Shopping My Local Food Co-Op Helped Me Get More Organized in the Kitchen — Here’s How

published Oct 8, 2022
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Young woman shopping in turkish delight shop in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
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When I was growing up, I always viewed the bulk section of the grocery store as a designated nuts and candy station. Not the normal Hershey’s or Sour Patch candy, either — but the off-brand, unlabeled kind whose origins bewildered me. My parents never perused it and so, when I moved out and began grocery shopping for myself, neither did I. That is, until I started incorporating quinoa into my dinner rotation 10 years later and quickly realized just how expensive the protein-fueled grain is.

I don’t remember if it was my husband, a family member, or my own curiosity after being gifted a membership to my local food co-op, but in my search for a cheaper option I found myself in the bulk section each week, scooping quinoa into a big glass jar at a price much lower than the skimpy bags I found on larger grocery-store shelves.

It wasn’t just the price that kept me returning, either — it was also the large scope of bulk options my local co-op offered, which in turn influenced the way I shopped and, as a result, how I organized my kitchen. 

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

How Shopping at My Local Co-Op Helps Me Organize My Kitchen

1. Less Packaging

Probably my favorite result of using the bulk section as my first and primary stop during my weekly grocery runs is the lack of packaging. When I moved a couple of years ago, resulting in me having to take my own rubbish and recycling to the waste management facilities, I was forced to reckon with the amount of trash my two-person household produced — unrecyclable plastic food packaging making up the majority of it.

Whether I’m using my own jars or taking advantage of the donated ones at the co-op, all of my quinoa, pasta, tortellini, rice, cooking oils, soy sauce, flour, dried beans, oatmeal, tea, spices, peanut butter, coffee, candy, dried fruit, honey — you get the gist — are scooped and poured into reusable containers, turning my once-weekly trips to the dump into tri-weekly trips.

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

2. Seeing What I Have

The glass jar aesthetic is a popular trend for a reason; it’s a super-helpful tool to see what’s actually going on in your cupboards. There have been too many times when I’ve started a meal only to find that what I thought was a full box of pasta was actually just half-full, or restocked my cupboards after a grocery run to discover that I didn’t actually need to buy more canned black beans because two were already there, shoved behind a bag of tortilla chips.

As much as I tried to maintain rhyme and reason in my kitchen, the amount of bulky packaging had me storing overflow on the wrong shelves, tucked behind other items I’m not entirely sure why I bought (a different problem which I address below). Being able to see what I have has all but eliminated this issue.

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

3. Streamlining My Shopping

I live and work in a tourist town, which is great for my business and a stressor for errands like grocery shopping. Navigating the aisles full of people stocking their Airbnbs is the last thing I want to do on my day off or in the evening after closing up the bookstore. In the last year, I’ve noticed that the heavier I lean on the bulk section, the quicker my grocery run ends up being because other than the produce, dairy, and the bakery sections, almost everything I need is in one destination.

An added advantage to this streamlined shopping? I no longer stray from my grocery list, which has reduced impulse purchases and therefore my grocery bill along the way. 

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

4. Meeting My Needs

In addition to glass jars and clear containers, my cupboards are more organized than ever now that I’m able to tailor my grocery buys to my household. This is especially true for spices. While I prefer to cycle through a handful of trusted recipes each week, I occasionally venture out of my comfort zone and try something new.

I’ve found in the last year that I do this more often mainly because I don’t have to spend as much money gathering ingredients like spices that I’ll use two or three times before their expiration dates. I’m also able to simply top off items like tortellini if I see that I need just one extra scoop to have enough for leftovers the next day, rather than purchasing a whole new box. My grocery bill is cheaper, my cupboards are less cluttered, and I end up having more food options because cooking isn’t the hassle it once was.

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

5. Inspired Cooking

I have taken to the kitchen since becoming a co-op convert. My grocery purchases are more intentional, tailored to my needs, and accessible, which has made cooking less of an anxiety-inducing back-and-forth game of “What do you want to eat?” “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” and more of a fun opportunity to test out recipes.

I’m more willing to try new ingredients because I don’t have to commit to purchasing a maybe-expensive container of something or other that I know I’m not going to finish before it goes bad. The bulk section has sparked my curiosity rather than stifled it in the way that hunting down and committing to expensive ingredients often can.