Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thought Provoking Thursday

Sometimes when I meet someone who has had a chance to read Sharpen Your Scissors for a while, they share that the pictures of making food from scratch is nice to see on my blog, but that it is NOT necessarily a reality for their family. In their mind, making food from scratch = having all the time in the world!

I find the idea of making food from scratch inspiring! I LOVE to know what ingredients (and how fresh they are) are making their way into our meals. I actually owe my savvy coupon spending skills the praise for getting me in the kitchen more often than I ever have been in my life!

You see, I've learned to stockpile 'casual' ingredients that can easily be made into many different meals... pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables and cheese. Just from this simple list, the opportunities can be endless (OK, maybe not endless, but you get the idea!).

The key for my family, to successfully making food from scratch, is to prepare our most used items in bulk. Lets take my homemade spaghetti sauce for example, when I prepare to make spaghetti sauce, I make enough for 10 traditional jar sized portions.

One of the ways that I enjoy showing people that I care about them is through making food for them. Taking the 15-ish minutes to get the tomatoes and spices ready to be simmered for a few hours on my stove top isn't a huge deal to me. I love the way my house smells, I love that I can occasional stir (and taste test) and I especially love to see the final product placed in container after container ready to be made into something delicious later.

Just for the sake of argument, let's take a hard look at

So, taking into consideration that both the ingredients for homemade sauce and store bought sauce both require me to make a trip to the store, here is the time break down:

Getting my ingredients ready and into the pot, occasionally stirring and packaging the sauce for freezing takes me less than half an hour.

Purchasing 10 jars of spaghetti sauce requires me to watch/wait for a sale, clip my coupons, make sure I take my coupons with me to the store, make sure I'm purchasing the correct product specific to my coupon and spending a few extra minutes at the check out having my coupons scanned, probably 20-25 minutes.

I'd say, both avenues take about the same amount of time.

Looking at the cost factor, making 10 jars worth of spaghetti sauce costs just pennies over $1 per 'jar,' and this week's sale + coupon price for a jar of Ragu is $1.37.

If cooking some of our frequently used grocery items means that I can tweak the flavor to just how I like it, that it isn't going to take longer than just making a purchase and that I can, the majority of the time, make our meals at a reduced price... than I'd like to keep making that my reality!

Here are some of our families favorite make ahead recipes:
Salad dressing, pizza dough, dinner rolls, spaghetti sauce and Alfredo sauce.

Do YOU 'Make Ahead?' If you do, do you find that its less expensive and/or worth the time?



I've haven't gotten hooked on freezer cooking yet; I haven't been thrilled with the results the few times I've tried it.
I do cook ahead ingredients, though, especially meats. Dinner time is so much easier when I have a package of already cooked ground beef or diced chicken to pull out of the freezer and turn into almost anything.


I like to make meatloaves/balls and taco meat in large quantities. I've been buying meats in very large amounts when they're on sale, and then make a whole bunch of meals all at once. I loved when chicken was $1.49 a pound, I bought 40 pounds! That lasted for quite a while. I just now went and bought more. Another thing I like to do is fillet the chicken before I prepare it. Portion control. :) You don't need that entire huge chicken breast. I think I went off the path there. :) Sorry.


I make ahead various things that I know we use frequently. If I'm making homemade sauce, pizza dough or other items it takes no more time to make extras. Like you, I find making my own tomato sauce to be cheaper, especially since I usually have a stockpile of canned tomatoes.

I've been pondering the whole once a month freezer cooking thing. I can see where it saves time, the whole thing overwhelms me!

Laura Webber

Hi Julie & Jen,
I am totally with you on pre-preparing meats! I do the same thing (well, not 40 pounds worth... Jen, you are amazing!).

And Jen, I don't fillet the chicken, I just eat half a 'typical' portion! I bet that filleting them looks much prettier! Would you share how you do it?


PS: Julie, I don't prepare whole dinners, just pieces to put together later!

Laura Webber

I agree that the once a month cooking is great in theory, but I don't have a 8-10 hour day that I'm willing to dedicate once a month!


I just double-up recipes when I'm making them. For instance, I like to make 2 or 3 batches of enchiladas at a time. Then, we eat one for dinner that night and freeze the other one or two (uncooked). It doesn't take much additonal time because most of the time in cooking is in the preparing to cook and cleaning up. It only takes a few extra minutes to brown more ground beef or grate extra cheese for the "additional" batch. Then I have "credit" on a night when we're really busy.
I also do this for apple pies. In the fall, we pick apples, and I prepare 7 pies at once. I freeze them unbaked. Then, I pull one out for Thanksgiving, another for Christmas, one for a party, until mid-Jan. when they're all gone.
I haven't been ambitious enough to do "once a month" cooking, but this "double" recipe method is useful.


I love the recipes with the pictures. I have always thought of myself as a terrible cook and have to follow recipes to the letter. Your photo instructions are inspiring to me.
Thanks you
Joanne Wight


Hi Laura,
I also buy meat in bulk and freeze in quantities for meals for my family. I will buy huge pack of ground chuck from costco and just make a ton of meatballs then place them on wax paper bake, cool and put the cookie sheet in the freezer for half an hour then place in freezer bags. Then I have tons of meatballs for spaghetti, meatball subs, beef stroganoff etc. When I make lasagna, I make 2 and freeze the other. I put it in the aluminum pans from costco(bought in bulk). The only problem with that is if sommeone comes over to eat and I take it out they think I am serving a frozen purchased lasagna. I have to assure them I made it lol.



Yes, I make things ahead including cookies, cooked meat, complete dishes, pizzas, and cream of chicken soup mix (or mushroom or celery). I find it to be a time saver and definitely a money saver nearly all the time.

If you are going out to eat or buying frozen meals etc., even if you are using coupons you are spending quite a bit more than you would making it yourself. And honestly, often it doesn't take that much longer to make the dish you bought if you figure the time you spent shopping for it. Not to mention it is healthier and tastier!

Okay, I'll get down off my hobby horse. Can you tell this is something I feel passionate about? :)

I will insert this yet. I was blessed to have been raised in a home that taught me how to cook and how to do many things including canning fruit and veggies. I KNOW that made this whole thing of cooking my own stuff much easier for me. So if you are new to it, start out's all about taking baby steps.

Okay...I SHALL stop!


Hi Lydia,
I just read what you wrote. That is so awesome to hear everything you have made. I love to cook and have started to freeze things but I am still so intimidated by freezing certain things. I still am unsure when it comes to wrapping it properly before freezing and how long you can freeze certain things for. Now I make homemade pizza alot more often than ordering out and your right it is better and cheaper. Not to mention it is a fun activity for the kids. Now do you freeze the pizza and then bake later? How does that work? Any other suggestions?

Thank you,

Laura Webber

Hi Katy,
You sound like you've got a great method going for your family! I love it!

I've just been working at becoming a better cook over the last few years! I used to have about 5 tried and true recipes to my name... but I've expanded my recipe collection and I'm really enjoying my time spent in the kitchen... I think you'll get there too! Sounds like you are trying to!!!

I love preparing my meat ahead of time too! That's hilarious about your pans of lasagna! I've been thinking of purchasing a few 9X13 silicone pans for freezing dinners in and then popping them out of the silicone and freezer bagging them... only to slide the meal into a real 9X13 for cooking. Maybe that's too much work...

I'm jealous of your education! I sat on the counter and kept my mom company while she made dinner for years- but it was more about the conversation than me learning cooking skills... darn, I wish I has a better memory!

Thanks for all of your input!


I am losing my mind. I don't fillet, I think it's called butterfly. I slice them down the middle, very carefully. Me and my hubby have no self control, so we need a thinner breast. :) Butterflying them is easy to do and no meat is splattering all over, like if I were to smash them with a mallet to make them thinner. :) They also cook faster and at the same time. The thick ones are always needing a minute in the microwave after the thin ones are done. We like moist ones. I hope that makes sense.