We eat a lot of Italian-style food in our home — from lasagna and baked ziti to homemade pizza to ‘oh my gosh, it’s 5:30 and I haven’t started dinner so let’s just have plain pasta and sauce’.
For all these meals, I buy jarred sauce, because it just seems easier and quicker than making my own. (Or maybe it’s because I’m a little lazy?) But I’ve always wanted to try my hand at homemade sauce and finally decided that this week was the week!
So, on Monday morning, I sauteed up some onions, set my crock pot to high, and “cooked” the most deliciously fragrant red sauce all day long. I was curious to see whether it would (a) taste noticeably better than our beloved Barilla or Newman’s Own and (b) save me enough $ to make the time worthwhile. This $/time balance is always a question when it comes to frugality, so I was really eager to see how it would turn out.
Here’s what I learned:
The Taste Test
Did the sauce pass the test? YES! It was incredible. Amazing. So amazing that my 5 yo, who routinely complains that he doesn’t like tomato sauce, ate it enthusiastically.
Plus, I felt really good knowing exactly what was in my sauce, and that there were zero preservatives or artificial what-not’s. This sauce was just herbs, onions, and crushed tomatoes. Okay, okay, and a pinch of Osem’s MSG-free pareve chicken soup mix. (Which, by the way, I have friends or family bring over from Israel for me. All the soup mix I’ve found in the U.S. has MSG in it. Anyone have a source for the MSG-free kind this side of the Atlantic?)
The Cost Test
Was my slow cooker sauce cheaper than the jarred variety? Ummmm, maybe.
I made about 10 cups worth of sauce. We ate freely the first night and then I had enough left over to freeze four ziploc baggies worth of 2.5 cups each. This is about how much is in a glass jar of sauce. So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s say I made five jars worth of sauce.
To make the sauce, I used a gigantic can (was it 8 lbs?) of crushed tomatoes from Costco, which cost less than $3. I also used 2 large onions, which cost no more than $.50 since I buy my onions on sale. I used dried herbs and garlic powder, so my cost on those was seriously nominal, but for the sake of this comparison, let’s call is $.30 worth.
So, altogether, the ingredients for the homemade sauce cost me under $4 for what would be 5 jars of sauce. With a sale and coupon, I would probably be able to pay around $1.25 – $1.50 per jar, or $7ish for 5 jars. If I’m being generous, I’d say that this crock pot of sauce cost me half what the equivalent of store bought would be.
But that doesn’t take into account the cost of running my crock pot all day (I cooked this for about 7 hours on high). I initially assumed that it would be pennies, but a recent post on Cooking Manager about the surprisingly high cost of operating slow cookers caused me to dig a little deeper. A few quick Swagbuck searches and I’m more confused than ever. For every article that says it’s a money saver, there’s another that says it uses as many kilwatts/hour as the oven. I’m still not sure, but if I take the more conservative estimate, we’re probably talking about a couple of dollars in energy costs to make these 5 jars worth of sauce.
Which means, at the end of the day, that this delicious crock full of good-and-good for you red sauce may not have saved me very much at all over the store-bought alternative.
Even still, my conclusion is that frugal or not, homemade is worth it!
As long as it’s not costing me MORE money than buying jars of sauce, I’m going to stick to making my own. The taste difference alone is more than worth it. Plus, the added value of knowing exactly what’s in my sauce is truly priceless!
Are you a cook from scratch kinda chef? Have you done the calculations to determine whether scratch really saves over store-bought? Stay tuned for more frugal experiments (granola bars, bread, cookies, ricotta cheese) here at KOAB. And if you have some of your own, I’d love to hear about them!
P.S. If you want the recipe to enjoy this deliciousness yourself, I borrowed Jessica’s (aka Life as Mom’s.) Check it out here!