Food Science: Homemade vs. Store-Bought

Nowadays, many of us have strayed away from cooking and prepping our own food more frequently out of ease, tight schedules, lack of time, or lack of knowledge in the kitchen (think “Worst Cooks in America”). Convenience shops, grocers, takeaway places, and the drive-thrus have become workers’ best friends. In addition, they come very much in handy for those who work at home, are stay-at-home parents, and/or simply don’t have the tools to create these staples themselves. Question is, to what extent can and should we rely on these external sources to prepare our food for us?

Food production ultimately boils down to this: converting raw materials into products that can be consumed by humans in production facilities or at home. While food production seems complicated, the differences between food production in the home versus in a processing plant are few and far between. The scaling is much larger in company production, but that’s the gist of it.

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    • Depending on the type of food or beverage, price difference, especially in the broader picture, will vary. In general, it is cheaper to make homemade lattes, more expensive for homemade peanut butter, but it can be either game to produce your own almond milk (pricier vs. cheaper). Be sure to look for any raw material that you can find in bulk and/or at reduced prices, work out the math, and see if it is worth replicating in a kitchen.
      1. Firstly, find a recipe to replicate the designated homemade recipe, such as a batch of hummus, cashew milk, or kombucha.
      2. Find the cost of a typical store-bought food product of the brand you currently shop from.
      3. Divide the price of the product by its net weight in ounces. This is how much the product costs per ounce.
      4. Take the raw material’s price per pound/ounce/100 grams.
      5. Tally up how much raw material you will need for the recipe. Say that’s approximately a pound of almonds.
      6. Divide the price of the raw material by its net weight in ounces.
      7. Compare price differences and keep this in mind when deciding to choose a homemade recipe versus a store-bought product.
    • That being said, price per ounce is not the main factor when looking at cost-effectiveness. Look into other pointers. How much of the raw material do you use and how much gets discarded? Does your product require any kitchen appliance that costs a significant amount of money (and will it be worth the investment)?
    • Generally homemade. You know exactly what kind of raw material, the brands, the freshness, the age, and/or whether they are organic. Additionally, you generally do not use any preservatives or synthetic ingredients that are normally found in almost every single packaged product you come across. With that being said, this doesn’t mean that store-bought recipes are entirely dangerous. There are an abundance of products that use ingredients of splendid quality and remain free of additives, dyes, colors, preservatives, animal derivatives, and excessive salts. Some of these are harder to find and can be pricey, so if necessary, stick to what you can cook.
    • Store-bought. Yeah, you can use a freezer, a refrigerator, or other optimal storage methods to prolong shelf life, but nobody can deny that pre-made products have all the preservation properties to maintain the most prolonged possible duration. Food scientists of these corporations know the ins and outs of preserving their products, thus the little tricks up their sleeves really accomplish a long-lasting product. No wonder fast food menu items last for months and months!
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    • Define nutritional quality. Is it macro-friendliness? Is it whether there are more “good” nutrients than “bad”? Is it whether the “healthy” nutrient levels are high and the “toxic” nutrient levels are low? Whatever your definition encompasses, that will dictate if a homemade formula or a pre-made food is better for you. Try to create a recipe that will cater towards your nutritional needs (that also tastes sufficient for your preferences). Keep in mind that some packaged products are incredibly challenging to replicate, so you may end up buying extremely expensive ingredients in a complicated recipe that blows. Pick wisely!
    • Definitely store-bought. Meal-prep can be convenient, but it is a universal  inconvenience to pick recipes for a meal plan, then write a grocery list, shop for all the ingredients, find tupperware to pack all the evenly distributed food, and remember to bring it with you to work or school. Meanwhile, all you have to do for a store-bought package is to find a convenience store, pay a few dollars, rip open the package, and eat. Ultimately, it all depends on your schedule. Some people love cooking and find meal prep non-problematic at all, whereas others despise spending a few hours in the kitchen or having to worry about packing food up. Nonetheless, for the most part, store-bought products win when it comes to overall convenience.
    • Depends. Face it, it is SO challenging to recreate an identical replica of your favorite product. For instance, it would be impossible for me to whip up a dairy free Halo Top that tastes the same AND is macro-friendly. Same with Lakanto chocolate, The Lion’s Choice cookie dough, and Pulp Pantry granola. However, I have seen nearly identical version of peanut butter Larabars and Lenny and Larry’s cookies that look absolutely incredible! Again, select a recipe, give it three trials, and use the other factors (convenience, cost, nutritional profile) to help establish if homemade or store-bought works more in your favor.
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    • There are several environmental concerns when it comes to food production: greenhouse gases, land occupation, water usage, energy consumption, aquatic environments and wildlife, animal waste (in meat production), and packaging. Tupperware can be re-used, plastic and/or metal bags cannot. We can re-use leftover food, processing plants discard most of theirs. Our cooking sessions generally don’t involve unnecessary harm on others, but most food production facilities do. Even though we all as people have some kind of negative environmental impact, whatever we cook in our much-smaller-scale kitchens have much less than 0.05% of the carbon footprint on factory farming.
    • Homemade. Just as indicated above, homemade recipes only touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to environmental deterioration. On the flip-side, when it comes to waste, both sides are guilty. It sucks to generate at least five pounds worth of leftover food you can’t use. With this in mind, a family kitchen still produces an non-traceable quantity of waste in comparison to what is dismantled from a processing plant simply because of scale production. You only need to feed yourself or a family of a few members, whereas a food corporation needs to feed millions. More production means more material, more mess, and as a result, more waste.


No surprise, neither store-bought or homemade is superior over the other because it truly depends on your situation. Only in a perfect world would we be all able to whip up our favorite recipes of our pre-packaged products that taste the exact same way and have the same health and nutritional properties. That being said, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most out of both. Meal prep as much as you possibly can and purchase all your other necessities to reduce packaging and cost. Start with abstaining from Starbucks lattes and replacing them with a high-quality coffee machine and some bulk coffee beans and almond milk that are cost-effective and efficient. Who knows? You just might be brewing your own kombucha or kneading homemade sourdough bread in no time!

Do you prefer store-bought or homemade recipes?

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