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7 Foods to Buy—or DIY?

Have you ever opened your container of store-bought hummus, baby carrots in hand, and thought: “I could have made this myself"? You could, but there’s also the question of whether or not you should: for health reasons or just because it’s cheaper to whip up a batch on your own.

Tallying all those calories and prices is a lot of work, though. Luckily Alison Massey, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, calculated the nutrition and cost of seven items you typically buy and compared them to homemade versions. Find out which ones are worth adding to your repertoire of recipes—and which to leave on your grocery list.  

RELATED: Healthy Food Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

Note: All price and nutrition comparisons are approximate.


Buy or DIY: DIY
While the ingredients needed to make homemade salsa cost about $3 more than name brands, according to Massey, the sodium savings—19 milligrams versus a whopping 920 milligrams—is reason alone to get chopping. You'll also cut carbs and can control the spice and herb flavors yourself, or roast your tomatoes first for a deeper, smokier flavor. Still not convinced? If you plan your salsa-making for summer when fresh tomatoes are in season and can it, it will likely lower the expense.

3 to 4 fresh plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon diced jalepeno pepper
1/8 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Stir everything together in a medium bowl.

Nutrition score per 1/2 cup: 30 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbs, 19mg sodium

You save: 10 calories, 6g carbs, 901mg sodium

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Buy or DIY: DIY
Although the mix is slightly lower in calories than the homemade batter, it doesn’t contain any whole-wheat flour, which adds a bit of additional fiber (about a gram per muffin). What the boxed version does have is sodium and oftentimes partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, fillers such as xantham gum, and even “imitation berry bits” (yummy), as opposed to real fruit, which can also slightly up the fiber count.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup 100% whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
2/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup chopped Golden Delicious apple

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with canola oil spray or line with 12 muffin liners.
2. Mix flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. In a separate bowl mix together milk, vanilla, butter, and egg. Add wet ingredients and apples to dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.
3. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full with mixture. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until light brown.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light’s Raspberry Muffin recipe

Nutrition score per 1 muffin: 172 calories, 5g fat (3 g saturated), 29g carbs, 136mg sodium

You save: 34mg sodium

Pasta Sauce

Buy or DIY: DIY
The cost for a mass-market store-bought sauce is relatively low at less than $3.00 (though organic or imported sauces can easily cost double that), but homemade wins for the addition of never-can-get-enough veggies, plus it’s slightly lower in calories and sodium and only slightly more expensive.

1/2 cup diced white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup diced green peppers
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can (16 ounces) diced tomatoes, no-salt added
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

In a large pot or Dutch oven, saute onion, garlic, green peppers, celery, and carrots in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, baking soda, sugar, and Italian seasoning. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until sauce thickens.

Nutrition score per 1/2 cup: 50 calories, 0.5g fat, 10.5g carbs, 2g protein, 422mg sodium

You save: 20 calories, 1g fat, 58mg sodium


Buy or DIY: Tie
According to Massey, this is a close call. The store-bought brand is about $4.00 per 12 ounces of granola, and although all the ingredients for homemade were more expensive (about $35.00 total), volume-wise you can make much more granola, and the ingredients are versatile for everyday cooking. If you are a granola-fanatic, it’s worth making your own, however if it is a once-in-a-while purchase, it will save you more money to buy premade. We added a little salt to this recipe to enhance flavor (the reason for the 56 milligrams of sodium), but you can leave out; the store-bought brand has none.

2 1/2 cup whole rolled oats
2 cups almonds
1 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix oats, almonds, and walnuts together in a large bowl. Add spices and salt and stir thoroughly to combine. In a separate bowl, combine oil, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and orange extract. Add wet mixture to oats and nuts.
2. Spread granola on a baking pan in an even layer. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure granola cooks evenly.
3. Remove from oven and add raisins and dried cherries, stirring to combine.

Recipe slightly adapted from

Nutrition score per 1/4 cup: 130 calories, 7.5g fat, (1g saturated) 14g carbs, 3.5g protein, 56mg sodium

You save: 10 calories, 0.5g saturated fat, 4g carbs


Buy or DIY: Either
The two are comparable health-wise, however if you use dried or no-salt-added garbanzo beans, you can save a fair amount of sodium. Still, according to Massey, what you’ll pay to blend your own hummus makes it smarter to stick with pre-made, which rings in at almost half the cost. The $7 price tag for DIY is mainly due to tahini, a key ingredient in the ubiquitous dip that can be expensive and hard to find; Massey couldn’t buy anything smaller than a 15-ounce can for about $5.40. If you really love hummus and want to make it yourself, this may be more cost-effective in the long run—plus that way you can experiment with adding different seasonings like those you see in stores. For a single batch, though, it’s probably better to pull out the debit card.

1 can (14.5 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 to 2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Lemon juice (optional)

Place first five ingredients in a food processor. While blending, add olive oil through the funnel in a steady stream. Blend until smooth. To serve, drizzle with a little additional olive oil or lemon juice, if desired (olive oil will add additional fat and calories).

Nutrition score per 2 tablespoons: 74 calories, 2.5g fat, 6mg sodium

You save: 2.5g fat, 124mg sodium

Chicken Broth

Buy or DIY: DIY
Not only is it much lower in sodium than even a low-sodium name brand, homemade chicken stock can be made from the “leftovers” after you finish a rotisserie chicken or roasted chicken you made yourself, which keeps the DIY version relatively low-cost. It’s also a great way to use up veggies that are hanging around your crisper, growing limper each day.

Leftover chicken bones from chicken carcass
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 bay leaf

1. Remove any excess fat and skin from chicken bones. Place bones in a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, skimming off any foam that forms. Allow stock to simmer uncovered for another 1 1/2 hours.
2. Strain stock, removing bones and vegetables. Allow to cool and refrigerate promptly.

Nutrition score per 1 cup: 20 calories, 0.5g fat, 1.5g carbs, 2.5g protein, 35mg sodium

You save: 395mg sodium (compared to low-sodium stock)


Buy or DIY: DIY
It’s neck-and-neck, but homemade comes out on top since it allows you to control the sodium (or leave it out entirely if you’re eating with salted chips) as well as add your favorite flavorings (more cilantro, no cilantro, diced tomatoes, etc). And then there’s the fact that cost-wise it will save a few cents—likely more if avocados are in season.

2 Hass avocados, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 plum tomato, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup diced onion

Mash avocado pieces slightly with a fork. Mix in salt, tomatoes, garlic, and onion.

Nutrition score per 2 tablespoons: 42 calories, 4g fat (0.5g saturated), 2.5g carbs, 80mg sodium

You save: 70mg sodium