I’m obsessed with bulk jars. Big ones, small ones, glass ones, steel ones, green ones, white ones, yeah, I love them all. They make food look more appetizing, they give my kitchen character and they reduce the number of plastic bags, boxes and bottles that go into our trash. If you’re wanting to make a step toward being more ‘green’ then investing in some bulk jars is a good way to start. You’ll learn patience in cooking and come to the realization that black beans come in a form other than a can, spice jars are overly priced and sometimes you only need a cup of flour.
You can buy a lot more in bulk these days than you might think. Bulk, just to clarify, does not mean Costco sized ketchup and a box of 300 granola bars. By bulk I mean, take as much as you need, fill your own container and pay by the pound/ounce/liter, whatever. There are many benefits to buying food in bulk. For one, it drastically reduces packaging that you will inevitably only use once, then throw away. You can control how much you need and therefore how much you spend, and you get the added satisfaction of actually cooking your food, as opposed to opening a box, microwaving something for 3 minutes, then scarfing your face.
When I go grocery shopping I spend most of my time in the produce and bulk sections. You can find almost everything you need for a week’s worth of food in these two sections. Yes, you will spend a little more time cooking your meals, but a lot of bulk items can be made in large batches, then saved for later. That way, on those nights when all you want to do is grab something quick then sit and watch The Good Wife until you fall asleep, you’ll have something easy to throw together.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED BEFORE YOU SHOP
Before you start your bulk shopping, go purchase some bulk jars! I recommend browsing the aisles of your local thrift store to find a handful of different sized jars to start. There’s no need to buy a $40 bulk jar because, come on, just don’t.
Next you’ll need a good selection of reusable bulk and produce bags. You can find these online at sites like reuseit or even on Etsy, but if you’re super crafty, you can easily make them yourself! A bulk bag is literally just a cloth sack with a drawstring to be filled with dried goods so you don’t have to use the plastic bags that are usually provided at the store. Remember, the point is to reduce packaging!
If for whatever reason you hate using bags (someone out there has to), you can bring your bulk jars with you and fill them at the store. If you do this, however, remember to have your cashier weigh the empty jar first before you fill it. Otherwise you’re looking at a $65 jar of almonds. Yikes.
One pet peeve I have about the bulk section is those stupid twist ties you have to put the bin number on. This is where your smart phone comes in handy! Open your notes app, type in ‘raisins’ then the bin number and boom, problem solved. Never use those twist ties again and stop getting stressed out when you can’t find the pen. Okay, now you’re ready.
With your bulk jars or bags in hand, I give you 12 items you should be buying in bulk on a regular basis to reduce your kitchen waste:
1. Nuts/Seeds – Almonds, peanuts, cashews, pine nuts (pricey like whoa!!), walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, etc. are at the ready. You sometimes even have the option of getting sliced almonds and pecan pieces in bulk which is just a double bonus if you dislike chopping. I like to keep a jar of mixed nuts around at all times for a healthy, quick snack, a crunchy salad topping, or to add into a smoothie for some thickness. Try roasting nuts or seeds for some added flavor and crunch!
2. Dried Fruit – Raisins, banana chips, mango slices, apple slices, strawberries, goji berries, apricots, etc. are all available in bulk. Some of these make great snacks, others are awesome to throw in your cereal or on top of your oatmeal. Dried fruit that comes prepackaged is usually overpriced for how much you actually get, so go hog wild here and take what you need.
3. Grains – Rice (varying kinds), quinoa, barley, bulgur, couscous, oats, etc. I stock UP on this stuff and I never feel bad about it. The grain of choice in my house is quinoa. Quinoa has a nice nutty flavor, is incredibly easy to make and is packed full of protein! Vegetarians and vegans love cooking with quinoa for the protein aspect, so if meat’s not your thing, go for this grain. Grains make a great base for stir fry, casseroles and soups, all of which you can make in large quantities and eat for days!
4. Popcorn – Kernels of different colors are usually available in bulk. If you’ve never made popcorn on the stove, you’re welcome because your mind is about to be blown. Nothing beats a bowl of warm, perfectly seasoned, fresh popcorn. By cooking it over the stove you have control over how much salt and fat you want on it and you get to experiment with spices which I highly recommend! My favorite combination is olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, paprika and rosemary. Like it a little sweet? Try this dark chocolate and chili powder recipe!
5. Pasta – Spaghetti, linguini, bowtie, penne, rigatoni, cavatappi, ditalini, elbow macaroni, shell, fusilli, orecchiette, rotini, lasagne and all those other crazy sounding noodles can usually be found in bulk! Take your pick and fill your bag to the brim because everyone loves pasta. What’s my favorite noodle shape you ask? Conchiglie for days.
6. Beans – Black, chickpea, kidney, great northern, navy, pinto and lima are all great options in bulk. If you didn’t know beans came in a form other than a can, get ready! The process of making them go from dried out to perfect for cooking is as simple as adding water and going to bed. Depending on the variety, you can either soak them overnight in water or boil them slowly over the stove. Here are some great tips on how to properly cook these little protein pillows.
7. Spices – The bulk spice aisle is an incredibly underutilized section of your grocery store! This aisle will save you loads of money in the long run. You are no longer allowed to buy spices any other way once you realize how much cheaper it is to buy them in bulk. Most recipes only call for 1 Tbsp or so of a certain spice, so in this case, you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be buying a whole jar of saffron! Take a pinch, a sprinkle, a scoop or a dash and experiment with some new flavors. Try making your own taco seasoning from scratch…what?! Yes. Do it.
8. Trail Mix – There are so many different combinations of trail mix that you should never be confined to a pre-packaged version. Use the magical wonders of the bulk section to make your own bulk trail mix. Pick your favorite nut, dried fruits, chocolate morsels and seeds, throw in some spices for good measure and then you should probably go on a hike so you feel good about eating it all. If you don’t feel like making your own trail mix, then go for the bulk pre-made options which are just as tasty.
9. Flour – This is a staple bulk item every kitchen should have. Whether you bake or not, I guarantee at some point you’re going to need a scoop or two of flour. Ditch the pre-packaged flour and fill your largest bulk jar with your favorite kind. I’ve never just bought a cup of flour because I always end up needing more, so don’t be shy here. Bonus: you’ll always be ready to make a batch of homemade bread, pizza dough or cookies!
10. Sugar – Similar to flour, sugar is always a staple to keep in the kitchen. I use my bulk sugar mostly to make homemade salad dressings because I’m not much of a baker, but you bakers out there should be taking this more seriously!
11. Olives – This one might seem weird, but ever since I discovered the olive bar at my local grocery store, I’ve never turned back. My favorite is kalamata. These little greek gods are so salty that I usually only need a half of a cup or so, but when they’re in the bulk section they’re so much fresher than any canned variety! Olive you olive haters (get it, olive, all-of…anyway) can move onto the next one, but I’m sending everyone else a big olive fingered high five! You know what I’m talking about!
12. Coffee Beans – For the freshest and richest morning coffee, find your favorite bean in bulk. Do your best to also choose beans from a nearby roaster to support your local economy! Naturally, you will pay more for bulk coffee beans than a giant tub of Folger’s, but the flavor is hands down, brush the dirt off your shoulder better.
By making the switch to buying these items in bulk, you are preventing what will add up to be pounds and pounds of packaging waste in your trash! Not only that, but you’ll learn how to truly cook your food, learn some new flavor combinations and save yourself some money in the long run. Go bulk and never go back! You’re killin’ it already.