Bulk Shopping and Cooking

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

As stewards of our homes, it is our responsibility to ensure proper nutrition for our family's health. In addition, as stewards of the grocery budget, we need to ensure that we get the highest nutritional value for each dollar spend. Knowing how to shop, using a list, keeping the kitchen organized so that time and money are not wasted, cooking well and serving appetizing nutritional meals are all part of this responsibility.

Here are the food guide produced by both the Canadian and American government to help you plan you family's menus

Food Guide

Snack food is a waste of grocery money and of nutritional dollars. They are a wasted part of your family's caloric intake as well because they provide no nutritional value. Better, somewhat healthier snack foods can be made at home. Besides the obvious carrot sticks,cookies, squares and desserts can be loaded with fiber, fresh and dried fruit, and less sugar with no loss of taste.

Bulk shopping and cooking are efficient ways to use the resources of your time, your family's nutritional needs and your grocery budget.

Bulk Shopping

If you carefully compare prices between the different package sizes of a product, you will usually find that the larger size, while it costs more, costs less per unit (pound, ounce, gram, whatever) than an smaller package.

The only time this isn't true is when there is a great sale on the smaller items. Usually, buying bigger is better. Health food stores, and bulk food stores have even better prices on staple items like flour, rice, beans, cornmeal, and oatmeal.

Yes, but I can't afford to buy a 50 pound bag of flour, you say. Well, that's true, my budget runs pretty close to the limit too. But, just like re-organizing your kitchen, you can start a little bit at a time. Take a look at your shopping list and your shelves. What don't you need to buy this week? What could you do without for a week or so? Peanut butter? Fabric softener? Soda Pop? Buy one bulk item with the money you save, and you will not have to buy it again for a long time. With the money you save next week, buy another bulk item.

This way, you can spread it out, and you will not run out of your bulk items all at once. Once you have done some bulk buying, and you have a good stock of staples, you can start planning ahead. Try to leave a little room in your grocery budget, don't spend all your savings on luxuries and treats, just yet. This way, when you come across a great sale on bar soap, canned tomatoes or ground meat, you can stock up without breaking the budget.

Another bulk buying trick that uses the 'leeway' in your food budget is: when fruit is in season, buy great amounts of it and freeze them. I make jam in small manageable amounts all winter from strawberries I pick in season and freeze unsweetened. I do the same with raspberries, apples, plums, and peaches.

Likewise, 30 chickens or a side of beef can usually be bought from a butcher, or straight from the farmer for much less that grocery store prices. Look through the phone book - some butchers specialise in small order slaughtering and meat processing for local farmers. Yes, I paid $500 for a freezer full of meat, but I didn't have to buy meat again for nearly a year!

Once you have bought in bulk you need to make sure you can store it safely. Paper bags on the basement floor is not a good idea. Depending on the size you have bought, plastic buckets or garbage cans with tight fitting lids is usually best. These are rodent and insect proof, as well as water proof.

In the freezer, good quality zip-lock freezer bags, plastic containers with tight fitting lids, or double layered aluminum foil works best. Zip lock bags can be expensive, but did you know that you can wash them in your washing machine? Turn them inside out, and hang to dry (obviously, the dryer is a bad idea). I re-use zip-lock bags several times, for freezing and for camping supplies.

Bulk Cooking

There are many 'plans' and books written on this subject. Some websites devoted to this style of cooking are listed at the bottom of this page. The basic premise is: In a well-organized kitchen, with a well organized shopping list, it is just as easy to make four meat loafs as it is one. You can make a quadruple batch of spaghetti sauce, or brownies as easily as one batch. And despite all logic, if you have teenaged boys, that quadruple batch of brownies will disappear just as fast as a single batch too. Hmmm. I wonder where the savings is there?

There are a couple of ways to go about bulk cooking, or programmed eating. You can follow a schedule, you can make multiple batches of a dish occasionally, or you can go all out and cook ahead for a month at a time.

Scheduled Eating

A schedule works like this:

  • Monday: soup
  • Tuesday: chicken
  • Wednesday: beans
  • Thursday: casserole
  • Friday: pasta or fish
  • Saturday: beef or pork
  • Sunday: a roast

There is still a lot of room for creativity within a schedule like this, but it does give you an idea to start with every day. Notice that this schedule has several meatless days worked in, alternated with meat days.

Batch Cooking

Whenever you make a dish, make two and store one in the freezer for a busy day. This approach works well with scheduled eating as above. Meat loaf, meat balls, tomato sauce from scratch (super fast if you chop all vegetables in food processor) lasagna, baked beans, chicken dishes all work well. Mashed potatoes don't freeze well, so shepherd's pie should be frozen without the topping.

Batch cooking isn't too hard on the budget either.

BULK Cooking

The idea here is to cook all the main dishes for a month in one day. Make a menu for a month, look over your recipes for required ingredients and duplications of operations (ie; chopping onions, or browning meat) plan your grocery shopping list accordingly, and get cooking.

The disadvantage is that you have one exhausting day. The advantages are that you spend less, waste less, spend less time in the kitchen each day, actually enjoy cooking extra 'treats' for the family, and can delegate preparing dinner to someone else if you work outside the home.

Some Ideas
Co-Ordinated Casseroles

Your mother and grandmother were right. Casseroles are one of your most economical meals. They taste good too! These six categories of ingredients indicate the main parts of a casserole main dish. The variations are literally endless and with a salad and something to drink, make a nutritious, easy appetizing weekday meal.

  • Protein: Meat, chicken, cheese, beans, or fish
  • Vegetables: Corn, peas, carrots, mushrooms, celery, others
  • Liquid: Eggs, soup, sauce, gravy, crumbs
  • Seasonings: herbs, spices, dried onion, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce
  • 'Padding': Rice, corn meal, macaroni, noodles, potatoes
  • Crust & Topping: Biscuit dough, cornmeal dough, pastry, crumbs

Simply select an ingredient from each of the above categories. Cook the meat if necessary, and mix with the vegetables, liquid, seasoning and padding ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased casserole (or one lined with foil for freezing) and top with the topping ingredient. Bake. As you can see, the classic macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and chicken pot pie all fall into this style of cooking. Just combine ingredients according to your taste and imagination.

Casseroles can easily be made ahead of time and frozen for reheating later, thus saving time. If you're making one, you might as well make two and freeze one for later.

Magic Soup

It's called magic soup because it never runs out. Start with a good stock that you've made by boiling chicken or beef bones. Cool overnight in the refrigerator and skim the fat off. Add leftovers to it as you get them, and water as necessary. Store it in the fridge, and reheat at least once a week to boiling point. It will develop an interesting and indefinable flavor as you add different things to it.

Some Useful Resources for Bulk Cooking and Shopping:

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