Eating healthy is not always easy nor cheap, but with Costco & a lot of discipline and money, it can totally be accomplished. It’s important though to know what foods Costco sells that are healthy and what to avoid. In fact, I’m amazed at how few products don’t contain dangerous seed oils (canola, sunflower, etc.)
There are many foods that may appear healthy that aren’t and if you go into Costco with the mindset to buy the cheapest options, you may go home with a cart full of soy, corn, and preservative laden food, which would not be healthy. Or you can read this blog and download our free grocery list and walk out feeling good that you have a cart packed with foods high in nutrients and energy to fuel your body, mind, and dreams!
If you follow our blog or read our social media posts you’ll know, I am weird. And in owning my weirdness I have to say, I am not a fan of Costco. In fact, when we decided to save money to start traveling, Costco was my first expense to cut. Sure you get great deals and it’s more cost effective per ounce, but you end up spending money on things you don’t need. If you want to escape the rat race and need to save money, Costco will not get you there unless you have a zillion times more willpower than me (and I don’t even like shopping!).
But here’s what happened. We went without Costco for a few years. 2014 we were living frugally. 2015 we traveled the U.S and just stocked up at Trader Joe’s. 2016 we spent half the year in Europe and discovered Lidls. 2017 we again road tripped the U.S. and stocked up at Trader Joes. Then, in 2018, we flew to Hawaii and spent two weeks living out of our car/tent.
We were on a very tight budget. We tried so hard to live off of Foodland’s fried chicken, poke, tortilla chips, and eggs while we were tent camping on the North Shore of Oahu but Tatiana, my then 7 year old daughter, was so grumpy that when we drove over to the west side to spend 2 nights in an Airbnb, I caved.
I couldn’t take the whining and so I stopped at Costco on the south side of Oahu, renewed my membership, and stocked up on enough food to keep our large family fat and happy for the 10 days we had left in paradise.
After Hawaii, New Zealand, and Bali, we went back to road tripping in the States. I could’ve easily done without Costco, but I’ll admit, sometimes Costco just makes it easy and part of my growth is to start taking some easy roads and not be so damn idealistic all the time.
So sorry Mother Earth, the guilt I feel by adding to the landfills falls only short to the guilt I feel each day for not giving my kids the appropriate attention, education, love, and everything else that mom’s across the world battle on a daily basis.
If you too struggle to balance out sustainablily, corporate America, and keeping your kids from melting down at the drop of a dime AND want to feed them as healthy as possible (because you could just order off the dollar menu at McDonald’s I suppose), then here’s what I buy at Costco when I succumb to capitalism and just want to go for a friggin hike (😉 followed by a mellow night around the campfire.)
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How To Know If It Is Healthy
My biggest problem for awhile with Costco was sourcing. Luckily, they now do a much better job of providing foods that are organic and non-GMO.
I think it really depends on how you want to define healthy.
With my health + wellness clients I always start them with one rule, if it came from a mom or you can grow it, it’s healthy. There is a lot of food, especially at Costco, that does not fit this description, so your starting point for health should be, is the only ingredient itself.
For example, if I buy a bag of broccoli and look at the ingredients it says, broccoli (I know, big surprise), but if I buy a jar of artichoke hearts (which I don’t anymore) the ingredients label reads: trimmed artichoke hearts, water, canola oil, distilled vinegar, salt, garlic, spices, citric acid, and ascorbic acid. The big no-no in this is canola oil. Regardless of what you’ve heard, canola oil is not healthy.
Another example is almond milk. Technically the almond milk has more than just almond to it. The list is long and looks scary with names you can’t pronounce but for the most part they are just vitamins added, the problem is that they are often synthetic vitamins that can be toxic for your body. Ideally, we like to make our almond milk or buy raw milk, but that just doesn’t happen on a road trip and it’s hard to find farmers to get raw milk from.
We have a whole separate blog with a list of what you should or shouldn’t be eating, but for the sake of simplicity, try to find things in their natural state without any added ingredients as much as possible.
What Are The Healthiest Food Options At Costco:
If you took a look at the blog above, the main points are to get:
- Well-sourced protein
- Healthy fats
- Organic, non-gmo, low sugar carbs
- And possibly dairy free, gluten free options if needed
I think it’s fair to say that there is no way I can list every single food in Costco that is healthy. They are constantly changing things up and bringing in specialty items. But this should give you a really good idea of what exactly to look for when you shop at Costco.
What healthy foods I buy at Costco
Costco has great, helathy options for fish in the frozen section.
- Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon,
- Wild Mahi Mahi,
- Wild Alaskan Pacific Cod,
- and Wild Alaskan Halibut…
are my regular buys, but there are other really great fish options too. They now carry a wild shrimp which is great since the fish they’ve carried for as long as I can remember is farm raised.
Getting farm raised fish is not an ideal choice, but again, it’s better than processed and chemical laden foods (which is true for a lot of the foods I describe below). If you want to splurge, Costco has great options for crab, lobster, and scallops.
The canned wild salmon and Wild Planet’s canned wild albacore are great protein choices. Mix them with Costco’s avocado oil based mayo for a great tuna salad.
I wish there were better choices for beef at Costco and I’m sure it is only a matter of time. Almost all the beef at Costco is industrialized so while they may be great cuts to beef connoisseurs, there are way too many potential health risks from buying this type of meat for me to risk it. The Teton Grass Fed hot dogs are the only beef I find to be an okay choice at Costco.
Unfortunately, the organic ground beef isn’t very good choice either. It isn’t grass fed and being organic could mean that the cows are fed organic corn, which is not good. The ground bison is a much better choice.
Costco sells a great Sauerkraut to top those hot dogs with!
I am a huge pork fan and while all the ribs and pork roasts are industrialized and I’d never buy, they started carrying this Sopressata pepper and garlic salami by Olli that is INCREDIBLE but not offered anymore 🙁
The problem with most of the salamis at Costco is that they either have dairy or gluten, both things we try to avoid. If you don’t need to avoid those, then the Columbus is an okay option.
Another seemingly healthy option that I am not a fan of is the Aidels sausage (and similar brand sausages). They technically don’t have anything bad in them, but I never feel good after eating them so they might be too processed. Surprisingly, the Teton grass fed hot dogs do much better for me so maybe it’s just the sugar in the other sausages.
Costco sells organic ground turkey. They also sell a Columbus sliced turkey meat that looks healthy, but it’s another one that I would skip. Even though it is hormone free, it contains soy protein isolates and we try to avoid soy products unless they are fermented. The whole turkey breast I don’t believe has preservatives, but the sourcing isn’t organic or free-range. I also don’t recommend eating the turkey bacon. However, the app Costco I think is very good.
Costco has a decent selection of organic chicken, but personally, we won’t eat their chicken for the same reason as the beef, just because it says organic doesn’t mean it’s not being fed organic soy, corn, and other GMO or seed oils. We do buy the free range eggs even though they are probably not fed great either, but sometimes I just have to cave.
We don’t eat much dairy, but… the organic Horizon half and half is a great buy. So is the Kerry Gold butter!
The imported and organic cheeses they have are really good quality too, but stay away from all of the preshredded cheeses (read the label if you don’t believe me). Don’t even do the Tillamook cheese, it’s highly processed and has tons of weird ingredients. If I’m having cheese it has to be European or an organic hard cheese from the States. The standards are higher for cheese across the Atlantic and they are much less likely to have any added ingredients.
This is where I really love Costco. I’d never label myself “Keto” but I do eat healthy fats often throughout the day.
Buy the Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, & Ghee.
I buy almonds for snacking on and to make nut milk out of. We put pine nuts or walnuts on our salads every day. Raw cashews are also great for nut milk and I use them to make a lot of vegan recipes. Last, I buy pistachios and raw peanuts as snacks that the kids can reach for throughout the day.
Olives are another one of my favorite things to buy at Costco. I prefer the trio in the refridgerator case but I also stock up on canned black olives for the kids to snack on. Most of the olive choices are good, but there were a few with additives so read the labels.
Another one of my favorites at Costco. I stock up on the organic almond butter and peanut butter. Plus, Costco typically carries a great jelly to buy also. Again, read the label.
Veggies + Carbs:
We are not 100% gluten free, but I do limit it a lot. Even if you think you aren’t allergic to gluten, by eating poorly sourced grains, there is a good chance of developing food allergies later on from it. Try to be selective in your carb choices or you may very well end up not being able to eat any carbs.
Veggies + Fruits
Your top pick at Costco is to stock up on veggies. Trying to get 10 servings of veggies a day (which is what we strive for) is easy by loading the cart with squash, mushrooms, broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, and brussel sprouts. Also stock up on garlic, onions, potatoes (the small red and gold are incredibly delicious), and sweet potatoes.
We don’t eat a lot of fruit since it’s sugar, but I do get a lot of avocados, oranges, bananas to freeze for smoothies or for banana bread, as well as the organic frozen berries and Acaí if they have it. There are good options for canned or jarred fruit and organic dried fruit, but again, fruit is sugar so just limit your serving. I’ll buy the organic cranberries and raisins to make trail mix with a high ratio of nuts to fruit but only if they don’t have sunflower oil, which they often do.
Next to veggies, my favorite carbs to get at Costco are:
- organic brown rice
- organic canned black beans (rinse before using)
- organic quinoa
- rice noodles
- garbanzo pasta
I do occasionally buy these for emergency (or when we have big hikes):
- organic Italian pasta (+ organic pasta sauce and organic parmesean cheese),
- organic white rice,
- sourdough bread,
- and Stacy’s organic pita chips.
While the organic uncooked tortillas are tempting, they are made with canola oil so I skip them. Teh same goes for Nature’s Path organic granola.
Stocking up on baking supplies is good too since it’s much better to make your own desserts than to buy it premade. I love the almond flour, organic flour, organic sugar, and raw honey (it’s often local too).
We hike a lot and I need foods to take with us on the trail, but you really have to read the labels closely. I used to get the Simply Clusters until I realized they had canola oil (and they aren’t gluten free).
Crackers are another place where you need to read the labels to see if they are made with corn and soy. If they are, I’d try to avoid them and stick to better choices.
With energy bars, keep in mind that even though they are “healthy” in that they don’t have fake ingredients, seed oils, soy, dairy or gluten, they are quite sugary. They are a great choice for when you are active, but not so good if you are sitting in an office all day.
Some of the better prepackaged foods to buy if you need something on the go or individually packaged would be the organic guacamole or organic hummus (I think it too has canola oil).
Normally I opt to bake with cocoa powder and my own ingredients but every so often we will splurge and buy the chocolate chips for cookies.
Coffee + Tea
I’m don’t buy any coffee at Costco, even the organic kind tastes horrible in my opinion. This is probably because it’s been sitting in a warehouse for a year before making it to the shelf. However, one of the best products at Costco is the green tea packets.
More Pantry Items:
Superfoods + Supplements
Costco has a great selection of superfoods that are great to add to smoothies, salads, rice bowls, or to bake with.
Stock up on:
- Chia seeds
- Maca powder
- Sprouted seeds
- Cocoa powder
Many people suffer from disbiosis and Costco sells some great products to counteract this. They often sell bone broth beef stock if you don’t like to make your own, great probiotics, and collagen supplements, all of which are great to heal the gut. The turmeric supplement is also good.
Stock up on:
- Apple Cider Vinegar,
- Himalayan Salt,
- and Vanilla Extract.
There are other seasonings that are good options like the McCormick all purpose ones, Old Thompson everyday bagel seasoning, and Kirkland’s no-salt organic seasoning mix. Again, read the labels. I never get the ones with added sugar, silicone dioxide, etc.
Sauces + Dressings
The same with many of the sauces & salad dressings. There are some that are okay and many that are not. Avoid the ones with preservatives, modified corn starch (I don’t even eat the ones with regular corn starch), soy or soy lechitin, and xanthan gum. Some of these in small doses isn’t too bad, but you can easily make a healthier version yourself with better ingredients. Many of the salsas are great and don’t have additives. The organic Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard are good too, but don’t buy the Heinz picnic pack as it is full of food dyes.
We rarely buy sugary drinks but I do love to get their organic lemonade to mix with pellegrino and the organic blood orange sparkling juice. We also buy Spindrift.
Costco has great selections when it comes to wine. I don’t buy hard alcohol so I can’t vouch for that. As far as beer, I don’t buy beer at Costco but in general, try not to buy beer made with high fructose corn syrup.
Overall Costco has some amazing deals and you can find very healthy options, you just have to read the labels and know what you are looking for.
Below I’ve included how we use Costco when we are on road trips.
Costco Road Trip Meal Plan
When we road trip, we are off-grid for weeks at a time and our days are spent hiking, climbing, or mountain biking. So when I stock up at Costco, I need to be able to make light breakfasts, have snacks to take on our adventures, something starchy for the two little kids who can’t last all day without eating, and a huge dinner for each day. Honestly, this is only enough food for a week at best for our family!
Most of the time we only have coffee and maybe a piece of sourdough toast with almond butter and an egg or two each. It really depends how early we are hitting the trail. If Tati is staying back with Victor then he will make her mac-n-cheese or these paleo pancakes (or Kodiak cakes) with blueberries.
Snacks or Lunch:
We don’t sit down to a big lunch. We are almost always on the go and bring snacks that are higher in fat and protein whenever we can. Here are some differnt options:
- Crackers with olives, salami, and cheese
- Hummus with broccoli, celery, bell peppers, and pita chips
- Grass fed hot dogs (hold the bun) with sauerkraut
- Cliff and Kind bars
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches
- Salad: Mixed Greens, avocado, pine nuts or walnuts
Dinners always have a well-sourced protein, veggies, a little fat, and typically a gluten free carb. The organic brown rice, organic quinoa, organic black beans, and organic tortilla chips at Costco make great carb choices.
Hope this helps you find healthy choices the next time you shop at Costco!
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