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Storing rice, lentils, dry beans and other grains - Cheaply. Any suggestions?

I love having as many dried beans, lentils and rices on hand, because invariably I'm always missing the one I need. I also love buying in bulk, and get big bags of them. However I just can't bring myself to buy good plastic containers for these things, and they end up sitting in their bags with the corners cut off. I'll admit it.

I saw a big container with wheels and a clear plastic lid made by Rubbermaid one day, and I thought perfect! It was too big for what I need, but I thought maybe small version of this would be good. So I went to the restaurant supply store near me, and I enqiured...


So anyways, any ideas for keeping these things well, hopefully without spending ANY money? Surely there's some frugal advice out there for me... I'm sure I don't need 10 stackable rubber things for like $15 each.. I just won't do it. Time to get creative...

PS: I like the idea of square or rectangle to save space and line up well, but let's face it, beggars can't be choosers here. :)

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  1. beans and rice are so cheap and cook up to so much more volume, i can't comprehend that you would need something on wheels to store your pantry.

    i keep mine in extra-large mason jars, but most usually cook and then freeze in portions.

    1. When I was in college, I went to a sushi bar and asked if I could have the bucket they used for ginger so that I could store my rice. It was square with a tight fitting lid that had about a 5 gallon capacity. It smelt of ginger, but after washing it out a few times, the smell was minimal. I'm sure there's other places that would have less stinky buckets that they throw away every few days. I think I've seen mayonnaise buckets that were the same size and shape in some restaurants.

      1. I've found gallon glass jars with screw-on metal lids at yard sales for 25 cents apiece. They will hold a 5-pound bag of sugar or flour. I think they originally were for maraschino cherries., so you may want to inquire at a restaurant or bar for any containers they may be tossing. Some sandwich shops buy their tuna and chicken salad in plastic tubs, so you may want to start canvassing your local restaurants.

        1. I use big plastic pretzel jars to store pasta and rice.

          I really like pretzels anyway.


          1. I can often find big glass or plastic containers in charity shops. Why not try your local Salvation Army?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kagey

              For bulk flour, I use the one gallon ziplock bags and I can reuse each bag about seven times.
              For bulk grains, the large salad dressing containers from Sam's and the large pickle jars (non-shattering is a plus).
              I looked into the restaurant things and the price was the deal breaker.

              (I was, however, so enamoured of them that I still have the link, above.)

            2. If you have local restaurant that you're a regular at, it's worth asking them if they have the big glass pickle jars. I've worked at two diners, both of which went through probably 3 of those a week or even more- and they almost always end up in the recycle bin. It's often not a problem for them at all to set aside a few for you, as long as you are faithful about picking them up (so they don't clutter up the kitchen). I have about 8 of these that I use to store my dried goods.

              2 Replies
              1. re: happybellynh

                restaurants usually get ketchup, mayo, salad dressing and such in 5-gallon plastic jars. if you ask nicely, maybe they'll save some for you.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  One gallon jars (sadly, glass starting to become scarce, B&G pickles are the only ones I know) and 5 gallon tubs get thrown out every day at restaurants and delis. Ask at one where you're a regular. Personally, I save all the leftover "heavy duty" 2 lb deli containers (you find them more at Chinese restaurants now) and divvy my goodies up, they freeze great too. And I often buy certain items at BJs as much for the big jar as what it contains, if it's a convenient shape!

              2. I reuse glass jars from other things. I find that one 16 oz glass jar holds a regular size bag of beans just fine. Still don't have a good solution for rice though. ;)

                2 Replies
                1. re: tzurriz

                  Mr. Shallots is a Diet Dr. Pepper-holic. We have lots of empty 2 liter plastics to recycle. I do store bulk rice in them. Easily poured from. Cheap. Easy to tell how much inventory I have left.

                  And I have to send a grin to Coll above for his/her last sentence. I won't buy something I don't use, but I can make a decision based on the potential unility of the container if it's a near cost otherwise.

                  1. re: tzurriz

                    I second the glass jars. I get Mango nectar from Looza in tall tapered glass jars that I store all my beans and dahls in. I had never thought of storing rice in them but now that the thought has occurred to me, I'll do that too. I typically don't keep a lot of sugar on hand but sugar would do nicely in these as well. Flour, not so much as the jar tops are a bit narrow so it wouldn't be very convenient. They're pretty jars, too.

                    Flour I pack in gallon size ziplocks and then pack the ziplocks in 5 gallon plastic tubs, which you can often get for free from bakeries and restaurants. I'd put those in turn in a deep freeze if I had one. A gallon ziplock holds quite a bit of flour, about 4 or 5 lbs. Just grab one when you need it. You can clean the bags and reuse (at least if you get heavy duty freezer bags). They're cheap at costco, like $13 for around 150 I think.

                  2. Great thanks everyone, I'm going to keep my eyes open and look at Sam's club for something I could reuse. I'm really tempted to just buy some containers, but with all the kinds of lentils and beans and the sort I have, it would just get out of control! Like think indian lentils for example...

                    - Split peas
                    - Whole mung beans (green)
                    - Mung beans (golden yellow lentils)
                    - White grams (small white lentils)
                    - Masoor or Red lentils
                    - Regular green lentils, then the french ones if you want 'em.
                    - Chick peas

                    It gets worse.

                    1. alanbarnes provided this link on the sticky rice thread:


                      1. A couple of years ago when our area was threatened by a hurricane, we were advised to stock some emergency water. I bought a gallon plastic container of water for drinking but never had to use it for anything other than filling my iron. When all the water was used, I left the top off for several days for the inside to dry. We buy large size bags of rice to fill the container. It is a great way to pour rice into measuring cups because of the small opening. The only drawback is filling the container. Rice doesn't flow freely through my smallest funnel. I will keep experimenting to improve the filling ordeal.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mfrances

                          Take an empty 2 liter drink bottle, remove the cap and cut it high, and you have a huge, fast flowing funnel.

                        2. To store bulk flour, sugar, and rice, I went to the bakery at Costco and asked nicely for one of their empty sour cream or frosting containers. They are large food-grade plastic buckets with tight-fitting lids, and they work perfectly. You might want to call ahead so they can collect enough for you. They're happy to give them away, as they just throw them away if nobody requests them. Sam's Club probably does the same.

                          1. This response comes to you rather late....but in case you still have this question (or in case anyone else does), I thought I would offer a suggestion....

                            I get 5 gallon buckets with tight lids from the bakeries and bakeries at major grocery stores. They give me the buckets that the icing comes in. I have asked at many stores and they are very nice about it! They are free and very good quality. Some stores will take your # and call you when the bucket is empty. They throw these away anyway, so you are saving money and saving the environment by freecycling.

                            It is important when storing food to only use food grade quality containers. So, no, you shouldn't use the cheap plastic buckets sold at Lowes and Home Depot.

                            Once I get them home, I rinse them out throughly with soap and water. For 3 gallon buckets, I put those in the dishwasher for a nice thorough cleaning. 5 gallon buckets I wash in the sink. I usually them scrub in a little ground coffee grinds to eliminate any smells.

                            I currently have a 5 gallon bucket with 25 pounds of sugar (obtained free in a great coupon/sale combo recently), a 5 gallon bucket with 30 pounds of beans (given to me by my father that he for free somehow- probably coupons too..the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), a 5 gallon bucket with 25 pounds of jasmine rice (bought in bulk at Bjs for only $18), a 3 gallon bucket with 15 pounds of basmati rice (bought in bulk at Bjs for $15), a 3 gallon bucket with long grain rice (obtained free with double coupon/sale combo), a 3 gallon bucket with 10 pounds of flour (obtained free with double coupon/sale combo). All containers are labelled with a Ptouch. They are stacked up on the floor of my coat closet.

                            Sugar, rice, and beans will keep for at least a year (probably more, but my stash never lasts more than a year) if kept properly in a airtight container.
                            For sugar, I put some rice on the bottom to absorb moisture. For flour, I put bay leaves in to deter buggies.

                            So, um...no....do not pay $150 bucks for a container you can get at your local friendly bakery for free....and keep the bucket out of a landfill.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: chowsue

                              You can use the 5 gallon buckets from hardware stores. Most of them are actually food grade plastic. Even if they're not, just line the bucket with a food grade plastic bag, or use ziplocs to store smaller quantities and then store those in the buckets. But you should be able to pick used ones up for free at bakeries and restaurants, and these will have a rubber ring in the lead for a better seal.

                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                In the LID! A rubber ring in the LID for a better seal.


                            2. Most plastic containers do breathe so to optimize freshness, glass jars with metal lids are my first choice for storing food staples. I save any pint or larger sized glass jars. Among other items at the warehouse club stores is bean salad in a gallon glass jar. The salad is nothing special, but I bought and ate a few so as to have the jars. Someone gave me some Snap-lock brand containers that are made of a type of plastic which has a very low air exchange rate. Those are quite affordable. They are sold in supermarkets and department stores. http://www.snapware.com/food.html

                              1. To store rice, my mom uses one of those large popcorn containers that are sold everywhere during the holidays. Some offices get them from clients and have them around, too. They are tin, large and round, and perfect for storing rice and a cup for scooping.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: goodeatsgal

                                  I believe they are aluminum, or occasionally steel, not tin.