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Cutting Food Costs: Best, Worst Bulk Food Buys

What are the best healthy grocery deals at warehouse stores?
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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 ginormous, 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 Sam's Club store in my area, 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:

  • Total fat grams
  • Grams of saturated fat
  • Presence of "smart fats" like omega-3s and monounsaturated fat
  • Amount of fiber
  • Added sugar and sodium

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 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

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