Everything Bulk – The Ultimate Guide to Bulk Shopping
A 7 min read –
I don’t know about you, but when I first heard of bulk shopping I was intimidated. It’s hard enough to fit normal grocery shopping in on top of an already hectic schedule let alone buy everything in bulk!
What I didn’t realize is how simple it really is. And when I bought my muslin bulk bags, I actually got excited! There is something immensely satisfying about buying something of quality with the intention of using it over and over again.
My bulk bags are so nice! They’re made of a supple cotton linen with a deft drawstring. So much better than the plastic produce bags they provide at most bulk stores! Suddenly bulk shopping became something almost luxurious. I felt fancy with my elegant, reusable bags. And I loved that I wasn’t consuming any plastic in the process!
Also shopping in bulk has helped me to get whole ingredients for making delicious food from scratch, rather than buying packaged food that contains preservatives and other chemicals that I don’t want to put into my body. What’s best for the planet seems to always end up being what’s best for us as well.
While bulk shopping is easy, there are some things you need to know that will make it even easier for you. Below I’ve outlined an easy guide that will hopefully take the stress out of bulk shopping and make it fun, seamless, and maybe even a little fancy!
Step 1) Buy bulk bags
There are many places that source cotton bulk bags. I love the shop Wild Minimalist because of their commitment to not using plastic packaging during the entire process! Their products are all sustainably sourced and high quality.
I also recommend buying produce bags. Produce stays fresh in the fridge without plastic! I use my produce bags for lettuce, kale, apples, mushrooms; any produce that needs to be bagged. Think about all the plastic you’re saving! Plus I think it looks much prettier.
The nice thing is that in the future if you no longer want or need them, materials like cotton and hemp will decompose, so no part of this process is putting undue strain on the environment, or polluting it! That’s my favorite part.
Step 2) Identify your bulk needs
This is a bit of a trial and error process, but over a few weeks, my husband and I were able to make a definitive list of the items we buy in bulk on a regular basis. That way we are able to go bulk shopping once a month and don’t have to dash here and there every week buying groceries at multiple stores. Let’s face it – no one has time for that! I just make sure to keep my bulk bags with my other canvas totes so I don’t forget them on bulk shopping day.
Here’s a copy of our bulk list. Feel free to steal it, add your own items, or create your own from scratch!
- Chia seeds
- Spices (parsely, oregano, basil, cumin etc)
- Peanut Butter
- Loose leaf teas (chamomile, lavender, rose hips etc)
- Soap bars (we use these instead of body wash/hand soap)
Note: Bulk items are rung up via a PLU# which is often written on a twist tie. Instead, make a note in your phone and write the PLU# there and simply read it off to the cashier. This prevents twist ties from being wasted!
In terms of buying produce, if there are apples in a plastic bag, and apples loose in a bin, I will always choose the loose apples and put them in a produce bag for convenience. Same with avocados, mushrooms, or any other produce. It’s about retraining ourselves to shy away from packaging if it’s convenient, and even when it’s slightly inconvenient as well!
It’s also helpful to know what you plan to cook with the items you buy. For example, I make an easy and delicious falafel from the chickpeas. You could also make hummus. Quinoa is delicious with salmon and sweet potatoes. Having lentils on hand means I can always whip up a quick lentil soup in a pinch. My husband is from the Dominican Republic and he makes beans fresh every weak with traditional Dominican spices. We eat oatmeal almost every morning for breakfast. You get the drift.
What we’ve noticed is that through using these whole ingredients to make food from scratch, we are taking our nutrition and nourishment seriously. I find that when I feed my body something that truly nourishes it, my soul becomes nourished as well. There is something so satisfying about cooking delicious food together with your loved ones. It remains one of our favorite activities on a Friday night.
Yes, I’ll admit it, sometimes we’d rather stay in! You caught us!
Step 3) Find a bulk store near you
In the US, there is now a Whole Foods in almost every town. It varies from store to store, but every Whole Foods has some sort of bulk section. We’ve found that the Sprouts in Denver has the best bulk section by far. We get most of our bulk needs from Sprouts and go to Whole Foods for a couple of things Sprouts doesn’t have – like bulk peanut butter.
Some towns also have official bulk stores. Denver isn’t quite there yet, but many US cities are. Simply Bulk in Longmont, CO, is an example. I suggest a quick google search to see what’s available in your area.
Step 4) Shop with your mason jars/glass containers
Shopping with mason jars sounds weird, but is deceptively easy! I bring mine every time I go bulk shopping. Most bulk stores measure items by weight, so all you have to do is go to the customer service counter and have them weigh your container so they know how much the ‘tare’ is. They will write it on the lid.
As mentioned above, Whole Foods has a nut butter grinder and it’s so simple to just grind the nut butter into your pre-tared mason jar! Also, many bulk stores have bulk spices, so it’s easy to just refill your spice jars once they’re empty instead of buying new ones every time.
I also always make sure to bring a few large glass containers as well. Last week when I was at Whole Foods, I presented my container to the man at the fish counter and told him I was ‘zero waste.’ He was really respectful and interested and had no problem putting my cut of salmon in the glass container for me. I was thrilled! That way I didn’t have to throw away that plastic lined paper they normally wrap the fish in. This could be applied to the meat counter as well.
It’s helpful to invest in enough mason jars to hold all the bulk items you buy. I have a range of quite large, large, medium and small mason jars. Some of them I bought, but a large portion of them are leftover juice bottles, jam jars, tomato sauce jars etc. Just remove the label and voila! A perfectly good mason jar! Once you get home from bulk shopping, you can transfer the items to your mason jars. I think they look so pretty sitting in my pantry!
As you can see, these small changes make a big difference in how much packaging you consume!
Step 5) When you can’t find something in bulk
There are a couple of options for when you can’t buy something in bulk. The first option is to make it from scratch. I make a Twenty Minute Almond Milk that, in my opinion, tastes even better than store bought! I use the leftover ground almonds in my morning oatmeal and in baking. We also opt for making fresh beans rather than using canned. My husband brews his own kombucha.
These are just a couple of examples. Every household has different needs. What easy things could you make at home instead of buying prepackaged?
Sometimes making things from scratch just isn’t possible. I totally get it! Life is busy! If that’s the case choose items packaged in glass, cardboard, and tin cans over plastic. Especially glass and cardboard. These items are much easier to recycle than plastic and have a greater post consumer product demand.
It’s not about being perfect! I’m not perfect! Remember, this is a journey; a chance to explore what works for you. We still consume some plastic. It is really hard in a society that relies so heavily on disposable plastic packaging! However, we are actively looking for solutions to reduce the plastic that we do still consume, and we make sure to recycle everything properly. For more tips on how to reduce plastic consumption see my post: 5 STEPS TO HELP COMBAT THE PLASTIC POLLUTION CRISIS
In the end it’s about finding what works best for you. I have a lot of fun with bulk shopping, which makes it enjoyable for me, which in turn makes it a sustainable life choice. It’s also about changing our mindset and our habits. Every little step in the right direction counts! Because all together, those little steps have the power to change the face of our culture!
Please let me know in the comments below how bulk shopping is going for you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!