27 pounds of mac and cheese? Experts say bulk food shopping can be beneficial, but it requires planning and portion control.

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Experts say don’t buy more than you can eat… or freeze for later. Getty Images

Costco’s new 27-pound bucket of macaroni and cheese raises a hefty question.

Does buying foods in bulk sabotage our at-home eating habits?

Nutritionists interviewed by Healthline warned that without proper planning and limits on portions, shopping in bulk quantities may harm our health as well as destroy our weight loss goals.

It may not be more cost-effective, either.

“For some consumers, the larger size of the bag may promote a second serving or even a larger first serving, but for others this would not be the case,” Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.

It is “highly individual-dependent,” adds Andy De Santis, registered dietitian and weight loss specialist in Toronto.

“There are so many variables that dictate food choice, and availability is obviously only one of them… you have to have a food present to be able to eat it, good or bad, in the first place,” De Santis told Healthline.

Many of us consider bulk food shopping as a smart money-saving strategy, especially when we live in multi-person households.

According to Passerrello, we’re not wrong — but there’s certainly more to the equation to consider.

“Buying in bulk can be a cost-effective way to stock your pantry, provided there is some planning and portion control involved,” she said. “I don’t recommend purchasing more food than you can consume before the best-by date. It only saves you money if you actually eat it.”

The macaroni and cheese bucket, though, has a shelf-life of 20 years. There’s little concern that someone wouldn’t eat all 180 portions by the best-before date.

This is where portion control becomes important.

“I think it’s generally advisable for people to think more about their own habits and tendencies,” De Santis said.

For example, De Santis asks, “Which contexts put them in the best position to eat in the way they want to eat and feel the way they want to feel?”

Buying certain bulk foods, such as frozen broccoli and high-fiber cereal, says De Santis, “can hardly be considered a bad thing.”

In fact, having a ready supply of fresh fruits and vegetables positively impacts children and adolescents’ eating habits.

“According to some studies on the home food environment, availability and accessibility of fruit and vegetables is predictive of fruit and vegetable intake in children and adolescents,” says Passerrello.

“One study in Appetite found that there were significant associations between having fresh fruits and vegetables in the home and the presence of fruits and vegetables at dinner, but similar associations did not exist for canned or frozen fruits or vegetables,” she said.

So is there a way to save money, eat healthy, and shop at bulk food stores like Costco?

Absolutely, but it takes forethought and follow-through.

To see success, consumers should be mindful of three Ps, says Passerrello: Planning, Portioning, and Preserving.

This means people should:

  • Plan a few weeks of food at a time.
  • Consider your family’s preference for leftovers.
  • When returning home from the store, portion foods into smaller containers.
  • Preserve some portions for later use.

“Personally, I freeze a lot of foods when I return from the club stores — this way my family doesn’t eat more than we need and we also don’t let it go to waste,” Passerrello said.

Officials at Costco didn’t respond to Healthline’s request for an interview for this story.

Bulk food shopping at stores such as Costco isn’t inherently a “bad” thing, but it can impact one’s eating habits.

Being successful at bulk food shopping means following the three Ps: planning, portioning, and preserving.

Stick with fresh foods and limit availability of processed foods such as macaroni and cheese, unless you’re certain having access to these foods will not negatively impact your eating habits.