Plain Yogurt is a Good Cheap Eat

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Plain yogurt is a good cheap eat that you can enjoy plain as well as in cooking and baking. It’s a must-have in our kitchen.

Plain Yogurt is a Good Cheap Eat - Plain yogurt is a good cheap eat that you can enjoy plain as well as in cooking and baking. It's a must-have in our kitchen.

It wasn’t until we found ourselves buried in debt that I really gave plain yogurt a chance. Previously, I bought the more expensive sugared varieties in individual packaging.

Once I started to drastically cut my grocery budget, I became a little more cut-throat in my yogurt buying: I only bought store brand on sale or a name brand on sale with a coupon.

Now that I’m trying to clean up our family’s diet, I prefer the plain variety without all the added junk. 

Buy Plain Yogurt

As it turned out the store brand’s flavored varieties were pretty gross and they were filled with ingredients and fillers I didn’t want my family to eat. So, I started buying plain yogurt which had the great price, but without all the additives I wanted us to avoid.

Yogurt as a main dish

I doctor it up with fresh fruit or jam or even maple syrup or honey. My older children were slow to catch on at first, but the younger ones were totally on board from the start. In fact, they love it with maple syrup as does my husband. He makes it a regular lunch or afternoon snack.

As for me, I love to make parfaits with berries and granola.

Plain Yogurt is a Good Cheap Eat - Plain yogurt is a good cheap eat that you can enjoy plain as well as in cooking and baking. It's a must-have in our kitchen.

Yogurt in recipes

I’ve also used plain yogurt as a substitute for sour cream in dressings and in baking. It’s a key ingredient in Mix and Match Muffins and Chocolate Banana Marble Cake as well as our favorite topping for fish tacos, Yogurt-Dill Dressing. My kids love the Yogurt Pancakes that are in the Good Cheap Eats cookbook. (affiliate link)

Yogurt makes Fish Tacos into Happiness on a Plate. Plain yogurt is also a fantastic base for marinades like this Buttermilk-Yogurt Marinade or Tandoori Chicken.

My target price is $0.50 per individual cup or $2-2.50 for a large carton of regular yogurt, $3-3.50 for Greek. Costco tends to have the best price on the latter.

The full fat version from Mountain High is divine in parfaits, but I typically opt for the nonfat Fage for the extra boost of protein. I’ve also learned how to make yogurt myself!

I don’t clip as many coupons as I once did, but I’m sure to stock up when I see sales and especially when I have coupons for our favorite brands, like Fage or Mountain High.

Either way, plain yogurt is a healthy and economical ingredient. Most definitely a good cheap eat.

Do you use plain yogurt in your cooking?

This post was originally published on July 19, 2010. Pricing information has been updated.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Denise.C says

    I love using plain yogurt in cooking! When my kids want yogurt, I will add a wee bit of vanilla extract and boost the flavor. It’s easier on my wallet to buy one big container, rather than a bunch of small flavored ones.

  2. I do now! I have used it in smoothies for a long time, but Saturday I made your fish taco recipe, and my son loved it. He called it “ranch dressing”, and I did not tell him any differently. But, I can’t get it cheap around here. The only ones available are almost $4 a carton!

  3. I have used it in smoothies, and Saturday I made your fish tacos. My son loved it and called it “ranch dressing.” But, it’s expensive here; the only ones I can find are close to $4 a carton.

  4. Darcy says

    We’ve been learning the joys of plain yogurt, as well. I still won’t eat it (I dislike tastes like spoiled milk to me), but my kids love it, I cook with it tons now, and it’s wonderful stuff. I also mix in applesauce.

    To me, non-fat yogurt isn’t much different than the flavored stuff you buy. It still is loaded with sugar to make it taste good since the fat has been removed. Here’s a great website on fat and why it’s good for you in it’s natural forms in case you want to read a bit on it:

  5. Tina says

    I made a quart and a half of yogurt last night from milk that was on its last few days. All you need is a double broiler (and I devise my own), a candy thermometer, dry milk, a half packet of unflavored gelatin, a starter (which can be your homemade yogurt after the first time you make it) and your oven (with the light on for incubation.) I was afraid to do this at first, but it turns out every time and cost less than $1.00 per quart. Better yet, it’s healthy and taste better than any yogurt I’ve ever bought. It taste most like the Breyer’s fruit on the bottom – but better! I follow the instructions here: The only change I make is I add 1 T vanilla to the hot yogurt before incubating. I do method A for thick yogurt and I don’t add sweetener. I like to add just a little homemade (could certainly use store bought) jam to sweeten it. So good! Don’t be intimidated by the directions. Read through them and just do it! It’s very simple and so worth it. I used to ration yogurt and only buy it on sale. Now I allow the children to eat it for snacks, dessert or breakfast whenever! They love it!

  6. Kelly Hassenzahl says

    I have been told that making your own homemade yogurt is both economical and easy as well as healthier. Does anyone else have experience with this. I’d love to try it, but I’ve been a bit chicken to just jump into it. Thanks!

    • I make my own yogurt every week, actually! My recipe is here:

      It’s super simple and doesn’t require any weird contraptions or equipment.

    • Nancy says

      I make my own yogurt in the crock pot all the time. It’s super easy and inexpensive. Check out instructions on the internet. Here’s how I do it and I’ve never had a failure:
      Ingredients: 1/2 gallon milk (2% works) and 1/2 cup plain unflavored yogurt with live active cultures. (Then save a half cup of homemade yogurt for the starter next time.)
      1. Warm the milk crock pot on low for 2 hours and 30 minutes
      2. Turn off the crock pot, unplug it, and let it sit for 3 hours
      3. Add the half cup of yogurt to the warm milk. Mix together thoroughly with a whisk.
      4. Put the lid back on crock pot and wrap the crock pot with a large beach towel or blanket. MAKE SURE THE POT IS UNPLUGGED.
      5. Let stand for 8-12 hours.
      Voila, yogurt.

    • TSandy says

      I make yogurt every week in my crockpot. If you are on a budget or want healthier food to feed your family making your own yogurt is the way to go.
      1. I heat my milk for 3.5 hours (I know from experience that it takes my crockpot this long for the milk to reach 180 degrees and hold for 30 minutes.) This helps the yogurt thicken without adding powdered milk or other thickeners.
      2. Add any sugar or sweetener you want to use
      3. Pour milk into bowl and with ice water bath reduce temperature to 112-114 degrees (I put the lid back on my crockpot and stick the crock in the oven to keep it warm).
      4. I temper in one container of Fage greek yogurt as starter in a separate small bowl gradually adding about two cups of the warm milk. MAKE SURE YOU KEEP THIS SMOOTH AND CREAMY OR YOU WILL HAVE LUMPS IN YOUR YOGURT. I pour the tempered yogurt/milk mixture back into the milk and stir.
      5. Pour milk/yogurt mixture back into the warm crock. Put lid on and stick crock in the oven. I warm the oven just until it reaches 115 degrees which is about 3 minutes. Turn it off. Set timer for 4 hours. (We like sweet creamy yogurt thus the shorter incubation period. If you like it tangier then increase your incubation time to 8-10 hours which an overnight incubation would be ideal so you don’t tie up your oven all day.)
      6. Next day I put the yogurt into individual quilted jelly jars leaving an extra inch space to add fruit et. I use the reusable plastic canning lids for the jars because my husband takes it to work everyday for a snack. Then you have yogurt as portable as those little containers from the store. When I make preserves I always make an additional batch of no sugar fruit preserves which my husband then adds a heaping spoonful to the yogurt every day before he packs it in his lunch. Currently I have peach, cherry, and triple berry so he always has a variety. I do want to recommend- The Book Of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian. She has some great recipes in how to use yogurt in dishes.

  7. COleen says

    We love plain yogurt… it is great in cucumber salad and the like. We also experiment with the Greek yogurt and the Australian yogurt…so different yet perfect in different recipes! It amazes us the amount of shelf space that is taken up by the yogurt cups in the stores and one usually has to search out the plain ones.

  8. Shelah says

    Have you ever drained your plain yogurt to get it to a thicker consistency?….makes it even more like sour cream.

  9. Anne says

    So true! I buy the small cups of plain yogurt and make more yogurt with them. (1 6oz cup of yogurt, 2 cups milk, heat the milk, mix in the yogurt and place in yogurt machine. I get 6 ind. cups of yogurt, and can use one of them to make the next batch and reduce the cost even further.) Unfortunately, my DH hates “real” yogurt, but he has to eat it every day b/c of his digestive system, so I still buy him the individually packaged not-really-. One of these days, though, I’ll convert him;). In the meantime, I use my plain yogurt in cooking and baking, which he doesn’t mind. I also use it as a base for tuna/chicken/’egg salad.

  10. Emily says has a lot of great info on why saturated fat isn’t bad for you! Here’s one post to get you started:

  11. I love plain yogurt too! I prefer the greek because it’s nice and thick. My favorite way to eat it is to spoon some in a dish and add 1/2 of berries and a 1/4 cup of granola or some kind of grain cereal. I’ve also had very good luck in cooking with it.

  12. I just bought some full fat plain yogurt and the only ingredient is milk compared to the fat free version with a whole list of ingredients. I’m all about simplifying my food and making it with the least amount of added ingredients as possible. The full fat version tastes better, too.

  13. Meg says

    I second making yougurt. I actually do it in my crockpot and it is super easy and super inexpensive. It is also really yummy!
    If you google “make yogurt in a crockpot” you should be able to find the directions.

  14. jan says

    over 30 years ago (back in the day) we lived in a co-op and made our own yogurt. Plain mixed with jam can be wonderful. I bet it could be nice paired with homemade apple butter.
    I noticed that the Yoplait cobbler and shortcake flavors are basically vanilla yogurt with some fruit. (hey, I can do that, and crumble in some muffin to give the cobbler/cake rif that’s ignored by yoplait)

  15. mary says

    We are making the transition to full fat dairy and it is a bit daunting. After hearing my whole life that fat makes you fat, it is hard to wrap my head around the fact that it is healthier for me. But I must say, the whole milk plain yogurt tastes much better than the fat-free. It is creamier and smoother. Not at boingy tasting. I make my own using a good quality whole milk yogurt and some yummy non-homogenized whole milk. Even with the cost of the milk ( about $5 a gallon) it is a bargain to make my own.

    We use the yogurt in smoothies, just to eat, or even as a remedy for umm… feminine yeast problems.

    My favorite way to enjoy the homemade plain yogurt is in a bowl, topped with my homemade coconut granola. The granola is sweet, just enough, and it balances out the tanginess of the yogurt perfectly without making it sicky sweet. Let me know if you would like the recipe….

    • Liz says

      I, too, was scared to go full fat because all the food authorities say otherwise, and that’s all I knew. I made the switch a year ago, and I have been happy with that move.

    • TSandy says

      We went back full fat about three years ago on the advice of a weight loss specialist. Fat helps signal satiety in the brain and when you eat higher full fat food you eat less. Most of the lower fat food items have extra sugar in order to do the same thing.

  16. teresa says

    i use the all natural nonfat plain yogurt and add about 2 T of fruit (mashed banana, fresh pears or cooked cinnamon apples) to lightly sweeten a portion of yogurt. i mix this in with fiber one cereal and top with frozen blueberries. add a cup of coffee and it’s my favorite breakfast. yum.

  17. Jennie says

    About Full Fat Items – not just yogurt! Add this to your bookin it list! I know you would like it

    Eat Fat, Lose Fat
    by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

    • Liz says

      I agree with Jennie. Eat full fat. I stopped doing low-fat/no-fat a year ago.

  18. Mikki says

    I just finished licking the inside of my Vanilla yogurt container!! LOL!
    Seriously! Yogurt has become my go to snack. Some chocolate chips, some walnuts.. and I’m a happy girl!

    Great post!

  19. Alex Hall says

    I still have a hard time with plain yogurt, as do my kids, but I think it’s mainly due to what we are used to – sugared yogurt! As for the fat, I know that with milk, the fat makes it easier to digest and makes it so you absorb more of the vitamins (that are fat soluble). I’m not sure if the same is true for yogurt, as it usually has the live cultures that aid in digestion.

  20. Monica says

    You should read The Schwarzbein Principle written by a doctor who has done lots of research on diabetic patients. It completely changed the way I looked at fats!

  21. Mar says

    I don’t like the plain, but I love the vanilla flavored, as does my daughter. We add in fresh fruit – strawberries, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, whatever is in season.

  22. Erika says

    I occasionally buy the big containers of vanilla yogurt, but have been too chicken to try plain. Thanks for the listing the practical uses of it!

  23. Emily says

    I’ve been making plain yogurt in my crockpot too. I use the recipe from 365crockpot. Like Meg said above, just google yogurt in your crockpot to find the directions. Totally easy and delicious!!!!

  24. Liz says

    Fat is essential to your diet because the vitamins and minerals we need are fat soluble, meaning the fat is what carries them to wherever they’re supposed to go. If you don’t have full fat in your dairy, you really aren’t getting the benefits of the calcium, which pretty much nullifies the reason to consume dairy.

    Also, when they remove the fat from dairy, they are removing vitamins. They have to replace the vitamins, so thus you see on the label Vitamin A & D. The problem is that they are synthetic. I guess I don’t like the idea of fake stuff in my food.

    I’m also of the mind that if fat were bad, our natural foods wouldn’t have been created that way in their original state.

    The foods that we really need to curb are refined sugars and flours. That’s what packs on the fat cells.

  25. Lori says

    One of my favorite cookbook authors (Joanna Lund) used fat-free yogurt for the following alternatives:
    3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk is a sour cream substitute (makes 8 servings) (her recipe calls for fat free, but I have used both and it works)
    Knowing that, I use yogurt as a substitute in dip recipes for sour cream on a regular basis. If you have one of those dip mixes (like French Onion or Ranch) OR want to use salsa (about 1 cup of your favorite salsa) you have a great topping for baked potatoes or steamed brocolli. The salsa version is great for tacos and burritos. She recommended that if you cook with yogurt instead of sour cream, that for every 3/4 cup yogurt add 1 teaspoon cornstarch to stabilize it. I have not ever tried the cooking yogurt with cornstarch due to a corn allergy in the family, so I cannot vouch for how well that works. Neither have I been brave enough to make my own yogurt…yet! 🙂

  26. I use whole milk to make my own yogurt, and none of us have gotten fat from it. Whole milk yogurt is WAY better than low fat yogurt. 🙂

  27. Kate says

    I second the resources others have said about eating fat. We eat tons over here, and my husband’s lost 60 lbs. doing it!

    I find Dannon whole milk plain yogurt at Walmart for about $2/carton. And the only ingredient is “cultured Grade-A milk” which is great! No thickeners, stabilizers, or other crap. I put it in smoothies or feed it to my son plain or mixed with blueberries. Yummy!

  28. Patricia says

    Why fat won’t make you fatter?
    Here’s a resource:

    Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, head of the Weston A. Price Foundation. It will convince you!

    Love your posts. Thanks for them, and the recipes!!

  29. Demetria Elms says

    Great post! I always forget how versatile plain yogurt is until I come across a recipe that requires it. Mountain High Youghurt is my absolute favorite. I cannot stand the taste of sugary yogurts like Yoplait, Dannon, etc. since I’ve been using Mountain High for a few years. FYI, Mountain High has a great website full of easy recipes. Their Snickerdoodle Muffins are awesome 🙂 Yummy!

  30. Melissa says

    I make our yogurt as it is way cheaper and very little extra work. I strain it into Greek stylenand use it in dressings. I save and freeze the whey and make waffles, pancakes or crepes often times for the freezers for a quick breakfast.

    • Milk is really expensive here, so I’m not sure it would be cheaper to make my yogurt. How much are you spending on milk?

      • Melissa says

        I paid $3.49 for the last gallon I purchased.

        • Melissa says

          and I should add that it was regular whole milk, non organic.

  31. Melissa says

    I also love the comments about full fat yogurt. Its easier to flavor because fat tastes good! Check out this method that sterilizes and incubates the milk directly in mason jars so there is virtually no clean up!

    • When I make it, I do it in mason jars, but I had never thought to sterilize it that way. Brilliant.

  32. Brighid says

    Stonyfield is our favorite store brand yogurt. Some family members like that best, some can deal with homemade. They have published a substitution chart too, making it easier on those of us who have yogurt around but many have not bought buttermilk, heavy cream, etc.

  33. Molly says

    We used to buy the flavored ones, and then we stopped and made our own for a long time, and then I bought a flavored one as a treat, and BLECH! I also bought a fat free plain one once, and it made my husband sad, so now we stick to the Trader Joe’s plain full fat kind, or we make our own with whole milk. In fact, I sent the hubby with yogurt for lunch today.

  34. Amber says

    Jessica, thank you for this post! I am just discovering the joys of plain yogurt! I have tried diffferent brands, and the for the first time time this week, I found Dannon All Natural Plain Yogurt at Walmart. I am loving it-it is full fat and has only one ingredient, which has been so hard to find. I paid $3 for 32 oz. This is the best price I have seen on any full sized plain yogurt.

    I agree with the other posts about fat. I no longer buy low fat/no fat, and it has taken me so long to get there!! We have been taught that animal fat is bad for so long, it is hard to believe otherwise. But full fat foods taste so much better, don’t need additives, and satisfy hunger better. Think about it-why would God create food for us that needs to be altered so much? What I do think we have to be wary of, is how our animals are raised, fed, and treated, because that effects the nutrition of our food that comes from them. But that is another post…

    My favorite way to eat yogurt is this. I make a big batch of cooked Quinoa each week and store it in the fridge. In the morning, I heat the quinoa for 30 secs in the microwave, drizzle raw honey (so much sweeter than refined honey IMO), and top with plain yogurt. I also sometimes add raw nuts on top. This is as quick as cereal and milk, which I no longer eat. Honestly, I have older kids, and they don’t eat this. But I love it! It is quick and satisfying.

  35. Holly says

    I’ve done plain yogurt as a sour cream substitute for years, and as my daily yogurt for about a year now, sweetened with a bit of real maple syrup and added almonds. Still can’t convert the family, but if they eat yogurt daily, I’m okay with hunting down the better ones, at good prices, which sometimes is the big tub portioned out, sometimes the individual ones. It’s a process.

    • K athy says

      I use Kristen’s recipe from her blog Frugal Girl and I love it! Thanks to the easy process I can have yogurt any time. I went out and bought a small styrofoam cooler just for that purpose. I make half vanilla and half plain.

  36. Whitney says

    Hi! You mention often that you have target prices for specific items. Do you have any great tips for remembering them or keeping them handy for price comparisons? Maybe I should make a little cheat sheet. What do you do?

    • A lot of folks keep price books. I’ve even heard that there’s an app to help you track your prices. I just keep them in my head. It’s not so hard since I don’t buy a ton of different processed foods to keep track of, just a basic price for cheese, meat, milk, produce, etc.

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