Michael Glab MS, RD, LDN
A Dietitian's Guide To Costco
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Costco is a membership only wholesaler that sells grocery items in bulk and generally has good deals on other items like electronics, home goods and gas. You normally will only need to hit Costco once or twice a month for grocery items since they are in bulk. This post will provide a Dietitian’s insights into cracking the code for shopping Costco’s healthiest foods at the best prices.
You need a membership (or need to know a member willing to take you) to shop Costco. A base membership is $60 per year and should pay for itself by the end of the year. Now that you have a membership you can shop! When you first walk into Costco’s grocery aisles it can be sensory overload, so definitely be prepared by making a list. The food items range from processed foods and pop to organic produce, meat, cheese and eggs. Be prepared to make one or two impulse purchases along the way because you will inevitably find something new to try. Aim to spend no more than $25 on impulses buys outside of your budgeted staples. By having a list you can stick to the plan and hopefully avoid the junk food in bulk.
Dietitian tip: Buy any junk food in smaller portions as a one-time only purchase at your usual grocery store as a once in a while treat. By purchasing one junk food item, let's say once every two weeks, you create an association that this food is now difficult to obtain. Over time you may lose interest in it all together since you don’t normally have it on hand anymore.
Costco has a reputation for providing great deals on food in bulk. This is generally true, but occasionally you’ll be better off buying certain items at your grocery store. For example, for the longest time Costco had 3 pound bag of frozen mangoes that was $9.99. On first blush, this could see like a good deal, but I remembered Trader Joe’s had 1.5 pounds on frozen mango for $2.99. So 3 pounds of frozen mango from TJ's for $6.98 or 3 pounds from Costco at $9.99? That's an easy choice assuming you don’t have to go too far out of your way to a TJ's to stock up.
However, this become a moot point recently as Costco started selling a 5 pound bag of organic frozen mango for $8.89. Not sure how they added two pounds for nearly the same price, but I’ll take it! Costco now has the superior deal. The point of this story is to pay attention to the unit price, which is the price per ounce, pound, etc.
You also need to weigh the opportunity costs in dollars, time and effort. Does it make more sense to pick up something for $1-2 more at Costco while you’re there or is going elsewhere to save money worth the extra time, gas and effort ? It’s not always a cut and dry decision, but sometimes the better deal may be at another retailer.
Finally, prices at Costco can fluctuate and some items tend to disappear after a brief run of the shelves. For instance, a 10 pound box of Quaker Oats was $7.99. On my latest trip, it was up to $8.49. This is still a superior deal and worth the price, but monitor for price increases to make sure you are still getting the best deal.
An example of products disappearing is with Good Culture cottage cheese cups. And this one truly breaks my heart because this cottage cheese has only like 4 ingredients and is clean, protein packed snack. Anyways, in March the last two years they would have 12 packs of 5.3 oz cups for $9.99, which is an unbeatable deal at $0.83 per cup. However, they are only in the refrigerated section for about 6 weeks, then disappear until the same time the next year. You may encounter similar issues with other products rendering you as brokenhearted as this guy with his missing cottage cheese cups.
So in case you don’t feel like doing all that thinking and searching to find the best deals at Costco (and I don’t blame you), here are my picks for the best healthy food staples to buy at Costco.
- 10 lbs Quaker Oats for $8.49 ($0.85 per lb)
- 8 lbs Bob’s Red Mill Organic Steel Cut Oatmeal for $8.49 ($1.21 per lb)
- 2-28 oz jars of Kirkland organic peanut butter for $9.99 ($0.18 per oz)
- 24 Kirkland organic eggs $5.99 ($0.25 per egg)
- 2.5 lb chia seed for $6.89 ($2.76 per lb)
- Double loaf of Natural Ovens 100% whole wheat bread $5.79 ($2.89 per loaf)
- 4 lb organic frozen broccoli $6.69 ($1.67 per lb)
- 2 Liter bottle of Kirkland Olive oil - $14.99 ($0.22 per oz)
- 10 lb Perdue frozen chicken breast $22.49 ($2.25 per lb)
- 20 Kirkland Organic Hummus to-go cups $6.49 ($0.32 per cup)
- 48 oz Kirkland Organic Plain Greek Yogurt $5.99 ($0.125 per oz or $1.99 per lb)
- 84 oz Organic Coconut oil $13.99 ($0.166 per oz)
- 1 lb of organic baby spinach - price varies $3.49-4.99
Let me know what you think of these recommendations and if you find other great deals at Costco or elsewhere!