Home-cooked meals became the norm for many during the pandemic, and at-home cooks often sought nutritious foods to boost health and (hopefully!) avoid sickness. Other consumers were already eating “health food” long before COVID-19.
As with anything, you will find fads among health foods. Unfortunately, foodie fads tend to be really expensive — unless you make them yourself, which can be a lot easier than you think.
Not only will you save money when you make or grow healthy foods yourself, but you’ll also know what’s in it – and what’s not in it.
Making or growing some of your own ingredients also helps reduce sodium and sugar, as well as avoid pesticides and preservatives. All that plus big financial savings. What’s not to love?
Here are several trendy treats made gloriously cheap.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a scoby. Some believe kombucha offers health benefits such as improved digestion and a strengthened immune system.
The science is still out on that, but “booch” is a big seller in the U.S.: More than $703 million worth is consumed per year as of 2020. That number doesn’t include sales from convenience stores, Costco, Trader Joe’s and certain other retailers.
It also doesn’t include the kombucha brewed by consumers. An article on the Kitchn website, “How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home,” gives the nuts and bolts of the fairly simple process.
Note: Kombucha brewing requires patience. Just making the scoby means waiting two to four weeks for it to grow. You could also buy it at a health-food store or online, but making your own can save you a bundle. Either way, a scoby is self-renewing and can be used over and over.
Store-bought kombucha runs around $3.99 for 16 ounces, I’ve found. That’s almost $32 a gallon! If you make your own scoby and already have some teabags and sugar on hand, 16 ounces of homebrewed booch costs about 75 cents. Bonus: You can flavor the drink any way you like with fruits, herbs or even candy.
2. Pea protein powder
Beloved by vegans and bodybuilders, this powder is a healthful source of plant-based protein that’s free of allergens like gluten.
How much does this wonder food cost you? Anywhere from $5.99 to $17.99 per pound, I’ve found.
Or you can make pea protein powder at home — with just one ingredient and 15 minutes, according to the blog Health My Lifestyle. Here’s how:
- Process some dried split peas in a blender, spice grinder or food processor.
- Put the result through a sieve and re-grind what remains.
- That’s it. You’re done.
The cost: about $1.19 to $1.49 a pound, based on my research. If you can buy dried peas in bulk, it’ll be even cheaper.
3. Oat milk
The market for this plant-based beverage has soared lately and is projected to reach $995 million globally by 2027. It’s less expensive than soy milk, but it ain’t cheap, coming in at 56 cents to $1.52 per cup, I’ve found.
Would you pay that much for a cup of dairy milk? Didn’t think so. And since it’s not much work to make this beverage at home, you don’t have to go broke to go dairy-free. The article “How to Make Oat Milk” at the blog Real Food Real Deals offers instructions plus two insider tips for best results.
The basics: Whirl some rolled oats with water and ice cubes in a blender, then let the results drip through a cloth bag or cloth-lined sieve or colander. (You can stir in a bit of maple syrup, honey or vanilla extract, if you like.) The result: a creamy addition to coffee, smoothies, cereal or flavored drinks for just 3 to 12.5 cents per cup.
4. Overnight oats
Also known as “soaked oats,” this is essentially uncooked oatmeal drenched in milk (dairy or non) and then flavored with sweetener, fruit, nuts, seeds or a combination thereof and left to steep in the fridge overnight.
Quaker now sells a 19-ounce canister of “Overnight Oats” which is currently priced at $3.88 at Walmart. That comes out to about 20 cents per ounce. Various manufacturers also sell teeny-tiny cups of flavored overnight oats that are much costlier, running 36 to 56 cents per ounce, based on my research.
Those Quaker overnight oats canisters just contain … oats. They’re thicker-cut, but they’re still just … oats.
You can also use ordinary rolled oats, which cost as little as about 9 cents per ounce for the supermarket generic version, I’ve found. Stir in twice as much liquid as oats and leave them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, add your choice of mix-ins.
Microgreens are bigger than sprouts but haven’t reached the baby-salad-greens stage. They’re a nutrient-rich addition to salads, sandwiches and stir-fries.
They’re also a costly addition: You can easily pay $2.28 per ounce or more for small containers of microgreens at supermarkets and health-food stores. That works out to $36.48 a pound. Ouch.
Or you can try a little DIY microgreenery, indoors or out. It’s pretty simple: Scatter a lot of seeds on trays or other containers of soil and keep them moist. Within a couple of weeks, a tight little mini-forest of plants will be ready to harvest. (Penn State Extension offers a step-by-step growing guide.)
Pro tip: Look for seed packs at the dollar store. If microgreens become a megahit with your household, you can source seed in bulk later on.
6. Greek yogurt
I’ve been making my own yogurt for years, and there’s not much to it: Heat some milk, cool it down a bit, add a starter and keep it warm for eight to 12 hours. (I explain the finer points in “Frugal Hack: Homemade Yogurt.”)
Because I prefer the milder taste and thicker texture of Greek yogurt, I let it drip through a cloth-lined colander. We save the drained-off whey for cooking projects, including rustic bread.
The cost of store-bought Greek yogurt is anywhere from $4.29 to $5.99 a quart, I’ve found. My homemade version costs about $1.30 to $3.14, depending on whether milk is on sale. When I find “manager’s special” milk (milk that is nearing its expiration date), I pay as little as 78 cents per quart of Greek yogurt.
Here’s a cheat for those who don’t want to start from scratch: Put some store-bought yogurt through that cloth-lined colander. You’re welcome.
7. Rustic bread
A good loaf of bread turns leftovers or even a simple can of soup into a feast. Trouble is, rustic bread can cost $6 or more per loaf at some bakeries. Fortunately, it’s easy to make your own — and there’s no need to knead.
My partner and I use a bonehead-simple recipe from the blog One Good Thing By Jillee:
- Stir some water (we use half water, half yogurt whey), salt and just a half-teaspoon of yeast into about a pound of flour.
- Cover it, and let it sit overnight.
- Shape it, mist with water if you like and bake at 450 degrees in a Dutch oven, clay dish or ceramic pot.
Depending on whether you shop at a warehouse store or a supermarket, you’ll pay 30 to 50 cents a pound for flour and 4 to 8 cents for enough yeast for one loaf — in other words, 34 to 58 cents per loaf of rustic bread.
The 450-degree oven will affect your utility costs, but we haven’t noticed a major jump. You’ll also need parchment paper, which you can get at the dollar store. We’ve reused the same piece of paper up to four times.
This bread makes superb toast the next day. That is, if there’s any left — it really is that good.