How to Get Out of Whole Foods Without Going Bankrupt

A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful, real food on a realistic budget.
  1. Shop mainly on the outside aisles.
    I'm talking about the bulk section, the produce section, the meat and seafood counters, and the dairy and egg refrigerator cases. Not only do these tend to be the healthiest items in the store, but Whole Foods also has a great selection in (and often very good sales on) the items in these departments. The prepared, processed, and packaged foods tend to be where the high-ticket items are. If you want affordable cookies, crackers, bread, and shampoo, head to Trader Joe's.
  2. At the meat and seafood departments, go with the cheapest items.
    Whole Foods has very high standards for all their products, so even their least expensive cuts of meat and seafood are very high quality. Opt for chicken thighs and drumsticks over breasts, and sirloin, flank, and skirt steaks over ribeye. Get the sole over the wild salmon.
  3. Ask the butchers and fishmongers to help you out.
    In addition to being knowledgeable about the products they sell, the people behind the meat and seafood counters are the ones who clean, de-bone, skin, filet, grind, and trim the proteins they sell. As such, don't be shy about asking them to do some of the prep work for you. If whole fish are on sale, buy them (they're much cheaper per pound than skinned, pre-cut fish filets or steaks), and have the fish monger clean, skin, and filet them for you, free of charge.
  4. Buy in-season produce for the best prices.
    There’s a simple reason why a locally grown tomato in July costs less than a flown-in-from-Chile tomato in January: airfare. When we buy in-season fruits and vegetables grown near where we live, they cost less because the produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Whole Foods generally has most of their produce available year-round, but they also work with local farms to bring in the best of the best when it's in season.
  5. Learn to love the bulk section
    Some of the best deals at Whole Foods can be found in the bins of the bulk section. When you buy in bulk, you are paying only for the food itself, not packaging, so the pricing is significantly lower than pre-packaged goods. It's great for when you need a lot of something, but it's also good for when you need only a little (why buy a 24-oz package of walnuts when you only need a quarter cup of them for a recipe?).
  6. Shop more often, but in smaller quantities.
    It means more frequent stops at the store, but when you can, this is one of the most cost-effective ways to shop. Since it requires you to grocery shop on an as-needed basis (as opposed to filling a cart with enough food for two weeks), you are far more likely to actually use all of what you buy (how many times has the lettuce you optimistically bought a week ago been left to turn to mush in your crisper because you never got around to eating it?).