Frugal and Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions

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Frugal and Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions

Why is it that a few hundred years ago, women could turn a kitchen with one cupboard and a counter top into a home-style gourmet kitchen? Obviously they didn’t have loads of gadgets to work with and they couldn’t run to the nearest store to get a missing ingredient. Despite these challenges, these women created many of the recipes that we build on today.

How did they do it?

Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions

For one thing, they were masters when it came to substitution! Frugal kitchen substitutes are still vital to today’s kitchen and can help you create the meal you are trying to make without having to make an extra trip to the store. You’ll be amazed at what’s already in your kitchen!

Here are some basics to try:

Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions (for foods)

Sometimes you just need that one ingredient. Is it really worth running to the store for it? If you live a ways from town like I do, it’s not! Try some of the substitutes listed below instead of making a special purchase and burning extra gas for a store run.

  • Sour Cream: If you have a recipe that calls for sour cream, use plain yogurt instead.
  • Buttermilk: Make your own buttermilk by putting one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup. Fill the cup the rest of the way to the one cup line with whole milk and allow it to sit for a few minutes. This makes one cup of buttermilk. Learn How to Make Buttermilk here.
  • Baking Powder: For a teaspoon of baking powder, mix a ½ teaspoon baking soda with a ½ teaspoon cream of tartar. See Homemade Baking Powder here.
  • Light Corn Syrup: If you need light corn syrup for a recipe or you need some syrup for pancakes or french toast, mix 1 cup of sugar with ¼ cup of water. This mixes best if heated on the stove while constantly stirring. You can also add a bit of vanilla or maple syrup for flavoring depending on what you are using it for.
  • French Vanilla Creamer: Mix one can of sweetened condensed milk with a tablespoon of vanilla extract. Fill the can with milk and add to the mixture.
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk: Mix 1½ cups whole milk, ½ cup sugar, 2 Tbsp salted butter on the stove top and bring to a boil. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract after you remove from heat.
  • Cracker Crumbs: Use 1 cup of oats instead of 1 cup of cracker crumbs depending on the recipe.
  • Heavy or Light Cream: In many recipes, you can substitute 1 cup of evaporated milk for 1 cup of cream.
  • Cream Cheese: No cream cheese in the fridge? Puree the same amount of cottage cheese needed! Learn How to Make Cream Cheese here.
  • Egg: Instead of using an egg in a recipe you can sub in a half of a mashed banana or a 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce.
  • Honey: Instead of using 1 cup of honey you can mix together 1 1/4 cups of sugar plus 1/3 cup of water.
  • Ketchup: Rarely are we out of ketchup since I like to can it but if you are you can use 1 cup of tomato sauce plus 1 teaspoon of vinegar in the place of 1 cup of ketchup. See my Homemade Ketchup Recipe here.
  • Lemon Juice:  Replace 1 teaspoon of lemon juice with 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar or the same amount of lime juice.
  • Soy Sauce: To replace 1/2 cup of soy sauce in a recipe, mix together 4 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce plus  1 tablespoon of water. Homemade Soy Sauce recipe coming soon!
  • Vinegar: Replace with equal amounts of lemon or lime juice.

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Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions

Other Frugal and Easy Cooking Substitution Solutions

You have even more frugal kitchen substitutes lurking in your cabinets! Use some of the tips below instead of buying new gadgets.

  • Don’t have a meat tenderizer? No problem. Hold a small plate so that it is perpendicular with the meat. Roll the edge of plate on the meat. Repeat until one side is tenderized. Flip the meat over and repeat. You can also stab it multiple times with a fork for the same effect. Place in marinade, cook, and serve.
  • Speaking of marinade, you can make your own. Use one part vinegar to three parts water. Add other seasonings to taste. Allow to soak for at least a half hour. This is a great way to get a tender juicy steak. You can also use leftover fruit juice from canned fruits to marinate chicken and pork.
  • Out of aluminum foil or need a lid? Use a pizza pan instead. Just set it on top of the pot or pan you needed a lid for. Remember to use a potholder or glove when you touch it as it will be hot!

Before you let someone convince you that you need a new gadget, take a look around the house to see what kind of frugal kitchen substitutes you already have. You’ll see that you can save time, space, and money by using what’s already in your kitchen! Saving money is really about imagination in the kitchen!

bookcoversmallerLove tips like this? My book, Little House Living: The Make Your Own Guide to a Simple, Frugal, and Self Sufficient Life has a large section of great cooking substitutions plus over 130 fun DIY recipes! Get your copy here.

Of course you can also make your own versions of so many different foods and we have all kinds of recipes on my Make Your Own recipe page such as this Seasoning Salt Recipe, Homemade Mayonnaise, How to Make Peanut Butter, and even Homemade Velveeta!

Share your favorite useful, frugal kitchen substitution solutions that you use in the comments section!


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  1. This is a great post. I’ve Pinned it. I don’t know how many times over the years that I’ve passed on making a recipe because I didn’t have all the ingredients. This is a real gem to have in my arsenal. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I like that several of the frugal substitutions are actually healthier alternatives too! One of the ones I use all the time is plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. The yogurt is a staple in our home, but sour cream, not so much.

  3. Right after we got married we decided to have pancakes for breakfast one morning. We thought we had syrup but after looking through our small pantry, nope! My husband was all in the rafters and since it was early Sunday morning none of the stores were open so we couldn’t just run and get some. I told him to have a cup of coffee and simmer down. I remembered my grandmother making vanilla syrup when I was a kid so after a quick google I whipped up a batch and he was utterly amazed. He still loves to tell people that I can pull stuff out of thin air, he’ll lean over and say, “She can even make pancake syrup from scratch!”

  4. Substitute for an egg: Grind 1 tablespoon of flax seed, add 3 tablespoons of water. Allow to sit for a few minutes while adding other ingredients.

    I have used this ratio to completely replace eggs in pancakes, waffles, banana loaf, pumpkin loaf, etc. It works really well!

    Thank you for your site. I enjoy visiting it regularly.

  5. In baking, you can substitute each egg with 1 TB. ground flax seed meal, plus 2-3 TB. water, and boil for just a few minutes, until it gets to an egg-like consistency. Multiply for as many eggs as you are using. It’s also a vegan-friendly substitute, but although I am not vegan, it’s easier to long-term store flax meal, and I almost always have it on hand (even when the kids have consumed all the eggs!).

  6. Great Post!! I love substitutions and some of these I have never heard of. I personally am not into kitchen gadgets and considered most a waste of space and money.

    1. I agree Buffy. Beyond a French press coffee maker for me and a drip pot for hubby, we really have no gadgets. The toaster, I guess. I don’t count canning tools that make processing go sooo much faster like the hand crank strainer for sauces and butters. Those are such time savers that I almost wouldn’t do that stuff without them. But real “gadgets” are a waste of time and money.

  7. For the past few weeks I’ve been reading old cookbooks online from around 1914 to WWII (many old cookbooks are available in their entirety.) I was interested in rationing recipes and how people cooked then. This has been so much fun! In addition to finding money-saving recipes, I’ve found many wonderful vegan recipes for my vegan family members, since the cooks often had to make-do without meat, fats, and dairy. From these recipes, I have made incredibly delicious chocolate and pecan pies without eggs, but using very simple ingredients that were available to the war-time or cash-strapped cook. (Many vegan recipes of today are so expensive because they require so many different, costlier items–and they often end up tasting far from the old familiar taste I’m trying to recreate.) When foods were unavailable or out of financial reach, these cooks of yesteryear did an amazing job of providing delicious, healthy meals for their families.

    Some interesting things from the very early 1900’s cookbooks:
    The economically-minded cook could feed her family of 6 or 7 on–imagine this–less than $30 a month in large eastern city! She gave the cost break-down of everything! Imagine–meat cost between 1 and 5 cents per pound!
    The author of another cookbook fretted over the amount of time she spent in the kitchen but refused to be caught up in the “take-out” habit of too many of her sisters. I did a double-take on that: What on earth would a “take-out dinner” be like in the early 1900’s? As I read on, she was talking about delicatessens.
    In the days before pressure canners, cooks were advised to boil many of the canned items for two and one-half hours! I guess anything would be safe after boiling that amount of time!

    “Necessity is the mother of invention.” How wonderfully true! I enjoyed your post today 🙂

    1. So fascinating! I love hearing how people did things back in those days. It truly is amazing what you can do when you are forced to make do!

      I also would love to know the names of those cookbooks. It sounds like they would be fascinating to read!

  8. I like making my own brown sugar- use 1 C granulated + 1-2 (1 for light and 2 for dark) TBL molasses. Mix until the molasses is thoroughly incorporated into the sugar. I’ve used more natural cane sugar and it has worked well- as long as it has a fine enough texture.
    You can also make super fine and powdered sugar from granulated sugar. Just put it in the food processor, and for powdered sugar add some cornstarch.

  9. Awesome to have these tips! I didn’t know them all! Thanks for teaching me something new today 😉

    Pinning it!

  10. I have been looking for a blog like yours and I have finally found it. I live 40 miles from town on a ranch and have been looking for a great source for home cooking! I am tired of spending all my money on groceries filled with preservatives, unhealthy ingredients, etc. I am so excited!

  11. I, too, read my Grandmother’s cookbook for ideas-so many meals made from scratch and with few ingredients. Thank you for the article!

  12. Never knew there was a substitute for eggs; great article! When I was a student I learned to cook a meal with whatever was left over in my kitchen; later I discovereed Turkish yoghurt (10 5 fat)in 1 kilo buckets and have used it for making Lassi (Indian yogurtdrink-mix yoghurt with a mango and milk) and later instead of sour cream which I always thought was sold in too small quantities and much more expensive than Turkish yoghurt.
    I also like my kitchen to be as simple as possible apart from one wonderful time-saving invention I had to by when being unable to eat normaly due to Kinkhoest=troatdisease(when the soup from the supermarket was too rough for me too eat; I choked in it; had to live on soup and yoghurt for 3 months) a blender; I used to make enless supplies of cold carrotsoup.I have become very handy in making dinner from scratch; due to living from a tight budget and its fun 🙂

  13. Thanks for the great substitutions! I just hate it when I find a recipe I want to make but I’m missing that one ingredient!

  14. It never fails that I’m out of something when I get to baking. This is a great list of substitutions. Thanks for sharing it with us at the Let’s Get Real Link Party. You are my featured article for this week. You can stop by and see at

    1. I used either olive oil or coconut oil. Olive oil has a little more flavor so it doesn’t work for all dishes but coconut oil is a pretty good all-around sub.

      1. Yep, applesauce works great in lots of things instead of oil. Some can also use melted butter or lard, but not all. I would use applesauce for baked goods and melted fats for other stuff.

  15. Dear Merissa,

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips. You have some of the best recipes for substitutes that I have seen.


  16. I make the majority of our meals from scratch and over the years I have learned a lot about making due and using substitutions to save money or to save a trip to the grocery store. This is a great list! The lemon juice substitution is a new one….and one I need to remember, since I find myself running out of that semi-frequently.

    You mention a substitution for heavy or light cream. I thought I’d also mention that depending on what you are making, you can often just use whole milk too. It’s much cheaper, and while the recipe might not be quite a rich, most of the time we don’t even notice. I especially do this in soups etc.

  17. Love this list and by the way I LOVE your book! It has been a great encouragement to me…thank you!

  18. This is a great list of subs, however I admit, I love gadgets for the kitchen. But it is nice to know you can make buttermilk when you don’t have it. Thanks for sharing at Let’s Get Real.

  19. I’ve made my own buttermilk like this as we can’t get it easily here in the UK but most of the other ideas are new to me so thanks!

  20. How cool! I didn’t know about some of these, but I will definitely be keeping them in mind! Thanks for sharing! #SmallVictories

  21. Thanks so much for sharing this. I often take things to share at church and my one rule is – use what we have. I’ve always gotten compliments so I guess I’m doing OK. Blessings.

  22. I just used the plain yogurt substitution tonight because I was out of sour cream, and I knew the buttermilk one and use that for pancakes regularly–but lots of these are new to me. Thank you so much! This is an awesome list.

    And as for not having a lid to a pot, I have one pot that lost the lid, and I always use a large plate instead 😉 I thought I was the only one that came up with something like that but I guess not.

  23. I am always looking up substitutions and now I can have them all in one place. There are even a few I didn’t know about. Thank you for sharing!

  24. I had never heard of the trick for sweetened condensed milk. I’ll definitely try that one because I want to make some snow cream with all this snow, but I don’t want to go to the grocery for one thing. Thanks for linking up at Funtastic Friday!

  25. Just found this page on your blog (was looking for a substitute for baking powder) and thanks for the helpful list! Your website has been my go-to place for ideas and inspiration for years now.
    I agree with the other readers about those old cookbooks–we could use simple and frugal ideas nowadays especially this year 2020 with so many people unemployed. I hope you include some pioneer/great depression recipes in your next book. Keep up the good work!

  26. I’ve read your substitutions recipes and have written them down. Some I knew, some I didn’t. They’re all great. I want to get your book ,too. And even Joyce’s take on another egg substitute. Sounds easy. Will be pinning for those who go to some of my boards. Thanks so much and will be back.