Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Let's Save on Organics...

...at the Warehouse Clubs!

While warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam's and BJ's have always offered better than average prices on most products, organics are relatively new to their selection. I have found that my local Costco beats the prices of organics in most products they carry, though, so it is becoming worthwhile to make an occasional visit. That is, unless I have a GOOD coupon for the same product. Costco doesn't accept coupons.

The pro and the con of shopping warehouse clubs is buying larger quantities. By doing this, you reduce your need to shop for each item for a longer period of time. On the other hand, you have to store the extra product. So keeping this in mind, I've played with the various products that I prefer to buy at my local Costco, and here are my suggestions for making it work, even when the quantities are too large for your needs.

For starters, talk to your friends and find someone who has similar shopping goals....family size and desire to find cheaper organics. Most of us can find one friend who would like to save some money on their grocery bill by splitting some large portions of organic products. If you have a large family, and using up these quantities isn't an issue, this will be much easier for you. Now you can appreciate that big crew you get to cook for--no wasted food.

If you have a friend along to split some purchases, take a few extra minutes to cruise through all the aisles, looking for items you might both need, but not in such large amounts. For instance, on the non-organic list would be things like computer and school/office supplies: CD's, DVDR's, printer ink, printer paper, office pads, notebook filler paper, pens, pencils, markers, batteries, etc. While you have a friend or family member who is willing to share, go ahead and get stocked up for the new school year.

At this point, the pickings are still slim in organic foods and green products at my local Costco. So far there is just enough to encourage me to go in occasionally and stock up on the few items they have. I understand they are planning to expand their selections, so keep watching the aisles for more choices. Meanwhile, here are the types of foods I have been able to find, and how I handle the larger quantities.

As you probably know, when you buy a package of a dozen chicken breasts, unless you have a really large family, you can't just toss it in the freezer or eat it before it spoils. You must freeze the food in packages that work for your family. I borrowed this idea from Costco's own freezer section: They have frozen chicken breasts that aren't stuck together, so you can take the number you need out of a bag and leave the rest in the freezer. I accomplish this with minimal extra packaging (Goal #1: Create as little additional waste packaging as possible in order to save paper and reduce plastic use, and Goal #2: Save money by reducing repackaging) by placing pieces of meat on a cookie tray to freeze separately. After frozen I put them all into a large, reusable container, from which I can periodically take out whatever amounts I need. This way I haven't spent anything extra in packaging all that meat again. Another savings in using this method is that I don't overcook just because a package has an extra chicken breast in it that is frozen with the ones I need. Some foods get eaten as leftovers, and other don't. Let your family's eating habits guide your packaging.

Costco's whole organic chickens tend to run a bit small for most families. They come in bags of 2, separately wrapped, so you can use them one at a time if you have a small family, or cook two or more, if needed. This is great, actually--gives you more flexibility.

Be sure to visit the dry goods, canned goods, cereal and snack aisles for cereal, dry fruits and nuts, granola bars, etc. They do have some all natural versions. When you open the large bags, repackage in airtight, reusable containers so they'll stay fresh. Large bags of crackers, nuts, etc. go stale so easily that it can be a huge waste when one bag goes bad. That blows all the saving you earned with this shopping trip.

Here's a time saving storage tip. For those items that will be used primarily for school lunches and on-the-go snacks, go ahead and package them in small, reusable containers or waxed paper bags. Most organic food stores carry Natural Value waxed paper bags, pictured above. These are a much greener choice than Zipper bags or plastic wrap. Roll the opening shut and either tape or rubber band them shut to stay fresh. Then, for added shelf life, place all the bags in a large reusable container (dare I say Tupperware?).

I am pleased to see all the organic fruits and vegetables that are trickling in to my Costco. The only problem is the large quantities you have to buy. Can your friend split some of these with you? Especially the vegetables that you will only eat fresh, that can't be frozen or cooked (like Romaine, for instance).

There is one really great solution for those items you can't share--juicing. I bought a juicer and found that this is a great way to use up over-ripe vegetables and fruits. More on this in a later post.

I know that all of you out there probably have more ideas on making the big-volume purchases work at the warehouse clubs. Share with us, please! I'd love to hear your tips, so please drop me a comment. Maybe you'll be lucky and win the free reusable Chicobag that I'm giving away in a drawing for comments.

Thursday's tips will focus on organic and all-natural choices for packing those back-to-school lunches. Labor Day is just around the corner, so Friday I'll be planning an organic Labor Day cookout. Entertaining my way has one very important criteria. I have to be able to prepare almost everything in advance so I can enjoy the party too. If you're with me on that, check in on Friday and see what I have in store for you--recipes and all.

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