Is paying for a Costco membership every year worth it? Do you like to buy your food in gigantic bags and boxes to save money? If the answer to the second question is “yes,” then the answer to your first question is also “yes.” And many Americans agree! According to Wikipedia, more than 105 million Americans had a Costco membership in 2020. They have a wide variety of foods (usually sold in massive quantities.) But which foods lining those giant warehouse-style aisles are the healthiest foods at Costco?
In case you’ve never been to one, Costco offers food and other items packed in large sizes making it ideal for families. Usually (but not always) these larger pack sized items are also cheaper on a weight basis compared to smaller pack sizes at other grocery stores. Costco doesn’t have a reputation as a “health food store.” But you’d be surprised. They provide many organic food options that are competitively priced.
As with any grocery shopping, it is important to go into Costco with a grocery list based on meals you plan to cook for the week. Otherwise, you may load up on packaged snack foods but still feel like there is nothing to cook with for meals when you get home. (Personal experience on this!)
Shop these healthiest foods at Costco and you can put together easy, wholesome meals and snacks everyone will love.
1. Medjool Dates
Medjool dates are considered by most to be the best type of date fruit because they are moist and have a deep caramel flavor. Besides being naturally sweet, they also provide a source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
A benefit of getting a large container of medjool dates from Costco is they are shelf stable. No need to worry about using them before they go bad.
2. Almond Flour
Almond flour can be a healthy gluten free substitute for regular wheat flour. However, even if you do not need gluten free, there are other reasons to use almond flour in place of regular flour. Almonds are a good source of fiber, protein, vitamin E and heart healthy fats. Using almond flour can provide these health benefits.
A down side with using almond flour is the cost. It is substantially more expensive than regular flour. However, buying almond flour at Costco is usually one of the cheapest options and, of course, the package is larger than most other stores offer.
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3. Organic Frozen Fruit
Another one of the healthiest foods Costco offers is a variety of affordable organic frozen fruit options: mixed berries, cut up mangos, pitted cherries, blueberries, etc. Keeping frozen fruit on hand in the freezer means you can enjoy the health benefits of fruit without worrying about using them up before they go bad.
Frozen produce is often overlooked as “less than” in terms of nutritional value compared to fresh produce. However, frozen produce is just as, or sometimes more, nutritious as fresh produce.
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4. Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
Plain Greek yogurt is considered a nutrient dense food; it is a good source of gut healthy probiotics, protein and minerals. On top of these health benefits, organic dairy products have been shown to be higher in omega 3’s and vitamin E compared to conventional dairy products.
Plain yogurt can be used in a variety of dishes- sweet or savory. Choosing this plain yogurt over already flavored yogurt is a way to lower added sugars in the diet. You can sweeten the yogurt at home with a bit of jam, honey or fruit.
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5. Nuts and Nutbutter
Purchasing nut and nut butter at Costco can seem expensive up front, but it is usually cheaper in the long run compared to purchasing smaller packed sizes. Depending on preference, Costco offers a variety of nuts and nut butters including:
- Raw almonds
- Macadamia nuts
- Mixed nuts
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Mixed nut butter with seeds
Nuts and nut butter offer a healthy dose of protein, heart healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They can serve as a snack by themselves or added to fruit, yogurt or salads.
Storage tip: keep nuts in the refrigerator or freezer to increase shelf life. To save room, divide a bag of nuts in half- store half in the refrigerator in an airtight container, half in the freezer in an airtight container. In general, raw nuts can stay fresh for up to six months stored in the refrigerator and for up to one year stored in the freezer.
6. Chia and/or Hemp Seeds
Both hemp and chia seeds are good plant sources of omega 3’s, fiber, protein, antioxidants and minerals. Hemp seeds can be eaten on their own, while chia seeds are usually added to a liquid base for consumption. Both can be used to top salads, yogurt, oatmeal, added to smoothies or added to baked goods.
Similar to nuts, store chia and hemp seeds in the refrigerator to prolong shelf life. Buying a larger package of these at Costco will last a while!
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7. Fresh Organic Leafy Greens
Buying locally grown fruits and vegetables is the best choice when they are in season. Buying fresh, organic leafy greens at a good price from Costco is a great choice when local is not an option or convenient. Fresh leafy greens at Costco can either be spinach or a spring mix, depending what you like better. When purchasing large containers of fresh produce, it is all the more important to plan how to use it before it goes bad.
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8. Healthy Costco Chicken Options
There are a variety of convenient chicken options available at Costco that can serve as a healthy, low fat protein base for any meal. Purchasing one or several options can give a versatile template for meal choices throughout the weeks. The non-raw chicken options that just need to be heated can serve for even more convenience throughout the week. For packaged, cooked chicken products, check labels and ingredients. Choose products that have minimal added sugar, salt and preservatives.
One of the healthiest foods at Costco, their chicken options can include:
- Organic raw chicken breasts
- Cooked rotisserie chicken
- Cooked chicken sausages or breakfast links (just need to be heated)
- Kevin’s Paleo Thai Style Coconut Chicken (just needs to be heated)
- Frontera Grilled Chicken Fajita (just needs to be heated)
- Grilled Chicken Skewers
9. Organic Quinoa
Costco organic quinoa comes in a large 4.5 pound package, so purchasing this can go a long way for cooking many meals. Quinoa is actually a seed but most often referred to as a grain because it tastes and cooks like other grains.
Quinoa is a quality plant source of protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins which is why it has risen as a global nutrition super star. It is easy to cook and can be made ahead of time to use throughout the week. This makes it one of the healthiest foods at Costco (and anywhere.)
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10. Organic Maple Syrup
Costco has arguably one of the cheapest options for real, organic maple syrup. Real maple syrup (not the cheap, artificial stuff) is a sweet, surprising source of antioxidants and minerals. In fact, a tablespoon of maple syrup provides about one third of the daily value of manganese.However, even with these nutrient benefits, maple syrup should still be consumed in moderation. It can serve as a healthier sweetener option for baking or to flavor yogurt, oatmeal or used in sauces.
Meal Plan with the Healthiest Foods at Costco:
This meal plan with meals and snack ideas provide recipes that use these 10 healthiest ingredients from Costco. These examples show how these healthy ingredients can be used as key building blocks for creating healthy meals throughout the week.
Healthiest foods at Costco Breakfast or snack ideas:
- Banana & Berry Hemp Seed Pudding: uses frozen berries, hemp, chia seeds and either dates or maple syrup.
- Chocolate Spinach Muffins: uses fresh spinach, almond flour, maple syrup and hemp seeds and can be cut up and served on top of plain Greek yogurt. Nut butter can also be slathered on these muffins for a more filling meal.
- Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding: uses chia seeds, plain Greek yogurt and maple syrup
- Almond Cherry Smoothie: uses frozen cherries (or berries), fresh spinach and nut butter.
- Greek Yogurt Green Smoothie: uses fresh spinach and Greek yogurt
- Dates with or without nut butter: craving something sweet? Eating a date (or two) can satisfy a sweet craving. Option to tear a date in half and dip each half in nut butter for a satisfying snack.
- No Bake Brownies: uses dates, almond flour, maple syrup and nut butter
- Greek Yogurt Parfaits: Layer Greek yogurt with frozen berries, cut up dates and nuts or nut butter. Option to drizzle maple syrup on top.
Healthiest foods at Costco Lunch or Dinner Ideas:
- Balsamic Chicken Salad with Lemon Quinoa: uses quinoa, chicken breasts and fresh leafy greens.
- Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad: uses chicken breasts and plain Greek yogurt. Option to serve on top of leafy greens.
- Pistachio Date Quinoa Salad: uses quinoa, pistachios (or other nuts can be used) and dates.
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad: uses quinoa, leafy greens and sliced almonds.
- Chicken & Spinach Skillet Pasta: uses chicken breasts and fresh spinach.
One of the benefits of shopping Costco is prices per weight are generally cheaper than smaller pack sizes. Costco also offers many organic options that are reasonably priced compared to smaller grocery stores. Buying healthy items at Costco is possible, and these items can serve as base ingredients for economical, healthy meals and snacks throughout the week.
As with any grocery shopping, it can be easy to load up on packaged snacks at Costco. However, focusing on purchasing healthy foods that can be used for creating meals is key for budgeting and easy cooking.
Holly Klamer MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian and freelance nutrition and writer. She attended Colorado State University where she received her MS and RD certifications. She specializes in sports nutrition, culinary nutrition, disease management/prevention, and disordered eating. She enjoys traveling, trying new foods, running, and spending time outside.