healthy food costco: what to buy

Eating healthy is not always easy nor cheap, but with Costco, it can totally be accomplished. It’s important though to know what foods Costco sells that are healthy and what to avoid. 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 since I’m a Trader Joe’s snob through and through, 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.

Overview of Healthy Food At Costco

  • How to Know If It’s Healthy
  • The Healthiest Options at Costco
  • What I Buy at Costco
  • Costco Meal Plan

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 broccolli and look at the ingredients it says, broccolli (I know, big surprise), but if I buy a jar of artichoke hearts (which I often do) 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. But I’m from the mindset of 80-20 rule (maybe even the 90-10 rule) and let the small amount of canola oil in the 2-3 artichoke hearts that I add to my salad, slip by. It’s not like I drink the juice from the jar.

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. Again, that 80-20 rule works so far 🤞 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.

Related Blog: Nutrition Habits for a Healthier Life

What Are The Healthiest Food Options At Costco:

If you took a look at the blog above, the main points are to get:

  1. Well-sourced protein
  2. Healthy fats
  3. Organic, non-gmo, low sugar carbs
  4. 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

Protein

Seafood

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, they are simply out of my price range ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Shop healthy at Costco seafood

Beef

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 conoseouirs, there are way too many potential health risks from buying this type of meat for me to risk it.

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. If you can afford it and like the taste, the ground bison is a much bettter choice.

The Teton Grass Fed hot dogs are the only beef I find to be a good choice at Costco.

Costco sells a great Sauerkraut to top those hot dogs with!

One dinner.

Pork

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.

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.

Turkey

Costco sells organic ground turkey, which is a good choice!

Costco now has 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. In fact neither the tukey bacon or pork bacona at Costco are very good. If you want bacon, go with the good stuff at Trader Joe’s and just don’t overeat it.

Chicken

Costco has a great selection of organic chicken, both in the refridgerated and frozen section. The free range eggs are also a good choice.

Dairy

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 ingrediants. If I’m having cheese it has to be European or an organic hard cheese if its from the States. The standards are higher for cheese across the Atlantic and they are much less likely to have any added ingrediants.

Healthy Fats:

This is where I really love Costco. I’d never label myself “Keto” but I do eat healthy fats often throughout the day.

If you want to be healthy, you have to cook + prepare your own food. The nuts and oils at Costco are some of your best bets.

Oils

Buy the Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Ghee, and Kerry Gold’s grass-fed butter if you aren’t dairy free.

Nuts

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

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.

Nut Butters

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, brussels, and don’t forget to 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, as well as the organic frozen berries and acai 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.

Grains

Next to veggies, my favorite carbs to get at Costco are:

  • organic brown rice
  • organic canned black beans (rinse before using)
  • and organic quinoa.

I do buy for my kids the:

  • organic Italian pasta (+ organic pasta sauce and organic parmesean cheese),
  • organic mac-n-cheese,
  • organic white rice,
  • sourdough bread or Dave’s bread,
  • and Stacy’s organic pita chips.
Shop healthy at Costco spaghetti

While the organic uncooked tortillas are tempting, they are made with canola oil so I skip them.

In small quantities, I do eat the organic corn tortilla chips, and Nature’s Path organic granola. The rice flour/quinoa macaroni is an okay gluten free options for pasta, but the chickpea rotini has xanthan gum (small amounts aren’t that bad).

Baking

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).

Snack Foods

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.

Kind bars are a our favorite snack to take on our adventures.

With energy bars, keep in mind that even though they are “healthy” in that they don’t have fake ingredients, soy, dairy or gluten, they are quite sugary. They are a gread choice for when you are active, but not so good if you are sitting in an office all day.

Shop healthy at Costco snacks
These are all the snack foods we take with us when we are on a road trip. The Pacific Gold beef jerdy is great because it is grass fed beef.

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 also love the seaweed that the Costco I often go to sells (I haven’t seen it at every Costco though). It has soy but it’s a gluten free version so I splurge.

Sweets

I like that Kirkland now has its own brand of chocolate chips. The Nestle brand had dairy so I couldn’t buy it, but this new one doesn’t. The only negative is the soy and so I still don’t buy it except on a special occasion.

Normally I opt to bake with cocoa powder and my own ingredients so I don’t have to worry about soy, dairy, and wheat.

Coffee + Tea

I’m mixed on the coffee. When I’m desperate I’ll buy organic coffee and sometimes it’s great and sometimes it isn’t. As much as I love the taste of Jose’s Hazelnut, it always gives me a headache and I’m sure it’s just the flavoring they add. But one of the best products at Costco is the green tea packets. I feel so guilty for the amount of waste in packaging the individual teas but this is one of those things that our family uses a lot. Buy it!

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
  • Moringa
  • Maca powder
  • Sprouted seeds
  • Cocoa powder
Shop healthy at costco supplements

As personal trainers and wellness coaches, we want our clients to take the absolute best supplements, but realize sometimes you just have to pick what is good enough and at the right price. The Costco protein powder is just that. It’s not your best protein powder but for the price, it does the job.

I am a huge proponent of Emergen-C packets and think they are a must if you shop at Costco. May as well throw in some gummy vitamins while you are at it.

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.

Seasonings

Stock up on:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar,
  • Himalayan Salt,
  • Pepper,
  • Cinnamon,
  • and Vanilla Extract.
shopping healthy at Costco condiments and seasonings

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.

Drinks

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. The organic chocolate milk and flavored sparkling water are also some great buys that are also healthy.

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 you should check this list first to make sure the type of beer you buy isn’t made with high fructorse corn syrup or other harmful ingredients.

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!

Breakfast

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.

Breakfast or snack for the two youngest who love their carbs 😉

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
This is what we usually eat when we get back from a hike or other adventure and snack on until I make dinner. We eat dinner pretty late when we are on the road.
This is our lunch/adventure snack for a few of the days.
These are our go-to hiking snacks. If it’s a long hike, we will also take the crackers + salami and cheese with us. The wine usually stays back at camp unless we are backpacking ๐Ÿ˜‰
Some days the bacon goes in the salad and some days I save it for breakfast depending on that day’s adventure.

Dinners

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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healthy food costco: what to buy