Giving up the Grocery Store: Becoming Increasingly Self-Sufficient in a Practical Way

Caitlin Elicker
14 Min Read

2020 was a changing point in my life that I didn’t realize I needed, or even wanted. We were not only struggling with cabin fever but we were also struggling to find food. When the first nationwide shutdown happened, everyone flocked to the stores and bought everything. People were buying things just to buy them so they had some sort of food source. Overnight it went from, “Well, I’d like to have tacos for tonight’s dinner, so I should go buy some taco seasoning, taco shells, sour cream, and some tortillas,” to, “I have expired cereal, freezer-burned hot dogs, and some naan bread. What can I make with that?” During this time, we didn’t have the convenience of going to the grocery store to pick up the extra items we needed for our last-minute food cravings. Furthermore, we had to make our own food, three meals a day, every day. Getting takeout or going to a restaurant for dinner wasn’t possible anymore.

It was during this lockdown that I realized a few things about myself. First, I had been moving more and more into this homesteading community. I had the big garden and I grew all the things. My canning inventory had been steadily growing over the past few years and I had been feeling pretty confident that I could survive on my home-canned items. The lockdown showed me that my homegrown spaghetti sauce is nothing without pasta. My delicious chipotle peach barbecue sauce is not good eaten by the spoon full, and my jams and jellies really need some sort of bread or pastry. This was a huge wake-up call for me. Why am I doing all this work to grow all of this food and to turn it into everything imaginable in my pantry, when I still need to rely on the grocery store in order to consume it? The whole purpose of the garden was to make me as self-sufficient as possible and seeing that I wasn’t at all self-sufficient was like a slap in the face. Changes needed to be made, immediately.

I decided to start making one food item at a time. I committed to myself that, from here on out, I would not purchase “this” from the grocery store, but I will make it myself, every single time. My first item was mayonnaise. I looked up some recipes and found it wasn’t hard to make at all, and it was extremely cost-effective. I normally go through a ton of mayonnaise and, for some reason, it is expensive at the store, and it is loaded with unhealthy oils and fats. My homemade version was only eggs, vinegar, Dijon mustard, and avocado oil. It surprised me how I instantly stood a little taller, knowing that this was a better mayonnaise, both in taste and health-wise.

Once I made the commitment, it took about two months for me to fully make the switch. I would be making dinner and need mayonnaise and I would reach for the jar in the fridge and then remember that I have to actually make it now. I won’t lie, it was annoying for sure. I was used to that convivence item, and the fact that this was an extra two-minute step was a step I didn’t want to take. Then one day, I need mayo and instead of reaching for the jar, I caught myself reaching for the eggs. I still remember that moment precisely. I had finally trained myself that mayo needed to be made when I wanted some. That was such a joyful moment for me. I can’t truly explain why, but it just felt like a tiny bit of freedom, knowing that this is officially one thing I no longer needed to buy from the store.

Learning to make your own bread will bring you closer to self-sufficiency.
Learning to make your own bread will bring you closer to self-sufficiency.

From there, I just continued. I picked one item and promised myself, once I picked that item, I wouldn’t buy it anymore. I said no to store-bought salad dressings, all homemade all the time. No more store-bought seasoning mixes. Need ranch dressing? Make your own. Want tacos? Go to the spice cabinet and get the different spices. I made pre-made cake and cookie mixes, cornbread mixes, homemade tortillas and so much more. I also used this time to jump on the sourdough-starter bandwagon, and over the last two years, I have become extremely adept at making delicious and beautiful loaves. I no longer buy bread from the store, and I have taught myself if I want bread, I need to plan at least two days before so I can make a loaf myself.

Now, all this isn’t being done just to say I can do it. Once I jumped on this train, I was on it to stay. I started doing research into the chemicals that are in our food. I started seeing the recalls of our food. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, something I loved, were recalled for exposure to a pesticide known to cause cancer. I started seeing more and more the nonsense that is allowed in our food compared to the exact same product in other countries. If you never have, take a look at the comparison between certain foods both in America and in Europe. It’s mind-blowing the amount of absolute garbage that we are allowed to consume. I had friends who had children who were not allowed to have anything in it with red dye 40 because it made the children act out and behave badly. My friend swore up and down that the kids were 100% different when they were not fed foods with red dye 40. And the list goes on and on. Baking powder with aluminum. Vegetable and canola oils release high concentrations of aldehydes that are linked to heart disease and cancer. Preservatives are sprayed onto fruits and baked into breads in order to make them shelf stable for longer.  Once I started making everything from scratch, I saw how real, unadulterated food actually decomposes, and it’s nothing like it is in the stores.

Over the past two years, I’ve grown my skills exponentially, and it has had a wide range of effects.  I feel so incredibly confident in the food I am consuming. I know that in taking the time to make everything from scratch, I know exactly what is in it, and more importantly, what is not in it. I’ve taken control of my health and what I allow in my body, while at the same time, incredibly reducing my need for the grocery store AND drastically minimizing my grocery bill.

It is with an immense source of pride, that I can say I haven’t had to do a big grocery order in four months. I have picked up things I can’t produce on my small homestead yet, such as milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and occasionally some meat, but I am relying solely on what I have put up in my house. I’ve learned how to make pasta to go with the spaghetti sauce, I have built up an organic meat supply in both freezers and in canned form to ensure that I have enough protein in case of emergencies. I have frozen veggies from the garden, ready to be roasted as sides or thrown into soups or stews. I almost always have a fresh loaf of sourdough ready to be enjoyed.

I’ve seen the changes as well, in what I eat. No longer am I hungry for banana bread and when I don’t have any bananas. I swap out the bananas for something I do have, or I modify recipes so that I don’t need to run to the store for an ingredient or two. I’m no longer scrolling the internet looking for dinner inspiration, but I’m going to my pantry and my freezers and seeing what new combination of delicious food I can make today.

Taco seasoning is a great place to start making your own groceries.

Two years ago, I went to the grocery store almost every day, just for that one ingredient I needed for the dinner I just had to have that night. I no longer need to do that and that feeling of freedom is fantastic. Anything I want, I now have the confidence to easily make my own. The trick is prioritizing and planning ahead.

Have ten minutes after work one evening while dinner is in the oven? Whip up some dry cake mixes and throw them in jars or bags in your pantry. Next time you want a cake, you just need to add the wet ingredients and you have a completely homemade cake.  Another ten minutes? Make up some spice blends. Ranch powder and taco seasoning are great starts. Rainy evening? Make and cook some tortillas and put them in the freezer. Mix up different cookie mixes and freeze them for quick, no-fuss cookies. Spending just a few minutes on one thing can very quickly and easily transform how you shop and what you consume.

When you’re ready to take it to the next step, start doing bigger and better things. Take your home-grown potatoes or store-bought potatoes and shred them for quick frozen hash browns. Turn them into pierogies or gnocchi for the freezer. Take jalapenos and make your own jalapeno poppers, turn onions into onion rings, and again, throw them into the freezer for a no-fuss game day.

Take the time to see what your family consumes the most and try and figure out if there’s a way you could make it now and eat it over the next few weeks or months. Not only will you get the satisfaction of it being homemade, but you know it is made with the best ingredients, has no harsh chemicals or preservatives, and has saved you money at the grocery store. Two years in and I’m proud to say my current grocery store order doesn’t have a single ready-to-eat/cook food item in it. It is almost $200 but it is for staples like flour, sugar, vinegars, salts, etc, that I am not able to produce myself. I went from a $200 monthly bill to $200 every six months.

Making your own soaps and salves is another way to give up the grocery store.

And you don’t have to stop with food. I’ve recently started learning how to make my own homemade, aluminum-free deodorant, chemical-free shampoo bars and soaps, homemade body lotions, and sugar scrubs, pour tapered candles for a fraction of the cost, and crochet my own dishrags with yarn left over from my childhood.

Once you start down the road of self-sufficiency, it is hard to stop. It has become a passion for me to do as much on my own as I can. Many of these projects are things you spend half an hour to an hour doing once a year or so, but you have that constant feeling of joy knowing that these products are all you. If another natural disaster, pandemic, or world-ending crisis happens, you will have the knowledge and freedom knowing that you and your family have the skills needed to not only survive but thrive.

I challenge you. What will be your first no-more store-bought, only homemade, commitment?

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