There are certain stores that I personally avoid for various reasons.
For example, I don’t shop at Cost Plus World Market because the store is BEYOND amazing. It’s truly a foodie’s dream. Kitchen gadgets, specialty oils, BOGO coffee… yikes. They do carry just a few things we need now and then, so if I absolutely must go, I make a bee-line to the aisle and get out ASAP. Otherwise the grocery budget is a goner and we’ll be eating cute utensils made out of bamboo for dinner.
Target is another store I don’t shop at often. When we lived in Texas, Super Walmart was our go-to store for everything. Diapers, shampoo, bananas… it was 2 miles down the road, very cheap and incredibly convenient. When we moved to California, we were limited to a simple, non-super Walmart.
After one too many Black Friday’s, Mr. Crumbs now breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the store. So we switched to Target. But when I started couponing to afford baby #2, I realized that my local Target is NOT the place to find deals. On anything. So now visits there are limited to me and the girl browsing the dollar spot while the boys are next door at REI, making oogly eyes at road bikes and camping gear for future trips.
With a reputation of taking out an entire paycheck, Whole Foods is also a no-go zone. There’s just one thing I regularly buy at Whole Foods, and that’s pepitas. After searching high and low for a good local deal, Whole Foods won at offering hulled roasted pumpkin seeds for just $4.99/lb.
But I’ve given it some thought… surely that can’t be the ONLY affordable item in the store, right? I mean, that place is ALWAYS packed and as somewhat of a health food store rival to Trader Joe’s… and it seems to be THE place to shop if you’re a real foodie… maybe I simply hadn’t given Whole Foods a true, fair shot?
Armed with my camera, a notebook, a pencil and a babysitter at home with the kids, I set out this past week to really see if there were any foods worth noting for us frugal foodies. Folks, the results are in.
This post is part of a short series covering what frugal foods a real foodie can find at certain stores. Other posts include:
Remember: At the bottom of each post is a handy dandy download that’s free, allowing you to take the prices with you when you shop!
After doing some research and walking the entire store, I’ve come up with 3 categories for today’s “what to buy at Whole Foods” list.
- What I Would (or Do) Buy
- What I’ve Heard is a Good Deal, But Isn’t
- What Isn’t Necessarily a Good Deal for Me, But Might Be for You
You’ll find the price for each item (which might vary from store to store) and explanations throughout the list too, since it helps sometimes to see the ‘why’ behind what someone does. The items in each list are in no particular order.
Also, don’t forget the post on 9 practical ways to save at Whole Foods. Combined with the list below, you can really save a ton of money!
Best 11 Things to Buy at Whole Foods
What I Would (or Do) Buy
Pepitas, $4.99 per pound
Also known as pumpkin seeds, pepitas are one of our favorite seeds. We use them in spring salads and in homemade granola bars. Whole Foods carries them for just $4.99 per pound, which is a GREAT deal. You can get a similar deal at Nuts.com, but you’ll have to pay for shipping. You can get free shipping with these pepitas on Amazon prime, but you’ll pay at least $6/lb. So, Whole Foods wins!
Sesame Seeds, $3.99 per pound
Whole Foods wins on sesame seeds by a nose with other online retailers coming in close, if not the same price. Like the pepitas though, you don’t have to pay for shipping. Plus most recipes that call for sesame seeds don’t need much, maybe a tablespoon or two. By buying them from the bulk section, you can really rack up the savings by paying for exactly what you need, when you need it, instead of having a huge one pound bag sitting in your pantry staring you in the face when you’re making your meal plans.
Organic Flax Seeds, $1.79 per pound
Not only does Whole Foods have the best price per pound on flax seeds, but they’re whole. This means you can grind them yourself at home and not have to worry about the natural oil in the seed going rancid (and having to store it in the fridge to help prevent it from happening). Costco can’t touch this with their ground flax at $3.55/lb, and the #1 best seller on Amazon charges over $12 per pound!
Organic Raisins, $3.39 per pound
Whole Foods had three different varieties of organic raisins, with the most affordable being just $3.39 per pound. This beats every other deal I’ve found, and it’s a bonus that they’re organic. Grapes are on the dirty dozen and should be purchased organically when possible, so it makes sense that raisins (which are dehydrated grapes) should be organic too. It’s just tough to find affordable grapes, let alone affordable raisins, you know? In case you do happen to score an amazing deal on organic grapes (like, $2/lb or less), dehydrate them yourself and make the most AMAZING raisins you’ve ever had. Promise!
Dry Beans, price varies
Depending on what type of bean you’re looking for, Whole Foods just might have the best deal. First, they’re selection is awesome. Second, some beans were as low as just $1.69 for organic! Black beans and split peas came in at that price, while organic lentils were priced at $1.99 per pound.
Organic Barley, $1.49 per pound / Organic Red Wheat, $1.39 per pound / Organic Spelt, $1.99 per pound
I grouped these grains together because as a whole, they’re a pretty decent deal. I normally buy my grains from Tropical Traditions because I have gift certificates there, but the big downside is paying for shipping. If you can score free shipping from Tropical Traditions (which they offer roughly once each month and I notify readers via the Crumbs Facebook page), then stock up while you can. Otherwise, Whole Foods offers very competitive pricing on these whole grains if you unexpectedly run out. Or if you just need a pound or two instead of five or ten.
Spices, price varies
You’ve probably read it all over the place, but spices in bulk are really a great deal. Whole Foods has an amazing selection, and prices range from 88¢ to $2 per ounce. Most bottles of spice weigh 2-4 ounces, so depending on what you’re buying and how much you need, the savings can really add up by just buying a little bit versus a bigger container.
Farro isn’t one single grain, but rather a term that includes three varieties of heirloom grains. I don’t know much about farro other than it’s pricey per pound. Even so, Whole Foods offers the best deal by at least $1.50 per pound.
Side Note: I didn’t list every grain they had available, but there were PLENTY to choose from. If you’re looking to eat more whole grains, and expand your palate beyond wheat, it’s definitely worth looking into. Especially since you can buy just a cup or two and give them a test run to see if you like the flavors or not. If you don’t have a grain mill, you can still grind your own flour without one, or look at their pre-ground flours too. I saw quinoa, sprouted spelt, “00”, einkorn, farro and brown rice flour all available for purchase.
Chocolate, price varies
Oh dear, did you know Whole Foods sells chocolate by the POUND?! And that it’s a GOOD DEAL?! All the more reason to stay away I think. 😉 Seriously though, if you have the will power to not eat it all in one sitting, there are some great deals on good quality chocolate. To help you visualize the prices, the average chocolate bar weighs 3 ounces. You can get this amount of chocolate for as little as $1.87 or as much as $2.62, depending on the percent of cacao you’re looking for. Not too shabby of a deal for good chocolate!
What I’ve Heard is a Good Deal, But Isn’t
Costco has almonds for $5.19 per pound and I heard that Whole Foods has “raw” almonds for $5.99 per pound. Back to the issue of most almonds come from California and the state requires pasteurization (therefore to me, the issue is null and void), I’m going with the most affordable.
Whole Foods is asking $9.49 for cashew PIECES, while Costo sells WHOLE cashews for $6 per pound. This is a no brainer here – Costco wins.
Whole Foods sells raw honey from local sources, but my local store had it priced $3 more per pound than my local farmers market!
Beside local raw honey, Whole Foods also had my favorite brand of stevia, NuNaturals. The downside though is that it was priced $2 more than what Amazon sells it for. They had several brands of stevia, as well as other alternative sweeteners, but be sure to compare prices against online vendors who specialize in these sort of items.
I also heard that pasta was a great deal at Whole Foods, that whole wheat was just 99¢ per pound. Wrong! I couldn’t find pasta for less than $2 per box, and that was for all varieties. Since brands don’t make much of a difference in terms of pasta, choose whichever is most affordable and lists just “100% whole wheat,” or whichever grain you’re looking for, in the list of ingredients.
What Isn’t Necessarily a Good Deal for Me, But Might Be for You
Their gallons of organic whole milk are just $5.99 – generally a good deal in my area…. except that the milk is NOT grass-fed. The label itself says the cows are given 100% organic feed, which means they’re likely not pastured. Another local grocery store offer grass-fed milk for 40¢ more per gallon, but I’ll pay it because I know it’s grass-fed.
Organic butter was rather pricey at $5 per pound, and Kerrygold butter was VERY expensive at $4 for 8 oz. I’m fortunate to have a Costco nearby that sells both organic and grass-fed butter for much less, but if you don’t, know that this might be a viable option for you.
Whole Foods is known for their extensive selection of cheese, which is really a lot of fun to a foodie! They offer smaller cuts that are just 4 oz, which means you can create a very nice cheese tray filled with higher end cheeses without overspending. Locally I have both Grocery Outlet and a specialty cheese shop where I can get the cheeses we like, and in even smaller quantities at the cheese shop. Don’t rule this section out though if you don’t have specialty shops in your area!
The Entire 365 Brand Line
There are some really great deals on the 365 house brand, like ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, apple cider vinegar for just $3.49 and even walnut oil at an affordable price! You’ll have to browse the store to see if they carry what you’re looking for in that brand. Also price compare against your usual sources, but there’s a really good chance you’ll stumble across some good deals! I found decent deals on basic items like mustard, mayo and pickles, but also on specialty ethnic sauces and gluten-free flours and gums.