Bulking Up

Hunger is an incredibly complex issue. This is at the forefront of my thinking as we are currently in the annual SNAP challenge. My family and I are not participating this year as we have in the past. With the intense adolescent caloric intake happening in my home, I do not have the capacity for planning the appropriate protein density on $22.50 a day. Doesn’t that statement on it’s own speak to the complexity of hunger?

flickr.com/photos/lacatholique/cc2.0

flickr.com/photos/lacatholique/cc2.0

But how can one rapidly connect the dots between teenage boys bulking up their masculine builds and a tight food budget? By bulking up the pantry. One thing quickly apparent on the SNAP challenge or on any sort of a food allowance is that in order to eat high quality foods, one can quickly lapse through a daily $$ allocation on a $3 pound of butter. While there are some foods available in bulk, the concept can and should expand.

Here are a few reasons why buying in bulk makes sense:

1. Food costs can be driven down by buying in bulk.  When you find yourself purchasing minimum quantities of  nutritional yeast in order to stay within a budget, you’re often spending more per ounce.

2. Buying in bulk cuts down on packaging waste. Many things in the bulk section come with minimal packaging and can be stored without refrigeration.

3. You can buy the quantity that you want. While we sometimes associate bulk with massive quantities, the opposite is often true. Need 4 tablespoons of sliced almonds?  That’s all you have to get.

4. The space in the kitchen is used more efficiently because you were able to get a small quantity rather than a huge sack of oats.

5. When you are able to buy smaller quantities, it’s possible to try more variety rather than being saddled with a year-long routine of cumin seeds.

The downside of bulk purchases is that individuals might purchase more than really needed leading to food spoilage and the fact that bulk products sometimes come with pantry moths regardless of the store cleanliness. Our photographer recommends storing bulk items in the freezer for a few days before transferring them into airtight containers.

In our home, legumes, grains, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and some spices come from the bulk section of our grocery unless we’ve been able to procure them locally. Coffee and tea are also often great value in bulk.

Island Lentil Dish

Adapted from Gary Null’s, The Vegetarian Handbook
Serves 3
Ingredients:
  • 6 oz. brown lentils, cooked
  • 6 oz. brown rice, cooked
  • 6 oz. celery, chopped
  • 6 oz. cauliflower, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 3 Tbs. sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • salt to taste

Preheat over to 375, Lightly grease a baking dish with sunflower oil. Combine all ingredients. Toss and mix well. Transfer to the baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. Enjoy this fast, simple dinner while using some of your bulk purchases.

What products do you buy in bulk? Do you buy them from your grocer or from a cooperative?
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57 Comments

  1. Thanks, Tammy, for helping us with the pros and cons of bulk buying!

    Reply
  2. Lisa H

     /  September 22, 2013

    Buying in bulk has saved a considerable amount of my budget. Old fashioned oats are a favorite, as it is a great hot cereal and I can put the oats in the blender to make oat flour.
    Beans and nuts are my next big bulk buy. You hooked me on using a pressure cooker years ago, which has made cooking beans a matter of minutes versus the hours of using the stove top. Now that I make more vegan meals, they tend to use a lot of soaked nuts…great protein and easy to freeze for later.

    Reply
  3. Is your $22.50 a day your own budget, or is that the SNAP budget for a family of your size?

    Reply
    • That is the SNAP budget for a family of five.

      Reply
      • I have been trying to adhere to a SNAP budget for two, which I had read was about $80. a week, or just under $6. a day per person. Looks like I am a bit over. I do a lot of bulk purchasing, so it is hard to figure on a per week basis.

        Reply
  4. I should buy in bulk more often than I do.

    Reply
    • I should have been doing it with spices all along. They are really expensive and I have quantities on hand that are now old.

      Reply
  5. I buy in bulk when I get off the island to the co-op. Beans, rice and oats, always, but also nuts and seeds for granola, sometimes dried fruit. The quality is better, but organic is not cheap; prices on this island are high anyway, so it’s difficult to compare, or even to keep track. I may spend a hundred dollars at the co-op, but make meals from my purchases for months. Nice post, thank you!

    Reply
    • I am so interested in co-ops Cindy. We used to have one which closed quite a few years ago. I think there’s a real need.

      Reply
  6. I buy grains, nuts, spices, and chocolate in bulk. :D

    That recipe sounds delish . . . but I might add more seasonings than just the thyme.

    Reply
  7. I buy flour, beans, rice, and butter in bulk. We also buy part of a grass-fed, organic cow every year from a local farmer. It’s actually cheaper than buying the same amount/cuts of ‘regular’ beef from he grocery store, but we do need to budget for it since you pay it all up front.

    Reply
    • We always bought beef that way when I was young. Now we just don’t consume enough to make it worthwhile.

      Reply
  8. Because I don’t have a pantry I don’t buy in bulk. But when the house is built I will buy flour in bulk for sure. I do buy chicken in bulk as I freeze it :)

    Reply
    • Bulk doesn’t always mean large quantities and that’s one of the reasons I am a fan. I sometimes need the tiniest bit of something and I don’t want to get anymore. The bulk section allows me that privilege.

      Reply
  9. Idellah

     /  September 22, 2013

    Thanks Tammy. Teaching people how to buy in bulk and explaining WHY its a good idea with examples is quite the feat but you do it so smoothly and efficiently here – one may not necessarily realize the impact such advice can make. I think hunger is a spiritual issue as well but using advice like this helps attack it from the most obvious and easiest point of entry. Love your simplicity.

    Reply
    • Thanks Idellah. Let me know what you’re up to now that you’re back in town. Would love to hook up for an iced tea.

      Reply
  10. Good thoughts Tammy!

    Cindyricksgers brings up an interesting point: it can be very difficult to find organic in bulk. Co-ops are often a great source (yay co-ops!), but among standard grocers Whole Foods is about the only reliable source.

    One thing not mentioned previously is that buying from the bulk bins is a good way to reduce packaging waste. In most American homes, food packaging is a significant portion of what ends up in the trash. Not throwing it away, and especially not buying it in the first place, reduces our carbon footprint. Buying from the bulk bins usually just means trading a printed plastic container for a plastic bag, but we can eliminate all that plastic by bringing our own reusable muslin bags for produce and bulk items. Here’s one source (there are many): http://www.etsy.com/shop/CottonBagCompany

    Reply
    • Maybe I just didn’t state it clearly enough but less packaging waste is what I was intending to convey with point #2. I’ll check out the muslin bags as I am really working on plastic consumption right now.

      Reply
  11. This is indeed a good post. In my household, we are only with the 2 of us but we also buy dried stuff ,lentils, quinoa, nuts, etc in bulk because it is always very expensive but this way, a bit less,..It is better for our wallet! :) Your recipe sounds really tasty! Another must make! Yum!

    Reply
  12. Looks delicious, Tammy, and I love your reasons for buying in bulk. I do a little, but I shall think about trying to do more now.

    Reply
  13. We are fortunate to have a “Bulk Barn” in Calgary.
    http://www.bulkbarn.ca/en-ca/index.html
    They list the ingredients on the bins and on their website.

    Reply
  14. I just bought a quarter of Butch, and he’s currently filled up one freezer and spilled into the other two. I’d say that’s bulk buying. When my spouse returns (and with him, his weekday oatmeal habit) I’ll go back to bulk buys of oats.
    Thanks, Tammy. This is a thoughtful post.

    Reply
    • Seems like everyone is commenting on the things that they like to buy large quantities of but I am as focused on things that I only need a little of.

      Reply
  15. You reminded me of something my sister-in-law told me. Set a time each year or six months to take stock of your pantry. When you know what you have, you are better able to plan and stay in a budget.

    Reply
    • That’s a good idea Lucinda. Mine probably needs a good inventory and I’d probably be surprised by what is there.

      Reply
  16. What is SNAP? Did I miss the definition in you post? I purchase the following in bulk: dry lentils, dry chick peas, lots of quinoa, black beans, grains for grinding flour. Honeyville Farms in Chandler is a great place to shop for a variety of bulk items. I am with you Tammy, a true savings if you purchase in bulk. GREAT post! And, I can hardly wait to try your lentil recipe!

    Reply
    • SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a government assistance program to help low-income households pay for food

      Reply
  17. I buy a lot in bulk, though my buying club is having trouble recruiting members so some of it may end. For example, my (organic) white and wheat flours come in 50 lb bags and get re-packaged into (lots of) glass gallon jugs and stored in the cold basement. I buy a quarter of (organic, grass fed) beef and a lamb annually too from local farmers which lasts until the next year. I should really mark my calendar and give the SNAP challenge a try next year.

    Reply
    • I wish you would try it. My experience really affected me and my thinking. How is your buying club organized?

      Reply
      • We buy organic produce wholesale every other week then divide it up into 12 boxes for our 12+ members. (Cases tend to come in multiples of 12, which is there that number came from). We try to avoid things that are in season locally, since we don’t want to take away business from local farmers–and many of us garden or do CSAs anyway. There are also items like yogurt or flour or coconut milk available (also wholesale) if people want to “special order” these. It’s a great way to get organic food at a reasonable cost. For more info I did a writeup at: http://artofnaturalliving.com/2012/09/04/organic-for-less-buying-clubs/

        Reply
        • Great. Thanks for the resource. I think this makes so much sense. My sil and I split large purchases sometimes.

          Reply
  18. i purchase many staples in bulk, especially nuts, grains, oils, and honey. But I appreciate your comment about buying What You Need and Will Use—like the 4 ounce package of almonds. That is true economy, too.

    Reply
    • Oil and butter are really important in my cooking and they were so difficult on the SNAP challenge. A tub of local butter or local olive oil are both expensive and really, I didn’t need the quantity that cost me a day’s allocation. I would like for people to be able to buy those in bulk. I think a good coop is the answer but alas, we don’t have one here.

      Reply
  19. I know what you mean by hungry teens! Our food bill has gone up tremendously over the last few years. I agree with you on buying in bulk – at least it’s a saving and there’s so much less packaging xx

    Reply
    • As mentioned by others . . . I too often have found moth-infested goods from bins in grocery stores. I mail order mostly from places in Oregon and Idaho, and have had no problems with insects. A good co-op could probably provide better quality than a regular grocery store.

      Virtual hugs,

      Judie

      Reply
      • Not sure exactly where you are Judie but do you have a coop? I know there is one in Tucson and one in Bisbee.

        Reply
    • Those teens eat so much, don’t they charlie?

      Reply
  20. As a single person living alone, I find that there are some things even I can buy in bulk. Coffee being one of them!

    Reply
  21. tracyrose2013

     /  September 26, 2013

    Hi Tammy,

    Healthline is interested in contributing a guest post to agrigirl.com. We would be open to contributing any blog that would be of interest to your readers. Healthline bloggers have been featured on a variety of sites including:

    Washington Times: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/tango-mind-and-emotion/2012/aug/10/how-healthy-choices-easy/
    Natural News: http://www.naturalnews.com/036515_diabetes_strawberries_prevention.html
    Patch.com: http://strongsville.patch.com/blog_posts/where-and-what-to-eat-in-cleveland-to-beat-the-winter-blues

    Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

    Warm Regards,
    Tracy

    Reply
  22. To be a bit of an problem child, I’m going to say I love the theory of bulk but rarely find the practice truly friendly. In addition to the moths, you have so many potential avenues of contamination with allergens, whether it’s improper cleaning of dispensers between products, customer spillage, or customer error in using scoops or spoons or whatever. Many stores also aren’t truly friendly to BYO containers, even they say they take them, so you still end up with plastic bags. I do still buy spices in bulk regularly, as grocery stores usually have them separated from flours and nuts, but I would never dare buy cornmeal, for example, or even quinoa. Now, if you were to remove the self-service component and have well-trained staff and cleaning protocols…

    (I have had the “luxury” of living near coops in recent years and found them to be, well, not so great in terms of cleanliness, transparency, and customer service and only comparable organic/local sections compared to local grocery chains. So it all depends on your coop.)

    Reply
    • Agreed about the integrity of the bulk containers in the store. Some places have gone to tall, thin dispenser containers which helps some with contamination by customers, but the cleanliness of the containers to start with . . . well, we just don’t know. It’s mostly the moths that put me off. I figure there are too many problems involved, so mostly order in fairly large quantities from places I trust. That trust may be misplaced, but in over a decade of use, I haven’t had any difficulties of this sort with items I have acquired from Bob’s Red Mill, Azure Standard, or King Arthur Flour.

      Reply
    • We don’t have the luxury of a coop but I’ve seen the issues that you’re describing at the grocery story. I buy snacks for my office in bulk and always notice the waste left on the sidelines. Interesting comment about having the function prepared by staff.

      Reply
  23. Not a lot of places have bulk foods never me. But our food coop does and so does Whole Foods. I do love legumes and oats. Healthy and cheap, they’re so of my faves.

    Reply
    • I think legumes and grains are the common items that are sold in bulk. What if there was a way to get good oil or dish soap or other stuff that you didn’t want to shell out for a massive quantity?

      Reply
  24. Also, a SNAP challenge sounds challenging. :)

    Reply
  25. Thanks for mentioning the challenges of food security and constraints from SNAP.

    Reply
  1. Hunger Action & Awareness Months | Spirit Lights The Way

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