Feb 19, 2013

Your Guide to Real Food Shopping at Aldi

Aldi; that discount grocery store you keep hearing about.

The Aldi right beside where we live.
Those of you who aren't familiar with Aldi probably picture a really dumpy store with very limited items available, must of which are highly processed.

Those of you who already shop at Aldi probably think it's the best grocery store on the planet and cringe when you have to purchase any item for a few cents more at Wal-Mart.

Aldi is an organized, clean, well-stocked grocery store with a big variety of grocery and every-day household items. It is indeed cheaper than your average grocery store, but the quality of their items is comparable to even the most expensive foods I've purchased at the high-end markets.

Whether or not you've ever been to Aldi, you might not know that you can indeed eat a healthy, real food diet while purchasing a big percentage of your groceries from this store. The bottom line is, if you are not buying organic, the the products at Aldi are identical to those you would get at your local grocery store, only much cheaper.

Here's a visual example of some of the groceries I get at Aldi. 

Knowing which items to buy at Aldi and which ones to avoid may not come naturally to you, especially if you are new to the real/traditional foods concept. I hope this list will be helpful for you as you seek to eat real food on a very tight budget.

Note: This post is specifically dedicated to Aldi shopping. For my complete post on finding affordable healthy food see Real Food on a Very Tight Budget.

Also, this post is not meant to discourage people from buying local items like produce and meat, when possible, or organic, when affordable.

Oh, and Aldi is not giving me anything to write this post. Aldi doesn't even know I exist!


Real Food From Aldi

Aldi logistics:
Bring a quarter to unlock your cart. You get the quarter back when you return the cart. This is Aldi's rather ingenious way to keep the parking lot clean and free of stray shopping carts. And it works! I have to laugh; all this to save a quarter.
Bring your own shopping bags, ideally reusable ones. You can also purchase shopping bags for a few cents (a paper bag) to a dollar (reusable cloth sack) at the check-out. This is another method Aldi uses to cut back costs.
Timing is key; shop between the hours of 9 and 5, and on weekdays (Aldi hours are 9-7). Once people get off work the lines at check-out are long and sometimes there is not as much produce available.

Dry Goods (shelf-stable items):
Nuts
Dried fruit
Real maple syrup
Honey
Natural peanut butter
Quick cooking oats (Not the instant oat packets!)
Rolled oats
Steel cut oats
Real fruit spread (Not the jams and jellies; Those contain high fructose corn syrup!)
Coffee
Sugar (To use in moderation with baked goods.)
White flour  (To use in moderation with baked goods.)
Spices (Can't beat these prices anywhere!)
Stevia (Yay! Aldi now has stevia packets!)
The chicken, beef, and vegetable broth cartons are all fine to use, but they are not very economical due to cost. You really should be making your own broth with the bones of the whole chickens Aldi has for super cheep.
Extra virgin olive oil
Vinegar

Mexican section:
Masa corn flour. This is actually a very healthy item as it has already been soaked in lyme (a traditional preparation) to enhance the nutrient content. Chili, and cornbread using this flour can make a very nutritious and economical meal from Aldi.
Pinto beans. Learn to cook your own beans at home to save quite a bit of money. (See my recipe here.)
Green chilis and other hot peppers, dried and canned.
Tomatoes and green chilies
Corn tortillas. The flour ones contain hydrogenated oil, so they are a no-no.

Diary:
Eggs
Whole milk
Sour cream
Heavy whipping cream
Butter
4% cottage cheese
Cheese. Get the blocks. The pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking and anti-fungal ingredients added (This is true no matter where you get pre-shredded cheese).
Feta Cheese
Blue Cheese


Aldi usually has a selection of specialty deli items like hummus and cheeses that have fairly healthy ingredients. If your budget allows, these are OK to get. But $3.50 for 6 ounces of goat cheese is not worth it to me.


Meat:
Ground turkey. Always get the fresh if possible. It is superior in taste and texture to the frozen but very similar in price.
Ground chicken
Whole chickens (The best prices anywhere! Just $0.85 a pound for the frozen birds. Roast a chicken, then use the bones to make healthy bone broth).
Chicken in pieces
Boneless skinless chicken breast for recipes like my Any Day Coconut Curry.
Beef; The ground beef and stew meat have the best prices.
Pork chops
Instead of the pork sausage I used to get here (stopped getting it due to the MSG) I now, when possible, get the fresh ground turkey and make my own homemade turkey sausage. You could also use beef, but I found the fresh turkey had a texture most similar to bulk pork sausage.
The one processed meat I do get here is the polish sausage. I know, I know...it's a processed meat with artificial ingredients. But I have one meal  I use it for (just  twice a month) and have not been able to find a good substitute.

Produce:
Any and all the produce. I am able to get all the produce I use here except fresh herbs, beets, and some other root veggies we use.
Carrots. To save a dollar buy the 2 pound bag of whole carrot and peal and cut your own carrot sticks or baby carrots (I also am skeptical about how the baby carrots stay fresh. There is a rumor that all baby carrots are soaked in bleach, though I don't know if this is true.)
They have the best price anywhere on sweet potatoes and white potatoes.  Both of these are good filler foods for those in the family with higher metabolisms (like dads and growing kids).
Avocados! Because of the excellent prices ($0.89 each) I now eat these regularly. I use them in salads, guacamole and even desserts! My baby loves them, which is a good thing, because they are super healthy for him.

Canned goods:
Canned goods should never be relied on for a significant portion of your vegetable intake.
Tomato products. All your canned tomato products can be purchased here. Canned tomatoes are the healthiest canned vegetables as they are canned at the very peak of ripeness.
Beans. Canned beans are okay to get occasional, but they are not soaked (traditionally prepared). It is of course most economical to make your own beans from dried beans. 
Corn. Probably zero nutritional value (it kinda goes right through you...) but my husband really likes it so I add it to chili and casseroles. Canned corn should not be considered a healthy vegetable side dish!
Mushrooms

Packaged snack items:
Aldi has a few snack items that I feel are okay to consume every once in awhile. While they would not necessarily be considered "healthy" they are not too unhealthy. For those times when you are craving a crunchy snack I wanted you to know what the better choices are.
Microwave popcorn. If you are OK with the microwave and non-organic popcorn, this is a cheap snack. Aldi popcorn has palm oil in - a healthy oil - and no hydrogenated oils like other popcorn brands.
Pita chips. The plain kind is made with white flour, palm oil and sea salt.

Sweet potato chips
Root vegetable chips

Frozen items:
Frozen fruit. Great for smoothies and fruit based desserts.
Frozen vegetables

Aldi's frozen fruit bars have fairly natural ingredients (they even contain real fruit - shocker!), as does one of their brands of ice cream. If you are going to indulge, these are the better choices.


Aldi now has a line of organic foods! Though not all the items could be classified as "real" food, I am very excited they are making efforts to offer more nutritious foods. The spaghetti sauce is the one thing I noticed that is a good deal and would be worth getting.

These are psuedo-healthy, non-real-food items to avoid:
Any of the boxed cereals, even the granola
Granola bars and prepackaged snacks
All the bread items
All their jams besides the "Real Fruit" spread. They contain high fructose corn syrup.
Any peanut butter besides that listed as "natural."They contain hydrogenated oils.
Any low-fat dairy items.
All their yogurt. It's all low-fat and most of it is filled with a long list of artificial ingredients and sweeteners. Read the labels the next time you go in. Real food yogurt should only have about 2-3 ingredients like "milk and active and live cultures". I make my own yogurt because it is so hard to find full fat yogurt. One quart of store-bought yogurt typically costs as much as a whole gallon of milk. For one gallon of milk I an make four quarts of yogurt at home!
All the salad dressings. Learn to make your own from the olive oil and vinegar you can get at Aldi.
Any juice items
Any of the boxed, canned  or frozen meals
With rare exception, all of the Fit and Active brand products. Their products are almost all low fat and filled with tons of artifical sweeteners, preservatives and generally unhealthy ingredients (ironically!).


Do you shop at Aldi? What real-food shopping tips have you found helpful? 
Let me know and I'll update this post!

10 comments:

  1. Great list! this will help a lot of people :)

    just a quick warning on microwave popcorn - the chemical diacetyl - http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20070905/microwave-popcorn-linked-to-lung-harm

    So really really sparingly with the popcorn :)
    It's so easy and SOOOO much better to make popcorn from scratch anyway, with coconut or palm oil on the stovetop.
    Also, I think you know how I feel about conventional chicken... I think the quality of fats, the quality of the broth, and the taste quality. This is one area where I feel like "you get what you pay for". I would highly recommend buying from a farmer instead, doesn't have to be organic or expensive, just fed appropriate foods during its life. There's a group buying coop in Charlotte that we bought our chicken from when we lived there.
    I Love your blog :)

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  2. There's some great tips and information here! I also try to always get our meat from a person that I know or a place I trust, but for those who may not have that possibility, this is an awesome list of whole foods that can be bought on a strict budget!

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  3. Great post, Melodie...I do the bulk of my shopping there!

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  4. This is GREAT! Thank you! :) We primarily shop at Aldi, and thankfully we live less than a mile away from one! I usually dont buy the pre-packaged foods from them, but they have recently started to sell organic products (and in the past - have sold local produce). Great list of things to buy and what to avoid :)

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  5. Wonderful! We shop at Aldi and have so blessed by their selection of fruit and veggies! It is quite a challenge to eat real food when cooking for a large family but Aldi helps us stay within budget.
    Last summer our local Aldi did carry plain popcorn for a very reasonable price. We took to making our own 'microwave' popcorn. If you take about 1/8-1/4 cup of popcorn and place in a brown lunch bag it will microwave perfectly. No yucky stuff in that. :)

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  7. We don't have an Aldi where I live but your post makes mwe wish we did! Thanks for linking up at Wildcrafting Wednesdays, and we hope to see you back next week :)

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  8. Hi Melodie, great post... I'm a fellow ALDI whole foods shopper. I totally agree with your assessments. I'm also disappointed at the yucky yogurt. :( But so many items at ALDI are compatible with a healthy diet. You might be interested in an ebook I wrote recently: http://www.amazon.com/Slash-Grocery-Budget-Whole-ebook/dp/B00EGMBGQK/ called Slash Your Grocery Budget and Eat a Whole Foods Diet with ALDI. If you email me I'll shoot you a free copy. :-)

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  9. Everything is adorable. I love all that tiny embroidery!
    Health Shop Chinchilla qld

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