03/08/08 — Bulk foods: It’s all about frugality

Lately I’ve been watching as the value of the Euro soars against the dollar as the interest rate on my savings account got slashed in half. Trust me, I’m pissed. I get even more pissed when I see the ads for big screen TV’s that say “spend your tax refund/future rebate here”. Spend what you don’t have – it’s the American way y’alls!

I made a decision a while ago to cook more often and bring lunches to work instead of going out because it’s healthier for me, healthier for the environment (less packaging), and healthier for my bank account. My fianceé and I made a decision shortly after that – the best way to save on the groceries is to buy as little processed foods as possible. Since we both work, work out, and have long commutes, we relied on those meals-in-a-bag and frozen pizzas for weeknight dinners several times a week, and spaghetti when we actually “cooked”. It doesn’t help that our gym is across the street from a Chipotle. Of course you’re going to spend a lot of $$ on food if you keep that up. That’s not cooking!

Though neither of us are hurting for cash, we figured we could do better. Although we’ve been doing more shopping @Whole Paycheck, we’ve been spending less on food. We’re just buying mostly basic ingredients. We’ve tried several of the recipes from Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Meals in 10 Minutes or Less (nytimes.com – login required) and they’ve been winners, though it helps if you have things like chorizo and sherry vinegar on hand. I made a PDF out of the news article so I can do quick searches on my computer for specific ingredients.

During the last Whole Paycheck excursion I accidentally introduced my fianceé to bulk foods. I thought everyone knew about bulk foods, but maybe I’ve been spoiled because I used to live in Santa Cruz which has many quality local markets w/huge bulk sections. In this case you just buy what you’ll use and you’re using less packaging, so it’s cheaper for you and better for the environment.

I’ve also noticed that since I’ve been cooking more, I run out of spices on a regular basis (although I’ve tossed out the cumin seeds circa 2003). Some spices can be crazy expensive, so I’ve scoped out some resources for cheap spices:

  • World Market – lots of quality spices in bulk packaging – especially good for things like curry powder. I found vanilla beans here for 3$ vs. the Whole Paycheck version for 15$
  • Trader Joe’s – I found saffron here for 3$ vs. 14$ @the grocery store
  • The international section of your local grocery store – Recently I found red pepper flakes, whole cloves, and flaxseeds in bulk packaging for a fraction of what they cost in the regular spice section in the next aisle. Go figure.
  • International markets – you can find the basics here like cinnamon and oregano as well as curry powders and wasabi
  • And why buy an expensive spice mix or rub when you can make your own with what you already have?

As soon as I can make a decent loaf of bread (my latest cooking goal), then I know I will have achieved the ultimate in frugality. Seriously, the price of bread is insane. Damn biofuels.