This post is sponsored by Whole Foods Arlington. I was provided with a $75 gift card to use on groceries for the week. I was also compensated for my time. All opinions are my own.
Last week I wrote a post about how my nutrition has changed since starting this blog. I talked a lot about my transition from eating processed foods and simply being uneducated to eating more fresh foods and cooking more from scratch. What I didn’t mention in that post is that during my quest to eat more cleanly, I started purchasing more organic food items along with better quality meat and dairy products. As a result, I experimented with grocery shopping at many different places to compare the factors of quality, convenience, and affordability.
Tim and I now prefer to do the bulk of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods because we truly believe that we get better quality food there than we do at other stores. To be transparent, Tim and I do not buy all of our groceries at Whole Foods every week. It’s just not realistic for us to only shop at one place and one place alone. We participate in the CSA program through work, we’ll stop at other stores to grab a few items on the way home from work if it’s more convenient, and we will also get some of our pantry staples elsewhere if we know for sure that they are absolutely cheaper. But the bulk does get done at Whole Foods, and it’s been this way for a few years now.
Skeptical? You’re probably not alone. I think Whole Foods definitely gets a bad rap for being too expensive. There’s this stigma about it, isn’t there? People tend to think that healthy eating cannot be done on a budget, and they just assume that shopping at Whole Foods means spending a fortune. Not true! With a little planning and extra effort, it can be done, and today I’m going to show you how.
Tim and I don’t necessarily have a hardcore set grocery budget every week, but we generally try to stick to spending around $100 weekly for the two of us. When Whole Foods Arlington challenged us to only spend $75 on our entire grocery bill for five days, we were a little nervous at first, but decided to go for it. We figured it would be fun!
Here are our tips for shopping at Whole Foods on a budget:
Before You Leave the House
- Write down the ingredients you already have. We always look through our fridge and cabinets to check what items we already have, and then we try to incorporate these items into our meal planning. This saves money on the coming week’s groceries, and it also helps us waste less. I often decide what baked goods to make or what grains to use that week based on what pantry staples are already stocked. We probably stock our pantry items once a month.
- Look at the Whole Foods weekly sales flyer. It’s available both in store and online, so we’ll bring up the PDF version and choose a few sale items to build our dishes around that would pair well with the stuff we already have. While we always try and include a protein source in each meal, we don’t always necessarily make a piece of meat or fish the main focus. This helps us cut costs!
- Look through the Whole Deal Coupons. I used to think that since we mainly shop the perimeter that we couldn’t benefit from the coupons, but some of our go to items like non dairy milk, flax seed, etc. are often on sale. While meal planning, we’ll see if anything in the coupon book catches our eye, but we don’t go crazy with this part.
- Browse recipes to plan your meals. Based on what we come up with during the previous steps, we’ll take a look at recipes we’ve bookmarked during the week or brainstorm our own recipe creation ideas. A couple of things we always keep in mind:
- You don’t need fancy ingredients. Just because a recipe calls for something doesn’t mean you have to use it. For example, we’ll often interchange scallions, shallots, and onions depending on the week, or we’ll use dried herbs instead of fresh. Don’t be afraid to make substitutions.
- Think about how to use the same ingredients in multiple meals. You can also think about how to make meals last a few days. Crock pot meals, casseroles, large grain salads, soups, muffins, etc. are great choices for this.
- Plan meals that are freezer friendly. If you make a double batch, things like patties, meatballs, soups, protein bars, etc. freeze very well.
- Leave a few meals unplanned. Almost every week we inevitably end up going out to eat or something else comes up that puts a wrench in the plan. We make sure to leave some wiggle room to move things around as needed.
Once You Get to the Store
- Shop the bulk section. Although it might seem a little intimidating at first, it’s a great way to cut corners on staples like whole grains, flours, beans, nut butters, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and more. You’d be surprised at how much you can get in this section as compared to the canned or boxed counterparts.
- Keep your eyes peeled for any additional in store sales. There are almost always additional items on sale in the store that aren’t necessarily listed in the flyer. We keep this in mind and try to be flexible as we go, but we try not to stray from the list too much because that’s where extra costs can sneak in.
- Take advantage of the Everyday 365 Value brand. This is Whole Foods’ generic version of brand name items, designed to meet all of the same quality criteria but at a better value.
- Buy meat on the bone. Getting something like chicken breasts or thighs on the bone is always a cheaper option than the boneless and skinless versions, and you can save the bones to make broth later on. Justin, the Meat Team Leader at Whole Foods Arlington, recommends buying the family or value packs of meat and freezing what you don’t use right away. If we see meat that’s on sale, we always buy it anyways and save it for later use.
- Shop what’s in season. Felipe, Arlington’s Produce Team Leader, always reminds people about this. For example, Tim and I almost never buy fresh berries during the winter, but do almost weekly during the summer when the fresh organic kinds are almost always on sale.
Following these tips, here’s what we came up with for our $75 meal plan last week:
We prepped yogurt bowls with caramelized apples. Both the apples and yogurt were sales flyer items, and we also had a little bit of yogurt left over from the previous week’s grocery stash. The ingredients we used that we already had on hand were slivered almonds, chia seeds, maple syrup, coconut sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Caramelizing your own apples ensures you are not consuming any extra refined sugar or sodium from a store bought version.
We made a big quinoa tabbouleh salad to have for lunch on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We purchased the quinoa from the bulk aisle, and the packs of organic tomatoes were on sale. We bought the cucumber, red onion, and fresh lemon for lemon juice, but we used dried herbs instead of fresh for the rest of the ingredients.
For lunches on Thursday and Friday, we made kale salads (kale was a sale item) and topped them with green lentils from the bulk section, roasted golden beets, and shredded carrots and sunflower seeds which were items we already had. We also made a homemade dressing out of the other lemons. We never use store bought dressing anymore.
For dinners on Monday through Wednesday, we had maple chicken drumsticks paired with couscous and asparagus. The drumsticks and asparagus were on sale, and we bought the couscous with a coupon. All we did with this chicken was throw it in the crockpot and let it marinate in maple syrup, balsamic, and whole grain mustard (pantry staples!) while we were at work.
Finally, for dinner on Thursday and Friday, we planned for taco nights. We bought Boston lettuce instead of wraps and purchased the beef round stir fry that was on sale. We also bought mushrooms because these types of hearty veggies can help fill you up so you don’t have to buy as much beef. We bought avocado and limes to throw together some guac, and we used some shredded cheese that we already had. Both Tim and I ended up making other dinner plans for Thursday, so we just moved this meal to Saturday lunch instead. We actually also bought bell peppers on sale to use on the tacos, but completely forgot about them, so we’ve been eating those sliced up with hummus for snacks this week instead!
Our snacks for the week included apples (sale item) with nut butter (on hand), blood oranges (sale item), hard boiled eggs (Whole Foods brand), pumpkin almond energy bites (made with pantry staples) and sweet potato banana bites (again all with ingredients we already had).
Here are some pictures of our stash:
Any guesses as to what our grand total was?
Then I got so excited about coming in under budget that I went back for some chickpeas out of the bulk aisle so I could add these roasted chickpeas with dijon mustard to our food prep list.
Tim and I want to thank Whole Foods Arlington for teaming up with us for this challenge. We learned a few new things in the process, and I loved this opportunity to show my readers that healthy eating on a budget IS doable.
Readers, let’s chat! How do you balance healthy eating with your wallet? Do you have a grocery budget? Where do you tend to do your grocery shopping?
For more from the folks at Whole Foods Arlington, follow them on Twitter and Instagram and/or like their Facebook page. They are always posting fun in store events, deals, and more, and social media is a great way to stay in the know!
I love whole foods, but I don’t shop there very often mainly because it is not cost effective for someone that eats 6 meals a day! I love your post and the tips as well as all the recipes you posted!
no grocery budget here! Fresh produce/dairy/meats are too expensive but they are STAPLES and I’ve found that bulk bins have no price advantage. The only good deals are at Costco but then most of the fresh stuff goes to waste because the two of us can’t consume it fast enough! I was better at budgeting when I lived alone, but Tyler’s appetite is drastically different than mine, so it’s almost like buying off two separate shopping lists!
And soon there will be a third little appetite to “budget” for! 🙂
Great post! I was curious how this turned out since I have a love/hate affair with Whole Foods. My self-imposed budget is $50/week but it’s unrealistic, especially when I have to feed my husband who has the stature and appetite of a Viking warrior. Therefore I routinely go over budget. I buy the majority of our groceries at Trader Joe’s because I feel that they have great quality products and their produce is cheaper and better looking than other major supermarkets. My husband and I don’t eat anything processed or that has preservatives so we cook every day and watch a lot of cooking shows for tips and inspiration. We’re also vigilant about sodium and can really taste it when we eat out. Funny enough, we now prefer to make our own meals at home than go out because we can do better and it costs less. I guess that’s a good thing, right? Keep up the fabulous posts!
Thanks, Lexi! Tim and I found that if we try to stick to a certain budget per month it’s less stressful than per week. Inevitably certain weeks always end up being way more, and some always way less depending on what we have going on socially and also what staples we need to stock up on. We still don’t get too obsessed with sticking to the number, but $400 per month for us seems to be a good ballpark!
We also prefer to make our own meals sometimes too! There is nothing worse than ordering something (and paying extra for it) when you could have prepared it better yourself!
Great that you made your own guacamole from avocados and limes… that alone usually runs $8 for a small container at WF. Another money saver I learned is salad dressing so I am glad you highlighted that as well. Some dressings can cost as much as $7 a bottle! Great if you’re in a pinch, but not on a budget. I find that I can get better organic food at WF for less money than the wilted organic food that’s super expensive at other supermarkets. I am a huge advocate trying to shop on a budget but not sacrificing the quality of food 🙂 AND, don’t leave me hanging – please share the recipe on how to caramelize an apple!!
Yes, we love making our own guacamole! I’ve been meaning to post our homemade recipe for a long time now, so thank you for the reminder! Apple caramelizing how to post coming soon, hang tight! 🙂
LOVE the WF tips! We got one last year and as much as I love it, it is a bit harder on the wallet than Trader Joes. So I’ll read up and improve my habits there!
Thanks, lady! Since we think the quality of food at Whole Foods is just so much better than any other store, we don’t mind paying a little extra… and these tips really do help!