How a Nutritionist Spends $50 at Whole Foods

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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How a Nutritionist Spends $50 at Whole Foods

Whole Foods earned its nickname,“Whole Paycheck,” due to the hefty price tags. Even though Amazon has promised to make it more affordable, getting all your groceries at Whole Foods may still feel out of reach. The truth is, you should shop at a store where time, taste and affordability align; this looks different for everyone.

Whole Foods has impressive variety, so I use it to bring out my inner foodie. Here’s what that looks like: I complete my grocery shopping at a thriftier location (maybe Trader Joe’s or Walmart), then swing over to Whole Foods to buy a few splurge items. Splurge items are a treat I don’t get to enjoy every week, so these trips are fun and special.

I make it a point to go to Whole Foods if:

  • My meal prep routine has become dull and I want ingredient inspiration.
  • I need fancy ingredients for a specific recipe.
  • I crave the joy of tasting foods I’ve never bought before.

Below is my list of foods I like to splurge on, coming in at less than $50:

Coffee is my morning staple, and I can’t start my day without it — 54% of Americans would agree. Buying quality, flavorful coffee can cost a fortune, so I save money by purchasing it in bulk. The trouble with bulk-buying coffee at other stores is the lack of variety. Whole Foods, on the other hand, has a wide variety of roasts and blends from across the American, African, Arabian and Pacific regions. Two tips to maximize freshness: 1) Check the “roasted on” date, and 2) Buy whole beans, which you can grind at home.

Price: $5.99 per pound ($11.99 per kilogram)

If you struggle to eat enough whole grains it could mean you haven’t found the right one. In that case, the whole grain bulk-bin aisle is your new BFF! If you find brown rice boring, try forbidden rice, rainbow quinoa, buckwheat groats, barley, amaranth, spelt flour or many other options. All these choices may feel intimidating, so I recommend you sample a small quantity of a different whole-grain weekly until you find one you like.

Price*: $3.75 per pound
*Price ranges: $0.99/lb for brown rice, $1.79-3.99/lb for other whole grains, $4.99/lb for quinoa.

Bars are convenient but can be very processed, too. So, when I find a bar with wholesome ingredients, a short and sweet ingredient list and not too much added sugar, I jump on it. Here’s what tops my list: KIND bars, RXBars and Health Warrior Chia Seed bars. Nutrition varies with flavor so always check the box before you buy. I find that most bars hover at the snack-friendly 100–200 calorie mark.

Price: Health Warrior Chia Bar – $1.59/bar
KIND Bar – $1.69/bar
RXBAR – $2.49/bar

You could get olive oil, but this is more fun: Visit the antipasti bar at Whole Foods and load up on pickled olives of all shapes and colors. Olives are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat plus fermented olives contain lactobacillus, a probiotic. The bar is a must-see for Mediterranean food lovers, and it’s not just for olives. The teeming spread includes artichoke hearts, pickled peppers, caper berries, roasted garlic and more. I mix-n-match my favorites using their smallest container, which works out to a bit under half a pound. Antipasti bar items can dress up salads, upgrade pasta dinners, elevate fruit-and-cheese platters — it’s up to your culinary imagination!

Price: $4.80 ($10.99/pound for all items at the antipasti bar)

Cheese is up there as my must-splurge food. It’s calorically-dense and should be savored, so I may as well invest more moola in my taste-buds. After all, we have a long standing love of cheese in this country — the average American ate 36 pounds of cheese in 2016, up from 27.3 pounds two decades earlier. Love may be an understatement: Vegans often tell me they miss cheese. Non-vegans often cite cheese as the reason they can’t go vegan. Thankfully, stores like Whole Foods carry a wide array of cheese and not just the dairy-kind. For vegans, its Treeline Artisanal Vegan Cheese is worth splurging on. For non-vegans, I like the Sweet Red Grass-Fed Cheese, which is creamy, sweet and out-of-this world.

Price: $6.99 for Treeline Artisanal Vegan Cheese and $5.85 for Sweet Red Grass-Fed Cheddar Cheese (Yes, I bought both!)

Even if you’re not vegetarian, it’s fun to try new foods including meat alternatives. Incredible product innovations are happening in the plant-based space, so you don’t have to settle for the bland veggie burgers of yesteryear. I sample plant-based proteins at least once a month and that doesn’t include the whole food sources like tofu, beans, nuts and seeds. My favorites have been Quorn Chick’n Patties, Beyond Meat Beast Burger and Amy’s Black Bean Veggie Burger. This week I tried The Jackfruit Company BBQ Jackfruit — not bad, but not a keeper either. If you like it, I won’t yuck your yum!

Price: $6.99

Fresh bread is splurge-worthy since it takes a ton of time, not to mention skill, for beginner bakers to get perfect results at home. I count myself squarely in this group. Some Whole Foods, like the one I went to, have an in-house bakery that churns out sourdough, ciabatta and challah breads that are studded with raisins, dusted with cinnamon or sprinkled with nuts. It knocks the socks off of eating sliced bread every day.

Price: $4.99

Dark chocolate is the hallmark treat of dietitians, so I won’t fail to mention Whole Foods’ extensive chocolate aisle, which makes an adult literally feel like a kid in a candy store. I buy a new bar every week or so, picking at it square-by-square for dessert at the end of long workdays. The quality (and sometimes price-point) of these bars really helps you slow down and savor the experience. A few of my favorite bars include Theo, Lily’s, Tcho and Hu Kitchen Hazelnut Butter Dark Chocolate, if you can find it.

Price: $3.49 for a Theo bar

And with that, I’m ending on a high note with a subtotal of $48.62. Until my next splurge trip, I will be relishing the remaining goodies.

What are the most splurge-worthy items at Whole Foods? Share yours in the comments below!

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


7 responses to “How a Nutritionist Spends $50 at Whole Foods”

  1. Avatar LeCheffre - Kaizen -21% says:

    Splurge? Why?
    Eggs. Get the good pasture raised eggs, probably $6/dozen. Get two of those.
    Ditch the coffee (dehydrates you, keeps you on a rollercoaster of caffeinated awake and decaffeinated crash), ditch the bars (I though we were eating Whole Foods), ditch the veggie burger (eat real animal proteins with real fats), don’t eat vegan cheese unless you’re a vegan. Ditch the bread (you don’t need the carbs) and ditch the whole grains (ditto). Buy some vegetables and some fish or some chicken. Or even, ground beef. And maybe some more cheese.

    • Avatar Jaleela Browder says:

      No fresh veggies or fruits on this list. This article could have been done better. Whole Foods has very good sales on in season fruits and veggies. I always buy a bunch of what ever is on sale in the produce department. And frozen organic veggies and berries.

      • Avatar LeCheffre - Kaizen -21% says:

        I feel like this nutritionist spent a lot of time on junk, and kind of ignored the point of the exercise. But that’s kind of a constant complaint about this author. WHOLE FOODS is the name of the store. Not “processed bars and stuff.”

      • Avatar Nadia says:

        She did say that she did the bulk of her regular shopping at Trader Joe’s, which has organic produce at a fraction of the price of Whole Foods. They also have organic frozen fruit, dark chocolate, Kind bars, vegan cheese, etc. at a much lower price than WF. Everyone makes choices when they shop.

  2. Avatar Julie Wade Wessley says:

    We’ll splurge without a second thought in their meat department. Always happy with their meat and seafood… better than the local butchers!

  3. Avatar Amber Quiroz says:

    I disagree, whole foods is a great place to shop for more than just splurge items, and the cost especially considering buying grassfed and organics is good and some times better than other retailers.

  4. Avatar Dave Newman says:

    Hah ! A Nutritionist you say you are. Try fruits, veggies, legumes and grain with the same $50 at WF and share a healthy reality. I eat vegan (no fake meat or cheese here), and I bet you can’t meet the challenge. Here’s your chance.

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