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Bulk Bins – Don’t Be Afraid to Help Yourself!

18 February

Written by Liz Flint-Somerville


Once you’re committed to building a Real Foods pantry, you need a plan, which leads me to

Flint-Somerville strategy Number 1:

Shop the Perimeter. This means that most of your purchases
will come from the bulk bins and produce section, with a few choice products from the dairy case and
frozen fruits and vegetables to augment what’s in season; if you’re at Tidal Creek (or another store with
grassfed meat options), this also includes the meat section.

Of these sections, we’ve found the number one boon to a Real Foods pantry is the wall of bulk
food bins. Here you can find herbs and spices, baking ingredients, beans and lentils, grains, nuts, seeds
(including Chia seeds), popcorn, and even some prepared foods like granola, all in self-help containers.
You grab a plastic bag (or re-use a container from home), fill it with as much or as little as you need,
write the PLU# on a sticker, put the sticker on the bag, cinch the bag closed, and put it in your cart. The
cashier will enter the PLU# into the register and then weigh your container at check-out.


So I’ve added five extra steps per product to your shopping experience, what’s so great about
that? Bulk bins are great for 5 reasons:

1. Adventure. One of my super-powers in the kitchen is substituting, or making do. I don’t say “no” to a new recipe just because I might not have all of the ingredients; I just use something I think will taste
or act similarly, or that will work with the rest of the flavors. But some spices are special (fenugreek comes to mind) and need to be purchased, and if they’re new to you, you don’t know if you’ll like them or use them again.
At the bulk bins, you can buy a teaspoon of something new for a recipe without worrying about buying a whole jar and having it languish on a shelf.
Same with new grains, legumes, nuts, anything, buy just what you need to try it out!

2. Economics. And if you find you really love something, stock up when it’s on sale. There are no extra
packaging fees tacked on to the products’ prices, so you’re getting a good price for clean food. This
especially makes sense with dried herbs and spices, which lose their aroma and taste the longer they sit
on the shelf; with bulk bins, you can buy smaller amounts more frequently, and keep your kitchen in
good-tasting herbs.

3. Environmental friendliness. Less packaging means a few things, like a smaller carbon footprint in
shipping the product (ie: huge sacks of dried beans instead of the added weight of boxes full of heavy
cans), less packaging waste to throw away or recycle, and less food waste due to too much of a food
you’re never going to eat again.

4. Simplicity & Mindfulness. Packaging, even from the organic, wholesome, post-consumer recycled
brands we love and trust, is still sending you a marketing message, somehow manipulating how you
think about a particular food. With bulk-purchased food, especially if you store them in glass jars at
home, you cut out the mental middle man. Our pantry is an open shelving unit in the kitchen, full of
glass jars of what we eat. Not only is this an aesthetic I love (as does everyone who visits us! Plus, Ball
jars are all the decorating rage right now!), it keeps the food itself in my mind so I can develop my own
relationship with it, and percolate its image until I start to get an idea of what to do with it.

5. Education. My kid knows what quinoa looks like, thanks to the huge jar of it on the shelf at her eye
level. I know the difference in sizes (and, often, cooking times) of beans. I observe my food before I
cook and eat it, so I’m learning more about it every day.

And this is true for the produce section as well. You can squeeze, pet and smell your food, buy
two of 3 different kinds of apples instead of lobbing a bag of red delicious into your cart, and finally taste
real, raw horseradish (or at least wonder at its dark, chalky glorious rootiness!). Learn about your food,
but also learn about the growing seasons by watching what’s available, and their prices, change
throughout the year. Strawberries in December are a (not too tasty) splurge, but they’re a whole new
animal in early summer! It’s citrus season now, buy pounds of oranges and grapefruits, and squeeze
your own juice in the morning (or for recipes at dinner); it’s way more delicious, cheaper and without
the packaging waste of bottled juice. DSC_0141

Even with the extra time it takes to carefully choose produce or fill bags and write PLU#s on
them, I find shopping the perimeter to be a less anxiety-producing event (largely thanks to the fact
that my husband does most of the grocery shopping – I have to give credit where credit is due!). Maybe
this is because I’m not being bombarded with marketing, or I don’t have to read long lists of ingredients
with six syllable names, or because, after years of practice, we’re in the flow and our pantry staples
almost feel like friends, “Oh, hey! Nutritional Yeast! So good to see you again, I was afraid we were
gonna run out of you!” What? You don’t talk to your food?

What’s a top pantry staple in your home? Do you have any opened packages you’ve been trying to give
to any and every friend who’s come over in the past 3 months?

Next Week: Budget Tips: Real Food for a Real Budget

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Ryanna Battiste, Integrative Health Coach

Ryanna is a coach, accomplished speaker, and recipe developer with extensive experience helping women cultivate a mindset of self-love so they may heal and thrive while developing new habits in the kitchen.

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