One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them I eat healthily is, “isn’t that expensive?”
For a long time, I believed that too. It may, at first glance, seem like living frugal and eating healthy are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Go to any supermarket, and you’ll find that TV dinners and other prepackaged foods are cheaper than organic ingredients. But these more affordable processed foods have hidden costs: they take a toll on your health.
Of course, some of us can’t afford to pay the premium on organic and raw goods. I’ve been there before. I was once a student living on my own. It was around this time that I was introduced to Costco by another student. We made an arrangement where we would split the costs of certain bulk groceries. When I was a student, my health wasn’t too much of concern for me but my shopping partner was a real health nut!
This turned out for the better. Whenever I’d try to sneak in a bulk bag of chocolate covered almonds, she’d take it out and replace it with a pack of unsalted cashews. I eventually gave in. Soon it became a habit for me to seek out the healthy options at Costco – and my how the selection of healthy options has grown since then!
It’s been awhile since my student days, but I still shop at Costco for many of my health food staples. In this guide to the best and the worst items to buy at Costco, I’ll take you through how to eat healthy on a budget.
The Good: Healthy Staples
When shopping at Costco, my biggest piece of advice is to come with a plan. I like to start by making a list of the healthy foods I need. Since it’s a bulk store, it can be quite easy to fall into the trap of buying more than you need. Do you really need that two-pack of olive oil when you’ve still got a full bottle sitting at home? Here’s my list of the best things to buy from Costco.
1. Nuts and Dried Fruits
This is my favorite place for nuts and dried fruits. A bulk container of nuts will last you awhile and won’t break the bank. I love making the nuts I get into nut butter too! This is the place to get those Medjool dates you’ve wanted to get for all your baking recipes.
Costco stocks a good variety of seeds. From chia to flax, to hemp hearts (I like making these into a healthy hemp milk), you can expect to find a good selection of organic seeds at most locations.
3. Fresh Produce
The options for fresh organic produce will often vary depending on the location you go to. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find some organic avocados and spinach at a good price!
4. Frozen Fruit
This is a must-have for my smoothies. The selection of frozen organic fruits at Costco is no joke.
5. Whole Grains
Whenever we’re in need of quinoa or oats, I come to Costco first. Compared to the nearest supermarket, I save lots of money for the amount.
6. Specialty Beverages
I go through nut milk and coconut water for my smoothies and cooking so quickly! Costco is my favorite place to grab these staples. When it comes to selecting a coconut water at Costco (my local store only stocks the safest one), take care to avoid these toxic brands!
7. Canned Fish
I always keep my cabinets well-stocked with omega-3 rich canned wild sardines and wild salmon from Costco.
8. Healthy Oils
Healthy oils can really burn through your wallet at the local supermarket. At Costco, you can find olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil at a steal! If you’ve got olive oil and avocado oil, you can make your own cost-effective and chemical-free lip balm.
9. Meat and Fish
In recent years, Costco has leveled up its options for organic beef, chicken, and wild salmon. Look for individually wrapped and portioned meats and fish that you can freeze.
10. Pure Maple Syrup
If you bake a lot, make sure to get some organic maple syrup at a great value. I’ve never found maple syrup at a better price than from here!
11. Gluten-Free Bread
While my local health food store stocks a great selection, they, unfortunately, don’t have gluten-free bread. Surprisingly, I’ve been able to snag gluten-free bread from a few Costco locations.
The Bad: 7 Processed Foods
And now the worst things to get from Costco. If you’ve been following Family Life Goals, you’ll already know some of these.
Costco stocks all of the popular soft drinks from Coca-Cola Co. And PepsiCo Inc. But there’s nothing soft about what these sugar-filled drinks do to your body. Avoid them at all costs, especially the ones with aspartame.
2. Sugary Granola Bars and Cereal Bars
As good as they may sound on their marketing (and as good as they may taste) these bars are one of the biggest things you should avoid. It may seem like you’re getting Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars at a big discount, but they’re packed with fillers, invert sugar and corn syrup. Steer clear of these!
3. Chips and Candy
When packing snacks for the kids or for work it might be attractive to get them for in bulk at Costco. A recent report found that the SunChips potato chips of the Frito-Lay corporation contain chemicals from Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide. Costco stocks this brand so make sure to look elsewhere for (or make your own) healthy snacks.
4. Processed Meats and Cheese
5. Tubs of Margarine
Avoid margarine for good practice in general. Research has found that many brands of margarine and mayonnaise use emulsifiers that have been linked to inflammatory diseases!
6. Frozen Processed Meals
Costco has a wide array of frozen meals that can be convenient in the short-term but will lead to long-term inconveniences with your health. The majority of these meals are packed with too much salt and additives. Make sure to always check the ingredients list of any meals you may be getting, and some meals have ridiculously long lists of additives!
7. Salad Dressing and Condiments
Store-bought salad dressing such as Hidden Valley’s ranch dressing gets many of its calories from fat. Not only this, it contains some additives like MSG. Rather than buying this from Costco, we recommend making your own healthy dressing!
Steer clear of each of these and you’re well on your way to be a frugal AND healthy shopper!
The Ugly: Shopping Habits
One of the favorite activities of my family is to scout our local Costco for the samples. Samples are certainly a great way to find out about new products. But beware! Samples can really tempt you to buy something you don’t need. I recommend eating before you head to Costco. When you’re there on an empty stomach, you’ll be more compelled to impulse buy.
One last word of caution. If you’re going to pick up some of the “healthy” snacks, make sure to read their ingredient labels. You never know what could be in them!
The next time you go shopping at Costco, take my healthy buying tips to mind. If there’s one thing to take from this guide, it’s that healthy eating doesn’t have to break the bank.