Bulk buying saves money, right? Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Food in bulk may cost less at the register, but with about 40% of all food waste happening at the consumer level, a lot of that bulk bought food ends up in the trash. Which means the money we spend on it is wasted too.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This article from FastCompany suggests leaning towards a European model of daily shopping at small, local markets. While that sounds like a nice idea, it also isn’t very realistic for many of us in North America. Time is a huge factor, but so is availability. In most areas, large grocery stores are really the only option and those quaint local markets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables just don’t exist. Then there’s the weather. The FastCompany article talks about the markets in Barcelona - a sunny, warm climate. Much of North America goes into a deep freeze for several months a year and trudging out to grocery stores isn’t high on many people’s lists of “fun winter activities”.
All of that makes bulk buying pretty enticing for many North Americans as we don’t just want to save money, but also want to reduce our trips to the shops.
The thing is, when we actually use the food we buy, bulk buying is cheaper and often uses less packaging than buying in smaller quantities. So, how do we buy in bulk without wasting in bulk? Here are a few tips:
A three-pack of lettuce may be cheaper per head than simply buying one, but lettuce has a pretty short shelf life, so unless you’re eating salad every single day and/or meal, at least some of that will go to waste.
Dry and canned goods last longer. Dry white rice, for example, has an indefinite shelf life and many canned goods keep for up to five years! If you truly want to use bulk buying to save money, focus on products that keep for a long time and look into the shelf life before deciding how much you’ll purchase.
As we mentioned above, some dry goods like white rice have an indefinite shelf life. But, that’s provided they’re stored properly. Ideally in an airtight container with no moisture. Canned goods should be stored in a cool (not cold) dry place, out of direct sunlight. When it comes to dry goods, you also want to be sure they’re safely sealed off from pests like ants or pantry flies. If these pests are a problem in your area, look into preemptive measures to keep them away.
If you’re buying canned or dry goods in bulk, pay close attention to any storage instructions on the packaging and follow them to the letter. Also be sure you’re regularly rotating cans so that older ones are used first.
Meal planning works really well when it’s realistic. That means only planning out a few days, up to no more than a week in advance. Life is unpredictable. Things happen. Plans go awry.
Avoid bulk buying products that will need to be used up within a few short weeks or even days. Instead, use bulk purchased dry, canned or frozen goods as the starting point for a short and realistic meal plan.
Freezing is a great way to preserve bulk bought food, but it doesn’t preserve it forever! Different types of meat, for example, have different ideal freezer storage times that can vary depending on the type of packaging.
If you bulk buy meat, for example, find a supplier that vacuum seals its products as these will last longer and are less prone to freezer burn.
If you have a large chest or upright freezer, stick a notepad or whiteboard to it and record what you have, when it was stored and when it needs to be used by. A whiteboard or chalkboard is a good idea because you can easily update it as you take things out.
We recommend this tip a lot because, although it’s a bit tedious, there’s no better way to get a clear picture of how and why food waste is happening in your home. This will also tell you which bulk-purchased foods are most likely to be wasted so that you can stop buying those and focus on the ones that are actually worth it to you.
Remember, smaller quantities may cost more per unit, but if you’re throwing much of those units out, it’s costing you (and the planet) a lot more in the long run.
Do you bulk buy? Have you found great ways to plan or store bulk purchases to ensure as little waste as possible?
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