One of my favorite places to save a dollar on food is the bulk bin section of my grocery store. Not all stores offer bulk goods, but it’s a a great feature when they do. I always feel like a kid in a candy store when browsing the bulk goods. So many colors, textures, and flavors; I want to try them all!
Why do I love the bulk bins? Because they allow me to buy the exact quantity of food that I need, they reduce packaging waste (especially if you use reusable bags, like these), and allow me to try out new foods without committing to a large quantity. And, most importantly, you can often get a lower price per pound than the pre-packaged items on the shelf.
That being said, it’s always smart to compare the prices found in the bulk bins to packaged goods. Depending on the item, you might find a generic packaged version for a lower price than bulk, which are sometimes reserved for organic or specialty varieties. Many larger grocery stores are now offering bulk goods, but I find that natural and ethnic food stores seem to have a better variety and lower prices.
While I don’t buy everything from the bulk bins, here are five of my favorite things to stock up on when I get the chance:
Nuts and seeds are one thing that I buy almost exclusively from bulk bins. I love the large variety of nuts offered in bulk, including raw, roasted & salted, and seasoned (hello black pepper cashews!), and the price is almost always lower than the bagged nuts you’ll find in the baking aisle. With nuts especially, I like to buy in the quantity that I know I need because they will go stale and get rancid if they’re left hanging out in your pantry too long. Rancid nuts = NO. (insert joke here)
Oats used to be one of the cheapest items in the cereal aisle, but ever since their heart healthy attributes made them the most popular kid in the class, the price has sky rocketed. A large tub of name brand rolled oats at my local grocery store runs almost six dollars! And generic is only slightly less. No ma’am. Oats should not cost that much. So, I stock up on my oats at the bulk bins. Not only are they less expensive, but I’m not left with that big bulky cardboard tub afterward. If I had kids, I’m sure that empty tub would come in handy for art projects, but I don’t, so it’s just more packaging.
THIS. This might be my favorite item in the bulk food section. Really high quality spices at really good prices. This is a great way to get that one miscellaneous spice that you need for a recipe without having to buy a whole bottle. Get just a tablespoon if you want! It’s allowed! It’s also a great way to experiment with new spices without committing to a $5+ container of it. And remember, herbs and spices don’t weigh a lot, so don’t be frightened by the high price per pound. Those whole cumin seeds in the photo above were $21.99/lb., but that bag was only 0.05 lbs., so the total price was a whopping $0.68. Not bad. Also, fresh spices = big flavor, so buy in small quantities. (I’m really excited to try that Jerk Seasoning, BTW.)
Dried fruit is another item that is usually very pricy, so I prefer to buy the small amount that I need rather than buying a large package and being forced to find a use for the leftovers. Once again, you’ll usually find more variety in the bulk bins, with options like sulfured vs. non-sulfured, or sweetened vs. unsweetened. Not to mention all the fun dried fruit, like papaya, mango, and pineapple.
I don’t have a big sweet tooth, but sometimes I want just a little treat. I might want one cookie, not a box of cookies. I might want a half handful of chocolate covered almonds, not a whole bag of chocolate covered almonds. The bulk bins allow me to do just that. I’ve been known to buy 5-6 mini chocolate covered pretzels from the bulk bins and leave it at that. Three or four malted milk balls? Sure. Although, I will say that one time I bought such a small quantity of something that the scale at the register couldn’t detect it, but I guess I had to learn the limits some how.
Storing Bulk Food
The only caveat to buying food from the bulk bins is that you need a container to transfer them into later. Sure, you could keep them in the plastic bags used to transport them home from the store, but they’re not air tight so your food will go stale faster. Plus, having 20 different plastic bags in your pantry can become a mess. So, here are some ideas for storage containers.
I have two of these Better Homes & Gardens Flip Tite container sets that I use for my flour, sugar, grains, and other large quantity dry goods. I love them and they’re quite inexpensive. Most home goods stores will have some sort of container that is similar, whether plastic or glass.
For miscellaneous small items, I use the same Ziploc reusable plastic containers that I keep most of my refrigerated and frozen food in. Ziploc bags are another option and the freezer bags have a label area, which is great for noting date of purchase to keep things fresh.
If you don’t like plastic, mason jars are a great option. Or, if you need larger storage, there are a variety of large glass jars and canisters made specifically for food storage. Make sure to get the type with a gasket lid to keep air and moisture out of your food. The great thing about glass storage is that they can last a lifetime and are usually very pretty when displayed in the kitchen. You may even be able to find quality glass storage containers at thrift shops.
A great way to store bulk spices is to simply save your old spice container and refill it with the newly purchased bulk spices. Or, get some really cool brand new glass spice bottles. You can wash and reuse them so they’re a good investment.
What about you?
What are your favorite items to buy from the bulk food bins? How do you like to store your dry goods? Share your tips, tricks, and super good finds with the rest of us in the comments below. We can all learn from each other! :)