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Healthy Tips of the Month

Cutting Food Costs: Best, Worst Bulk Food Buys

What are the best healthy grocery deals at warehouse stores?

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Expert Column

When you step foot into one of those membership warehouse stores, known for their great grocery prices on bulk food items, it feels like you've entered another world. Everything is enormous, from the ceiling space and shopping carts to the cereal boxes, bags of nuts and rice, and jugs of cooking oil.

The whole idea around buying in bulk is that it saves you money on food shopping. For example, a huge bag containing 6-foot-long wheat hoagie rolls costs $3.43 -- about what a bag of 6-inch rolls would cost in the grocery store (on a good day). The warehouse stores are filled with cheap food bargains like this, but which items are truly great deals, both for your health and your wallet?

Consider the following: For about $11 at a warehouse store, you can buy a two-month supply of Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pies (if you eat one a week). Getting a meal for $1.40 sounds like a great deal. But is it the best buy in terms of your health? Each pot pie contains 38 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat and 1,100 milligrams of sodium, along with 640 calories. That's a steep nutritional price to pay for the 18 grams of protein hidden in the pot pie.

A better nutritional deal would be the box of frozen wild Alaskan salmon (marinated and seasoned) with six individually wrapped fillets you can easily cook on the grill or in the oven. Each 6-ounce fillet has 14 grams of mostly healthy fat (rich in omega-3s), 2 grams of saturated fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, and a whopping 30 grams of protein. These six entrees will run you about $14 -- or $2.40 apiece.

Best and Worst Bulk Food Buys

The good news is that, in almost every grocery category of your favorite warehouse store, there are better choices to be made in terms of:

For example, I chose the "best" bottled pasta sauce listed below (Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil and Garlic)because it's packed with tomatoes and also includes a healthy dose of olive oil. Recent research has shown that our bodies can make better use of the phytochemicals in tomatoes if the tomatoes are cooked and eaten along with some smart fat.

Of course, the "best" and "worst" bulk food buys will vary depending on location, but this list may give you some ideas that apply to the choices available your in neck of the woods.

CHIPS: LUNCH PACKS 

Best: Smart Mix Variety Pack (Lays) with Baked Lays Potato Crisps, Baked Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream, Baked Doritos Nacho Cheese

Worst: Frito-Lay Variety Pack

LUNCH SNACK PACKS 

Best: Chex Mix Traditional

Worst:  Cheez-It

ON-THE-GO SNACKS 

Best: Planters Nut-rition Heart-Healthy Mix (peanuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, and hazelnuts)

Kar's Trail Mix (raisins, peanuts, sunflower kernels, almonds)

Worst: Mrs. Fields Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies

MICROWAVE POPCORN 

Best: Pop Secret 100-Calorie Pop Butter

Worst: Act II Butter Lover's

SOMETHING TO CHEW ON 

Best: Trident Sugarless Gum

Worst: Sugary Candy (like Blow Pops and Air Heads)

SOMETHING HOT AND SAVORY 

Best: Healthy Choice Variety Pack (chicken noodle soup and chicken with rice soup)

Progresso Light Vegetable Combo

Worst: Chef Boyardee Variety Pack (with Beeferoni and Spaghetti with Meatballs)

BOTTLED PASTA SAUCES 

Best: Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic (made with organic puree, organic diced tomatoes in juice, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic onions, and more)

Worst: Classico Creamy Alfredo

BREAKFAST CEREALS 

Best: Kashi Go Lean Crunch

Worst: Frosted Flakes

GRANOLA BARS

Best: Kashi TLC Chewy Granola Bars

Fiber One Oats & Chocolate

Worst: Kudos Variety Pack

DRINKS TO GO 

Best: Low Sodium V8 100% Vegetable Juice

Worst: Kool-Aid Jammers

COOKING FATS

Best: Member's Mark Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wesson Canola Oil

Worst: Baker's and Chef's Creamy Liquid Shortening

CHEESE 

Best: 50% Light Cabot Cheddar Cheese (white)

Worst: Cheddar Cheese (regular types, assorted brands)

MEATS

Best: Leaner cuts in the fresh meat section (like skinless poultry, pork tenderloin, and London broil)  

Worst: Emeril's Bierhaus with Cheddar Links

FROZEN MEAT ENTREES 

Best:  Member's Mark Turkey Breast Stuffed (with mushrooms, pine nuts, and cranberries)

Worst:  Barber Foods Stuffed Chicken Breasts Cordon Bleu

FOR THE GRILL 

Best: Barber Foods Chicken Grillables (chicken breast flavored with garlic, onion and seasoning)

Worst: Jensen Angus Beef Patties

QUICK CHICKEN

Best: Member's Mark Grilled Chicken Breast Strips

Worst: Tyson Homestyle Chicken Tenderloin Fritters

Resources:

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