I love to shop in the bulk section of the grocery store. I feel like I save so much money by packaging it myself. I love a good deal and I love it when I come in under budget after a trip to the grocery store.
The way that Meal Hero works (type in an ingredient and get tons of recipe inspiration) is such a great way to menu plan and get creative with the treasures found in the bulk bin.
Here’s an in depth look into my favorites in the bulk bin. They star in many of our meals and take up plenty of space in the pantry of my kitchen.
My Favorite Bulk Bin Ingredients and What to Do With Them
I always have beans on hand. They’re great for so much more than Chili. They make a great addition to pasta. Want a hearty vegetarian dinner that’s gonna be quick and easy? Look no further than Pasta E Ceci. You could sub some cannellini beans for the chickpeas and add some hearty greens (like swiss chard, spinach, or kale) and it’ll change it up enough to feel like a completely different meal. Oh and with those pasta leftovers, add a little bit of stock and you’ve basically got a Minestrone Soup. If it’s movie night and you want something to snack on that’s a little more substantial than popcorn (also something I like to buy from the bulk bin), turn some leftover pinto beans into refried beans. I like to top them with some cheese and bake until it’s hot. Then top with some sautéed bell peppers, homemade guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.
Lentil Stew is one of my favorite things to make with lentils. But, lentils are also a great addition to salads. They can star in a Lentil Salad, or be an accompaniment to hearty greens and winter squash in a Roasted Squash Kale and Lentil Salad. You could even toss them with some pasta if you’re all out of chickpeas for your Pasta E Ceci. Leftover cooked lentils can be blended and made into Lentil Hummus, which would be great for dipping raw bell peppers and carrots. They would also be great in a wrap.
I can’t remember the last time I bought rolled oats from anywhere other than the bulk section. I always have cooked oatmeal on hand. I make a huge batch and freeze it in individual sized containers. Oats are obviously great for so much more than oatmeal though. They’re amazing in cookies. They’re a great addition to snacks and breakfast foods like muffins and breakfast cookies, pancakes, granola, and granola bars. And they make great homemade bread. Oh! Can we hop back on the oatmeal train for a second? Have you ever tried Baked Oatmeal?! It’s like oatmeal’s fancy cousin. Drizzled with a bit of maple syrup and served with a side of breakfast sausage, that’s a favorite comfort food of mine. Oats are one of the main ingredients in a Fruit Crisp. And what’s perfect about this dessert (which also doubles as a breakfast – add some yogurt, a drizzle of milk, or just eat it cold right out of the fridge!) is that it can be made all throughout the year. In the spring, try Rhubarb Crisp. Summer calls for berries or stone fruit (or both!). Fall means apples and pears. In the winter, I’d like dried fruit in a Cranberry Apple Raisin Crisp.
Pssst… did you know that oats are great in savory dishes too? Doesn’t this recipe for Shiitake Mushroom & Kale Savory Oats sound fabulous? You could also make a pot of oatmeal and top it with things like crispy bacon, scallions, crispy onions, chopped nuts, grated cheese, seeds (pepitas/flax seeds/toasted sesame seeds/chia), a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Such a great bulk bin meal!
Grains (or things we think of as grains)
When I think of grains I usually think about rice. But, then I remember amazing things like farro, quinoa, and wild rice (which is not technically a rice at all).
One of my favorite ways to use farro is in a Farro Grain Bowl. You could switch up the toppings depending on what you’re in the mood for. I love to top them with roasted veggies, bacon, and a fried egg. I also love salads where grains are the stars. Like in this Kale and Farro Salad with Bacon. Farro is amazing in soups and stews. I’d definitely recommend using it in something like this Creamy Chicken and Farro Soup. And in this Farro Risotto with Roast Mushrooms… farro and roasted mushrooms?! Yes please!!
Wild rice is one of the best things to make when I want to switch things up a bit. I love brown rice. I am a fan of quinoa. But sometimes I get in a rut and forget to get creative with what’s in the bulk bin. Wild rice is great in a simple meal. You could cook some artichokes, crisp up some sausage or tofu, and top cooked wild rice with butter or olive oil, lemon zest, and some sea salt. Perfection. But, let’s not stop there. I think that served with a simple green salad, Cheesy Crockpot Wild Rice Casserole, Crock Pot Autumn Quinoa Pilaf, or Butternut Squash With Whole Wheat, Wild Rice, & Onion Stuffing will make easy weeknight dinners. I might pair these Cranberry Wild Rice Meatballs with Potato Pancakes (I’m thinking ahead here, but this could be a super fun day after Thanksgiving meal and a great way to use up those leftover mashed potatoes). And how about this Fruited Multigrain Pilaf that uses wheat berries, farro, and wild rice and pairs it with fruit. Sounds delicious!
I love to eat quinoa. Its tiny little bobbles are simultaneously crunchy and soft. It’s quick and easy and is a great way to add protein to a dish. I really enjoy it with beans and fresh corn in the summer in a Mediterranean Quinoa Salad. In the winter, swap out the corn and summer veggies for some leftover cooked winter squash, keep the beans, and serve it hot rather than cold. If you’re a fan of Tabbouleh, try it with quinoa instead of rice. Quinoa is a great addition to a Chicken Teriyaki Bowl. If you love muffins, try some Quinoa Chocolate Chip Muffins. It can also be a simple side. Cook the quinoa and add a bit of salt and any of the toppings I suggested for the pot of oatmeal with savory toppings. Or make it sweet by topping it with a splash of coconut milk, some maple syrup, and some cinnamon.
Rice is such a versatile grain. I love it with stir fries, in soups, and in Cheesy Chicken with Grapes and Rice. I love that it freezes well, and is great when it’s reheated and topped with a fried egg and some leftover roasted veggies for lunch. Add it to beans and you’ve got a complete source of protein. I like the idea of doing this with Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice and Spanish Rice with Beans.
No, you can’t buy cookies and bread in the bulk bins (but if you’ve got a great local bakery to support you’ve got it made!). But, you can buy things like flour, cornmeal, and sugar there. Some stores will even have flours that have been milled by local farmers. Ask the people working at the store. They usually know a lot about the items that they’re stocking and are eager to tell you about their favorites and what they love to make.
I think that nuts are the best from the bulk bin. Not only do I get to see them before I buy them, but since I’m packaging them, I know how long they’ve been in the bag. (Tip: Shopping at a high traffic store means the bulk bins are likely to be restocked often, meaning fresher food for you!) I love to sprinkle nuts on salads. One of my favorite breakfast treats is a Trail Mix Cookie that’s loaded with nuts. I enjoy nuts eaten out of hand with an apple or banana. They’re a great addition to a Fruit Crisp or toasted and added to a bowl of granola and yogurt.
Same story as the nuts. They’re great bought out of the bulk bin and are a great addition to so many dishes. I always have sesame seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds on hand. I eat them all the time. I top almost every salad with sunflower seeds and pepitas. I love to mix chia seeds into a bowl of oatmeal.
Sometimes I can’t believe how expensive it is to buy good quality snacks. But, then I head over to the bulk bin and am able to not only save some money, but buy the amount I need (because who needs the pressure of eating the entire bag before they go stale?!). Two of my favourite things to get are those little sesame sticks and chocolate covered almonds.
What are your favorite meals to make that star the bulk bin?