Unfortunately, many prepared foods are full of artificial ingredients, added sugars, hydrogenated oils and harmful preservatives. While we may balk at the idea of spending more time in the kitchen than absolutely necessary, there are a host of health benefits to be realized in taking just a few extra minutes to prepare nourishing foods at home.
Reconsider the value of spending that extra time in the kitchen and check out these nine foods you should always make, not buy—the recipes are easier than you think.
Almond Milk2 of 10
The thought of making almond milk from scratch often scares people away, but it's actually much easier than you would think. A food processor, a nut milk bag or cheesecloth and vanilla (optional) are all you need to make a delicious dairy-free milk.
Making your own ensures that you aren't ingesting additives like xanthan gum or carrageenan, a thickener used in commercially-produced nut milks that's linked to a host of digestive issues. It also makes for a more customizable milk. You can add dates, honey, cacao powder or vanilla, depending on your preference.
As a bonus, the nut pulp can be used to make an amazing gluten-free granola.
Granola Bars3 of 10
Granola bars have a reputation for being a "healthy" snack, but the boxes of bars that line grocery store shelves are far less healthy than we imagine. Loaded with sweeteners disguised as brown rice syrup, dextrose or evaporated cane juice, some brands contain up to 25 grams of sugar. That's as much as a full-size candy bar!
By making your own granola bars with whole grains, natural sweeteners, dried fruit and nuts, you can control the amount of added sugar and up the nutritional punch of this grab-and-go snack.
Spaghetti Sauce4 of 10
While pasta sauce is a great way to eat your veggies, most jarred sauces hide plenty of added sugar. For every half-cup of store-bought pasta sauce you consume, you're ingesting 12 grams of sugar. And who stops at only half a cup?
To make this food more of a nutritional powerhouse, make a simple marinara yourself with organic tomatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and fresh herbs. By doubling and freezing the recipe, you'll have a quick meal that's just as easy as opening up that jar of sauce—and much better for you.
Pizza5 of 10
Pizza is the ultimate crunched-for-time dinner choice: It comes right to your door, it's cheap and, let's face it, it's delicious. But it's often a poor nutritional choice for dinner, as fast food and even store-bought pies are loaded with artificial ingredients, refined grains and sugar.
It may take a small amount of advanced planning compared to calling up your local Domino's, but making your own pizza (crust and all) is relatively easy and much better for you. A quick, simple dough takes 10 minutes to come together, and you can use a fresh tomato sauce with no added sugar to increase the health factor. Top with mozzarella, fresh basil and loads of veggies, and you've elevated your weekly pizza splurge to a whole new level.
Chili6 of 10
Canned chili has been known to cause gastrointestinal issues for more than a few people, but did you know that almost every commercial brand also contains soy product (textured vegetable protein) and wheat as thickeners? And let's be honest: Most store-bought cans remind us a bit too much of dog food with low-quality meats, tons of salt and questionable ingredients.
Try making your own chili for a hearty, healthy and additive-free meal. You can add in extra veggies, switch out ground beef for ground turkey and even choose all-organic ingredients.
Another bonus? Chili practically cooks itself. Throw the ingredients into a slow cooker in the morning, and by evening you'll have the perfect dish to warm you up.
Salad Dressing7 of 10
Most store-bought salad dressings are loaded with sugar, preservatives, hydrogenated oils and a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients. A delicious and more nutritious version can be made with a food processor and a few minutes of your time.
Throw together a simple homemade dressing by combining a base (oil), acid (vinegar or citrus) and a thickener (honey or mayo) for a nourishing topper that's just as healthy as the salad itself.
French Fries8 of 10
It's easy to believe a fry is a fry. Whether it's homemade, from McDonald's or from the frozen-food aisle, all are equally bad for you, right? Wrong. Take one look at the ingredients in your favorite frozen fries, and you'll see the added sugars, coloring, oils and even trans fats that some bagged brands contain.
This recipe proves that fries can be–dare I suggest it?–a somewhat healthy side dish. The only ingredients you'll need are potatoes, olive oil and sea salt.
Taco Seasoning9 of 10
Who doesn't love tacos? The crunch of the crispy tortilla, the gooey cheese, the deliciously seasoned beans and rice…except that store-bought taco seasoning comes with an ingredients label that could be mistaken for a page in a chemistry textbook.
It's surprisingly easy to ditch those MSG-laden packets and make your own spice blend for taco night. This recipe contains real ingredients, comes together in a flash and is easy to keep on hand for the next time taco cravings hit.
Desserts10 of 10
Whether you prefer chocolate chip cookies or pumpkin pie, making your own dessert from scratch comes with more benefits than you'd expect. Not only can you add superfood ingredients to your favorite baked goods, but making your own treats also means you can control the amount of added sweetener.
Plus, if we limit our desserts to those we make ourselves, we'll likely eat less. A pie that takes the better part of a day to make from scratch is likely to be consumed much more slowly and deliberately than one that's been purchased from a store for a few dollars.