A month or so ago, I did a little experiment in which I shopped for one month solely from the perimeter of the coop (and from anywhere at the farmers market). This included: produce, meat, bulk, dairy, and bakery (which I didn't end up using).
Here's what I learned from this largely successful experiment.
- Shopping bulk can be a pain in the butt, but it's totally worth it in terms of savings at the register and in the wasteful packaging department.
- To make shopping bulk easier, have containers with you on each trip to the market. I've ended up using bulk for certain items, so I have one container already measured and marked with the tare (the weight of the container so they don't charge you for it) and the PLU (price look up so they charge you for the right item). Once I had those containers (mostly mason jars) set aside for staple items (brown sugar, sliced almonds, dried cherries and, yes, malted milk balls) refilling at bulk was almost as easy as buying prepackaged items off the shelf.
- I am NOT a bread baker... yet. I've now tried to bake bread three or four times with little to no success. The thing is, I've made pizza crust a bunch of times successfully so I know it's not the yeast or where I'm letting it rise or anything like that. I'm still convinced I'm going to love baking bread I just have to figure out how to do it.
- Shopping the perimeter meant that we had fewer processed foods and snack around the house, which was totally worth it. We saved money by not buying pricey spritzers and sodas and were (probably) eating food that was healthier for us. (OK, not the malted milk balls.)
- Using dried instead of canned beans is shockingly easy. Sure, it took some planning ahead because I had to soak them overnight, but they were WAY tastier and cheaper.
- I definitely made more items from scratch and even learned how to make paneer (Indian cheese), which was super easy.
- Bulk tea leaves are fancy and satisfyingly ritualistic. I was worried that I'd miss the ease and Britishness of pouring hot water over a tea bag, but I was surprised that I actually enjoyed using bulk tea on a regular basis. I just pulled out the old tea balls and away I went! A little extra cleaning up, but well worth the savings and deliciousness.
Will we continue? For the most part, it's so easy in the spring and summer to shop from the edge because we practically live on produce anyway (and because our farmers market offers SO much). I still have a bit more kitchen organizing to do, but I'll probably stick to trying to buy from bulk as much as possible.