7 Homemade Recipes I Always Make (and 7 I Don't) 8

7 Homemade Recipes I Always Make (and 7 I Don’t)

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.

finished vanilla

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.

almond butter finished

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.

Jacob diaper
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.

7 Homemade Recipes I Always Make (and 7 I Don't)

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?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.
Top photo by Emily

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  1. My baby is ten weeks old too (born March 6) and he wears cloth diapers but I didn’t make them. I’ll have to check out your pattern!

    1. Congratulations on your new baby! 🙂 My pattern fits thinner babies really well, although my now 21-month-old is a bit on the “sturdier” side and they fit him well too! But not quite as long as the others, he’s solidly in the medium, whereas my now almost 4-year-old could wear the “smalls” until well past his second birthday.

  2. We make vanilla extract, seasonings, salad dressing, kombucha, and sourdough. We also make toothpaste from time to time, and laundry detergent. If I still had a raw cream source (I hate separating the cream from the milk), we’d make butter.

    1. Oh, I used to make butter all the time, a few years ago. We have local grass-fed, low-temp-pasteurized cream, and I’d make butter from that. These days I’d rather pay a little more and just get Kerrygold. I do still make butter from time to time, especially if I have extra raw cream in the spring months.

  3. This is such a great resource! Thanks, Kate! What I appreciate is that you just do/make what works for your family– which is a good reminder to those of us who can feel like we “should” be making everything ourselves. 🙂
    I make our water kefir, yogurt (though I’m not great at it), and salad dressing. I want to start making my own taco seasoning and I’m intrigued by your magnesium lotion.

    1. Hi Amie,

      We don’t burn. I used to, as a kid, but as I’ve changed my diet, I don’t anymore (and the kids never have). We are usually not out more than a couple hours anyway, at a park or playground or just our backyard, and we can come inside if we feel like it.

  4. I love seeing how other natural, real food mamas live and what the make homemade. Thanks for sharing a sneak peak into your life!

  5. This is a great list! It gives me the inspiration to tackle a little bit more homemade. We do dairy kefir, salad dressing, toothpaste, handsoap (keep refilling a foam pump with a mix of Desert Essence castile soap and water), use no-poo for me and our two girls, use coconut oil as a lubricant (it works great and no gross chemicals), and taco seasoning. I’d like to get back into kombucha and your other recipes look doable. I’d love to do sourdough, butter, yogurt, and more fermented foods (we’ve done sauerkraut in the past but it was soooo salty I never wanted to do it again), but they seem so daunting. Anyone have a great sourdough, yogurt, or butter routine down?

  6. hi…we make homemade coconut cream, plus some of the others listed! i am looking for a good homemade deodorant recipe. I would also like to know what brand you use for the non homemade stuff such as mayo/ketchup/salad dressing…so hard to find stuff without canola oil…thanks!!

    1. Hi Jenny,

      I typically don’t buy salad dressing because I can’t find one without canola oil, either. For ketchup, I just buy Trader Joe’s brand or any type that doesn’t contain HFCS. We don’t use it often enough for me to be worried about the types with cane sugar in them. I’m not sure about mayo since we don’t buy it.

  7. Hi
    I was wondering on the Kumbucha if it can make you tipsy? I heard it can be like wine? I don’t drink anything with alcohol in it. I have heard how great it is. Thanks

    1. Well…you’d have to drink a LOT (like a gallon) to even have a chance of that. Most home brew kombucha is under 0.5% alcohol, while the average alcoholic drink is more like 4 – 5% alcohol (for wine/beer). We don’t drink alcohol either but don’t have any problems with kombucha. We give it to the kids as well.

      However. If you are not used to kombucha or probiotic-rich foods, kombucha can give you sort of a warm, happy feeling…it’s from the large amount of probiotics though, and it isn’t an alcoholic buzz. That disappears once you adapt to it, for the most part. It can also give you a headache or stomachache or other detox symptoms if you drink too much at first, so go slowly. Try a few ounces a day to see how you do with it. Some do fine (we did 8 and then 16 oz. a day quite quickly with no issues; others I knew could barely tolerate 4 oz. even after a couple weeks). See how you feel.

  8. I so enjoyed this article Kate. Thank you for writing and providing links. I have hopped over to your site a few times while reading here today and plan to give your homemade almond butter a try…thank you for the push in the right direction. 🙂 I already soak and dry nuts…so, I am set! I am like you…some things I do and some things I don’t…we just only can do what we can do…right? There are seasons. Maybe when I am a Grandma I will do more homemade stuff. Congratulations on your newest little family member. Enjoy these precious, sweet, wonderful, tiring days…they will be gone so soon. Hug those little people tight and breathe in their lovely baby-ness….toddler-ness…it’s all beautiful. 🙂

    Many Blessings,

    1. Thanks! Everyday honestly seems to go faster and I try not to miss anything!

  9. I’d love to make my own nut butter from soaked nuts. We currently spend WAY too much money on almond butter. Can you recommend any sources to find nuts that have not been sprayed with pesticides, that I could buy in bulk? Also, how long do the nuts keep? How long does the nut butter keep? I look forward to your response.

    1. I cannot remember the name of the place right now, and will let you know once I figure out what it was, but there is a farm that sells them directly and in bulk that are not sprayed/treated at all. It was around $5/lb. if you bought 25 lbs. Some friends and I went in on some last year.

    2. I`m not sure of your location, but what I did was I started looking for farms that I could buy directly from. Most farms will sell nuts for $4/lbs and retail is $9/lbs. I found a heritage park that was a nut farm in Kelowna BC who sells them for $2/lbs.
      Nuts if they are dried and stored can be kept for several years, if they’ve gone off, you will know.
      AND you can can nut butter like any other preserve. We’re going for Hazelnuts (Filberts) this year!

    1. Yes. I have put tiny amounts on my 10-week-old from time to time, and have used regularly on my 21-month-old starting when he was a year or so.

  10. I don’t want to go on a rant about sunscreen, but you should REALLY consider doing your research on it. Just because you don’t burn does NOT mean that you aren’t damaging your skin and putting yourself and a higher risk for skin cancer. I just read a really scary article in Ladies Home Journal about a young woman who found a melanoma (the deadly kind) when she was pregnant with her first child.

    1. I really hope you don’t take offense to this…but please don’t use Ladies Home Journal as a research source. It is a mainstream mom’s magazine and there are just too many questions about that story. What did the woman eat? Did she take any medications? Did she have any family history? What were her vitamin D levels? All of these things (which I’m sure weren’t mentioned in the story) could impact why she got skin cancer at a young age. The sun doesn’t cause skin cancer…I’ve researched this very thoroughly in medical journals.

      The mainstream magazines tell personal stories to illustrate points. They’re use to create an emotional reaction so that people will do what they “should,” in this case, use sunscreen. But these personal stories are not scientific evidence. They cannot tell us the full picture or inform us what is right for other individuals.

      I could go on and share my research, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Just please, please do not do research in magazines. There is so much more accurate information out there.

      1. Kate, I’m interested in learning more about “the sun doesn’t cause skin cancer”. I had melanoma insitu at age 27 and basal cell carcinoma at age 35. Would you tell me about the sources you’ve sited? Thanks much! Kim

        1. Hi Mama K,

          Here’s one study, talking about vitamin D vs. cancer, related to sun exposure: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23094924

          Another: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16039846

          This shows some evidence of a link between vegetable oil consumption and skin cancer risk, as well as the protective effect of vitamin E: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12072070

          More on the link between unhealthy fats and skin cancer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19462452

          Anyway, there’s a lot interesting studies out there. And a lot of conflicting information too. It certainly isn’t as simple as the sun causes cancer, as many believe…that idea is explored in at least one of these studies.

          1. I’m glad you posted the links Kate because I wanted to learn more about this too, but I am not seeing where these studies dispute the idea that exposure to the sun is a risk factor for skin cancer.

            The first study is discussing how to balance the need for Vitamin D with safe sun exposure. The second study seems to be investigating how Vitamin D is processed by skin cancer cells. The third study specifically says ‘fat intake was not found to be a risk factor,’ and the last study found an increase in overall fat was associated with an increase in tumors but only in those with a history of skin cancer.

            Personally, we don’t use sunscreen on a daily basis, but I do try to make sure it’s on when we spend an afternoon at the beach. I would love to not have the guilt for those times I forget! Do you have any other studies on the subject you could share?

          2. People have forgotten, without vitamin D, you can`t absorb calcium. You don`t need a lot, but hiding your whole life in the shade isn`t going to make you any heather either.
            Personally I use just Shea Butter. Keeps the UV rays out, and the vitamin D in. If you do get a burn, Shea really helps it heal and soothes it. Plus its great for all sorts of other things too.

  11. Great list — I make a few of these items too and plan to make more of them once I transition to staying home in September. The one I’m a little afraid of is Kombucha. I don’t know why but it seems a little scary to make my own :0)

    1. I used to be afraid to make my own Kombucha too. I was blessed to be able to attend “Kombucha Kamp”. http://www.kombuchakamp.com
      Hannah is an expert kombucha maker and the culture I bought from her was really healthy. I’ve been brewing for 7 months now and have never had any problems.

  12. I have made vanilla in the past, but haven’t kept up with it. I make taco seasoning, dressing (ranch, balsamic, Italian), milk kefir (which I just started flavoring with fruit), toothpaste, lotion bars, though I am interested in this magnesium lotion.

  13. Yogurt that cultures at room temp may be convenient. Check out the selection at Cultures for Health. I’ve had sucess with the viili and the filmjolk culturing on my kitchen counter.

  14. I make almost all the things on your do and don’t make list. Not just to save time, but to insure I know what is going into each product. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Great thanks…how do you make your kombucha? And what do you do with all the new “babies” it creates with each brew? Thanks in advance…Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I have a video on it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYHEfC8mtmg

      I either use the “babies” to make bigger batches (more containers) or I give them to friends. If I can’t do that, I might throw them in the garden or just in the trash. Kombucha, because it contains vinegar, can kill plants/weeds. So it can be beneficial if you do it on purpose! And it’s a really safe “weed killer” really.

  16. milk kefir is the one thing I’m consistent about right now. My girls aren’t very interested in drinking it, BUT they (especially my 4 yr old, and the neighbor kids) really like it made into popsicles. I run it through the blender with some fruit and, if needed (depends on the fruit), some stevia and pour it into popsicle molds.

  17. Love your list.. In India, we make a LOT of things from scratch but I still haven’t tried making kombucha even though I’ve heard and read so much about it.. I keep planning to*sigh* Thanks for the reminder:-)

  18. interesting list, though i’m very sad to say the only thing i make off of your list is the taco flavoring!

  19. Hi, I just happen to run across this page, and Stephanie’s by accident, because I was looking to create a plan for my family of eating more homemade, actual natural products and foods. I have PCOS and my husband and I have been trying for years to have a baby. As I was reading through these links, I felt that God has led me here. To be honest, I am a little hesitant to take on this new way of living. The best way to start, is to just start and take it step by step. Thanks to you and the other women who work so hard, and set such great examples for people like me who want to have that great quality of life. I think more and more people are realizing that the food we consume from these big producers are really harming our bodies. Thanks again!

  20. Hi Kate and thank you for the great article and recipes. I just love this site and all the contributing articles. I kid you not, but on here at least once a day even with my very busy life. (school teacher, small business owner and a small grass-fed farm.) This leads to some late nights but I really have found no other place online that I keep going back to for great resources. I’m 40, married to a fabulous man, raising an autistic teenager and trying to conceive with the help of our food approach. As I read your article, it gave me several new things to try. One being the toothpaste! I have not found one that I am happy with and not totally happy with the way my mouth and teeth feel after plain baking soda. (trying to convince the teenager to use that…yeah right! ) I loved the links and look forward to trying many of the suggestions out.

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