By Sue Carr

Up until now, I’ve written about greening my life by reducing my family’s use of harsh chemicals, both in our home and on ourselves. But we’ve been greening another equally important aspect of our lives: our diets.

I could write about green eating for days given the chance (and likely will). The hugeness of this topic tends to overwhelm people. It did me for quite a while, and often still does. Trying to keep your family’s diet free of pesticides, GMOs, trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, not to mention allergens and other random chemicals, is enough to make any frugal mama’s head spin. And I’ll tell you flat-out, I’m not the authority on the subject. I’m just a mom trying to make decent decisions for my family on a limited budget with whatever knowledge I can glean from Facebook, my book club, the other moms volunteering in the school cafeteria, and the media (let me stress that I try to take the tiniest percentage of information possible from the media, with the exception of Mrs. Green). So where does an overwhelmed mom start?

Bake some muffins. Or bread, or pizza dough, or cake, or cookies—anything—as long as it’s from scratch. Why? Because when you bake from scratch, you connect with your ingredients. You know exactly what’s going into the recipe, and by default, you know exactly what’s going into your body. Nor so with all those colorful boxes lining the grocery aisles promising rich, chocolaty taste or whole grain goodness that have more unpronounceable words in their ingredient lists than George Lucas could pack into a Star Wars trilogy.

muffinsBaking from scratch is a way to reconnect to your food, to get you thinking carefully about what ingredients you put into your body and how they impact your health and well-being. After you do it a few times, you’ll find yourself looking for ways to improve your recipes, maybe by substituting some whole wheat flour for white flour, or some organic applesauce for oil. Maybe you’ll sprinkle in some ground flax seed or oatmeal for an extra nutritional punch. Next thing you know, you’ll start seeking out recipes that include things like carrots, zucchini, bananas and sweet potatoes to sneak some extra nutrition into the picky eater in your life. Let’s face it, what kid wouldn’t love to come home to a snack like this?

I know life is busy and we don’t always have time or energy to pop a couple dozen muffins into the oven, but trust me when I tell you, it will be worth it. Make it a Saturday morning ritual. I promise you, you won’t regret it.  For those non-bakers out there, here are some staples you’ll want to have on hand if you’d like to start cranking out your own, made-from-scratch baked goods.

Flour (both white and whole wheat)
Sugar (white and brown)
Baking powder
Baking soda
Dutch process cocoa
Oil (coconut has wonderful flavor, but canola is great if you don’t want your oil to flavor your recipe)
Baking spices (I use cinnamon and nutmeg the most)

For anyone looking to bake bread or make pizza dough from scratch, I highly recommend a bread maker. I picked mine up for $5 at a flea market, and I use it all the time, not only to bake bread but to mix up pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, breadsticks, you name it.

With an arsenal of these ingredients at the ready in your pantry, you can whip up a huge amount of baked goods that taste better and pack far more nutritional punch than anything on a grocery shelf. And you’ll start to take control of the building blocks that make you. 

Sue Nelko Carr is a freelance writer and editor, and a full-time mother, trying to live a greener life in Pittsburgh, PA.