Zero Food Waste 2015 Week 14: Don’t Buy In Bulk, Buy Bulk (plus weeknight soba noodles for one)

zero food waste challenge 2015Wow. It feels pretty awesome to be nearly a third of the way through the year — I’m beginning to feel like my new habits are fully settling in. The thing that’s helping the most is really that I know myself pretty well by now; after over a decade of adulting, I have a decent sense of what will and won’t work for me. But one thing I’ve been doing this year is genuinely new, and not something I would ever have said I’d like as much as it’s turning out that I do.

Anne at Money Propeller linked me to this WSJ article on food waste: according to the EPA, Americans threw out 36 million tons of food in 2012, up to $1000 per year per person. The people they interviewed for the article (which is sort of an ad for high end refrigerators that claim they can keep food fresh longer) are interesting, because they testify to the fact that we like imagining we’ll use all that beautiful produce, so we buy it…and don’t use it.

No-Waste Food Tip of the Week: Buy in the Bulk Aisle, but Don’t Buy in Bulk

Until I started this challenge, I thought of myself as a stockpiler. It was very satisfying to have a pantry full of dry goods — lots of kinds of flour and beans and grains and pasta and canned tomatoes and coconut milk and, you know, whatever. Things that don’t go bad. So I was always prepared for whatever I might want to cook. Except: I often did not take advantage of the great variety of stuff I had. Since those bulk things are nonperishable, mostly, it wasn’t that big a deal, in that eventually I’d decide to eat through my pantry. But why was I stocking up if I wasn’t regularly using these things? Other than the feeling of abundance, I don’t really know why.

My stockpile is as low now as I think it’s ever been. I’m working through the big bag of brown rice I bought last year, and through a few other things like the soba noodles I also had from last year, which are in the recipe below. But when those are gone, I won’t re-buy “just in case” stuff until I’m actually going to use it. What’s making that possible is that I’m now buying all my grains, rice, etc, from the bulk bins at either the grocery co-op or Whole Foods. It’s great because I can buy exactly what I need for the recipes I’m going to make. I don’t have to buy a 1-lb bag for a recipe that calls for 10 oz, then figure out what to do with the extra. I kind of can’t wait until I can take a picture of my new, drastically slimmed-down pantry shelves. They look so sleek already!

This Week’s Groceries
Meijer (grocery store)
2 bundles green onions, $1.18
Sweet potatoes, $1.93
Cilantro, $.99
Limes, $1.00
Swiss chard, $1.99
sandwich bags, 2.49
serrano pepper, .03 (seriously! .01 lb at 2.99/lb)
steelcut oats, $3.19
laundry detergent, $7.99
cup hooks, $1.99
Total with tax: 23.65

Whole Foods
plain yogurt, $3.39
mung beans (in bulk!), $3.24
milk, 2.39
Total with tax, $8.92

Farmer’s Market
Spinach, $3.50
Apples, $2.50
Total, $6.00

Grand Total, $38.57

Weeknight Soba Noodles for One
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

This recipe is a little unusual for me, in that (a) it requires cooking after work, which I virtually never do — cooking with TWO POTS, no less — and (b) it can’t be prepared in a batch on the weekends and eaten all week. However, I was looking for something to help me use up the soba noodles I bought in the fall, and found this on one of my favorite cooking websites. It turned out to be absolutely perfect for this week: it’s been cold and rainy, and I gave blood yesterday, so I wanted something with a lot of iron in it, and the spinach fit the bill and this was so hot and soothing and comforting. The original recipe calls for tofu, but I skipped it as too complicated — you could put any kind of protein in here, in which case these quantities will work for two people. But I just ate a lot of noodles and spinach 🙂

4 oz soba noodles
1/4 c grated parmegiano-reggiano cheese (worked great, but I might try it with feta sometime just out of curiosity)
a substantial quantity of spinach (I have no idea how much I used — I just threw in several handfuls; it shrinks down rapidly. You could also use chard, or almost any green.)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 bunch scallions, both whites and greens, sliced

Boil the noodles for 4-5 minutes in salted water; drain and rinse with cold water to stop them cooking.

In a pan, preferably nonstick, heat a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Saute the scallions and spinach for a minute or so, until the spinach starts to cook down, then toss the noodles in. Stir-fry until the noodles are steaming hot again and the spinach is fully cooked. Toss in the cheese and garlic powder and stir until the cheese is melted and coats everything (this only takes thirty seconds or so.)

20 thoughts on “Zero Food Waste 2015 Week 14: Don’t Buy In Bulk, Buy Bulk (plus weeknight soba noodles for one)

  1. I don’t buy in bulk anymore unless it’s something I know we will eat or use. Peanut butter or toilet paper fall into that category. I live near several stores and usually go at least once per week so there’s really no reason for me to buy huge quantities. I hate wasting food.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Toilet paper is definitely a good thing to buy in bulk — a human need that will never change 🙂

  2. Alicia says:

    Yum, those noodles sound delish! If only I had soba noodles. And I’d probably throw some chicken in there for protein. 🙂

    I buy in bulk for certain things. Part of that comes in that I buy things at Costco (certain items) and we live 5 hrs away from one, so we stock up when we go down home. Aside from that I do have a decent stock, but I have been working on it quite a bit. It’s much better than it was.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m sure you could do it with any kind of noodle, really 🙂 I don’t actually think stockpiling is a bad thing in and of itself; it’s really a matter of “do you actually use it.” I definitely stockpile things I use constantly, like toilet paper and all-purpose flour. What I’m trying to cut down on is the “10 varieties of beans in stock at once” kind of thing 🙂

  3. Isabella says:

    I have a pretty set list of what I buy in bulk, usually at Costco, which is located very near our home. (organic canned tomatoes of all kinds, flour, yeast, oatmeal, some cheese, TT etc.) I too shop Whole Foods for bulk items like organic black beans. Basics that I know I will use. I don’t usually buy other things in bulk unless I hit a good sale. For instance, I recently found strawberries for $1.19/pound. I bought 25 pounds to slice and freeze because I know that is probably the best price I will find here this season. If I find a good deal on fish or meat, I will buy enough for about 3-4 meals. I know that sales come up often, so I don’t overdo. It’s just Hubby and I now (4 kids grown), so I have had to learn to downsize my shopping a bit!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Oh man, it must be really hard to make a transition from 6 to 2 people! The strawberry sale sounds amazing. I’ll go blueberry picking later this summer and freeze 25 lbs of blueberries or so for about the same price per pound; it’s totally worth it in those cases.

  4. Hannah says:

    I have an existential crisis each time I consider bulk purchases because there’s a war waging between two of my strongest sensibilities. Will not having to go store win out? (driven by my sloth) or will my desire for open space in my cupboards win out? (avarice- for space).

    On Saturday I bought 24 cans of coconut milk, so I guess sloth won this time.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      OK, there’s something so awesome about the idea of 24 cans of coconut milk that I’m prepared to withdraw my advice 🙂 Do you have special plans for them? Or are you just going to use it up over a year or so?

      The thing about that war for me is that I have to go to the store every week anyway for perishables, so I might as well get the dry goods I need then too.

      1. Hannah says:

        If I have coconut milk on hand, I use it 1-2 times per week, so this is probably a 4 month supply for me. However, Aldi doesn’t carry coconut milk, so its not guaranteed that I have it on hand (admittedly I could buy it from the grocer across the street from Aldi, but that street is busy, so sloth wins most of the time).

        But this week, Aldi had cans for $1.29 each, so this has been my meal plan: (with chicken as well, because… meat) (with major variations, but the idea is what counts here).

        1. thesingledollar says:

          Hee to the sloth 🙂 The tikka masala looks super!

  5. I found shopping for a little at a time and using what I have with that small amount was the key to less food waste for me. Yeah if the shit hits the fan and we have a big earthquake and people are looting for food, I’d be SOL (or one of the looters-lol), but it’s not worth it because that food just goes to waste for me.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Ooooh, I totally plan to be a looter! 🙂

  6. I´m with Tonya on this one. Ever since I moved to Houston, I go to the grocery store every day or two, and this really helps me cut down on all the “stuff.” I only buy what´s absolutely necessary, knowing I´ll be back at the store tomorrow or the next day anyway. It´s been a good habit to get into, for me.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I think buying bulk is awesome for some people. But I’m definitely finding that buying exactly what I need is keeping me focused in a good way. Maybe this is especially true for households of one or two? I can definitely see bulk buying with a big family!

  7. My stockpile has diminished lately, too. Even from a stocking-up/couponing perspective, the same things go one sale every couple of months, so I no longer feel like I need to buy 20 cans/boxes of something when it goes on sale. Except pasta and boxed mac and cheese, which will go through like crazy. (That happens when a picky 5 yo only eats plain pasta w/ grated cheese and boxed mac and cheese…)

    1. thesingledollar says:

      hee! Yes, I think people with kids probably can never have enough pasta on hand 🙂 I agree about the repeating sales — my grocery store does that too so I try not to worry about it.

  8. Jessica says:

    I am definitely bad about stockpiling because I am busy/lazy. I do think I may have tipped over to the extreme though. This is a great reminder to go through my pantry and get creative with what I have on hand.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I love some food creativity 🙂 Do you use My favorite place to go to when I have an ingredient and no idea what to do with it.

  9. Yes! Thank you for spreading the word about bulk bins! At the store now, we basically shop the produce aisle, the bulk bins, and a few things out of the fridge (eggs and milk for the one of us who eats animal stuff). We’ve saved a lot of money with this approach, we waste way less, and we generate a whole lot less garbage. Keep up the great work!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I love bulk bins, and I especially love that they’re getting easier to find — they used to be only at co-ops and health food stores and now sometimes I even see them in normal grocery stores, as well as Whole Foods.

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