Monday, February 21, 2011

Bulk Food Storage Containers

You've just returned from Sabzi Mandi with a car-boot load of dried lentils, rice, peas and beans, and you've discovered (as I did) that you have nowhere nice to store your healthy goodies.

L-R: Yellow Split Peas, Chana dal (dry black chickpeas), and Mung beans (moong dal)

Plastic is finished. The more we think about it, the more likely we are to switch back to glass storage jars and steel canisters. If only for the mere aesthetic of it all, storing foodstuffs in vintage Mason jars and recycled Illy coffee containers* is far preferrable to shelves full of xeno- and phytoestrogen leaking plastic tubs.
*see upcoming post - still scheming on decorative overhaul

Along the top shelf: 1L Slom jars with beans, lentils and split peas.

True, I still use empty yogurt containers to freeze single-sized servings of soups for lunch (but I won't reheat it in them! Scary!). Plastics do still have important applications elsewhere (medical science is a good example - I don't think anyone wants to go back to the days of glass intravenous drip bottles and rubber hoses), but we need to cut back where we can.

L-R: Aged brown basmati rice, aged white basmati rice, and boring old long grain rice

Behold my beautiful collection of Ikea Slom jars. With spring-locked lids and a usable volume of 1.8L, they are a good deal at $3.99 a piece. The smaller ones (1L - not the smallest of the range) cost $2.99 each. (Another Broke Tip: Be sure to check out Ikea Richmond's and Ikea Coquitlam's "Wacky Wednesday" deals each week - the savings are HUGE. You just have to luck out and have them pick something you need!).

Ikea Richmond receipt from February.

Now that may not sound like the best deal in town (please notify me if you find a better one!), but the cylindrical jars that I use to store cornmeals (polenta grade and regular) with the metal tops (pictured below) are going for $5.99 each at the Superstore on SW Marine Drive! I'm sure you can find these fairly ubiquitous jars elsewhere for less, so I'm going to continue to keep my eyes open. Ming Wo might be the first place I'll look.

1.8L Slom jars with rolled oats and popcorn; shortie glass jars with metal tops

Glass jars are great for storing dried foods in the pantry. You can see what's in them at a glance, and I think they look rather nice in a old-fashioned, homestyle sort of way (for me, reminiscent of the wall of homemade scrumptious preserves at the Twisted Fork Bistro).

Recycled artichoke, jam, olive, capers and honey jars, repurposed as spice jars.

But you don't have to go out and purchase glass storage jars! Believe me, if I had the option not to, I'd take it! Call up your family members and friends and let them know you're collecting empty glass jars in ALL sizes (discriminate after the fact is my advice). Pickle jars are a perfect size, and if you know a Costco shopper, all the better! Big glass jars are easy to clean (and sterilize in the proper sense, if necessary), and once you do a little creative redecorating, they can look super cute on a shelf.

Paper I bought from The Book Warehouse - I bought several sheets and lined my kitchen drawers with it. And now I have a perfect use for the leftovers, thanks to the Design*Sponge blog!

Want to do this? Follow this link to Laura Normandin's (Wren Handmade) post on Design*Sponge. It's easy, and as she points out, mixed paper scraps can have a neat effect - so don't fret if you don't have excess coordinating drawer liner paper! Wrapping paper scraps, origami papers (visit Paper-Ya on Granville Island!), art papers from de Serres, even newspaper could work. Time to check your craft drawer!

And then I got carried away, and relined a stained bread basket, covered up a magnet for an animal hospital, and painted and decoupaged a very ugly but functional magnet clip.

Time for the very first installment of "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tips"! Here's a little Q & A that I would have found useful (but then had to go and find the answer myself, bah!).

Q: Can I recycle milk cartons (both the waxed cardboard type and plastic ones) in Vancouver?

A: Not easily. The City of Vancouver's Engineering Services website on Solid Waste points out that Encorp Return-It depots (i.e. bottle depots that aren't within other retailers like a BCL or Safeway) will take the empties from you for free and have them recycled. Otherwise, no - they cannot be taken in the blue bins. They apparently end up in the landfill if you do.

Don't toss out those milk cartons! They make great seedling pots!

There are many ways that you can reuse empty milk cartons, the most useful (to me) is to cut it in half and use the square bottom half as a plant pot for starting seedlings (punch a few drainage holes in the bottom first).

Perhaps the best option is to buy milk in glass bottles. Not only can you use the empty milk bottles for food storage (and they look so cute on the shelf!), you can use them as rustic vases or for storage of small things like the spare buttons that come on new garments or safety pins. They also work great to hold paintbrushes, tips up. They're narrow in the neck, but can be used to store a few pairs of chopsticks as well, or even knitting needles (in which case, you simply MUST knit it a cozy!).

You can visit the Metro Vancouver Recycles website to see if what you have (and it could be anything!) can be recycled, and where. It's convenient and easy, and even has a self-generated map to show you your closest option.


  1. I love the jar lids! I have a whole cupboard full of jars, and I am excited to make them look nicer! ;)

    Question about bulk shopping - what do you buy your bulk in?

    I currently reuse plastic bags (rinse them after use and then take them back to the store), but I'd love a plastic-free alternative.

    Any ideas?

  2. Hi Sarah!

    I do the same as you - reuse bulk food plastic bags (or bread bags). But I do happen to know of a plastic alternative!


    They're made of ripstop nylon OR you can spring for natural silk, too. :)

    I haven't bought them yet, but I've been wanting them for awhile now! It's much cheaper just to reuse the plastic bags, but it would be nice to have an alternative. ;)

    I love those jar lids, too! It's really easy to do!