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Why I Don’t Buy Taco Seasoning Packets

Guest post by Heather from Feel Good About Dinner

Premixed spice packets and sauces promote convenience, but are they really saving you time? If you knew you could get the same (or better) results by adding just a few spices to the pot, would you still buy them?

It is a lot easier than you may think. In fact, once you learn how to use your own spices, you will wonder why you ever bought those little packets.

Not only is it easy to use your own spices, but a lot cheaper. An average spice packet costs anywhere from $0.50 to $2. That sounds pretty cheap, but when you consider that it is only for one meal, it really adds up.

Basic spices can be purchased in generic varieties for $0.50 to $1–or even cheaper if you buy from a bulk food store. These can be used for several meals or even dozens of meals.

For example, I could buy a taco-seasoning packet for $0.50 on sale for one meal, or I could buy $3 worth of spices and make more than 20 taco/Mexican dishes. Multiply that by all of the different mixes we buy, and that is a huge savings over time.

Not only is it easy and inexpensive to season your own dishes, it’s also healthier and tastier. Spice packets add a lot of extra salt, empty calories, and mystery ingredients. In addition, seasoning dishes yourself doesn’t lock you into one flavor, but allows you to adjust the flavor of the dish to your taste.

I have known people who even used both seasoning packets and spices. The packet doesn’t provide enough flavor for them, so they add extra oregano or crushed red pepper. They could have skipped the spice packet all together and just added their favorite spices.

While it can be a time and sanity-saver for some people to pre-make baggies of seasonings, I’ve found it’s easier for me to just have the spices on hand and add them in to a recipe as I need them.

Not sure where to start when making substituting homemade seasoning for seasoning packets? The following is a list of basic spices to keep stocked in your pantry and the types of dishes for which they are used:

Italian Spices
Oregano
Basil
Thyme
Fresh Garlic

Mexican Spices
Chili Powder
Crushed Red Pepper
Cumin
Fresh Garlic

Miscellaneous Spices
Rosemary: Pork, Broth
Sage: Stuffing, Sausage
Cinnamon
Paprika
Garlic Salt

For additional help, find a good homemade spaghetti sauce recipe to learn Italian spices and a taco-seasoning recipe to learn Mexican spices. Think of these recipes as a method and not just a recipe. Once you learn how to use your own spices, it will open up a whole new window of creativity in your kitchen.

Heather lives in a Detroit suburb with her husband, Mark, and two boys, Jonathan (15) and David (10). Heather is a full-time wife and mother and a part-time substitute teacher. Heather shares how to make delicious, healthy meals for the family that are time and budget friendly at Feel Good About Dinner.

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100 Comments

  • Anne says:

    Good post, Heather. You really can save money by using good herbs and spices stocked in the pantry or herb garden. Also, I’ll do without the MSG and other preservatives found in many of those packets.

    • Aimee says:

      That’s why we stopped using storebought seasoning packets…all of the additives. We’ve recently had to go gluten-free and I’ve been blown away by all of the seasoning packets that contain wheat and MSG. One of our favorite websites for sauces and seasoning mixes is Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures – she’s got great stuff!
      http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/recipe-index

    • Mary says:

      Anne, YEAH. I thought I was the only one. I cannot tolerate MSG and preservatives. The words like “other spices”. What? Got to be kidding. Glutamate is MSG. Been looking at labels for 23 years.

  • Susan says:

    Great post.

    I use seasoning packets, and every time I think to myself that it has to be easy and cheaper to use spices if I would just set aside a little time to find a recipe to start with.

  • Annie says:

    I would like to know where you are buying generic spices for $.50! Even at the cheapest, mine are at LEAST $3/bottle. Upwards of $5/$6 if it’s McCormick or some other name brand!

    • Jennifer says:

      I believe this week CVS has their generic brand spices on sale for 50 cents. Also, the 99 cents store and Dollar Tree usually have quite a selection as well. Best of luck to you in your seasoning endeavors!

    • Judy says:

      Aldi has a ton of spices for very reasonable prices, if you have an Aldi by you. 🙂

      • Try a farmer’s market too – ours has a spice guys who sells just about everything for a dollar a scoop. I think they’re fresher too – high turnover.

        Also, look in ethnic stores, or even the ethnic section of your grocery store. They’re often way cheaper than the normal spice section.

    • michelle says:

      BigLots has great prices on spices. They also carry lots of gourmet and ethnic type ingredients/seasonings/sauces that might be more difficult to find everything to make yourself, and way cheaper than grocery stores.

    • Brenda says:

      Another great source for bulk spices that often times has different spices than those available at CVS or Aldi (which is where i regularly buy common spices) would be a health food store. An added benefit would be that you can buy as much or as little as you want.

    • Mona says:

      Buying them in bulk saves you tons of money too! Our local Fred Meyer, Central Market, Winco all have spices in bulk. A jar of cloves runs $6 while a baggie full costs $0.50. HUGE difference! I never buy spices in jars anymore. Just got an organizer to put them in.

    • Lana says:

      Big Lots!

    • Beth says:

      Walmart carries all kinds of seasoning for 50 cents a shaker. I think their brand is called “5th Season”. I get them all the time.

    • paula says:

      dallor stores, biglots, healthfood stores where u can buy by the scoop…or even your box store like sam’s,costco…..

    • Jen says:

      Walmart and dollar stores often have them. My local grocery store has $1 spices for lots of them – not fantastic, but not the price of name brand. Look around at the “cheaper” grocery stores.

    • Carrie says:

      Dollar General! I was surprised that even Walmart’s cheapest generic spices were $1. Dollar General has them for .50.

    • Winco here in the North-West has a huge selection of bulk spices. And bottles for around a dollar or two each. I always have taco made up and ranch dressing mix, usually a fajita and a rice-a-roni type blend too. Saves a ton and just as importantly for me, I know what’s in it.

  • Jessica says:

    I’ve attempted a few different “recipes” to make my own seasoning, but I can’t quite get it the way we like. 2 years ago I discovered HUGE containers of it at Sam’s Club for less than $4. I just opened my 2nd container, and we eat tacos 3-4 times a month. I think that’s a pretty good savings over the packets, if you willing to consume a few mystery ingredients over making your own 🙂

  • Linda H. says:

    Those spice ( and Gravy! ) packets may be portioned & suggested for 1 Dinner but there’s no reason why you can’t use them over several Dinners. I buy a taco seasoning packet 1x every 6 months to 1 year (depending on actual usage) and use just a dash or 2 of it, along with some of the more fresher spices. I consider them more along the lines of a starter base for my flavor verses a full flavor.

    Same with Gravy mixes. I buy a few when they are on sale and then only use a teaspoon or 2 to get the taste I want and then fill up the rest with old fashion gravy making (meat juices & flour/cornstarch).

    Since the packets do have so much salt in them, they have much longer shelf life than reg. spices. Which means you can stock up on them when they are a super sale! Thanksgiving & Christmas are good for Gravy and Cinco de Mayo is great for Taco packets.

    I’ve been able to pick up 4 for $1 at times with sale & coupon or store brand vs name brand. And, for that $0.25 investment I’ll get 4-6 Dinners out of it. Not a bad deal, really.

    • Claire says:

      Yeah, I also get multiple used out of a taco packet. I’m just cooking for 2 and hubby is sensitive to too much spice, so I can use one packet over several meals (6-8).

  • SarahJean says:

    Hmm, I just use the big MSG-free container of taco seasoning from Sam’s Club! Cheaper and no prep!

  • I just tried this a few weeks ago! I was amazed by how easy it was!

  • ann says:

    Nice post. I don’t buy seasoning packets only to avoid those mystery ingredients. I get spices in bulk and they last looong. I’ve never calculated the cost benefit though.

    • Sarah in Alaska says:

      Bulk spices are generally a savings over the spice isle too. Even when spices are 50% off I’ve found that the bulk section is cheaper. Once I have the container, I’m happy to get refills. 🙂

  • Alice Casteel says:

    I still have a stockpile of Taco Seasoning Packets, but a friend has started making it from scratch.

    Do you have the recipe for Enchilada Sauce? I have to buy the packets at the store because none of the canned varieties taste good. The kind I use is from McCormick. Is there a homemade recipe for Enchilada Sauce? I would love to have the recipe.

    • Brenda says:

      This is a wonderful enchilada sauce recipe that our family loves.

      http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/2009/04/homemade-enchilada-sauce.html

    • Sarah in Alaska says:

      I use a fajita mix for my enchiladas now. I’ve tried several enchilada mixes and they ended up too chili powdery. Once I accidentally switched the recipes and loved the results. I divide the recipe by three for a single use.

      Fajita Seasoning Mix (about.com Busy Cooks, Linda Larsen)
      3T Cornstarch
      2 T chili powder
      1 T Salt
      1 T paprika
      1 T sugar
      2 1/2 t crushed chicken bouillon cube
      1 1/2 t onion powder
      1/2 t garlic powder
      1/2 t cayenne pepper
      1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
      1/2 t cumin

      Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Pour into small glass or plastic container, seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place. Makes the equivalent of 3 packets of commercial or purchased Fajita Seasoning Mix.

    • Amy says:

      Macayos makes the best enchilada sauce. It is so good. Only brand we like. I’m not sure if other states have this. I’ve made homemade and haven’t found a recipe I like.

    • Lyn GG says:

      I’m in Texas and eat tons of Mexican food.. one day I was making enchiladas and realized I didn’t have enchilada sauce..went into my pantry and found a large can of plain tomato sauce and a taco seasoning packed.. so I figured I’d try to make my own enchilada sauce.. so I mixed the two together let it cook a little in a pot..and it tasted just like canned enchilada sauce.. and my family loved it… and altogether was maybe $1.50 for the my version compared to canned enchilada sauce which is usually over a$1.50 for a small can and usually have to buy 3 or 4.

  • Alice Casteel says:

    I mean the dry ingredients for Enchilada Sauce…like comes in the packet.

    • Brenda says:

      I didn’t see this when i replied above, but i would suggest analyzing the packet you currently use. Make a list of spices (the listing on packets are always from most to least amounts used) & estimate the total quantity of the packet (say your pile of spices looks like 1/4 cup, then you know that’s about how much seasoning you should have total). Then just play around & keep track of what you add until it tastes good. I tried this with a packet from Tastefully Simple with surprisingly good results. Might be worth a shot for the savings!

  • Emily says:

    Also, a lot of the spice mixes contain MSG. I make our own for my family. Thanks for the new recipes!

  • debi says:

    I only buy the packets when they are free. I completely agree with you on about mixing up your own because even when I use spice packets, I still end up adding (more of) the spices we like to the mix. Also, the ones from the store contain so much sodium. You can always find much cheaper spices at farmers markets, depending on the size. When we lived in Georgia, we’d go to the Dekalb farmers market and buy 8 oz tubs of dried spices like basil & oregano for $0.50-$1.50. These are much bigger than the $3 bottles in stores. They also tend to be fresher.

  • I always make my own taco seasoning and even powdered sugar sometimes. It’s so easy. I also have thought of making my own baking powder. However, it calls for a lot of cream of tartar, which I think is expensive. I might as well just buy the can of baking powder.

    • Rebecca says:

      if there are any bulk or amish food stores near you should be able to buy your cream of tartar cheaply there. I think it cost waay to much at the chain stores. I love to go once a year to Amish country in Ohio and stock up on all kinds of stuff. Aldi is another possibility but stock up if you find it though, some of their spices are seasonal. Thanks for sharing about making your own baking powder! I didn’t know about that I am going to look into it, looks like the idgrediants have a longer shelf life separate so having the basics in your pantry, will save me from last min. trips to the store 🙂

  • BethB says:

    Great post! I’ve started doing this with a few spice mixes. The only suggestion I have is to make a small batch the first time in case your family doesn’t like the combination. Ask me how I know. 🙂

  • I haven’t purchased a taco seasoning packet in years. I use this recipe on All Recipes. When I don’t use this recipe, I just mix some form of the ingredients when I’m too lazy to look it up. 😉 http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/taco-seasoning-i/detail.aspx

    • Kacie says:

      I may have to try this recipe. We tried the one that was linked in the blog and didn’t really like it. I’m not good enough at differentiating between the flavors of spices to know what to add or take out. Maybe we’ll like the allrecipes one better. Thanks for the link.

    • Kim N. says:

      I use this recipe too and we love it. It can be a bit spicy for my kids so I just adjust the red pepper flakes accordingly. It’s great!!

  • Colette says:

    Great post! I have been thinking about doing this for awhile, because I’ve been looking for a good spice combo for fajita mix and NONE of the packets I’ve tried taste right to me. (I’m from TX so I’m ruined from anything that doesn’t taste “authentic”.) This has inspired me to give it a try. 🙂

  • My mom used to make a homemade taco seasoning and keep it in a glass jar, that way it we could all use it anytime. I need to learn that recipe, because the $1 here and there really does add up!

    • Wow, I can’t believe with my million canning jars of all sizes it never occurred to me to use one of those to store my seasoning mixes in. I have always just bought the clear plastic jars from the bulk food store. I get the dumb dumb of the day award.

      Thanks for sharing the idea.

  • Natasha says:

    My husband makes his own and they are SOO much better than pre-packaged, and probably much healthier!

  • Fabulous post! I LOVE mixing my own spices. The process, as you mentioned, has made me a better cook… as I am becoming more comfortable creating my own recipes. I do mix a few of my favorite mixes (adobo, seasoning salt, and italian dressing mix) and put them in small glass jars (olives and minced garlic jars are the perfect size). As a suggestion, you can get manageable bulk spices from Fresh Market, Whole Foods, or EarthFare (if you have one). They average about $2/baggy. When starting out, I didn’t spend a TON of money at first. I just took a little of my grocery money each week and bought a few at a time.

  • Marlana says:

    I live in Thailand and also make my own Mexican and Italian season. For Mexican food I usually simmer meat in garlic, union, and fresh chili peppers from the market (I had a bunch because we like our food spicy here). Then I add oregano, paprika, cumin (double cumin) , Cayenne pepper, a little corn starch, black pepper, and garlic salt. The amount varies, at least a teaspoon of each; I totally taste as I go. of course, I let simmer in water for a good 30 minutes to an hour. I also add a little salsa that is made of a tiny bit of vinegar and chopped tomatoes. And I add union stem, dried garlic, and fresh cilantro (at the end). And last lemon juice. Mexican food tastes delicious with lemon juice.

    Chili pepper is fine to add, too.

    For me, the key ingredients are garlic, cumin, fresh chili peppers, and lemon juice. They make or break it.

    That’s about it. I don’t use recipes like you awesome people do, so never make the same thing twice, but I’m in love with Mexican food and so I’ve learned to master the art!

  • Becky says:

    Old El Paso has offered a $.50 IPC several times recently which makes their 1 oz. taco seasoning packets free or a MM when purchased at a store that doubles coupons. They do not contain MSG and you can’t beat free or MM, unless you’re not worried about the other “mystery” ingredients. 🙂 I mix a 1 oz pkg. with a can of diced tomatoes (Rotel or any other brand), pour it over a 1-2 lb. of boneless chicken breasts in my crockpot, add a half a can or so of water, and it makes wonderful mexican shredded chicken for tacos! So easy!

  • Jodi says:

    I use recycled spice jars to keep my homemade taco seasoning in. To make enchilada sauce, I add about a Tbsp. or so to a small can of tomato sauce.

  • Colette says:

    I had recently been thinking about trying this myself. I’ve been looking for a good fajita mix, but all the packets I tried were gross. (I’m from TX so if it doesn’t taste “authentic”, it’s no good.) I’m feeling inspired to try to make some for myself. Thanks for the great post!

  • I have had making my own taco seasoning on my todo list for quite some time now. These are some grreat starter recipes. Thanks!

  • Sarah in Alaska says:

    And once you are comfortable to with these “everyday” spices it’s not too long before you’re getting creative with some fun things like garam masala, tumeric, coriander, and tamarind.

    Spicy halibut curry anyone?

    • Mona says:

      Yum! I use so many different spices that I have bins full of baggies. Indian dishes take so many different ones! My husband’s grandmother lived to 97 and she ate tumeric in pretty much every meal – hmmm, could be something to that. 🙂

      • Heather says:

        Yes, tumeric is supposed to be great for you – good for the brain, and an anti-inflammatory. Apparently Alzheimer’s is about unheard of in India.
        Love Indian food!

        • anu says:

          At the Indian store we get a huge bag(800gms) of turmeric that lasts nearly two years in our house and it costs only $7. We get most of our spices in bulk from there and they last really long if they are whole. Today I had Indian chicken curry with lots of spices and it was yummy.

          • anu says:

            Turmeric is also an antiseptic. Its great for bruises and open wounds. Apply a paste turmeric and water, leave overnight and the next morning, the wound is healed. Only drawback is that you will have yellow stained sheets and its near impossible to get the stain out.

  • Stefanie says:

    I usually get my spice packets for free or close to it with coupons, so it ends up being not only easier, but a better deal than using my own spices.

  • Karen says:

    I do stock up on taco and fajita seasoning mixes when they are free; I have some recipes for other seasoning blends that I really like.

  • Diana says:

    The only thing I do differently when using my own spices for tacos is to add an 8 oz can of tomato sauce for every pound of ground beef. That gives it the extra moisture that the tomato powder and water add when you use a seasoning pack. I like mine way better than the packets! 🙂

  • Jana says:

    I make my own taco seasoning as well. It started because I needed it for a meal but didn’t have it in the house. Now I just prefer homemade. It’s less salty and tastes better.

    For a special kick, I use Mrs. Dash fiesta lime seasoning instead of oregano.

  • Steph says:

    I just add salsa to browned hamburger for healthy, quick taco meat.

  • Sheila says:

    I do a lot of spice mixes on my own (and I’m a mix them and store them in baggies girl), but for taco seasoning, I also get the giant tub from Sam’s. It may be a tiny, tiny bit more than making it with the $.50 jars of seasoning, but it’s pretty close and it saves me a bit of time.

  • Mona says:

    The reason the packets are appealing is because they thicken up the sauce better than just spices will. The trick is that there is cornstarch in those packets along with all sorts of other things. I buy them out of convenience but we have to cook low/no-sodium so making our own blends works better for us. I have even found recipes for making your own “cream of something” soup. Finding those in a low sodium version is very difficult so now I just have a dry mix that I heat up with water when I need to add it to a recipe and it was so easy to mix up and cheap! Found it on Pinterest. Love that site!

  • Nicole says:

    I stopped buying the sauce mixes once I realized many of them contain silica. The same thing that comes in packets in shoe boxes to absorb moisture. You know, the packet label DO NOT EAT. Makes me wonder why it needs to be in our spice packets. It’s better to make them at home! And if not at least get organic.

  • Heather says:

    Great post!
    I have been making my own taco seasoning mix for years from a recipe in a cookbook I have. From scratch is much better.
    For other than Mexican cooking, I don’t use mixes or packets – I just add in whatever I feel like at the moment. It’s one of those things that just takes some practice and experience – the more you cook the better you get.
    And experimenting with adding your own spices really isn’t that risky. For example, if you are doing Italian and 1 tsp of oregano is good, 2 tsp would be fine also.
    Just be careful with cayenne pepper.

    I also use spices way past the 6 months that some “experts” recommend. They still work – might just need a little more to get the same punch.
    Sam’s has some bulk spices like cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and pepper that are a good price and good quality. I also get them from a local Mennonite store for cheap. Indian spices from an Indian grocery – make a point of stopping in whenever we are in nearest big city.

  • Kristen says:

    I’ve been making the taco seasoning recipe linked in this post for several months now and love it! We add the red pepper flakes so it will be spicy…can’t believe I used to spend money on taco seasoning packets when I already had everything in my spice cabinet!

  • Ginger says:

    I agree with the author. It is so easy to make your own spice mixes. And MUCH healthier as well. If you take the time to read your ingredients list, you’ll see that even the reduced sodium varieties have a lot of salt and other preservatives. I’m not a health food nut, but I don’t see any reason to add those things to my family’s diet when I can very easily make them myself, without all the unhealthy extras.

  • Lisa says:

    I order spices and herbs from herbalcom.com. They sell by the pound and shipping is a flat rate. I have a large family so we can go through the spices pretty fast but for smaller families you could order together. Everything I have gotten from them was good. They even have powdered beets, carrots, spinach, kelp, etc I like to get these and add to recipes to get extra nutrients into our food.

  • If I didn’t get my seasoning packs for free/cheap with coupons, I would give this a try!

  • Here’s my homemade taco seasoning recipe:

    http://ourfrugalhappylife.blogspot.com/2010/08/homemade-gluten-free-taco-seasoning.html

    I haven’t purchased a taco seasoning packet in over a year! We definitely prefer the homemade.

    I actually wrote the recipe on a card and taped it on the inside of one of my kitchen cabinets so I can open up the cabinet and have the recipe right there!

  • Susan E. says:

    I ran out of onion soup mix one time and found a recipe on allrecipes.com to make your own and it was MUCH better–a richer flavor. Here’s the recipe I use: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/onion-soup-mix/detail.aspx .

  • Andrea says:

    Not all spice packets are created equal. I buy the Simply Organic brand for $1 each through a food co-op. I recognize all of the ingredients. I don’t use them very often, so at most, it adds $2 to my -monthly- shopping budget. To me, it’s totally worth the convenience.

    It is cheaper to buy the enchilada sauce seasoning packet than to use most of a jar of organic chili powder making my own. It’s also cheaper to use the onion dip seasoning packet with organic sour cream, than it is to buy pre-made organic onion dip.

  • Kate says:

    I swear by making my own taco seasoning. It may take a little work (because the recipe I have calls for maybe 10 spices/seasonings), but I make it in bulk and use it. Same for chili seasoning. I love the Williams brand, but recently discovered (midway into making chili) that we were out. So I figured out the basic spices, added them, and we loved it! Same goes for making seasoned fries, I simply put regular fries in a ziploc bag, add salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and onion powder, and shake until they’re coated, then bake!

  • Tonya says:

    I was making my own taco seasoning for a while, until I realized if I can get my hands on some $1/2 Old El Paso any product coupons, I can get the packets for free plus overage at the commissary. I’m a fairly healthy eater, which is why I was making my own, but there are times where I am willing to trade a bit of processed food for getting it at a great value -in this case FREE PLUS OVERAGE! I do use just half a pack of seasoning per 3/4lb ground beef and it tastes just fine so I can stretch it even farther for more bang for my buck.

  • Melanie says:

    Exactly the kind of info I needed. Thanks for posting this – definitely a print out for me so I can start supplementing my shopping trips with the spices on this list that I don’t have.

  • Robin says:

    I either buy the big msg free container of Taco Seasoning from Sam’s Club or I make my own using this recipe:http://allrecipes.com/recipe/restaurant-style-taco-meat-seasoning/detail.aspx
    They are both good!

  • Kimberly Goolsby says:

    This makes sense, but how much of which spices would you use for a mild taco seasoning to be the equivalent of a seasoning packet you would buy (for 1 lb. of meat)? Thanks for the help!

    • Heather says:

      I have a taco seasoning recipe on my blog that you can check out under “misc. recipes.” We do like it on the spicy side, so you could cut back a little on the crushed red pepper and chili powder if you like. I hope that helps.:)

  • Man, Heather. If I’d have known you were going to grow up and be famous I’d have made you sign a bunch of papers while we were studying in college;). LOL–how cool to see you on MSM today and see all the comments you generated:)

    Fun to have a “cool” friend!

  • Karen says:

    Maybe someone has said this already…seasonings like Ortega list ethoxyquin, which is labeled as food preservative, but it is also a pesticide. Ick! Or silicone dioxide…the anti-caking agent that is pretty much finely ground silica that they put in packets found in shoes and so forth to absorb moisture, but it gives products there wonderful 2-3 yr. shelf life. Ick again!

  • Karen says:

    Love your site, by the way and your newsletters are wonderful! 🙂

  • I can’t eat MSG so I have been making my own seasonings for several years – sometimes I will follow a recipe and mix up a batch to use for a few meals, but mostly I just dump the spices into each pot.

    I find that when I use different spices I can really vary our menu without adding a lot of extra cost – for example ground turkey can become egg rolls, tex-mex or greek flavored burgers, taco meat, sloppy joes, curry, meatballs, chili, stuffed peppers, regular or tangy meatloaf, soup, shepherds pie, cabbage rolls, shawarma, etc by varying the spices a lot and the ingredients a little. That way it doesn’t seem like you are eating the same thing over and over even though its 14 meals with ground turkey, and the cost of the individual spices is low since you only need 8-10 and just vary how they are combined. 🙂

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