Pam March 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm

We buy packaged under a handful of circumstances which look like:
1. too hard to make at home
2. a relatively healthy version of it is available

Likewise, we make things at home if:
1. It’s very easy
2. It’s hard to find versions of which I that are organic or I am otherwise unhappy with the ingredients labels.

Homemade guac is pretty easy, but it’s also pretty easy in my area to find organic “wholy guacamole” with a very respectable ingredients list, in package sizes that can easily be frozen, so most of the time I save myself the hassle.

I recently bought a tortilla press because I cannot consistantly find organic corn tortillas, and I’ve made the choice to try to the best of my ability to avoid GMOs. I want tortillas with like 3 or 4 ingredients tops. When I find organic low ingredient tortillas, I go ahead and buy them but I’m not opposed to making them myself.

Balance is everything! I enjoyed seeing someone else admitting to not being capable of doing everything from scratch (I’ve never attempted pasta and I am intimidated by it)

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Well Pam, now I’m intrigued by a tortilla press… :) We eat so many tortillas around here, that might come in handy. Thanks for the comment!

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Jen March 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I always make French fries, salad dressing, pizza dough, granola, cookies and spaghetti sauce from scratch. I have never attempted tortillas, ketchup or Pasta. I would love to make homemade BBQ sauce but have never tired. Do you have a good recipe you can share? Great post by the way!

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Sally March 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm
Adina P March 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Thank goodness for processed foods when we need them! I had just spent about 3 hours preparing dinner when I saw a link to your blog. I would lose my mind if that was dinner every night.

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Sally March 5, 2014 at 10:20 am

Adina–I agree! Some nights I really enjoy spending lots of time in the kitchen, other nights it’s just about getting it done. :)

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Kate March 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm

We’re much the same as you!

Always make my own cakes/sweet biscuits/pasta sauces/vinegarette/white sauces etc etc
Usually make my own nut bars/pizza (dough and toppings, not the tomato paste)/yoghurt
Sometimes make our own bread/pasta/ricotta/cordial syrups etc

What we don’t make from scratch is sourced from farmers markets, independent markets/supermarkets and the like. We get much produce from our garden so it’s a waste if we *don’t* use it!

Like you say though, some things are too difficult to make at home and/or what we can buy is just as healthy if you know what you’re looking for (plus, we like to support the small guys).

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Sally March 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

Kate–wow, I am impressed that you make your own yogurt! Haven’t tried that yet. Sounds like you’ve found a nice balance. I love supporting the local farmers too. Can’t wait for warmer weather and farmers market season around here.

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Becky@TheSavedRunner March 5, 2014 at 9:28 am

I love this, and I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. I cook for just my husband and I, we don’t have children yet, but I try to make most of what we eat homemade. However, it’s hard to do it all! Sometimes I feel bad for this, but your post definitely just made me feel better. Thanks for sharing. :)

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Sally March 5, 2014 at 10:21 am

Thanks Becky! Glad you enjoyed it.

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GiselleR March 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

I love this! When I first started eating more whole foods and cooking and baking I thought I had to do everything myself and got burned out really quickly. Then I ended up eating even more processed foods than usual :?
My relationship with healthy eating is a lot less complicated now that I’m okay with buying some things pre-packaged lol

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Cody Smith March 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

I TOTALLY AGREE!! Thank you for this! This whole healthy eating thing is a challenge!

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kitterlee March 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Balance! It’s far too easy to lose balance when we’re trying to do everything right. But balance- balance is key. Such an important message, thank you!

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Cindy Gay November 4, 2014 at 5:27 am

You do great Sally! I too have thought about making those Graham Crackers:) but haven’t done it yet.

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