The Costco must-buy items on our list that allow our small family (no, you don't have to be feeding a crowd) to stock up on whole foods and eat healthy on a budget.
I'm always curious about what other people buy at stores like Costco that have more limited choices than large supermarkets. What if I'm missing out on a good deal/product? What should I be buying there versus a traditional store?
I don't always have time to wander when I'm there (I'm a "get in, get out, nobody gets hurt" kind of Costco shopper - I don't even stop for samples *gasp*), so I want to make sure I'm taking advantage of all the store has to offer.
But you know what I've found? Most of these "favorite things to buy at Costco" lists are full of mainly snack foods. Many of which are highly processed, no matter their "healthy" labels. Since nobody needs to buy these items, it's hardly a ringing testimony to getting your membership money's worth at Costco.
However, when you stick with real, whole foods that you can use to make healthy meals, the bargains are often so good that they may pay for your membership within a short time ($55/year for the basic, $110/year for executive).
Or you may be like us- we pay for our executive membership mostly with gas, which allows us to take advantage of Costco's food prices and quality without feeling like we have to buy a ton (more on this later -including the math).
You don't need to be feeding a huge family to shop at Costco, either. We're a family of 2-3 now as our kids are in college and out on their own and the foods on this list are easily stored in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Most are already separated into smaller containers you can just cut apart, and it's easy to repackage larger items to suit your needs.
So listed below are more than 35 Costco must-buy items for healthy kitchens focused on real foods - including affordable organic options - to help you stretch your food budget whether you live in a household of 2 or 10.
These are the items we buy regularly and I hope you find a gem you've missed that you can add to your list (or even to convince you the membership is worth it!).
Costco Must-Buy Items
1. Pure Organic Maple Syrup - at less than .35/oz. this is the cheapest you'll probably find real maple syrup anywhere. Please, please, give this a try if you use fake maple syrup - I promise you'll come to prefer it! It's also a real-food sweetener that I use in many recipes like maple-mustard chicken (or bites), apple butter, cranberry sauce, and oatmeal chocolate-chip truffles.
2. Honey - either Kirkland Honey or the raw honey option that's often available. After the embarrassment of the Kirkland honey from China a few years ago cut with corn syrup, they've put guarantees in place that it's the real thing, so I feel comfortable buying honey here when we run out of my brother-in-law's yummy local honey. I used this to naturally sweeten sweet chili sauce, lemon-flaxseed muffins, peanut butter cups, to make homemade honey mustard dressing, and of course, granola.
3. Olive Oil - the organic is priced so good it's in anyone's reach and when you're making your own salad dressings (this vinaigrette 4 ways is so easy, you'll probably never buy dressing again), you'll go through a lot, so buying a larger bottle, even with smaller households, results in huge savings.
4. Pecans - pecans are SO expensive at the supermarket, this will always be a deal in comparison. I could've put pecans in either this section or the snack section because when I make these maple sweetened and spicy pecans or these spiced nuts with them, it's our go-to afternoon snack or salad topper. But I do like to add these to baked goods, of course, like muffins or desserts. Keep the package in the fridge or freezer and use just what you need.
5. Walnuts - this is another staple nut that is in our freezer for baking chocolate chip walnut pie, adding to no-fail zucchini bread, soft chocolate chip cookies, and more. Rich in omega-3s, we add a handful to the top our our morning granola (sweetened lightly with honey & maple syrup!) daily, and often use them in salads.
6. Chia Seeds - if you're wanting to add these little power-house seeds to your diet, this is a great place to get them. We only add them to granola and some baked goods, so the bag lasts us almost 2 months. Store in the fridge.
7. Hemp Seeds - we've recently added hemp seeds to our granola for the health benefit and because they are actually really tasty! I will add them to smoothies, too, which I like a lot better than chia seeds.
8. Vanilla - this large bottle will save you a ton over the small supermarket bottles, it better quality, and lasts a long time in the cupboard. Pure vanilla is one of the things that makes this 4-ingredient homemade chocolate syrup so good.
9. Yeast - those little square packages of yeast in the stores are WAY more than buying it in bulk, whether it's at Costco or from a bin in another store. At less than .15/oz., the large package at Costco will allow you to make your own easy sandwich bread, artisan bread, and no-wait pizza crusts to your heart's desire. All while staying fresh for a long time in your freezer.
10. Course Ground Black Pepper - a great price for hard-to-find coarse ground black pepper, which is my favorite to cook with (less dust for sneezing, more pepper flavor). They also sell it fine ground, if you prefer.
11. Kirkland’s Ground Saigon Cinnamon - well-known in the foodie world for it's flavor and at the low price of $2.50 (!) I feel comfortable using a tablespoon or more in our granola (did you know cinnamon is really healthy for you?).
12. Himalayan Sea Salt - good quality sea salt is a staple of course, and this is one of the best.
13. Natural Peanut Butter - your choice of organic, Adam's or our favorite made with Valencia peanuts (it is SO good). You'll also find great deals on other nut butters if you don't do peanut. If you don't like stirring part (don't be fooled by 'natural' no-stir options, they have stuff added to them) check out this trick for stirring natural nut butters that helps it stay together better. And you do NOT have to refrigerate nut butters. It will help them not to separate as much, but also makes them harder to spread, so we never refrigerate them.
14. Kalamata olives (or stuffed green olives) - these have become a staple for us since we really enjoy Mediterranean flavored foods like Greek Pizza, Mediterranean scramble, and Greek tuna salad. They last forever in the fridge AND when they're gone, use the balsamic-vinegar juice as a base for vinaigrette!
15. Organic canned diced tomatoes - unless you home can your own, every healthy pantry should have cans of tomatoes for recipes like homemade tomato soup, spicy beef, tomato, and corn stew, and more. This is a great price for organic.
17. Organic Bullion - while our freezer has a good store of chicken and turkey stock, I like keeping this bullion for recipes that only require 1/2 to 1 cup like tasty rice and long-cooked green beans. It's SO convenient.
18. Butter - while you may find butter on loss-leader sales (usually with a limit of 1 or 2 lbs.), this is consistently a good price.
19. Eggs - you have a choice of up to 5 dozen all the way down to just 1-1/2 dozen of organic eggs, so something for everyone here. Use eggs to make easy dinners of frittatas like chicken-spinach, sausage-chard, and potato-caramelized onion.
21. Real Parmesan - bought in the block, not shredded (which has non-caking additives), this seems expensive, but that's because it's so big. It lasts forever (okay, 6 months) and includes the rind which is a fun addition to vegetable soups. You can make Caesar salad and dressing, parmesan rice cakes, and fish with parmesan-herb crust to your heart's content.
Fresh or Frozen Protein Items
22. Italian Sausage Links - such a deal on a package of four 5-link packages (easy to cut apart for smaller families). You can use these to have dinner on the table in 30 minutes with sheet pan roasted sausages and vegetables, or use them as a base for Italian sausage vegetable soup.
24. Rotisserie Chicken - it took me awhile to realize this $5/3 lb. chicken deal was the best thing ever. Now we cannot leave without at least one, but often two so there's enough to stash 1-2 cup portions of cooked chicken in the freezer for quick and easy rotisserie chicken dinners.
Fresh & Dried Produce Items
25. Organic Carrots - cheap and almost always sweeter than other carrots (especially 'baby' carrots), you may think this bag would be too big for smaller families. Never fear: they last a long time (like months) in the fridge and you can use them up in carrot-heavy dishes like lemon-garlic grated baked carrots, slow cooker cassoulet, and of course lots of vegetable plates served with ranch or feta dip.
26. Dried Cranberries - I know these have added sugar, so we go easy on them and this big package will last us months and months. They are used to top my morning granola and in recipes like cranberry crumb muffins and broccoli slaw. They also make up a part of one of our favorite winter salads, along with feta, sweet onions, and nuts topping spinach or romaine.
27. Organic Raisins - some in my family prefer these to cranberries in granola and they're also used in maybe my favorite recipe ever, addictive tomato chutney, as well as for snacking with nuts. And the price is way below what you'd pay for raisins elsewhere.
28-29. Organic Romaine & Organic Spinach - we most often get romaine since it lasts such a long time in the fridge and we like our Caesear salads. With menu planning, though, you can choose to make lots of spinach recipes to use up the larger container within the week before it goes bad. In addition to a base for salads, try one pot Italian sausage with spinach, chicken-spinach frittata, or curried turkey rice soup.
30. Sweet Onions - I think these make most things taste better and it's a sad day when Costco doesn't have them (which happens occasionally with seasonal produce). Use these to make a homemade onion dip that will have you licking the bowl.
31. Sweet Peppers (red, yellow and/or orange) - I love, love sweet peppers and use them in roasted vegetables for dinner (like this with chicken or this with sausage) as well as salads and vegetable plates.
32. Fruit: pineapples, mandarin oranges, grapes, bananas - we typically only buy one or two of these fruits, as this is one area where we can typically find better deals elsewhere in smaller packages that won't go bad. The pineapple deal can't usually be beat, though, and we have no problem finishing the mandarin oranges and grapes.
Snack & Drink Items
33. Almonds - I used to buy the roasted almonds, but when I discovered the raw almonds were cheaper for a larger package, and that roasting almonds with this recipe is WAY better I never looked back. While we occasionally will buy the mixed nuts, I always make sure to have a bag of raw almonds to roast for my go-to snack and to add to our granola.
34. Organic Tortilla Chips - in order to steer clear of corn GMOs, I have only bought organic corn chips for years. That gets expensive, though, for a staple we use for easy haystack or nacho dinners and to eat with either homemade canned salsa or fresh salsa. This big bag though, was too much for our family even when our kids were with us full time - until I learned this trick to keep them fresh. Now I always get to take advantage of this great price on organic chips!
35. Coffee - there are lots of coffee options at Costco that will save money if you are a coffee drinker. We like the basic San Fransisco brand French roast they've carried for years and occasionally we'll buy a bag of Starbucks when they're offering an instant coupon.
Buying Gas Reward
While not to do with the kitchen, I mentioned that we almost pay for our membership just from gas. This allows us to take advantage of the food deals we want without feeling like we have to do too much (since we know our membership is paid for through gas alone).
You can save and earn on gas two ways:
- Costco gas usually the cheapest around, beating others by at least .05 and sometimes up to .20!
- Use a rewards card to get 3-4% back (we use Costco's card- 4% cash-back on gas - but any rewards card that pays you a a good percentage for gas will work).
Here's our example: $200/mo. gas budget x 12 months = $2,400 and 4% of that is $96.00, which pays completely for a Basic Membership and almost pays for an Executive Membership (which is what we have, because it also pays back for a double-dip).
Since we easily pay for our membership this way we can take advantage of Costco's food prices and quality even though we are a small household. So unless you don't have a car, it really is financially feasible for most households.