20 foods you can make from scratch to avoid plastic

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When you stop buying prepackaged foods, you have to start cooking them yourself. It’s not that hard once you get into the swing of it.

When you reduce plastic packaging at home, you have to make more foods from scratch. This isn’t as hard as it seems. Mostly, we’ve just gotten out of the habit of making many foods from scratch, thanks to the convenience of being able to purchase everything at a supermarket. But the process of creation can be deeply satisfying, and you’ll get quicker with more practice.

Here are some of the things I try to prepare on a regular basis and that other zero-waste/plastic-free bloggers have mentioned. Not all of them happen at the same time, but I make them whenever possible. It’s good practice to try your hand at these, and you’ll quickly discover that the homemade versions are far tastier than the store-bought ones!

1. Tortillas: I found a tortilla press at the thrift store and it makes the job even easier. You can make flour or corn (masa) tortillas.

2. Pancakes, waffles, crepes: These are a weekend staple in our house and I’ll often double the batch so I can freeze extras.

3. Frozen corn: In the late summer/early fall, I cut the kernels off any uneaten cobs of corn and stash them in the freezer for future use.

4. Pesto: There is no comparison between homemade and store-bought pesto, so make it whenever you can, especially at this time of year when basil is abundant. Freeze in an ice cube tray and transfer to a jar. Use on pasta, pizza, in dips, or stirred into soups. Recipe here.

5. Yogurt: Bonus points if you buy the milk in a glass jar! You can make yogurt in a mason jar or a yogurt maker; both are super easy and straightforward.

6. Granola: Swap out breakfast cereals in plastic bags for homemade granola, made with oats, coconut, seeds, and nuts that you can source zero-waste at any bulk food store.

7. Canned tomatoes: I have an early-fall ritual that involves canning countless pounds of tomatoes and stashing them in my pantry for winter use. I use the same glass jars every year, only replacing the canning lids.

8. Pizza rounds: If you have a food processor or stand mixer, this is even easier, and you only need to start it an hour before use.

9. Stock: Keep a container full of vegetable and meat scraps/bones in the freezer and, once full, tip it into a stock pot for long, slow simmering. An Instant Pot speeds up this process. Recipe here.

10. Applesauce: Spend an afternoon canning homemade applesauce and your kids will thank you for all year long.

11. Crackers: There are many cracker recipes out there, but zero waste blogger Lindsay Miles recommends a clever shortcut – slice a (stale) baguette thinly, brush with olive oil, and bake in a low oven until dry and crispy.

12. Pasta: TreeHugger’s editor Melissa suggests making pasta from scratch – an impressive dinnertime feat. This is even easier with a pasta maker. Read her post about it here.

13. Cooked legumes: Buy dried beans, chickpeas, and lentils in bulk, soak overnight, and cook. You can freeze extras in glass jars.

14. Sauerkraut or kimchi: Try your hand at fermenting with these basic cabbage recipes.

15. Jam: Store-bought jam usually comes in glass, but hey, this is still a useful skill to have. You can cook most fruit with a pile of sugar and end up with a sweet condiment that’s either canned for long-term stability or kept in the freezer.

16. Frozen fruit: Prepare for year-round smoothies by picking and freezing your own seasonal fruit.

17. Ice cream: Buy an ice cream maker (second-hand ones are often available for cheap) to avoid the plastic-lined containers that ice cream typically comes in – and to wow your taste buds. Try homemade lemon ice cream to start.

18. Bread (and bread crumbs): Again, a stand mixer comes in handy here, but if you can get into the rhythm of making your own bread, it’s a big money-saver and waste-reducer. Turn any stale loaves into bread crumbs. (Also read: All the things you can make with stale bread)

19. Soft cheese: Skip the plastic tubs of ricotta and cream cheese by making a batch of this delicious spreadable cheese.

20. Herbal tea blends: Mix your own herbal teas, rather than buying them in tea bags that contain plastic. Detailed instructions here.

When you stop buying prepackaged foods, you have to start cooking them yourself. It’s not that hard once you get into the swing of it.

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