Health-Food Store Bulk Bins: Worth It?

You can find practically any ingredient in bulk bins these days: grains, flours, pasta, beans, cereals, trail mixes, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, teas and coffees. Bulk bins at health-food stores and supermarkets can be a healthy eater's best resource when shopping, whether buying ingredients for dinner or grabbing a nutritious snack. Here's why these products makes sense.

• Bulk bins are typically replenished fairly often, meaning ingredients are fresh. Especially items with a high turnover. Ask the bulk bin manager to be certain.

• When you "bin shop," you can buy as much or as little as you need: a unique spice for a recipe, for example, or a trail mix you'd like to sample before committing to an entire bag.

• Because there's no packaging, bulk items are often much less expensive than those on store shelves. Less packaging also means less waste.

A few tips for shopping in bulk:

• Check out the savings first (it helps if you have a rough idea of prices at a regular supermarket). When companies don't have to pay for packaging and space on store shelves, the savings gets passed on to consumers.

• Decide how much of an item you want before filling the bag. Buy just what you need, whether it's 3 tablespoons of curry powder or 4 cups of whole wheat pasta. It's easy to get excited and over-fill.

• Keep track of bin item numbers, which will let the cashier know how to price the food. Write the bin number on the bag, a label provided by the store or the twist tie.

• To keep prices in check, use the scales provided and weigh your food before heading to the check-out.

• Take note of specials; many stores offer huge savings on bulk items every week.

• If you can, bring your own reusable containers to the store and eliminate the bags altogether.

• When you get home, store dry bulk items in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.

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