For the last year or so, clean eating has been very important to me. This post over on my running site 'Just a Road' explains what I mean by clean eating, but in a nutshell it basically means that I don't want anything unnatural in my body. No chemicals, GMOs, artificial sweeteners, factory farmed animal protein, etc. I'm not following any particular diet plan, I just don't like crap.
I do shop a lot at Whole Foods, and let me tell you, you don't have to spend your 'Whole Paycheck' (I'll pause for the guffawing) to get what you need and eat a clean diet. Not only does this go for 'Whole Foods' but any other health food store chain out there. The bottom line is, it is very hard to find clean food at your standard run of the mill chain grocery stores. Even the bakery items, like the bread, are made with high fructose corn syrup, so if you're looking for clean foods free of artificial ingredients and GMOs, you will have to utilize specialty grocers like Whole Foods. And if done right, you can keep your regular food budget and not feel like you're doing this.
It actually amazes me that not a lot of people take advantage of the ways Whole Foods wants you to save money. Last week, I went, coupons in hand, sale flyer tucked under my arm, and when the cashier hit total, he looked at me like I had three heads, because here I had a receipt that was about 2ft long, a cart full of groceries...all for under $100.
Tip #1: It's a specialty store, so treat it like one
I think the biggest mistake people make is that they think they can just walk into a Whole Foods or similar store and shop like they always do, only buy it in organic form. Sure you can do that, but you'll either die of sticker shock, or have to panhandle for gas money to get home because you've spent all of your dollah dollah billz on crazy expensive stuff. My first suggestion is to go in for one thing, say...Coconut Oil, because you really can't buy that at the Shop N Save, and take an hour to get the lay of the land, and see what types of things you can buy there on the cheap. You can probably buy your regular ol' produce at the grocery store, even organic for a lot cheaper. I stick to the specialty produce like endive, morel mushrooms, organic bagged salad, and the fresh organic dressings. Same goes for dry cereals like Kashi, organic pasta, etc. Start by supplementing your normal grocery shopping and do some research. Soon you'll be a pro and know exactly where they keep the $5 wine. (It's there.)
Tip #2: Coupons, Monthly and Weekly Deals
The Whole Deal is something you can find in store or online with coupons and other fun stuff to help you navigate the best deals at the best times. There are also coupons you can print and cut anytime and use them for some amazing deals. For example, there was a coupon for $1.50 off the house 365 brand coffee that was $9.99 for the big daddy can. So basically, you just got a whole lotta coffee that's way better quality than Folgers for less than $10. Score. The best thing to watch for is what's going on in your local store. I'm around three different stores, and they're all different. You can see what's happening weekly in your neck of the woods and find some really great deals. Like, a couple of weeks ago they had grass fed free range Top Sirloin for $7.99 a pound. That's $2 less than Aldi had regular ol' run of the mill Top Sirloin for. Aldi. Whole Foods was cheaper than ALDI, people. This week my local store has marinated lobster skewers for $4 each and all natural coconut shampoo and conditioner for $6 each. That's pretty rad. Pantene shampoo and conditioner is more than $6 a pair. Sign up for the newsletter too, because you'll get some fun stuff delivered to your email, and if you use the same debit/credit card for every purchase, fun things arrive in your mailbox like $10 off a $50 purchase.
Tip #3: The house brand is everything
WF's house brand '365' is awesome for basic staples. GMO free, no nasties, and natural, I totally supplement things like soda, dairy, chips, etc. with the house brand. The soda is made with cane sugar and natural flavors, not High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the chips, pretzels, crackers, and dairy are the same price if not cheaper than the stuff you're already buying at the grocery store loaded with GMOs, and other icky nast stuff.
Tip #4: Visit the freezer section
Whole Foods is awesome because everything is ZOMGSSOFRESH and you just want to stand at the meat counter and order everything in cute brown paper. All of a sudden, you're wondering why you thought a Bison Ribeye at $24.99 a pound was an intelligent purchase, and now you're eating Ramen for the rest of the week. Yes, by all means go with the fresh when you can, but if you head on over to their freezer cases in each department, you can score some awesome deals. Frozen wild caught salmon is always a steal, as well as their frozen sirloin steaks in the meat department. They're perfectly portioned and last night, I had the BEST cut of meat on my steak caesar salad and it was one of those $4.75 8oz frozen sirloins. Meatballs, pizza, ice cream, those freezers are full of good deals.
Tip #5: Don't get overwhelmed
It took me a solid year to not be intimidated or overwhelmed by the layout, hustle and bustle, and super eager staff at Whole Foods. I think I had, "Am I doing it wrong?" on repeat in my head as I wandered around the place. Now I've got the layout memorized, I know what goes on sale when, and my kids are so comfortable, they make a beeline for the juice bar and the free bushels of fruit they have out for the kids. This is why I suggest maybe starting with a few things on your list, say replacing your soda and chips, and build from there. Don't be afraid of the hippies. They're there to help. Once you're comfortable, finding deals and scoring some awesome food is going to be like a sport. The first time you walk up to the cashier with a stack of coupons and they have to ask a manager what the hell you're handing them, you're going to feel like you won the lottery. Have fun!