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How to Navigate the Bulk Foods Section to Survive the Dark Days

Let me just get this out of my system. If you haven’t explored your supermarket’s bulk food section, you are missing out! It’s a smorgasboard of tasty bits and pieces. You can get a HUGE sack of oats for oatmeal or a tiny nibble of chocolate-covered raisins right in the same place!

Besides the excitement, which I think stems from Mom occasionally buying bulk yogurt pretzels when I was a kid, here are the rational, adult reasons for loving the bulk foods section:

  • There is very little packaging, so you cut down on waste. You can even bring your own containers.
  • It’s almost always cheaper than other options, especially since you can buy exactly the amount you want.
  • It allows you to have more variety in your pantry, since you can buy smaller amounts of more things, rather than getting a gigantic bag of black beans or settling for just raisins in your oatmeal for two weeks.
  • You can try new things without the committment.

I like to think of all choices as a hierarchy. If not this, then this, etc. My food hierarchy goes something like this: I prefer to buy food from a local farmer I’ve talked to, so I know how he or she runs the farm. If I can’t get what I need that way, I’ll buy food from Joe Schmo local farmer either at the farmers’ market or a grocery store. If I still can’t get what I need, then I probably don’t really need it. But, if I do really need/want it, I’ll buy organic produce from the US (since at least it hasn’t traveled as far as, say, Chilean strawberries) and almost everything else from the bulk foods section. In the Dark Days, we get down to the last level pretty often.

Our supermarket carries several different types of rice, grains, beans, nuts, and dried fruit. It also has a few flours and varieties of granola and trail mix. We can get some beans, flours, and grains locally, but we get all our dried fruit and nuts there.

Here’s how it works:

  1. There’s often a roll of thin plastic bags nearby. Grab one or pull out your own container. If you bring your own, make sure it’s pretty lightweight. Some supermarkets will tare (zero out the weight of your container), but others won’t. If the store tares, remember to do it before you fill the container.
  2. Find what you want. This can be the confusing part, since the aisle might not be organized in a logical way, so ask an employee if you can’t find something. They usually know exactly where everything is. Even though we go every other week or so, I feel like the section is constantly rearranged!
  3. Fill up your bag or container. Sometimes there’s a scoop and sometimes the food comes out of a shoot that you open with a lever. Go slowly if it’s the lever kind, so you don’t take too much.
  4. Take a look at the bin and find the product number. This is usually pretty conspicuous, but ask someone if you’re unsure. Some stores let you weigh your own and print a label with the amount and product number. Some just want you to record the number on the fastener, so that they can weight and price it when you check out. If you don’t see a fancy scale where people are printing labels, assume it’s the latter.

That’s it. Now go to the grocery store and try something new!

1 comment to How to Navigate the Bulk Foods Section to Survive the Dark Days

  • We do as much as we can with bulk bins, too. The local health food store will let you tare containers, but the grocery store won’t– I try to make a monthly trip to the health food store so that I can stock up on flours and oats and beans. I have some lined bags that I use there, but which are too heavy for the grocery store– but a light muslin bag is not too heavy.