WRITTEN BY: NATALIE GOULD TOMKO
I love convenience as much as the next person, but I love saving money even more. Many pantry staples can be made easily at home at a fraction of the supermarket cost, and with better ingredients, too. Here are five of my favorite pantry hacks that are easier on my wallet — and healthier for my family.
DIY microwavable popcorn
Why: Not only have those store-bought microwavable bags been shown to have nasty chemicals, they’re also super expensive.
The hack: Buy popcorn kernels in the bulk section of your grocery store or in a prepackaged jar. Put 1/4 cup kernels in a brown paper sack, microwave at full power until you hear a 2-second delay between pops, and then remove the bag from the microwave and season the popcorn however you like! You can also use a stainless steel bowl and your stove. In our house, we like melted butter, garlic salt, garlic pepper and a little bit of freshly grated parmesan. One of my favorite restaurants in Austin, Texas, Jeffrey’s, makes unbelievably good popcorn with truffle oil and nutritional yeast. Make it sweet, make it salty, make it crazy — at least you’ll always know you’re making it free of hazardous chemicals.
Cost breakdown: A 30-ounce jar of kernels at my local Target was running $3.29 this week. A box of 12 bags (39-ounce net weight) was $5.29.
Homemade pancake/waffle Mix
Why: Just like the microwavable popcorn bags, boxes of pancake/waffle mix often contain unknown ingredients and preservatives.
The hack: Make your own dry pancake/waffle mix and store it in a sealed container in the pantry! I love this recipe from The Kitchn using items that are likely already in your home (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda). It’s easy, versatile and has no creepy ingredients.
Cost breakdown: A batch of homemade pancakes compared with a box of Bisquick is only about two cents cheaper — 24 cents vs. 22 cents per serving — but you can’t put a price on making everyone’s favorite weekend breakfast just a little bit healthier.
DIY flavored sparkling water
Why: It’s way cheaper and tastes fresher.
The hack: Everyone loves La Croix-type sparkling drinks, but you can save a ton of money by buying good old-fashioned plain seltzer or club soda and adding your own twist. In my family, we love adding some fresh lime, mint, cucumber slices or frozen strawberries to our sparkling waters. The best part is that we can have a different flavor every day! To save even more money (and plastic waste!), invest in an at-home soda-maker so you’ll be able to turn regular (free) tap water into sparkling water and then add your desired flavorings.
Cost breakdown: A case of 24 seltzer waters is $5 (21 cents per serving), while a case of eight La Croix is $3.69 (46 cents per serving).
Homemade seasoning mixtures
Why: Those quick (and cheap) packages of taco seasonings have artificial sugars, pesticides and anti-caking agents.
The hack: Make your own with ingredients you already have in your pantry. I use this recipe from Allrecipes. Store it in the refrigerator in an air-tight jar and you’ll always have taco seasoning on hand! And while you’re on the homemade seasoning kick, this is my favorite homemade enchilada sauce recipe, our go-to ranch seasoning recipe, and on Allrecipes you can find a whole spice rack full of homemade seasoning mix recipes.
Cost breakdown: A packet of taco seasoning is 99 cents, or 17 cents per teaspoon. Homemade taco seasoning works out to 12 cents per teaspoon or even less if you buy spices in bulk. Not to mention that one packet of taco seasoning is only good for one meal. A jar of homemade taco seasoning will last for many Taco Tuesdays.
Why: Rich and yummy coffee creamers are full of unappetizing ingredients like corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and tons of sugar.
The hack: With a few simple pantry staples, you can make homemade coffee creamer that is way better than the stuff in the bottle. In our house, we love adding a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk to our coffee, but if you’re looking for something a little fancier, try mixing a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, 14 ounces of milk, and your favorite flavorings to taste (vanilla and hazelnut extracts are popular choices). You could also use chocolate syrup to make a mocha creamer. Whatever your coffee craving, there’s a homemade recipe to make it happen.
Cost breakdown: There’s less than a one-cent difference per ounce between Coffee-Mate and a can of sweetened condensed milk (9.25 cents per ounce vs. 9.07 cents per ounce), but trust me when I say the homemade version is far more delicious than the stuff with oils and artificial colors.