How I went From Hating Aldi, to doing most of my shopping there!
I know in the past I’ve been absolutely, adamantly, not in favor of shopping at ALDI USA It’s had a really bad reputation for quite some time as a crappy discount grocer both here and abroad, and I once compared it to shopping for food at the dollar store. Now? I do almost ALL OF MY SHOPPING THERE. What’s Changed? What Do I buy? What do I AVOID?
First, a little back story. My first exposure to Aldi was as a teen. My family shopped at the Trenton location almost exclusively. I basically lived on discounted, off brand Aldi: toaster waffles, french toast sticks, maple flavored syrup, cheese flavored nacho chips, tinned ravioli and of course … taquitos, jalapeno poppers, chicken nuggets, ranch dressing and soda. I lived a super healthy lifestyle right?
Fast forward several years. My second son was in diapers. I was curious because I’d heard a lot of good things from other mothers. I’d already started, but not fully transitioned into our clean eating, real food, wholesome every day lifestyle. I walked into Aldi excited to see what I’d find. I walked out with a pack of hamburger patty’s and nothing more. Several years passed again and here I am with another son in diapers. (Aldi diapers to be specific)
About a year ago now, I stepped back into the very same Aldi here in the Poconos. The first few times the experience just wasn’t anything special. I’d grab some produce, discount candy, and random home goods that were just too adorable to pass up! After three or four trips I found myself buying more and more, and after a bit of training on my part. I’ve come to love Aldi and I do a great deal of my shopping there now.
First off, I watch their weekly ads online, I look for things on special. I decide based on the flyer whether or not its worth going in. Having a “treasure hunt” frame of mind helps me to focus in on what I want. I always have a list! You need a list to stay on budget. Write up your meal plan based on what you have at home already, and look to buy what you need. So, if your new to Aldi, or if your looking to find the best choices for your family, if you’re a food traditionalist going to Aldi here’s some things that are good to know…
- Produce (and many products) will always vary. Organic produce is especially fleeting. You will not always find organic options but some are pretty much a sure bet. (bananas, green salad mixes, sometimes grapes, sometimes apples, usually carrots sticks, cherry tomatoes. Frozen berries) Aldi is infamous for having some so/so produce selection. It seems to spoil quicker than from other places, but if you process it or use it up within a week, it’s fine. Be sure to just be mindful of everything you pick. At times I will put back something organic in place for something conventional because the organic version looks like crap. Shelf stable products will change seasonally, some things you will see once and never again. (IE: I saw organic un-bleached flour ONE TIME. and never again. Your store will only stock what sells.) You’ll see other folks claim that Aldi stock is always consistent… it’s not. It’s not always as advertised, it’s come and go.
- READ EVERY LABEL. Part of my transition to shopping at Aldi was rough because of the label situation. I compulsively read labels and its time consuming. Most of my exposure to Aldi in the past was negative because people would brag about how awesomely cheap the junk food is. I try to not buy junk food, so that’s part of why I found it useless to shop there. Label reading became too much for me at times. They have announced to avoid more than 150 ingredients in some of their stock. But not all of it. I try to avoid most processed items, but even items such as a “fresh pork loin” or “fresh shrimp” will contain nitrates. “Never Any” sausages will have sugar or some sort of dodgy additives. Other meats contain MSG, preservatives and who knows what galore. (There are good options though! I’ll cover that in a second.) Do not rely on the “organic” or “natural” labels to guide you. Its a good sign, but they can be deceiving. Just because something is natural organic, does not mean it is a good choice. I would never recommend an organic, over processed item, over a fresh conventional item. Which leads me to the LiveG Free stuff. Yes, they have an EXTENSIVE gluten free line of products. However, they are not natural or healthy simply because they are gluten-free. Be wary of these products, often the first or second ingredients are sugar. There’s preservatives and very little nutrition in most of this product line. (I like the flax crackers and sometimes I buy #2 the cocoa cookies) Also… holy expensive! It is probably cheaper than other gluten-free lines, but … youch. Homemade is best whenever possible. Whole foods are even better. Read the labels. Regularly. Just like any other retailer, products change from time to time.
- Don’t Expect To Find the Variety of a Regular Grocery Mart- If you want fermented plums, ginger, non-typical varieties of produce or anything beyond basics… you’ll need to plan accordingly. This is actually what saves me the most money! I go in for produce. I come out with produce. A lot of the “fluff” is not tempting to me.
- Don’t Forget your Quarter. I have my sacred “Aldi Quarter” in my car. Unlike most grocers with their wandering shopping carts and numerous buggy stalls, Aldi keeps all of their carts at the front of the store. To obtain one, you need a quarter. In this age of credit cards and digital everything, I rarely have actual cash with me so I make a point to never lose my ONE quarter. (Just last year credit card payment options were added, and that was a major bonus for me. I don’t use debit, cash or check so . . . Credit card payment for the win!)
- Bring your own bags or boxes. They sell reusable bags or disposable bags there. But if you forget or don’t plan for bags, you might be a little shocked. Personally, one of my other primary shopping resources is the wholesale club. It’s not a huge deal to not have bags for me. (if you live in an apartment or a setting where there’s a convenience issue, you’ll want your bags)
Now Onto the Good Stuff. What do you buy? I’m listing things below that I don’t necessarily buy, but they DO SELL with natural or organic options. Things such as applesauce, ice cream, or jams I don’t typically buy at all. Things such as Organic Peanut Butter, dry spices or Olives I buy elsewhere most of the time.
The Clean Eating Aldi Shopping Guide
(In Order of Their appearance in my local store)
- Moser Roth Chocolates- (EXTRA Dark. Ingredients are simple, clean and comparable to Lindt. Avoid the crazy gooey brownie fudge, toffee bit, whatever crunches. The basic MOSER ROTH line is clean and $1.99)
- Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruit- Avoid flavored nut varieties, trail mixes or blends. There is a simply natural line of nut mixes that cost more just because its pre-mixed. I buy several bags of a variety of nuts , seeds and fruits and mix up my own trail mix. (The dried fruit does typically contain sugar.) I like the salted roasted almonds, salted cashews, peanuts, sunflower kernels, dry cherries, dry blueberries, pecans, shelled pistachios, and dried bananas.
- Organic/Natural Tortilla Chips, Sweet Potato Chips & Lunch Box Snacks – They sell organic pre-popped corn, kale chips and a variety of organic snacks. I buy the fruit strips/twists. Tortilla chips. Sometimes sweet potato chips. I also buy Clancy’s pork rinds. (no they are not organic. but. pork rinds.) They sell fruit pouches, disposable apple sauces, and a wide variety of granola type bars. From time to time they have a “KIND bar” knock off that’s pretty good. Organic Salsa is grouped at our store with the chips. There is an organic variety that typically has sugar in it. Recently they added two more organic varieties that do not contain sugar. (Important to note if you are doing the WHOLE 30 program) The Live Gfree flax crisp crackers are good too.
- Nut Butters, Maple Syrup and Honey – They have organic almond butter and peanut butter both. I buy their almonds to make my own sugar free almond butter. The varieties I’ve always seen at our store have sugar. The peanut butter is available honey sweetened or unsweetened.Their wildflower honey is good if raw is not available. (I buy most of our maple syrup and honey elsewhere.)
- Baking Goods – Flax Meal, Raw Sugar, Chia Seeds, Cartons of Coconut and Almond Milks for “just in case.”
- Oils, Herbs, Spices Etc. – Apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil, olives, sea salt, pepper and organic spices. (last I checked they had organic: garlic powder, Italian seasoning, cayenne, cinnamon and cumin.) AVOID- most of their sauces. The hot sauce, soy sauce, and a wide variety of their dressings that would be seemingly clean, have preservatives. The organic dressings are about $1.99 compared to other organic brands that cost upwards of $5, but they do contain canola and/or soy oils. They have an organic ketchup that’s great if you’re in a pinch and need a small bottle.
- Cereals Hot & Cold- There’s organic options for granola, cold cereal and oatmeal. Shredded wheat is relatively clean. Most of the organic varieties of cereals I’ve found to be over priced or over sugared though. I buy “conventional” CHEX knock off cereal from time to time. It’s got preservatives but an obscenely low amount of sugar and its naturally gluten-free. (I do primarily buy Nature’s Path online though)
- Coffee- Organic K-Cups , maybe organic ground coffee? … I don’t like pre-ground coffee. The organic k-cups run about $5 for a 12 pack.
- Dairy/Eggs- There’s organic whole milk and organic reduced fat milk comparable to Horizon milk. It’s usually available for $2.99 per half gallon. I do still buy raw milk over processed milk for a variety of reasons, but if i’m making yogurt or just need something to squeak us by until our next milk order, I buy it. It’s no worse than any other store bought organic milk. They sell Organic full fat plain yogurt, or vanilla yogurt are about $3 per quart. I make 24 hour yogurt about once a month. If they eat it all, I buy the Aldi yogurt and they love it! (I don’t buy the vanilla yogurt because its sweetened with sugar) Eggs- Their best quality, organic eggs are $3.50 per dozen. Cheeses, they sometimes have Kerrygold cheese, they always have Brie, cheddars and a changing variety of cheese. They have organic shredded cheese with cellulose and anti-caking agents. Sometimes organic cheese sticks. Their basic Happy Farms cheese is about $1.50 a brick. They have full fat and low fat sour cream as well as cream cheese however, at our location we have no raw/organic sour cream , cream cheese or raw cheese. (it might be available near you)
- Produce – The produce selection as I mentioned, varies. Very rarely is it barren, but sometimes the produce section is basically empty. Typically most of the basics are stocked though. They have celery, carrots, onions, potatoes, oranges, melons, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cabbage, romaine hearts, cucumbers, zucchini, brussels sprouts ($1.29 a lb!) , sweet potatoes, apples, grapes, pineapples, mangoes, avocado, spaghetti squash, peppers, garlic, cilantro etc. Organic variety is sometimes really mediocre, other times its great and I find a big bag of organic grapes for $1.99. I try to always maintain my dirty dozen/clean fifteen standards but sometimes I do budge and get conventional romaine or potatoes. Potatoes and lettuces are the worst things to buy conventional, but if it saves me a trip to a separate store then its worth conceding from time to time. Part of my budget plan is reliant upon me shopping only where needed, when needed. Some days I DO SHOP AROUND because I have to. Once you get an idea for your own Aldi store, you can plan accordingly around your meal plans. I’ve found that organic celery, romaine hearts and carrots are found really cheap almost everywhere but Aldi. Go figure?
- Breads- There’s a variety of good bread options now! Sprouted, seeded, organic, whole grain breads with no bad ingredients! Comparable to Ezekiel breads or Dave’s Killer Bread. I make a lot of our bread products myself, but we love the “seedtastic” for sandwiches. (It’s usually only about $3.50 a loaf compared to Ezekiel which runs up to $8 a loaf here. )
- Dry Pantry- Clean ingredient sauerkraut, red cabbage (with sugar but otherwise good ingredients) , organic applesauce, organic beans, quinoa, rice, organic spaghetti/linguine is $1.19 per pound. Dry beans (conventional) for $1.19 per pound. (I buy organic dry beans at Wal-Mart of all places. $2.50 per pound!) I buy spaetzle by the case when they have it. Organic SUGAR FREE marinara. Sometimes, organic lentils and brown rice. I’ve found goji berries once or twice too. They have organic macaroni and cheese comparable to Annies for under $2 a box. Once or twice I’ve seen organic cheezits.
- Paper Goods and Diapers- Some of the paper towels and toilet paper are ok. Some… not so much. Aldi diapers are actually some of our favorites. They don’t stink like some popular brands and they seem no less absorbent than the major brand we used for our first two boys.
- Meat and Seafood, Frozen or Fresh – This is where I’ve gotten into the most trouble. I assumed things were comparable to or similar to Applegate or Harvestland and … NO. That is NOT the case. Read the labels. MSG, nitrates, nitrites, corn syrup, extra corn syrup, corn syrup flavored corn syrup and whatever else is laying around too. Plain pork loin, plain shrimp, regular unseasoned meats will contain nitrates. I really just wasn’t a fan of the clean chicken sausages they did carry. I think my kids liked the chicken breakfast sausages? (but they have sugar and Harvestland variety does not) The chicken breast and chicken thighs are on sale at a good price now and then. I’m pretty sure this is a bait and switch. I’ve seen chicken breast family packs advertised cheap a million times. I’ve gone in looking for them specifically and they NEVER have them. The whole roaster chickens are free of antibiotics and hormones and they run around $1.50 per pound. Organic boneless skinless chicken breast is around $5 a pound. They regularly stock “organic grass-fed beef” for $5.50 per pound. ( I still buy this and a lot of our staples from our local farm) The burger patty’s are clean ingredient, ground turkey is frozen for $1.99 per pound and seafood. – Packs of salmon or scallops are $9.99 a pound. Shrimp varies, READ THE INGREDIENTS. Always look for wild caught if possible.
- Frozen Goods- Frozen organic blueberries and strawberries, I also buy the orange juice concentrate for $1.19 a can. Its great for smoothies and cold/flu season. Nothing is as healthy as a fresh orange, but vitamin C come sick season is a life saver! They sometimes sell organic ice cream , they always have the “black label” ice creams that are comparable to Breyers clean ice creams or Turkey Hill “old fashioned” ice creams. (cream, sugar, eggs… not much else) They also sell organic popsicles and gluten free or organic snack foods but they’re over priced and not really worth buying for us.
On a final note, I’d just like to add that my budget, and your budget may be entirely different and I DO recognize the variety of needs out there. This post is to show what I BUY and prefer for our clean eating family of five. Our budget is still somewhat flexible compared to most. We don’t eat exclusively organic. Sometimes clean ingredients and whole foods are more important than “certified” organic. Sometimes I spend more because I’m always buying in bulk or storing things in our long term pantry, other times I try to spend nothing at all for several weeks at a time.
You can absolutely vary clean ingredients that may be more conventional and less organic to suit your necessity. There is a variety of selection to suit different budgets however, many of the “cleanest” ingredients at Aldi are branded specifically as natural or organic. The best examples are good/bad substitutes. Spaghetti. You can buy clean ingredient, non-organic spaghetti cheaper than organic. Bread. The normal bread vs. organic bread are completely polar opposites. Stabilizers, preservatives, bleached flour and things such as “bamboo fiber” compared to wholesome clean ingredients like whole wheat flour, seeds, yeast and salt. Buy 10lbs of whole potatoes for $1.50 instead of a package of instant potatoes or french fries. Buy regular spaghetti and sauce, avoid the instant fried treats in the freezer section. Read every label, take your time and plan ahead so that you can do better, and live a better, healthy life!
I’d like to state for the record, that this is not a sponsored post. I am in no way compensated for this post. As a real foodie who is devoted to feeding my family real, whole, nourishing meals, I’m simply trying to share my experience and new found love for buying our groceries affordably.