5 Mistakes You Make When Shopping at Costco, According to a Nutritionist

updated Jun 13, 2020
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Despite the giant bags of chips and packages of candy, shopping at Costco is one of the best ways to save money on healthy (organic and conventional!) foods. Take it from me: I’m a nutritionist, eat a plant-based diet, and do the bulk (pun intended!) of my grocery shopping at Costco. You just have to know what to do and what not to do during a trip.

These are the five biggest mistakes I see people make again and again when it comes to finding the healthy stuff at Costco.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

1. Skipping the produce department.

People tell me that they skip the produce department at Costco because they live alone or have a small family and worry that veggies will spoil before they get a chance to eat everything in a bulk package. But it’s not like everything in the department comes in a 25-pound bag, and some of it can easily be used up quickly.

My top picks?

The five-pound bags of carrots (for only $4.99!) will last at least a month in your crisper drawer and can be eaten as is for a snack, or in soups, smoothies, salads, and baked goods.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

And the bananas! They’ll last for a while if you freeze them, and you can buy a three-pound bag of organic bananas at Costco, usually for around $1.50 to $2. That’s half the price of other places.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

Other good picks: celery, organic apples, cucumbers, Medjool dates, pineapples, pears, and oranges. If you eat a lot of greens or use them in green smoothies, all of the leafy greens at Costco can easily be frozen and used in smoothies (or soups) while still retaining the nutrition and saving you money.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

2. Buying processed foods just because you’ve found a deal.

Just because that new bag of Sriracha-flavored tortilla chips or the double-dipped caramel chocolate cookies are on sale for $2.99 for a four-pound bag doesn’t mean you should buy them. These products are always filled with high amounts of sugar, salt, and/or fat. While they can be fine on an occasional basis, you almost certainly do not need to be buying them in bulk.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

3. Always buying the name brand and avoiding generic.

As popular as Costco’s Kirkland Signature label is, this one always shocks me. I still see people buying the name brand of products and avoiding the Kirkland label just because it’s the generic option. Did you know that Costco’s Kirkland-labeled products go under strict testing and comparisons before being put on the shelf?

You can get some of the healthiest, best-tasting options under the Kirkland label — for much less than the name-brand counterparts. (Compare the ingredients for some name-brand items with Kirkland’s and you might be surprised!) Some of my top picks include Kirkland’s almond butter, frozen berries, quinoa, plain nuts and seeds, plain nonfat Greek yogurt, and frozen veggies.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

4. Not checking the freezer section.

So many people who do try to eat healthfully think that the freezer section is not for them. But it is! Frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh, if not more because they never sit on the store shelves or transportation trucks; they’re frozen right after harvest to lock in all their nutritional goodness.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

I can personally vouch for the fact that all of Costco’s veggies are of the highest quality and cost around 50 percent less than at other stores — even Walmart. The frozen fruit at Costco is also a must-have. Keep it on hand for smoothies or to eat as a healthy snack right out of the freezer (instead of reaching for ice cream at night!).

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

5. Avoiding the basic pantry staples.

I know, I know; one of the best things about Costco we all love is browsing all the new trendy snacks. The first two or three snack aisles feature all that fun stuff, while the healthy stuff and pantry staples tend to be a few aisles over. So people have fun in the first few aisles and then skip the ones they really should go down. Some items you’ll really save on at Costco include basics like oats, applesauce, nuts, seeds, beans, and more. And because they’re pantry staples, many of these items can sit on the shelf (or your freezer) for a while until you finish the package.

What’s your top tip for shopping for healthy foods at Costco?