After three months of researching, rethinking, and reorganizing, I’ve finally got my Near-O Waste kitchen in order! Here are my usual grocery list suspects, and how I buy them with minimal packaging.
PRODUCE: By far the easiest to obtain! I choose loose fruits and veggies and put them straight into my reusable produce bags. I bypass or substitute items if they’re wrapped in plastic (like cauliflower sometimes is) and I’m definitely looking forward to the arrival of bulk strawberries, berry picking season, and harvesting from our very own little garden! For lettuces: I rinse, spin, and store them in the fridge (still in the salad spinner).
I also use this milk to make yogurt. I was very intimidated at first, but it’s actually really easy. The first recipe I tried had a nice thick consistency but was too much maintenance for me during incubation. The second recipe was a keeper: it had a thinner consistency, but was much less work, totally tasty, and very versatile. If you do try this recipe… here’s what I did for the incubation period: I set my oven to its lowest temperature, watched it climb, then turned the oven off when it reached 110 degrees. I left my yogurt in the pot (in the oven, with the oven light on) for 8 hours without checking on it once, and… viola!
*Yogurt update (April 6, 2015): Please, oh please, read my more recent post about yogurt!
BREAD: I buy bread at one of our local bakeries every other Wednesday. It leaves the shelf, goes through the slicer, and straight into my bread bag. I always buy a few loaves at a time and put some in the freezer in a glass storage container. Thanks, Mom, for making my bags!
EGGS: We usually stock up at Staff of Life, where you can fill your own carton with loose eggs and bring the same container again and again. Sometimes we go straight to the source to see the dancing chickens at the vending machine.
MEAT: I buy raw meat at Staff of Life or New Leaf and have it put straight into my glass container. You still end up with price stickers, but I reuse them for sticky notes, like if I need to remind my husband not to eat the 1/2 cup of yogurt I’m saving to make the next batch!
The first time I bought Near-O Waste chicken at New Leaf, the butcher said, “Thanks for doing your part for the planet.” Nothing like a little encouragement when you’re the only person holding out a glass container at the meat counter! New Leaf and Whole Foods will also sell you sliced sandwich meats. I haven’t bought “sausage in glass” yet, but it’s fast approaching on my menu, and I’ll be heading to El Salchichero when the time comes.
CHEESE: My Near-O Waste nemesis! If I’m buying parmigiano reggiano I will have it cut from the wheel at Whole Foods and put into my glass container (below left), but for any other type of cheese, I shop at Costco, and yes, it’s in a plastic wrapper! Here’s why: I tried to buy sliced cheddar at the Whole Foods deli counter and the person who was helping me turned to the refrigerator, pulled out a package of cheese, opened it, and filled my glass container. I just couldn’t justify this one! Our latest stockpile of Costco cheese is pictured below right along with some rare packaged snacks. “The Packaged Item Compromise” post is coming soon…
BAGELS and CREAM CHEESE: I buy them at our local bagel shop. The loose bagels go straight into cloth bags and the cream cheese goes straight into my glass jar (after it’s been sanitized by an employee; that’s their rule, and that’s A-OK with me!).
BISCUITS: I make my own. They’re quick and easy and can also be used as hamburger and hot dog buns.
BUTTER: I make my own and it’s- seriously- so fun!
TORTILLAS: I make my own once every six weeks to accommodate the burritos and quesadillas on my menu. This recipe says to roll the dough on a floured surface but I skip the flour and mine don’t stick to the counter. If you can get away with this, do, because the extra flour just burns on the skillet. No bueno.
CHIPS, SALSA and GUAC: I was so excited to find blue corn chips in bulk at a local grocery store! If I hadn’t we’d definitely still be buying them in bags, ’cause we just can’t give ’em up! I make my own salsa; sometimes using fresh tomatoes and my own little recipe, and other times using this one (but using whole tomatoes from a glass jar instead of a can, and roasting fresh poblano or anaheim chiles myself instead of using canned chiles). Sometimes we buy pre-made salsa in a glass jar, and I’m sure at some point (although we haven’t yet) we’ll break down and buy our old favorite- Casa Sanchez- in a plastic tub (and of course we’ll save the tub and use it for something else!). As for the guac- I’ve always made my own using 2 avocados, 1 lime, 1 pressed garlic clove, 1 tsp. of kosher salt, and sometimes a few shakes of chili powder. OK, I’m craving a margarita, but I’d settle for a…
BEER: We support our local brewery by filling up a growler every Friday and making it last all weekend. We rinse and reuse the growler each week, reducing the number of bottles in our recycling bin.
Oh, yeah, and POTATO CHIPS: I make ham and turkey sandwiches once every six weeks, and they’re just not the same without BBQ Kettle Chips inside, so we spring for a bag on sandwich night. That’s only 8 bags we’re putting into the trash per year, which is much less than it used to be in our pre-Near-O Waste days! Ironically, the day I wrote this section of the post my husband requested these very chips to go with his sandwich from the New Leaf deli (which went into a glass Snapware). My disapproving glare froze on him just long enough for him to say, “Come on!”. Allll-right… it is Near-O, after all! So let me rephrase… that’s about 8 bags per year!
CONDIMENTS, SPICES and SAUCE: Hot sauce, soy sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, jam, and marinara sauce make it easy on me because they come in a glass jar. What kind of Italian doesn’t make her own pasta sauce? The kind that has a teaching job, two kids, and makes a million other things from scratch… things that can’t be found in a glass jar. I’ve been known to make my own sauce in the past, and when it happens again it’ll probably be on my summer break! I buy spices in glass jars then refill the jars with bulk spices when I run out. I make my own ketchup and BBQ sauce (click on the picture below, from a cooking class I taught). We repurpose or recycle all the glass jars we buy.
CEREAL: I started out making my own granola, which wasn’t difficult by any means, but when I discovered all my usual grocery stores carry a variety of bulk granola I quickly changed my tune. Hey, that’s one less thing on my “to-make” list! The Food Bin also has a few bulk cereals that my kids love. This is one category in which I’ve definitely compromised. A couple years ago we weren’t eating any sugar and our “cereal” was raw oats with nuts and dried fruit. Now I find myself loading up on (package-free!) EnviroKidz Organic Peanut Butter Panda Puffs for our Friday breakfasts, even though they have added sugar.
SWEETENERS: Speaking of sweet things, we use sweeteners sparingly, but when we do buy honey, maple syrup, or sugar, it’s always in bulk!
SPECIAL TREATS: Every now and then I bring home ice cream, cookies, or chocolate… in reusable containers of course! I like to support our local ice creameries, bakeries, and confection shops… and we enjoy every last bite!
And finally… the BULK! The key here is bringing your own reusable bags or glass jars! When I see people scooping their bulk items into plastic bags I can’t help but think it defeats the purpose.
Here are my “DRY” bulk items: flour, rice, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, cream of wheat, oats, pasta, coffee, tea, nuts, cocoa powder, and a variety of snacks (dried fruit, crackers, chocolate chips, etc.). I put some in cloth bags (beans, crackers, chips, pasta, nuts) and others in jars (granola, raisins, sticky dried fruit, and yes-oh-yes, cocoa powder must go in a jar!). You should have seen me on my very first Near-O Waste shopping trip, scooping cocoa powder into a cloth bag amid a brown “cocoa cloud”, and that wasn’t half as messy as trying to get it out of the bag and into my jar at home. If you bring jars to the store, make sure to get the tare (weight) at the front register before you fill-em-up!
Here are my “WET” bulk items: olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, vanilla, white wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar, all in glass jars. My kids love pulling the handles and pushing the button on the peanut butter grinder.
And last but not least… yup… even DOG TREATS! The kids love stocking up at Mountain Feed, and our dog loves getting his treat jar filled. “Woof!”
Well, that’s a wrap! Is anyone still reading this? Did I leave anything out? Let me know and I’ll add it to my list. It’s almost time for dinner… I’m off to my Near-O Waste kitchen!