One thing I love about shopping in so-called health food stores is the selection of bulk foods available. I find the simplicity of selecting foods without any branding, packaging or labeling to be freeing. It is truly a beautiful thing when you don’t have to worry about deciphering marketing slogans, and you can just buy the food that you want based on the ingredients.
Also, there is something very rewarding about buying what you need without extra waste. When you buy food from the bulk bins, you are able to buy exactly the amount you need without paying for unwanted excess.
When I started shopping from the bulk bins, I was amazed at what is sold in bulk. Coffee beans, sugar, flour, various types of salt, and even cereals can be bought in bulk. Why buy spices in little jars (just to pour them into your pretty glass spice rack jars at home) when you can buy your spices in bulk and save on packaging?
If you are going to shop the bulk bins, there are a few things you should know.
Bulk Bin Tips
1. Have Storage Containers on Hand – I prefer glass mason jars (they are functional and make bulk foods look beautiful in your pantry), but you can easily use Ziploc storage containers or even Ziploc bags. Whatever container you choose should be airtight. The flimsy plastic bags with twist ties provided in the bulk section are not meant for long term storage.
2. Know How to Store Foods – I live in a dry environment, so nuts and flour last a long time in my pantry. In moist climates, foods might not last as long. Many bulk foods like nuts, seeds, and flour can be stored in the fridge (or even the freezer) to last longer. I keep my whole wheat flour and flax seed meal in the fridge since I don’t use them up quickly. Check to see how foods should be stored for the long-term in your environment.
3. Bulk Items Do Go on Sale – Stock up on your favorite bulk foods when they go on sale. Sometimes you can save $1 or more per pound.
4. Buy Only What You Need – Take advantage of the ability to buy the exact amount you need. If you are buying an ingredient for a new recipe, bring a measuring cup to the store so you only buy the amount needed for the recipe.
Here are the top 4 items I buy in bulk:
1. Dried Beans – They are less expensive than canned beans, and you can cook the exact amount you need.
2. Dried Fruits – We tend to choose dried fruits that don’t have any added sweeteners or oils like raisins, prunes, and apricots. Many stores have organic varieties available in bulk as well. Dried fruits make great healthy snacks for both kids and adults!
3. Grains – Oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and couscous (made from whole wheat) are some of our favorite grains. When bulk oatmeal goes on sale, I stock up!
4. Nuts and Seeds – These can get expensive, especially when you buy name brand. Stock up on bulk nuts and seeds when they are on sale, and keep them in the fridge or freezer to keep them from going rancid.
I really enjoy shopping from the bulk bins, and I hope these tips help you if you are thinking of starting. But buyer beware – just because items are available in the bulk bins does not mean they are healthy. I have found candy and other snacks in the bulk bins that contain artificial colors and other ingredients I try not to buy. As always, be sure to check the ingredient list so you know what you are bringing home.