The 18 Best Healthy Foods To Buy In Bulk (And The Worst)
Buying food in large quantities, also known as bulk shopping, is an excellent way to fill your pantry and fridge while cutting down on food costs. Certain items are heavily discounted when purchased in bulk, making it an economical habit that can save you a lot of money.
While some foods make ideal choices for bulk shopping due to their long shelf lives or freezability, more perishable foods should be bought in smaller quantities to avoid spoilage. Here are the 18 best healthy foods to buy in bulk — and some of the worst.
1. Dried Beans and Lentils
Dried beans and lentils are one of the most shelf-stable foods. The term “shelf-stable” refers to foods that can be stored at room temperature for an extended period before going bad. Though storing beans and lentils may lead to degradation of certain nutrients over time, some studies have shown that some beans remain edible for 10 or more years (1, 2).
Beans and lentils are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, making them a healthy bulk shopping choice. What’s more, they can be added to a wide variety of dishes, such as soups, curries, stews and salads.
2. Frozen Berries
Though delicious and nutritious, fresh berries can be expensive and highly perishable. Thankfully, frozen berries are similar in nutritional value to fresh berries and can be purchased in bulk at lower prices (3). Harvesting then quickly freezing berries prolongs shelf life and maintains the nutritional content of fresh berries (4).
According to the USDA, frozen fruit like berries can be safely stored in the freezer for up to six months (5). Adding berries to your diet can benefit health in many ways, including lowering your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and mental decline (6, 7, 8).
3. Frozen Meat and Poultry
Because fresh meat and poultry spoil quickly when stored in the refrigerator, freezing them is an excellent way to avoid food waste. According to the USDA FoodKeeper app, frozen meat like steak can last in the freezer for up to 12 months while chicken breast can last up to nine months. Freezing protein sources immediately after purchase can extend usability so that you don’t have to run to the store every time you need meat or poultry for a recipe.
4. Frozen Vegetables
Like fresh berries and other types of fruit, fresh vegetables tend to spoil quickly, even when properly stored. For this reason, stocking up on frozen vegetables like spinach, broccoli and butternut squash is a good idea, as most can be stored in the freezer for up to eight months.
Vegetables are packed with nutrients, which is why diets that include both fresh and frozen vegetables have been linked to numerous health benefits. For example, people who have higher vegetable intake have a lower risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes than those who consume small amounts of vegetables (9).
Although honey is often thought to stay edible indefinitely, some factors can impact its quality and decrease its shelf life. Storage conditions, including heat and humidity, can affect the aroma, texture and flavor of honey, making its shelf life hard to determine (10).
Because there is no way to define an expiration date for all types of honey due to differences in storage, the National Honey Board recommends storing honey for up to two years. This is still an amazingly long shelf life, making honey the perfect item to buy in bulk.
Not only are oats a versatile and healthy grain, but they also happen to have a lengthy shelf life. The FoodKeeper app states that fresh oats can be stored for up to four months in the pantry. Freezing oats in airtight containers can further extend their shelf life, tacking on another four months to their expiration date.
Oats are high in B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, as well as a particular type of fiber called beta-glucan, which may help lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar levels and increase feelings of fullness (11, 12).
7. Dried Fruits
Dried fruit is highly nutritious and contains an impressive amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals (13). What’s more, it’s a healthy pantry item that has a much longer shelf life than fresh fruit. Dried fruits like mangos, cranberries and apricots can be stored for up to six months. After opening, storing them in the refrigerator will allow them to last another six months.
Keep in mind that dried fruit is higher in calories and sugar than fresh fruit and should be eaten in small amounts. Choose unsweetened dried fruit whenever possible to limit added sugar intake.
8. Nuts in the Shell
Nuts in the shell last much longer than shelled nuts, making them a great choice for long-term storage. In most cases, purchasing nuts in the shell extends their shelf life. For example, almonds in the shell will keep for up to six months when stored at 68℉ (20℃), while shelled almonds only last four months when stored at the same temperature (14). Purchase nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans in the shell and crack them with a nutcracker as needed.
An extra benefit of nuts in the shell is that it takes more time and effort to prepare them than shelled nuts, which may slow eating and lead to a reduction in calorie intake.
9. Certain Whole Grains
Certain whole grains such as farro, spelt, wild rice, quinoa and amaranth have surprisingly long shelf lives. For instance, according to the FoodKeeper app, uncooked quinoa can last for up to three years when stored correctly in a pantry.
Whole grains make excellent additions to any meal, providing a hearty source of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and powerful plant compounds that all benefit health (15). Another reason to stock up on whole grains is that they are among the most versatile of all ingredients and can be added to breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Whole popcorn can be purchased in bulk and stored for up to two years at room temperature. Unlike packaged instant popcorn that contains unhealthy ingredients like harmful additives and unhealthy fats, whole popcorn is entirely natural. Not to mention, preparing your own popcorn is fun and allows you to control the ingredients you consume.
11. Dried Pasta
Unlike fresh pasta, which needs to be cooked within a few days, dried pasta can be stored for up to two years. Whole wheat pasta makes a better choice than refined white pasta since it is lower in calories and higher in certain nutrients, including fiber, manganese and magnesium (17).
For those who can’t tolerate the gluten found in wheat-based pasta, brown rice pasta and pasta made from gluten-free grains are healthy alternatives with similar shelf lives. Different types of pasta can be found in the bulk section of grocery stores and are typically offered at discounted rates.
12. Coconut Oil
Many fats can’t be stored long-term due to the risk of oxidation, which can lead to spoilage. However, coconut oil has a much longer shelf life and is more resistant to oxidation than other vegetable oils (18). Plus, unrefined virgin coconut oil contains powerful antioxidants that are thought to help protect the oil from spoilage (19).
Storage times can vary depending on temperature and light exposure, but the FoodKeeper app suggests that coconut oil stored in a cool, dark place should last up to three years. Coconut oil can be used in cooking, baking and skin care.
13. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are often referred to as a superfood due to their impressive concentration of omega-3 fats, fiber, magnesium, calcium and antioxidants (20). While chia seeds are nutritious, they also tend to be expensive. Thankfully, chia seeds purchased in bulk are usually lower in price than chia seeds bought in smaller quantities. What’s more, chia seeds have a long shelf life of around 18 months when stored in a cool, dark location.
14. Peanut Butter
With its creamy texture and satisfying taste, peanut butter is a staple item in most people’s pantries. Buying peanut butter in large jars is more economical since bulk peanut butter is sold at a discounted rate.
Peanut butter is an excellent source of plant-based protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and can be used in many ways (21). Natural peanut butter is healthier than processed brands that contain added sugar and hydrogenated oils.
Keep unopened natural peanut butter in the fridge to keep it fresh for up to 12 months. After opening, expect your peanut butter to last about three to four months in the refrigerator.
15. Greens Powders
Getting in enough greens can be a challenge for some people. What’s more, fresh greens need to be used within a few days before they start to degrade.
Greens powders are nutritional supplements made from dried, pulverized greens like kale, spinach and wheatgrass. Not only are greens powders highly nutritious, but most brands will also stay fresh in the refrigerator or freezer after opening for up to two years. Buying greens powder in bulk sizes will ensure that you have a long-lasting supply of this healthy product to add to smoothies, yogurt and other recipes.
16. Protein Powders
High-quality protein powders can be costly. However, most companies offer larger containers of various protein powders at cheaper price points. Since most people who use protein powder do so on a regular basis, buying large amounts at a lower cost is a smart way to save money.
17. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a multipurpose ingredient that can be used both in food and as a natural cleaning agent. Because of its versatility, apple cider vinegar can be used up quickly, especially by those who rely on it as a cleaning agent.
Thankfully, apple cider vinegar is sold in large containers that can last up to five years when stored at room temperature (23). What’s more, apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and has even been shown to reduce blood sugar and promote weight loss (24, 25).
18. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast packs a powerful dose of nutrients and is especially popular with those following plant-based diets. Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, zinc and protein (26).
It has a savory, cheese-like flavor and can be added to dishes for a nutrient boost.
Nutritional yeast can be purchased in bulk at lower prices than smaller containers and has a shelf life of up to two years.
Worst Foods to Purchase in Bulk
It’s a smart choice to purchase some foods in large quantities to save money. However, the following foods are more perishable and should only be purchased in small amounts.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
If you regularly buy fresh produce, chances are you’ve found a rotten veggie or fruit in your fridge that hadn't been used in time. While there are exceptions, many fresh fruits and vegetables, such as berries, zucchini and greens, have a shelf life of less than a week before they begin to rot. When buying fresh fruits and vegetables, only purchase what you know you will use within the coming week to avoid food waste.
While saturated oils like coconut oil and palm oil store well, other oils should not be purchased in bulk.
Vegetable oils that contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fats like safflower, soybean and sunflower oils are more susceptible to oxidation, especially when stored in clear glass or plastic containers (27). Oils high in polyunsaturated fats should only be purchased in small quantities and stored in cool, dark locations to prevent oxidation.
Large discount stores often sell eggs in bulk at discounted prices. If you have a large family that eats eggs daily, then buying in bulk may be economical.
However, those who rarely eat eggs and those with small households may not be able to finish a few dozen eggs before their expiration date of three to five weeks (28).
To avoid spoilage, white, whole-wheat and nut-based flours should not be purchased in bulk. Whole-wheat flour has a shelf life of as little as three months, while white flour can start to spoil after six months. Certain nut-based flours are even more susceptible to spoilage and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Because spices are used in small amounts, it’s best to avoid buying bulk containers. Spices can lose their potency over time and should be replaced as often as every 6–12 months for optimal flavor.
Don’t be tempted to stock up on your favorite prepared foods when on sale unless you plan on eating the items quickly. Dishes like egg salad, chicken salad and cooked pasta only last a few days in the fridge. What’s more, eating prepared foods past their expiration date can put you in danger of foodborne illness (29).
The Bottom Line
Many healthy foods can be purchased in bulk at discounted prices. Dried beans, oats, frozen poultry, peanut butter and frozen fruits and vegetables are some examples of nutritious items that have long shelf lives. These foods can be stored in the pantry, freezer or fridge for many months, which is why purchasing them in bulk is a smart choice.
However, buying perishable products like fresh produce and eggs should be avoided to cut back on food waste and avoid consuming spoiled foods. Stock up on nutritious, non-perishable bulk items to ensure that you always have ingredients available to make healthy, delicious meals and snacks.
Jillian Kubala is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, she runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutritional and lifestyle changes. Jillian practices what she preaches, spending her free time tending to her small farm that includes vegetable and flower gardens and a flock of chickens.
This article was republished from Healthline.