5 Packaged Foods You Never Need to Buy Again

By Jane | January 9, 2012

Garbage Soup

Welcome to 2012. Or, da 12, as I like to call it.

What did you resolve to do this year? Eat healthier? Avoid processed foods? Stay away from GMO? Stop buying products foisted on you by the man? Reduce the size of your weekly garbage bag? Become a domestic god(ess)?

I want to do all of those things, which is why I am so damn excited about this post. You see, until recently, these five packaged foods were staples on every shopping list I made. But, during the last few months, I’ve discovered that they are all completely unnecessary once you get the hang of making them at home.

Never Buy Soup
I’ve always hated trying to shop for soup. They always hide nasty ingredients in there, and more often than not, even the most vegan-sounding soup is made with chicken stock or a little beef fat. Campbell’s makes a vegetable soup that isn’t vegetarian. Why?

If there are no animal parts in the soup, there’s usually lots of salt, fat, and additives, or a little GMO just for fun. And in case you haven’t heard, soup comes in cans lined with BPAs. Nasty.

If there’s nothing objectionable in the ingredients, eating store-bought soup usually means taking a trip to bland city. Seriously, I’ve never found one I like.

The funny thing is, when you make soup at home, you don’t have to add any junk and it’s always bursting with the flavor of whatever vegetables you put in it. That’s the magic of eating whole foods.

Campbell’s and their corporate buddies have somehow managed to convince us that making soup is a task better left to the experts. In reality, it’s the easiest, quickest meal you can conjure. You don’t even need any special ingredients.

Just open your fridge and Google whatever you see in there followed by “soup recipe”. I guarantee you’ll find lots of them.

So get to it. Here are a few examples (based on what we have sitting around right now) to get you started.
Vegan Sweet Potato and Pear Soup
Orange and Lentil Soup
Curried Apple and Leek Soup

Super Soup Tips
1. Sign up for a CSA box and you’ll always have lots of crazy fruits and vegetables on hand to make soup.
2. Invest in a hand blender. I know, normally I don’t go in for buying gadgets, but we use ours every single day and it’s so much easier to blend the soup right in the pot.
3. Make your own stock!

Never Buy Stock and Bouillon
If you did your homework with the soup, you’ll have noticed that almost all soup recipes call for stock. Guess what, that’s another thing you never have to buy again. I discovered a few months ago that making stock is even easier than making soup. And you can make it from garbage! Honestly.

You know all those potato peels, apple cores, onion skins, leek tops, and eggplant stems in your kitchen? Instead of sending them straight to the compost, stick them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to half fill your biggest pot, it’s time to make stock.

Here’s the method I’ve been using.

Hot Stock Tip
I pour the stock into some flexible ice-cube trays and freeze them. Then it’s ready to use in small portions every time we make soup, stew, rice, curry, stir fry and… whatever.

Never Buy Canned Beans
Remember how we were just talking about BPAs in cans? Well they’re in your canned beans, too. And just like soup, beans taste better, fresher, and are better for you if you buy them dried and prepare them at home.

I know all that soaking and cooking seems like a huge pain in the ass. That’s what I thought until my husband started coming home with dried adzukis, chick peas, and black beans.

In reality, it takes around 3 minutes to put the beans in some water, another minute to change that water during soaking, and then about 5 more minutes to put them on the stove. All the beans you’ll eat all week in less than ten minutes.

Here’s a great guide to preparing various types of beans.

When we have a batch of beans sitting in the fridge, we use them to make our own burgers (thanks to Peggy at Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Tucson for her delicious recipe!), falafels, soups and chili, or just sprinkle them on a salad.

Basic Bean Tip
Get your spouse or kids to soak and cook the beans while you relax. That’s what I usually do!

Never Buy Hummus
One of the things we use our fresh chick peas for is to make hummus. This takes me, oh, all of about 6 minutes now that I’ve done it a few times. Unlike store-bought hummus, it is not too salty, too sweet, too lemony, too bland, or too garlicky. It’s just right, because I made it that way.

One of these days, I’ll share my recipe, though it’s better if you just make it to your own liking.

Tasty Hummus Tip
Add a little of the bean cooking water into your hummus (instead of olive oil). It adds tons of flavor and creates the perfect hummus-y texture without adding any fat.

Never Buy Cereal
My initial eschewing of packaged cereal happened because of a one-two punch.

My mother-in-law started it. She makes amazing granola that we eat every morning at her cottage on Lake Muskoka. When we leave, the best way to recapture those lazy summer days is with a fresh batch of granola.

The other punch came when I discovered that most frosted mini-wheat type cereal contains beef fat or gelatin!

What? There are cow and pig parts in cereal?

Yes. Even in pseudo good-for-the-world brands like Trader Joes and Three Sisters. Bleh.

I’m really not a fan of standing in the grocery store scouring ingredients lists. But once I started, I discovered that most cereal is a combo of HFCS and GMO corn. Plus, all of it is ridiculously overpriced.

So, the only solution is to make your own.

You can make muesli (granola’s uncooked European cousin) in a matter of minutes. Granola takes a little longer because it has to cook, but it’s also a no-brainer.

Try this recipe for tahini granola. So good.

Groovy Granola Tip
Make a huge batch and stick it in airtight food containers. It will keep for months.

A Worthwhile Investment
That’s it. Five things you never ever have to buy again. I estimate by making all of these things at home, I have time to watch one less hour-long TV show a week. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. But if you’re not, you could always put a TV in your kitchen.

What other common packaged products do you make at home? Anyone trying almond milk, nut butters, or flour? I’d love to know.

23 comments

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  3. Comment by LV

    LV Reply February 4, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’d add making your own salad dressings to this list. Oil. Vinegar/Lemon juice. Salt (if you’re so inclined.) Ground Pepper (Black, Red, White – whatever!) Herbs. (I’m partial to Dill – so yummy! But Oregano, Basil…etc.) Spices. (Garlic. Dried Onion. Garlic. Cumin! Garlic.) No sugar – why does salad dressing need sugar??? No weirdy half hydrogenated oils. Just easy peasy! And fun! And nigh impossible to mess up!

  4. Comment by Kelly Fetrow

    Kelly Fetrow Reply January 31, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I make my own almond milk at home using raw almonds. I soak them overnight in water, rinse them in the morning and use the blender (1 cup almonds/1 cup water). After blending I use a strainer to strain the concentrated “almond milk” into a container then add equal part water to the concentrated almond milk. It would be a great addition to your “home made” granola!!!

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 31, 2012 at 11:46 am

      We drink almond milk at home and have made it a few times. How does the cost net out for you? I always have the feeling making my own would be way more expensive, but maybe I’m wrong?

  5. Comment by gail x

    gail x Reply January 17, 2012 at 7:52 am

    We found Dr. Furhman on PBS and are now following a ‘plant based diet’. So we’ve already ditched those five foods. You asked about plant based milk. We’ve tried both soy and almond and much prefer the almond. I’ve been following ‘orthomolectural medicine for years and Dairy is definitly not a benefit for humans. We’ve also discovered F.O.K. (forks over knives) and all this is well documented. thanks.

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  7. Comment by Patricia Comroe Frank

    Patricia Comroe Frank Reply January 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Brilliant and thought-provoking article. So many of us need this kind of helpful and healthy article filled with tips and instructions on how to make nourishing foods for less. Thanks Jane, thanks Grist.

    And if you want hummus and are broke, Google “hillbilly hummus” and you’ll find a great recipe that uses black-eyed pea instead of garbanzos and peanut butter substituting for the higher priced tahini–it’s really quite yummy, especially if you double up on the garlic…

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  9. Comment by Sandy

    Sandy Reply January 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I soak my beans overnight, rinse & throw in the crock pot for a few hours. Then package in freezer containers in portions that are useable for me

  10. Comment by RM

    RM Reply January 12, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Along with the granola, is Lovin’ Spoonfuls willing to share that (or maybe there’s a similar?) burger recipe? Trying to incorporate more beans into my life and I’m good with soups, salad toppings, dips and the like. I need something more substantial that isn’t so bland!

    Oh, and thanks for the veggie stock idea — I usually freeze them anyways and give them to my dad’s chickens, but now if I get too much I’ll just make stock. My husband will be thrilled to have his freezer back! :P

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 12, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Sorry, that one I can’t share. But I’m sure you can find some great bean burger recipes on the web. Also try my Black Bean and Chocolate Chili recipe

    • Comment by RM

      RM January 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      I’ll check out some recipes online and thanks for your chili recipe — looks delicious!

  11. Comment by Sarah

    Sarah Reply January 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Great post! Do you make your own tahini paste/sauce for the hummus? I would love tips for that.

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      I haven’t tried tahini yet, but now that you’ve given me the idea, I’m going to. Look for a post on hummus & tahini making once I’ve had a chance to try it out.

  12. Comment by Michelle Vance

    Michelle Vance Reply January 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Any chance your mother in law will let you share that fabulous granola recipe?

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      I’m sure she’ll be honored!

      MIL’s Granola Recipe

      6 c oatmeal
      1 c wheatgerm
      3/4 c sunflower seeds (raw unsalted)
      1 c sesame seeds
      1/2 c blended flax seeds
      1/2 c brown sugar
      1/3 c oil (she doesn’t specify what kind, but coconut oil is yummy)

      Combine and put in ovenware (a lasagne pan works well).
      Roast at 350 degrees for 30 mins.

      Add:
      1 c raisins
      1 c dried cranberries
      1 c peanuts/almonds

      Let the granola cool completely and then store in airtight containers.

      So easy!

  13. Comment by Kathy Kawalec

    Kathy Kawalec Reply January 11, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Jane, I love this post. Clear, simple easy information for better living! And perfect timing too. I’m in!

    Thanks!

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks. Let me know if you discover any good tips!

  14. Comment by AmbiSam

    AmbiSam Reply January 11, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Never found soup that tastes like food, how do they mess it up so bad? Loved your post, 2012 is my year for more homemade whole food goodness. I would add pasta sauce, pesto, guac and fruit juice to the list, it takes all of ten minutes to make these at home!

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 11, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Good additions. I do make my own pasta sauce, guac, and pesto (vegan-style). But never done fruit juice. I assume you need a juicer for that?

  15. Comment by ann

    ann Reply January 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    love the stock instructions. will definitely do it and let you know how it goes. feeling very frugal and homely as we have moved into a farmhouse (where i grew up, left nearly 30 years ago) – but the food here is very expensive. ironic as tonnes of fruit and vege is grown around here, shipped nearly 3000 kms to the supermarket warehouses then back again.

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM January 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      We are pretty lucky here with all the access to cheap everything. But I’d still love to live in a farmhouse in a small town! Hope you’re enjoying it so far!

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