6 daily staple foods (and how to find them Plastic-Free)

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Plastic-free food.. If you have tried Plastic-Free Tuesdays, or other plastic free initiatives such as Plastic-Free July or Plastic-Free September (Muoviton Syyskuu in Finnish), you have no doubt found out by now that one of the hardest things to get plastic-free is your daily food. We all need food multiple times a day, and so much of it is in plastic nowadays! Rather overwhelming at first. From plastic-wrapped carrots, to plastic bananas, to plastic pasta, plastic rice, plastic potatoes, you name it and it comes in plastic!

Yet, by now I have found many options to not purchase food which is packaged in plastic. Earlier, I already wrote about my regular successful trips to the market, where it’s easy to find lots of fresh produce, such as veggies, fruit, bread and cheese, plastic-free.  I am proud to say that I have bought hardly any fruit or veggies in plastic wrapping since I started Plastic-Free Tuesday about 5-6 months ago, not only on Tuesdays, but for all days of the week. Once you start to change your habits it all comes naturally I find.

Yet, the market does not provide me with everything, such as regular staple foods like rice, pasta, or noodles. Although the Netherlands is a potato country, I do not like them much, and most young people do not eat them regularly I guess. Many people have a diet of pasta, rice, noodles, and more fancy things like quinoa or couscous nowadays (a problem in itself perhaps, now I think of it – i.e. eat local?!)

In any case, these staple foods require a different shopping strategy, such as bulk bins in (specialized) shops, but these are not common in the Netherlands, at least not in my town, or at affordable prices.  So, here goes for some plastic-free shopping tips from the supermarket. Most foods, I’ve found, are actually available both in plastic and in carton, so you can opt for carton easily over plastic if you like, and you recycle or compost that. It might be different at your supermarket, but I am sure you can find at least some of these options. In any  case, I’d be interested to know how you go about these!

# 1:   Rice

Various kinds of rice are sold at my supermarket both in cardboard boxes and in plastic, such as basmati rice, plain white rice, whole rice etc. Of course, it is easy to pick the cardboard container over the plastic on Plastic Free-Tuesday or other days. Again, the best would be bulk, as it saves the inked carton from the environment as well. But no-plastic is an option here for me!

Both plastic and plastic-free options in the supermarket.

Both plastic and plastic-free options in the supermarket.

Unfortunately,  even with carton, I’ve found that sometimes there can be this super annoying *plastic surprise* within the cardboard packaging! You open the box only to find… plastic inside … Argh! #doublefail. Carton AND plastic!  However, I think I can give you a tip there: check if there is a special cutting/outline in the carton on the outside, to ease pouring from the packet (see pictures below). If there is, likely no plastic inside!

Oempfh, *plastic surprise* in the middle. Otherwise, all recycable cartboard packaging. No plastic.

Oempfh, *plastic surprise* in the middle. Otherwise, all recyclable cardboard packaging. No plastic.

#2: Potatoes

Potatoes I can now get easily in bulk at the market, but I wanted to include these here because before Plastic-Free Tuesdays this is one of the foods I typically used to get in a ‘convenient’ one/two kilo plastic carrier bag! which I would then not finish, cause we don’t eat that many potatoes.  However, it turns out that both my supermarket and the market sell them in bulk/per piece as well.  Had never noticed that before (same goes for onions, unfortunately not for garlic :-)). So, now I just load as many as I need in my  basket when I am at the supermarket and stick the price tag on one of the potato’s or on the basket. You can also bring your own veggie bag. Never got any questions about this practice at the check out.  (I recently got veggie bags, i.e. Re-sacks, yet for the supermarket it something I still need to work on. No rush because it seems to go fine as is for now :-))

 

Plastic-free bulk potatoes. Get how many you need, bring your own bag, or simply load into your basket.

Plastic-free bulk potatoes. Get how many you need, bring your own bag, or simply load into your basket.

#3:  Pasta/Spaghetti/Lasagna/Macaroni

All four types I’ve found in cardboard boxes, easy as that.. Spaghetti has a cardboard box option at most places. Lasagna too. Pasta is more difficult, and I get from the Barilla brand only.

Lasagna from the supermarket without plastic wrapping inside.

Lasagna from the supermarket without plastic wrapping inside.

 

Barilla pasta without plastic, in "recyclable carton".

Barilla pasta without plastic, in “recyclable carton”.

 

#4: Risotto rice (Arborio rice)

Moving on to potentially more complicated ones, but also one of my favorites and easy plastic-free options: risotto rice!  Love risotto with fresh beetroot, carrot, mushroom, cilantro and goats cheese (from the market), or with garlic, onion,  mushroom, zucchini, fresh basil, and grated Parmesan! Yumm. Have also found this staple food at various places packed in carton. Beware of *surprise plastic* though, check the carton.

#5: Noodles

A tricky one is noodles! Most noodles are in plastic as Chiara rightly observed in an earlier post on making her own noodles, and my favorite Chinese ones certainly are.. I recently attempted to make my own as well and will draw up a blog about it if I’ve tried a couple of times 🙂 For ease, I am now often still sticking to the type of Indonesian style noodles I can find in my supermarket, for stir fries, see below. Keep you posted on noodle recipes.

Noodles in carton from Jumbo supermarket. I've found these type of noodles are generally plastic-free.

Noodles in carton from Jumbo supermarket. I’ve found these type of noodles are generally plastic-free.

 

#6: Couscous

It took me a while to find an option which did not have the dreaded plastic *surprise* on the inside, but I’ve found some, from supermarket Albert Heijn! I like couscous for couscous salads and stuffing bell peppers with herbs and (goats/feta)cheese from the oven. (Markets are good for plastic-free cheese shopping!). I think it was for the couscous that I found out about my tip on the packet indicating there is no plastic inside 🙂

3 x plastic-free. Rice, risotto rice and couscous.

3 x plastic-free. 2x risotto rice and couscous on the right.

That’s it for today. I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Any comments or additions, as always, more than welcome. Did you also find your  daily staple foods without plastics? What are your solutions?

Wishing you a great Plastic-Free Tuesday today!

Marlies

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About Author

Marlies

Always interested in pursuing a more responsible and sustainable life-style, Marlies immediately got on board with the Plastic-Free Tuesday Project as a regular blogger. Marlies' special mission this year is to stop the use of any single-use or disposable plastics in her daily life, aiming to help the planet a little by being a responsible consumer. Follow Marlies as she explores her city, Groningen, in the Netherlands, from a different, plastic-free perspective, or as she travels around for work and weddings this year. Marlies is in charge of our activities on Instagram.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for all the brilliant tips!
    I eat a lot of rice and find the small packets of rice bought in Albert Heijn run out too quickly.
    I ended up buying a big 10kg sack of rice in an Indian supermarket where I live. The sack was made of cloth (but on the inside there was some dreaded surprise plastic). However, the supermarket has sacks of bulk rice – so when I eventually run out of my 10kg, I can refill my bag and produce no additional waste 🙂

    • Marlies

      Dear Jan,

      That’s an excellent tip and solution too! If you eat it a lot and have space that is a very good solution. I have actually checked rahter huge sacks out at the Oriental supermarket refered to above, they had some options in cloth it seemed – but the question is, rightly, only cloth?! Again, these were also relatively expensive, so I opted not to get them at that point. I really wonder whether the most responsible thing to do is not simply switching back to more potato based dishes.. No plastic, little transportation, local.. pfiew. but what to cook? 🙂

      Marlies

    • Annemieke

      Hi Jan! Any chance you could share with us the name and address of the supermarket that sells rice in bulk? It would be great if more people would be able to buy their rice there. Thank you!

  2. LOVE your *plastic surprise* new term first of all
    I will adapt that in my vocabulary from now on
    ha
    thanks for your advice as I am moving back to the Netherlandse soon, very usefull 🙂
    I bet you yet did check those, but for anyone who didnt 🙂 I think in Asian or oriental supermarkets its more likely to find these products in bulk too 🙂

  3. Marlies

    Thanks Gerda! 🙂

    Found a great North African shop, Le Souk, here who sells many many things in bulk, really quite amazing, but it is very much more expensive sadly. I do go there sometimes for rice, beans and muesli though. I’ve heard about another place too, a health store, but heard some dubious reports on its actual hygiene situation in the bulk bins…

    Asian shops/supermarkets here (e.g. Oriental Plaza) so far dramatic, plastic paradises.. Everything is in plastic there it seems (as I guess in China)! Literally only the baking soda I get there.. even a sauce that I went to buy for Chinese dishes, which is in glass itself, was tightly sealed in a full layer of plastic, top to bottom. So frustrating, not to mention ridiculous and wasteful.

    Great to hear you are coming to NL soon!
    Marlies

  4. Annemieke

    Last Sunday we bought 2 kilo glutinous rice in bulk, here in Beijing. We brought our own reusable bag, made of cotton. If I recall correctly, the organic farmers market in the Hague (on Wednesdays) sells rice (as well as beans and nuts) in bulk. You can bring your own bag or food container.

  5. Victoria Willis on

    Great article! Would be good if you put more brand names in though so I know which ones to go for! Just listing them would be really helpful! 🙂

    • Marlies

      Thanks Victoria!

      Apart from the Barilla pasta, I think most of these are actually the supermarket inhouse-brand (Albert Heijn or Jumbo). My Jumbo does not have couscous without plastic though, at all, but the Albert Heijn inhouse brand does. (not sure if you’re in the Netherlands, but giving you the info anyways :-)) “Lassie” has many products with plastic it seems.. 🙁 Again, it’s really checking the markings on the box I think! did you find any where you are?

      I’m trying to switch to organic as much as possible, but that’s not always easy in terms of plastic-free it seems..! Jumbo and Albert Heijn each have a number of options there, for their inhouse brand, just check it out!

      Good luck! and let us know if you have any questions!

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