March 12, 2015

Convenience vs. Homemade: We Did the Math

Convenience vs. Homemade

We like bringing you the coolest new foods (and drinks) on the block… the stuff that makes your Whole30, Paleo, or Primal lifestyle easier, more convenient, less stressful. But as with anything else, convenience has its price, and not everyone likes the idea of paying $2.50 a pop for a snack-sized emergency food bar. However, money isn’t the only factor to consider when evaluating the “cost” of convenience foods. Do you have the right equipment to make your own version? Will it take hours to prepare, versus 5 minutes to click and order online? Will your homemade version taste substantially different, and not in a good way? There’s even more to consider. What do you have more of: time, or money? (Or perhaps the question to ask yourself is which do you value more.) If it’s time, you may find yourself looking at our cost comparisons saying, “I will give up coffees at Starbucks to subsidize my emergency food stash at the office.” If it’s money, or you’re on a really tight budget all around, you’re going to be thrilled that nearly all of the Whole30 staples detailed here are significantly less expensive (and mostly not that difficult) to make at home. Today, we break all of these factors down for you, and give you our verdict in the Convenience vs. Homemade debate for a variety of common Whole30, Paleo, or Primal foods and beverages. (Note, we looked both online and in our local health food store for average prices of these ingredients, but your costs may vary.)

EMERGENCY-FOODEmergency Food. Verdict: Make your own P+F+C 

Convenience: RxBar, $1.80/bar* (+$0.58 shipping)=$2.38/bar, 12g P/8g F/22g C)

Homemade: 2 pastured hard-boiled eggs + 1 organic medium apple ($1.17 + $0.75) = $1.92/snack, 12g P/10g F/25g C

Cost Savings: 19%

Time spent: 15 minutes (to hard-boil eggs and pack things up)

Taste Differential: totally different, unfair to compare

What we’ve done here is taken a single RxBar (often used as an on-the-go portable snack during busy days, travel, or outdoor activities) and swapped it out for essentially the same amount of macronutrients found in an easily portable homemade snack—two pastured, organic hard-boiled eggs (assuming $7 a dozen) and a medium organic apple. Both snacks contain about the same amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. While we could have used a variety of homemade examples here (with different prices per snack), in general we believe the cost savings of making your own on-the-go food is substantial, and there generally isn’t that much time involved. However, you have to take into account your context, too. It’s hard to pack hard-boiled eggs on an all-day back-country snowboard trip, and pulling out a tin of tuna on an airplane is downright rude. Bottom line—on-the-go protein bars are a luxury, not a necessity on your Whole30. With a little planning and preparation, you can certainly do just as well (and save some serious dollars) with real food you prepare yourself. However, these are nice to have on hand for those super-emergency situations (like when you find yourself unprepared at the office or stuck on an airplane), so if you’re financially able, it might be helpful to split a box with your BFF, just in case. *Using the 10% discount code “whole30” 

jerkyBeef Jerky. Verdict: Could go either way

Convenience: Chomps Snack Sticks, $49.00 + $4.00 shipping = $54.00/24 ounces ($2.25/ounce)

Homemade: Recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo. (16 oz. grass-fed sirloin + ½ bottle coconut aminos): $16.99 + $4.00 = $20.99/16 ounces ($1.31/ounce).

Cost Savings: 42%

Time Spent: 45 minutes to freeze + 20 minutes to slice + 24 hours to marinate + 2 hours to bake.

Taste Differential: Substantial

Beef jerky from Chomps Snack Sticks (or other mini-meal meat sticks like EPIC bars) may be pricey, but there are benefits to spending the extra dollars. First, both companies use only 100% grass-fed, organic meat, ensuring the healthiest fat profile and micronutrient content. (You won’t find that in any gas store jerky. Also, ew.) Second, these companies have spent years perfecting their spice mixture, baking times, and jerky textures so you get tender, flavorful meat, not tasteless strips of meat-like rubber. In fact, both companies offer a variety of flavors for their meat products, and some are all-in-one snacks offering a mix of protein, fat, and healthy carbohydrates. If you don’t have easy access to grass-fed beef at home, don’t want to spend the time to prepare, slice, season, and bake your own jerky, or aren’t experienced enough to whip up spice mixtures to make your jerky tasty, you have a few options. First split an order of pre-packaged jerky with a friend, follow our Whole30 Approved “emergency food” meat vendors on social media and stock up when there’s free shipping or a discount. Or, skip jerky altogether and find less expensive portable protein options, like hard-boiled eggs; canned tuna, salmon, or sardines; or compatible deli meat.

gheeGhee. Verdict: Homemade

Convenience: Pure Indian Foods, $11.95 + $6.00 shipping = $17.95/8 ounces ($2.24/ounce)

Homemade: Recipe from Nom Nom Paleo. (16* oz. pastured, organic butter): $10.00/10 ounces ($1.00/ounce).

Cost Savings: 55%.

Time Spent: 20-30 minutes.

Taste Differential: Negligible, if any

Ghee is one of the easiest Whole30 staples to make yourself. It doesn’t require any specialty equipment (even cheesecloth for filtering is optional), and most of the time spent is hands-off letting the butter simmer. While it’s not a Whole30 rule, we strongly encourage using pastured, organic butter to make ghee, as it’s got a much healthier fat profile and more micronutrients. If you don’t have access to pastured, organic butter (like Kerrygold, Kalona Supernatural, or Organic Valley), you may choose to order ghee from a Whole30 Approved vendor, simply to ensure you are using the highest quality and healthiest form of cooking fat, but if budget is the biggest concern, just buy some butter, clarify it yourself, and enjoy enough cooking fat to get you through your entire Whole30 for under $10. By the way, it’s expensive to ship ghee! All quality retailers (including Tin Star Foods and OMGhee) package their ghee in glass containers—a healthier option compared to plastic, but heavier to mail. (However, Pure Indian Foods is considering offering customers a BPA-free plastic packaging option in addition to their glass jars for budget-conscious consumers.) One thing that may make “convenience” a little more appealing: if you have access to a local health food store, store-bought ghee is probably on par cost-wise with homemade, as it’s usually pastured and organic and you’re saving on shipping costs. *Note, you have to buy nearly twice as much butter than the amount of ghee you want to make, because you’re filtering out all the milk solids. 

mayoMayonnaise. Verdict: Homemade

Convenience: Primal Kitchen Mayo, $9.95/12 ounces

Homemade Option 1: Recipe from It Starts With Food, using avocado oil: (1 pastured, organic egg + 1¼ cups avocado oil + mustard powder + salt + 1 lemon): $0.58 + $5.75 + $0.3 + $0.0 + $0.25 = $6.88/12 ounces.

Homemade Option 2: Recipe from It Starts With Food, using light olive oil: (1 pastured, organic egg + 1¼ cups light olive oil + mustard powder + salt + 1 lemon): $0.58 + $4.11 + $0.3 + $0.0 + $0.25 = $5.24/12 ounces.

Cost Savings: 31% (avocado oil); 47% (light olive oil)

Time Spent: 5 minutes.

Taste Differential: Homemade wins every time

This is one of the first commercially-available, Whole30 compatible mayonnaise offerings on the market. (Tessemae’s makes another.) While the Primal Kitchen stuff tastes similar(ish) to homemade, nothing beats the light, fluffy texture of a batch you just whipped up yourself. Plus, mayo is fast and easy to make, although it does require some specialty kitchen equipment: namely, a blender, food processor, or stick (immersion) blender. Honestly, though, you can pick up one of these tools for $40 or less, which will pay for itself in just four jars of mayo—never mind all the other stuff you can use it for. In addition, making mayo only takes about 5 minutes, uses ingredients you can buy at any old grocery store, and is really easy to customize to taste using a variety of acids (citrus juice, vinegars, etc.), herbs, spices, and other added ingredients. If you skip the avocado oil (which the Primal Kitchen brand uses) and use a light-tasting olive oil instead, you’ll save even more money, although the fat profile in that oil is likely not as healthy. You could also use a high-oleic safflower or sunflower, if you have access to a Whole Foods or other health-food market.

FLAVORED-WATERFlavored Water. Verdict: Homemade 

Convenience: LaCroix Lemon Sparkling Water, $0.75/can (12 ounces)

Homemade: Water + lemon juice ($0.00 + $0.10)=$0.10/12 ounces

Cost Savings: 87%

Time Spent: 1 minute (optionally, 1-2 hours to chill and allow flavors to develop)

Taste Differential: you’re just missing the fizz, but have many more options in terms of flavors

Flavored waters like Whole30 Approved LaCroix, Pellegrino, or Whole Foods 365 are a delicious, healthy alternative to plain old water. Their cans or bottles are also convenient, allowing you to stash one in your gym bag, purse, or office cabinet for later. However, this is the very definition of a convenience item, as tap water is free(ish), and you can self-flavor it using a variety of free (if you grow them yourself) or inexpensive herbs or fruits. Plus, some don’t like the BPA and other less-healthy ingredients that go hand-in-hand with drinking from a plastic or plastic-lined container. The only down-side to making your own is that you have to plan ahead, packaging your water up in your own glass bottle or stainless-steel canteen for on-the-go hydration. (This is really not that hard.) The only thing this free version can’t give you is the fizz. If you wanted to invest in a home-carbonation machine, they generally cost between $50 to $100, with the necessary CO2 cartridges going for about $40. Each cartridge should make about 50-60 liters of sparkling water—so you’ll have to do the math* based on how much store-bought fizzy water you drink to see how long this it will take for this investment to pay for itself. *If you drank 1 liter of LaCroix a day (about 3 cans), you’d go through 30 liters in a month, and spend about $68.  If you drank the same amount of soda stream carbonated water (and self-flavored it), assuming you paid somewhere in the middle of the range, it would take you around a month and a half before your investment started paying off. 

almond-milkAlmond Milk. Verdict: Homemade

Convenience: New Barn Almond Milk, $5.99/28 fl. oz. (0.875 quarts)

Homemade: Recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo: (1 cup raw almonds + 4 cups water): $2.50 + $0.0 = $2.50/1 quart.

Cost Savings: No savings – in fact, the store-bought is more than twice as expensive

Time Spent: 24 hour soak + 10 minutes prep.

Taste Differential: many would say the pre-packaged tastes better, although that’s likely a texture thing from the addition of vegetable gum emulsifiers and/or lecithin

This is one product that you may opt to buy at the store, if you can find it, and the additives are an acceptable trade-off for the convenience. Whole30-compatible almond milk is getting easier and easier to find, as many companies (like Whole30 Approved New Barn or Whole Foods 365) are making unsweetened brands without carrageenan. While making it yourself isn’t that hard, you’ll want to soak the nuts for 24 hours before blending (which means you’ll have to plan ahead), and you do need a powerful blender or food processor, and some cheesecloth or a nut milk bag. Still, if your one local grocery store doesn’t carry almond milk, they’ll sure carry raw almonds, which means you could still enjoy almond milk at home with just a little extra effort (and a few extra cents.)

COCONUT-BUTTERCoconut Butter. Verdict: Homemade, or don’t bother 

Convenience: Artisana 100% Organic Raw Coconut Butter, $12.00/16 oz. ($0.75/ounce)

Homemade: Recipe from (16 oz* unsweetened coconut flakes + 2 Tbsp coconut oil): $4.50 + $0.70=$5.20/10 oz. ($0.52/ounce)

Cost Savings: 31%.

Time Spent: 10-20 minutes

Taste Differential: negligible, if any

There is pretty significant cost savings to making your own coconut butter, especially if you can’t find it at your local store and have to order it online (with shipping fees). However, you do have to have a pretty powerful food processor, and the process can take up to 20 minutes (with some breaks so your motor doesn’t burn out). Also, for most of us, coconut butter is a major luxury on the Whole30, not a necessity, so the smartest budget move may just be not to bother with either version, or seek it out in small packets. (Artisana sells 1 ounce packets for under $2 apiece; your local health food store may sell these individually.) *Note, the same amount of shredded coconut is reduced in the process of making the butter, leaving you with only 10 ounces in the end.

Convenience vs. Homemade. Your Verdict?

Were there other convenience foods that you wanted to see in this analysis? How do you feel about valuing time over money (or vice-versa)? Let us know what you think of our math… sound off in comments.