Healthy Eating on a Budget (With Costco and ALDI)

Back in my disordered eating days, I put “health” and “healthy eating” on a pedestal, believing that I’d fall prey to chronic diseases if everything I ate wasn’t organic/non-GMO/vegan/Paleo…whatever. In many ways, my obsession with my weight was a means for trying to control my otherwise out-of-control life, and every extra rule and regulation I placed on myself made me feel safe — at least for a little while. Then, the rules made me feel completely insane.

One of the most empowering lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is that “healthy eating” isn’t perfect. It’s really all about balance, meaning that my life includes nutritious food, delicious food, and is generally built on food staples that satisfy both of those descriptions.

In addition to recognizing that healthy eating doesn’t need to be excessively complicated, it doesn’t need to be expensive. I used to buy my organic, non-GMO, gluten-free crackers at Whole Foods. Groceries at this store added up extremely quickly, and just a few items would land me over $100. Today, my husband and I enjoy a balanced, varied eating style which costs us less than that amount for both of us each week. Simplifying our budget creates margin for us to save, give, and spend more on the things that really add value to our lives. (Shopping at Whole Foods really doesn’t add value for us. Instead, it creates a barrier!)

But I digress.

Until this year, we’d been shopping mostly at ALDI, supplemented by a few grocery stores near our house that have great deals on produce. But we received a Costco membership for Christmas this year (yay!) and ever since, price comparing has been my new favorite hobby. I love a good bargain, and it’s fun for me to shop and compare. However, for those of you who don’t enjoy the leg work of thrifty shopping, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about shopping at Costco and ALDI in terms of the pros/cons of each and how to get the best deal.

Costco and ALDI Pros/Cons

In general, I like that Costco has a diversity of “name brand” snacks and treats in addition to some of the staple items. For example, I love Skinny Pop and Mega Omega Trail Mix, which are unavailable at ALDI and/or the ALDI generic version isn’t as delicious. However, although the price per serving is less than traditional grocery stores, some of these specialty items are inherently pricier and it can be easy to get carried away. On the other hand, ALDI has a great price for basically everything, so even with expensive foods like nuts or meat, the price is still better than almost anywhere else. The downside of ALDI is that they don’t carry many name brand “splurge” items, and occasionally the produce has some quality issues. I’ve had problems with rotten onions and oranges in the past, but the overwhelming majority of the time, the food is fresh!

Weekly Grocery Staples

My husband and I love cooking, but for meal prepping, we typically prepare the same types of foods each week but with different flavor profiles. For example, lunches mainly involve some sort of chicken/vegetable/quinoa combo. One week we may incorporate Mexican flavors, adding in beans, peppers, and cheese, but the next week we might use cabbage, peanuts, cilantro and soy sauce for more Asian-type flare. Of course we branch out occasionally, but eating from a list of staple food items keeps this part of life simple and streamlined so we don’t have to spend too much time and effort with meal planning our work lunches.

Most of the reasoning behind the divisions on this list are because of price differentials, but a few aren’t. We buy carrots and hummus at ALDI because we can’t get through Costco portions quickly enough before they go bad. With oatmeal, macaroni and crackers, we don’t have enough storage space for the giant boxes. Plus, we don’t eat macaroni and cheese that often, so we don’t need to stockpile it. It’s more of an emergency pantry stash item. I also prefer the frozen type of cauliflower rice, which Costco doesn’t sell. So, we buy that at ALDI.

Costco has significantly cheaper prices for organic half and half, eggs, and butter compared to ALDI, and I prefer name brand Ezekiel Bread over the ALDI version. Miscellaneous items we buy at Costco include some of those splurge foods like trail mix ($$$$), fried hatch chilies (these will transform your salad life) and Skinny Pop popcorn, which is my favorite kind. They also are currently carrying the Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurt which ALDI doesn’t have, and sell plain Greek Yogurt for a really good price as a back-up. Kirkland organic peanut butter doesn’t have as much sugar as the ALDI version, and the price is similar, so we buy it in bulk at Costco. They don’t sell cottage cheese at all, however, so I buy that at ALDI even though I eat it in bulk quantities.

To sum it all up, I’ll leave you with this insanely good salad that I’ve been obsessed with lately, only made possible by Costco. Atop a few handfuls of spinach, I added strawberries, feta cheese, fried hatch chilies, and glazed pecan nut mix. This is seriously one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten, and if you have a Costco membership, now you can too! (If you don’t have Costco, buy the hatch chilies and nut mix online. Seriously. You will thank me!)

What are your favorite things to buy at Costco and ALDI?

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