Just Say No to the Jar!

I like convenience as much as the next mom, especially when it comes to dinner and feeding my family quickly and without much hassle. I’ll be honest though, sometimes quick and easy choices in the form of a box or bottle win out especially on crazy days when my planning doesn’t work out so well by supper time. However, for the most part, I try really hard to avoid boxes and bottles. You can’t control the ingredients in them and many are there simply to preserve or provide color. That’s the part I most want to avoid for my family. Here’s the thing I’ve discovered over the years: you can make your own of what’s in that box or bottle for about the same or less cost and it doesn’t have to add a lot of time or mess to make it happen.

A great example is spaghetti sauce. Let me just say, there are plenty of complex spaghetti sauce recipes out there. They contain a bunch of ingredients, a lot of chopping and many hours of simmering to produce a rich, even better the next day, spaghetti sauce. When you have a free day to play in the kitchen, a luxury most moms do not have, I would encourage you to try one. They are worth the trouble, if you have the time. But on any other day, really and truly all you need is:

  1. 28 oz can of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
  2. salt/pepper
  3. garlic powder
  4. onion
  5. olive oil
  6. Italian seasoning

I promise you; those 6 ingredients can produce a sauce every bit as good as the jarred variety and you can feel good about what your family is eating.

Here’s the steps I take when using these ingredients to make a meat sauce for spaghetti:

  1. Over medium heat, sauté about ¾ -1 cup of frozen chopped onion in about 1 tablespoon of oil until tender (about 5 minutes). You can use a fresh medium onion, chopped, as well.
  2. As it is sautéing, season lightly with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried Italian seasoning (typically a mix of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and marjoram – but you can use whatever you have on hand)
  3. Mix in 1 pound of ground meat – beef, sausage, veal, etc. – season lightly again and sauté meat and onion mixture until beef is browned
  4. Pour in tomato puree and bring just to a boil (tomato sauce burns easily and it will also spit when boiling, making a mess)
  5. Reduce heat and taste for seasoning. Add any additional seasoning if necessary.
  6. Simmer about 30 minutes or for as long as you have until your noodles are ready. The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor will be.


If you lightly season as you go from the beginning, each ingredient will be able to absorb flavor as it cooks. Be careful not to over season at the end.

Adding meat to this simple sauce enriches the flavor, but you can make it meatless. Tomato paste can be added for a richer flavor but beware – a little goes a long way – a tablespoon or two is usually all you need. Whisk in after adding the puree.

A wide shallow pan rather than a deep pot works better when making sauces. I have a pan that is meant for poaching meats, but it is great for sauces. Ingredients have more room to meld together and I can move it all around easier, avoiding any sticking or burning.

Don’t cover the sauce while it is simmering, it will get thinner. You want the excess liquid to evaporate for the sauce to get to that lovely thickness that clings to the noodles. Yum!

Have you had success saying no to the jar? Share it with all of us in the comments below!

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