I remember the first time I saw a bulk food section (ok, I’d probably seen plenty before, but this one made an impact). It was at Winco, a discount grocery store near my in-laws. They had so much good stuff! Nuts. Grains. Baking supplies. And candy. Oh, the candy. (These were the days before I paid any heed to what I ate.) I fell in love with Winco that very day.
Fast forward several years to my first time in a co-op in Oregon. It was beautiful. They had so much … bulk. Bulk honey, maple syrup, olive oil, dry goods, natural soaps. There were items I didn’t know you could even buy in bulk (tofu? really?). I wanted to work there. Heck, I wanted to live there.
Yes, yes I am that weird lady who loves a good bulk section so much she’s willing to uproot her family and move a hundred miles just to be near it. But I’m not ashamed. No, because buying in bulk has done so much for both my budget and my health, that I don’t hesitate to sing its praises.
In fact, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up over the last few years of bulk shopping:
Reuse Bags & Containers
Aside from saving money on food, my other favorite thing about buying in bulk is reducing waste. That’s really simple to do when you bring your own bags and containers to the store you get your bulk food from. (find reusable cotton drawstring bags here)
If you don’t have them, or forget, use the plastic bags provided and add them to your reusable bag stash (I would suggest figuring out a system that works for you so you don’t forget your bags).
Find a Store with Good Selection
Buying in bulk is much easier when you can find a store with a good bulk selection. If you don’t know where to find one, ask around (I always start with Facebook).
Your friends might be able to point you to a store with lots of good stuff. Also, there’s a new free app for smart phones, called Bulk, which helps you find bulk buying options in your area.
Tare Your Containers
If you bring your own containers to put bulk items in, tare them first. That simply means weighing the item empty and making note of the weight so it can be subtracted from the total at the store.
Some stores have scales and have you do it yourself. In others, ask a cashier to tare your item and make sure they will take the weight off the total (I’ve had a store not do that before and I had a heavy canning jar).
Think Outside the Big Box
I used to be an avid Costco shopper, heading to the giant warehouse and coming back with a trunk full of goodies, many not on my list. Now, I just get a few items and am currently looking for other options.
One of my goals for buying in bulk is to reduce waste, which doesn’t happen when I come home with a lot of products with excess packaging. (It doesn’t help that I live an hour from said store.)
Also, not all bulk shopping needs to be done in stores. Farmer’s markets are a great place to get food in bulk, as are local farms. Check out Local Harvest if you need help finding them in your area.
Go Easy on the Amount
I have a tendency to want to fill my bag up all the way. Unfortunately, that’s just led to wasted items. Either we tried it and didn’t like it, or it went bad before I could use it all. Buying in bulk allows you to get just what you need, whether that’s 4 cups or 4 teaspoons.
Get just what you need and resist the urge to get as much as you can even though you don’t need it.
Note Items You Could Be Buying in Bulk
While you’re shopping, take note of the bulk inventory. Is there anything else you could be using that you aren’t already? Maybe you’ll spot something you didn’t know you could buy in bulk or perhaps you’re up for trying a substitution to what you’re already using, but can’t get in bulk. The beauty about bulk is you can just start with a little to see if you like it.
Store Items Quickly
Move bulk items from bags to storage containers as soon as possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve had curious little fingers poke through bags of food, only to find it spilled on the floor.
I use different-sized canning jars so I can see what’s in each and how much I have left. After everything is transferred, I wash bags that need it and put the bags together where I can grab them for the next shopping trip.
Use Well-Sealed Containers
I favor canning jars because they’re see-through and have well-fitting lids. However, we also use large food-grade buckets for rice and beans, which we buy in large amounts because we eat them so much. There are lots of different food storage options available, just make sure they seal well.
Figure out a labeling system that works best for you and use it. I’ve forgotten to label on numerous occasions, only to find myself searching through my pantry looking for something I thought was there. Labels are a good, good thing.
Rotate for Variety
I read this tip the other day and it blew my mind. Since we’ll be living in an RV soon, I wasn’t sure how I would store all of the jars full of dry goods. The answer? Rotate it!
Bea Johnson, author of The Zero Waste Home, suggests assigning each storage jar a category, like legumes, grains, tea, etc., and buying different varieties when those run out.
So rather than the jars full of red lentils, green lentils, chickpeas and black beans (that I’ve had for months), I would just have one jar for legumes. Perfect for saving space and making sure food gets eaten quickly.
Do you have any tips for buying in bulk?
photo credit to bcmom