Shopping at Costco doesn't have to mean derailing your healthy eating goals. Use these simple do's and don'ts to navigate the food warehouse and you'll leave with a cart full of healthy ingredients.
Set Up for Success
1 | Do make a list of healthy staples.
Avoid impulse buys and maximize your time by preparing a list ahead of time. Review what you have in your fridge, freezer and pantry before writing out a list so you know what you need. Then write your list and stick to it.
2 | Don’t go hungry.
Shopping hungry at Costco is a recipe for disaster. If you’re hungry you’re more likely to impulse-buy unhealthy options and snack on processed food samples. Make sure to eat or have a light snack before tackling your shopping trip.
3 | Don’t arrive without a plan.
Think about strategy before hitting the aisles. Organize your list by store section so you can be sure you’ll get everything you need (and skip what you don’t).
4 | Do look for freezable options in the meat department.
I like to use my monthly trip to Costco to stock the freezer with minimally processed meats. That way I always have ingredients on hand to throw together a quick healthy meal without running to the grocery store at the last minute.
Individually wrapped and portioned options are the easiest to store directly in the freezer, but you can always take a large piece of meat and portion and wrap yourself.
5 | Do check for organic meat.
Organic meat can be pricy, so taking advantage of warehouse prices can make organic options more affordable. If you’re buying more than you need for the week be sure to freeze what’s left to use later.
Know What You Need
6 | Don’t be tempted by samples.
I know sampling as you shop can be an appealing part of the experience, but all the small bites of processed foods can add up. Plus a small sample may just tempt you to add an unhealthy item to your cart. Skip the samples unless they’re offering a real food option.
7 | Do stock up on produce you know you’ll use. I don't buy much produce from Costco because my family of 3 has a hard time going through the bulk sizes before things start going bad.
Keep in mind your family’s needs when shopping for produce and look for items that will last for several weeks in the fridge or freezer. I always grab bananas (which I ripen and then freeze for smoothies), lemons and limes to store in the fridge.
8 | Do grab hummus and guacamole in individual serving sizes.
Individual snack sizes of healthy dips like hummus and guacamole are fantastic to have on hand for snacks on-the-go and to add to lunch boxes. Check the refrigerated deli aisle for these options.
9 | Don’t buy processed meats and cheeses in bulk.
If you have large amounts of processed meats and cheese in you fridge at home you’re more likely to consume these items on a regular basis. Skip them altogether, or buy these items in smaller amounts from a regular grocery store to eat sparingly.
Fill the Pantry
10 | Do add raw, unsalted nuts to your cart.
If you use nuts for snacking or in your cooking Costco is a great place to stock up. Store the large bags of nuts in the freezer so they’ll last longer, pulling out small amounts to snack on or cook with as you need.
11 | Do shop for healthy oils.
Costco is a great place to stock up on healthy options. Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are all great options to have on hand and are priced well.
And the Freezer
12 | Do check the frozen aisle for fish, berries and vegetables.
Along with minimally processed meats I like to use my Costco shopping trip as an opportunity to stock my freezer with frozen fish, berries, and vegetables. With these staples on hand I can throw dinner together without an extra trip to the store.
13 | Don’t buy frozen processed meals in bulk.
Along with whole foods like fish, berries, and vegetables the frozen aisle is also home to all kinds of unhealthy processed food. Instead of reaching for junk food in bulk fill your cart with only real foods.
Real Food In Bulk
14 | Do grab grains and seeds.
Look for bulk sizes of quinoa, brown rice, hemp seeds and chia seeds. Portion what you’ll use in a month then store the rest in a cool, dark place or in the freezer.
15 | Do look for natural sweeteners.
Honey and maple syrup are great buys and excellent to have on hand for naturally sweetening both sweet and savory recipes.
16 | Don’t buy snacks without reading the ingredients.
There are plenty of tempting snacks with the word “healthy” stamped on the package, but many contain unhealthy ingredients. Take a moment to read the ingredient list before adding snack foods to your cart. If the list contains added refined sugar, chemicals, preservatives or other refined ingredients put the snack back on the shelf.
17 | Do browse the aisles for new real food items.
New real food options are popping up at Costco all the time, so every so often take a few extra minutes to walk through the store scouting for healthy options to add your your “staples” list.
18 | Don’t grab bulk sizes of chips or candy.
I know it can be tempting, but do your best to skip the extra-large size of chips and candy. Because if you buy a 4-pound jar of jelly beans you (and/or your family) will eat 4-pounds of jelly beans. Save the splurge for the regular grocery store where you can buy treats in more reasonable sizes.
19 | Do take a moment to review your cart before checking out.
Before you check out take a moment or two to review the items in your cart with a critical eye. See a less-than-healthy item? Ask yourself if you really need it. If not, take it out and ask the cashier to put it back for you.
20 | Don’t be afraid to ask for healthy options. I’m amazed at the number of healthy options my Costco has added to its selves in the past few years. If you don’t see an item you’re looking for, ask for it. Tell your friends to do the same.
21 | Do share the love.
Find a new healthy item you love at Costco? Tell your friends. The more people buying healthy items the more likely that those items will continue to be stocked and the more likely additional healthy items will be added to the shelves.
22 | Do select your indulgences carefully.
The large sugary smoothie or hot dog may be calling your name on the way out of Costco, but take a moment to decide if you really want to splurge. I know some people genuinely love Costco hotdogs. If that’s you, great, go ahead and splurge. But if it’s not a special treat skip it in favor of a more preferable indulgence later on.
What are your Costco do's and don'ts? Share them with me in the comments!