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Do Healthy CHEAP Meals from Aldi or Save-A-Lot Exist?

I was inspired by a comment at the post on trusting in your meal blessing. April says, You can tell which months I decided, “No more junk food! I don’t care how much it costs…we’re eating real, natural food!” and the months where I said, “I’m going to feed us as cheaply as I possibly can…Hello, Aldi!”

real-food-wed

It made me think: can you get a healthy meal made from Real Food at Aldi or Save-A-Lot? I decided it’s probably possible, although you might have to compromise on the highest definition of “real food” and just go for “food with good nutrition“. Here are some ideas:

What to Buy

I almost always buy my canned tomatoes, beans (canned and dry), oats, frozen ground turkey, roll sausage, and some baking supplies at Save-a-Lot or Aldi, because their regular prices (until recently, sadly) beat most sale prices. You can do a lot with these as a base!

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Breakfast

Oatmeal, scrambled eggs

added bonus

Added Bonus:  Save-A-Lot prices on rolled oats are the cheapest I’ve ever seen, even less than bulk foods. They also have locally purchased eggs from a Christian farm, which make me happy (even if they are from a factory farm).

Dinners

  • Rice and Beans (Mexican, Cuban, or Chicken rice)
    • My Save-A-Lot doesn’t have brown rice, so you’d have to supplement from another store, but rice is not very expensive.
  • You can make chicken stock with chicken from anywhere, so if one of these stores has it inexpensively, go for it! Sure, organic, pastured chicken would be best, but we’re doing what we can here. Carrots, onions and celery are frugal, too. I saved over $30 last time I made a big pot of stock!
  • Pasta dishes
    • Whole grain pasta is just over $1 for a box, and Save-a-Lot’s spaghetti sauce is tasty, although it has high fructose corn syrup in it…You can make your own with some simple Italian seasoning and a big can of crushed tomatoes, with no added sugar. I love to use the frozen hot sausage, a can of diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, half a bag of spinach, pasta and shredded mozzarella cheese for a meal. So tasty, and easily under $5 to feed a family of 4-6 people!
  • Chili, White Chicken Chili and Turkey Chili can be almost completely assembled with ingredients from discount stores.
  • Lentil Stew and other bean dishes
  • Salad
    • I’ve noticed Aldi carries many vegetables:  baby carrots, onions, and peppers especially at prices much lower than my other stores.

My advice would be to shop for basic staple ingredients at Aldi, Save-A-Lot or similar. Don’t get hooked into packaged meals. You can get a lot of nutrition by cooking from scratch, and the money you save on ingredients can go toward the areas these stores don’t usually cover:  whole grain flours, rice, healthy fats and oils, and organic produce. It works for me!

worksformewed

Just be careful at these discount stores:  certain items are much more expensive than a basic store sale price. Cheese is one good example. Don’t get conned by the idea of shopping cheap – always price check and know what a “good price” is at your regular grocery stores.

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40 thoughts on “Do Healthy CHEAP Meals from Aldi or Save-A-Lot Exist?”

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading

  2. My email was hacked and i missed all the good ideas. I noticed GMO’s mentioned &make sure to reaad the SKU even at their “healthier store” Trader Joes, Aldi’s labels GMO’s organic. It has to start with a 9 to be truly natural, organic, non GMO.

    I cant wait for our potted veggies so i can save more $ be less dependent on thsecompanies, but DH was raised on walmart & aldies so, baby steps we take.

    1. I think the “9” thing is just for the beginning of produce numbers – 5 digits instead of the normal 4. Baby steps – you can do it! 🙂 katie

  3. In addition to things you mentioned. One of Aldi’s “more expensive” spaghetti sauces (it’s like $1.80 a jar, or was last time I got some, been using home-canned this winter) doesn’t have any added sugar. I think it’s the chunky marinara. Also our Aldis’ has dry pinto beans, $1.50 for a 2lb bag. I also try to stock up on onions when I go there (don’t go there very often) since onions are on the clean 15, so the non-organic aspect doesn’t matter & Aldi’s price is generally better than our other grocery stores and onions have a long shelf life.

  4. I already posted my Aldi shopping list on the Facebook comments for this post, but I thought I’d re-post here for those who aren’t sure what real food can be found there: Bananas, onions, froz. broccoli flowerets, froz. wild-caught salmon (& froz. wild-caught other fish when they have it), froz. mango/pineapple/papaya/strawberry chunk mix (a few dirty-dozen strawberries won’t kill you), tomato-artichoke salsa (refrig.), guacamole, 70%+ dark chocolate, dried beans, rolled oats. (I also get kleenex, kitchen sponges, and plastic bags there.)

  5. I shop at Aldi for basics as well, it is a huge budget help. I am very selective about the products I will buy there though. Canned vegetables are a compromise food IMO, but we get them. Dry beans and rice are pretty good items. I’ll also pick up tortillas there if I need them on hand and don’t have time to make my own that week. White flour (which is used quite sparingly at our house), baking soda and baking powder are additional items I get. Some cheese I might pick up if I know the sale at the supermarket isn’t lower that week. You have to be careful with cheese though, since processed cheese usually contains the food coloring annato. Monterrey Jack doesn’t have it, so that’s what we get there.

    I refuse to buy meat from Aldi, but that is me. I would rather eat beans. I only get one type of meat at the supermarket as well – everything else comes from a local farm. Ditto for milk and eggs. Those foods are just too important for us to compromise on, although I understand not all families feel the same way.

    1. Rachel,
      I agree on the meat, for sure. Many dry pantry staples are great finds. Isn’t annato from carrots or something, or is it totally artificial? For some reason that’s one weird ingredient I’ve never paid attention to or worried about. Thanks! 🙂 Katie

      1. Annato is an food coloring that was traditionally used in inferior cheeses to make them appear more palatable. From what I know about it, it has been linked to food-related allergies, such as hypersensitivity, just as much as artificial colorings and is also exempt from any certification. Just because it is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe. We avoid all food colorings in our household, and that includes annatto. You really have to read your labels in order to stay clear of it though, because it sneaks itself into many products you might not think have food coloring- such as cheese!

          1. Just make sure to double check the label, since even some white cheeses have annatto in them! Be sure to compare brands, as this can differ from one to the next believe it or not!

  6. Shew! I thought I was the only person trying to figure out how I could continue to shop at Aldi and eat healthier, more nutrious food! It is such a game we must play (unless we are blessed with unlimited income for groceries) to have a skimpy budget and still eat healthy!

    1. Danielle,
      You’re not alone! Did you see the recent Eat Well, Spend Less series? (http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/tag/eat-well-spend-less/)
      🙂 Katie

  7. I have never been to Save-A-Lot. I have been able to buy a few items at Aldi depending on what they have which can change. Their is some produce that I will buy that looks fresh and is a good price. I have also gotten nuts, dried beans, and some cheeses there. From my experience, the yogurt and cottage cheese had a lot of added ingredients that I didn’t like. I like cottage cheese without salt, so I have found Friendship brand at Shoprite. I try to buy organic when possible, grow what I can, and also find out where the produce comes from. There is some produce which supposedly are grown more pesticides on them, such as peppers, strawberries, blueberries, green beans, etc., so I will look for those particular items in organic. I have a market called Produce Junction nearby and Trader Joe’s that have very reasonably priced produce that seems to actually taste better whether organic or not.

    1. Shirley,
      Sounds like you have a great balanced system! I’ve heard that the sour cream at Aldi has only a few ingredients, so that’s encouraging.
      🙂 Katie

  8. I will give Aldi a try. I guess I assumed I could not find any real food there 🙂 But as I learned the hard way at the farmer’s market today, no matter where I shop I must always read the labels! I bought sloppy joes from a the “green” fed beef guy and almost died when I got home to find HFCS and caramel coloring in it!

  9. Your statement that “it’s probably possible, although you might have to compromise on the highest definition of “real food” and just go for “food with good nutrition“ is right on the mark, I think.

    I have been shopping there more often because I my grocery budget has remained the same while prices go through the roof, but do not buy much at all. I decided the other week I would not buy frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breasts there anymore after I learned that “broth” can be listed as an ingredient without also listing that the broth contains MSG. I couldn’t figure out why my son would just go bananas after eating the chicken until it hit me they inject the meat with broth. I’ve noticed also that if I put a frozen breast in a pan, put a lid on it and leave it for several minutes, when I take the lid off to check it there would be these mounds of gross stuff oozing out of the breasts. You could clearly see it was coming out of injection holes by the uniform pattern. I’m also quite certain that my son is sensitive to MSG. I go out of my way to avoid buying it, though on occasion sometimes it is unavoidable, especially with food prices like they are, and I’ve noticed that he just goes berserk when he’s had anything that definitely or could possibly have MSG in it. Just last night, he had a tablespoon (or less) of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing on his salad and not long after supper he was a maniac. Then at bedtime he looked like he was hung-over! I felt awful for not even thinking about the fact that, as far as I’ve been able to find in my area, ALL ranch dressing has MSG in it. I make my own, but this was a bottle my stepson (who’s only concern about his food is that it tastes good) bought and I just didn’t even think about it when my son asked for it. I even had some homemade in the fridge! It’s moments like this that I really beat myself up. Tonight’s supper, and all food consumed so far today, have not one smidgen of MSG and I bet he won’t be acting at all like he was last night.

    I have been dealing with bone-in chicken for a while now, to make broth and such, but missed the luxury of BS chicken so I thought I’d give myself a break in the kitchen for a few weeks and buy it at Aldi. So much for that!

    I do buy fresh veggies, fruits, butter and some cheese there sometimes. I found some fancy KerryGold cheese…not grass fed or anything, but still, I think that’s a good quality brand if I’m not mistaken. I definitely avoid packaged foods and try to limit canned foods in general, no matter what store.

    I do my very best to buy organic, non-GMO, traditional-type foods but sometimes my budget just doesn’t allow me to buy certain things. I do agonize over it sometimes, but then I remind myself that overall, we eat much healthier since I’m cooking and baking from scratch, even if some or all of those individual ingredients aren’t the premium ones I would buy if money weren’t an issue. I may have BPA in my canned tomatoes sometimes, but I’m not buying intant, microwave meals loaded with preservatives and and God only knows what. Then I just have to trust God to make up the slack (:

    1. Dawn,
      Good discovery about the chicken breasts. That is such a tricky one, yuck. Yes, Kerrygold is supposed to be a wonderful brand. I’ve also heard that Aldi sour cream is just “milk, cream, enzymes” w/o the many long word ingredients in my local store brand.

      I have to buy canned tomatoes sometimes/often, too. Can’t sweat it for every little thing, right? You’re doing great!
      🙂 Katie

  10. I’m sorry but the canned beans come in cans lined with bpa. The tomato sauce has hfcs that undoubtedly comes from gmo corn.

    I’ll cut corners elsewhere but I’m not feeding poison to my child.

    1. Also most all the food products have added sugar and or high fructose corn syrup in them. I thought I would try going back there after many years to see if their products had changed but I think I was only able to find 5 products on the shelf that were on my list that weren’t filled with sub par ingredients to make them cheaper. You have to ask, will this really be cheaper in the long run,? This is sav a lot, that I’m talking about

    2. Jennifer,
      I haven’t looked at the tomato sauce labels lately, but I can usually find some w/o HFCS. I have been buying Meijer Naturals of late, which is no GMO, so it’s possible that the discount store brands do include it.

      Some folks just have to rely on canned beans because of time and money pressures, even though they may rather use dry beans. I always have a few cans around for ’emergencies’ and realize that I can’t worry about every bite, just most of them.

      Funny that you used the word poison; I said to my son last week after soccer that I let him eat junk sometimes, but we had to dump out the artificial sweetener Gatorade that another mom handed out after the game b/c it was just “poison.” I bet there are widely differing opinions on where junk crosses the line to poison.
      🙂 Katie

  11. I hate to say but the answer is a definite NO. I mean, I’ve had to shop there to avoid starvation but it’s like asking if you can buy a healthy meal at mcdonalds. Of course it is NO. Cheap & acessiblw but a definite NO.

    Even the “basics” at Aldiss are processed w so many additives that your body cannot absorb the nutrition. It is a shame that Such highly processed items are sold. Even cottage chz at Aldis or jewel/albertsons has so Many ingredients it makes aboaorption of the calcium difficult. Cans are lined w BPA so even if there weren’t additives (but check the label- there r!) it would still be a health threat. Not to mention the pesticides in non-organic or side effects of non-GMO’s. If you take some of your recipes & ensure it is real, local, no-gmo food it would still be cheap. I buy organic & only spend $20-$60 a week at wholefoods.

    I wish you would update this post to what we all know now: no, processed cheap non-organic food is proven to make us more unhealthy.

    1. Sarah,
      I can get regular brown rice and dry beans, local from Michigan, at Save-a-lot. Aldi’s sour cream, according to a reader just this week, has fewer additives than my local store brand. And both stores have produce, even if it’s not organic. If everyone could buy organic, the world would be a different place, but I don’t think that’s realistic quite yet, although a lovely goal. How many people are you serving for $20-60/week, out of curiosity?

      I do think it’s possible to eat well inexpensively, and sometimes supplementing with foods from discount stores is what it takes, without compromise. I might update the post, but not to say that it’s impossible. –Katie

      1. I feed daily 2 adults & 2 small children. I am scared for te day they are teens. We have people over for dinner 2X a week, BYOB & snacks. This weeks grocery bill was $40 bc we stocked up on bulk things like masa, nuts, & flour for tortillas, pizza, bread, pretzels, chips, etc. We also bought flax seed to use as a substitute as egg (1tb flax w 2tb hot h20).

        Thank you for your response. I’ve found your site so useful so I wondered if this was just an old post needing updating. Yes, there is a huge problem w organic not being available for everyone (I live in a food desert so boy do I know- can’t buy groceries at fast food restaurant). BC I live in a an apartment complex there r rules against gardening & they use pesticides & fertilizers so we are currently only using potted plants for some fresh food. But you can grow your own food on a balcony.

    2. This poster is really dead on… All you have to do is watch Food inc. the movie… You will see that American is a big experimental wasteland… feeding us all kinds of crap. try to eat organic, but conventional if on a budget… Of course noever conventional graisn becasue those are always GMO… usually try to avoid any processed food … I really try to avoid all gmo produce and boxed food… remember if it doesn;t say USDA organic, it is GMO!!!!!!!!!!

  12. I add 15oz can diced tomatoes to spaghetti sauce to cut the sugar for one thing and make it go farther. We can get 2 meals out of it this way, adds just enough extra. I’ve tried the crushed tomato route and, for us, it wasn’t right. It’s the sugar/fructose syrup and oil they add. So I just buy it now but try to stick to the sugar ones or if POSSIBLE a no sweetened one.
    The whole point of pasta, to me, is that it’s a quick, easy meal so making my own sauce all day doesn’t happen but 2x a year LOL.

  13. I also try to cook from-scratch, “real” food for our family and shop at Aldi every other week. I am able to get about 60%-70% of our groceries there, but I am careful to avoid processed food and to read labels carefully.

    We get eggs, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt (until they stopped carrying it), tortilla chips, oats, ground turkey, frozen corn, and certain produce items like celery, onions and garlic, plus canned tomatoes and sometimes canned beans. They also have canned coconut milk at our Aldi which I use sometimes in curry and for baked goods. I haven’t seen whole grain pasta or flour yet, but I’ll definitely keep on the lookout for it!

  14. I have been shopping at Aldi for the last 25 years and I don’t know what we would have done many times without it! It has saved our budget alot. I do confess that since I’ve changed my way of cooking (mostly from-scratch, healthier) I don’t buy as much from there like I used to, like the processed foods, but Aldi is starting to catch up. I recently bought whole grain pasta there, which they never had before. But, if you’re careful, you can eat healthfully buying most of your groceries there. I’ve only been to Sav-A-Lot a couple of times but I would go there more often if Aldi wasn’t closer.

  15. I have just recently started shopping at Aldi’s and I’ve blogged about it a few times. I write down all the things we eat and what the sale prices is elsewhere before I go to Aldi’s, because around here the big chains sales often beat Aldi’s. Even so there are somethings that seem to always be WAY cheaper there. Eggs, milk, tortilla chips, creamcheese are a few. And this week I bout a 9ft aluminum patio umbrella with a crank and a tilt for $34!!!! The same umbrella was $120 elsewhere!!! I haven’t had much luck at save-a-lot, but I know some people swear by it. I think the only thing I’ve bought there was soups for cooking.

  16. I just recently started shopping at Adli’s. What a money savior. I still buy the chips. But I have to go 40 miles to get there. It is worth it. It will be coming to our town this fall, which is 20 miles.

  17. I love both of those stores but frequent Save-A-Lot more because of its location.

    I am impressed with their addition of whole grain, sugar-free, and low salt items lately.

    🙂

  18. You can buy ingrediants from both stores as long as you stay away from the processed foods and mixes. I think the prices and quality of staple foods is better at Aldi so I shop there instead of Save A Lot.

  19. Thanks for the link love!

    Hubby and I sat down and talked about this not too long ago, and came to the same basic conclusion. We are using Aldi for the basics, and I get the best price on produce and meat at the regular supermarket using The Grocery Game (www.thegrocerygame.com). We also recently got a Save-A-Lot in our area, and they have an awesome produce section! We get cilantro there for dirt cheap, and it comes in a small bunch so it doesn’t go bad before I use it all. Thanks for the tips!!

    1. Great! You can freeze cilantro, too, if you’re going to use it for cooking purposes. It’s not as great in fresh salsa once frozen though.

  20. This are some good tips – I always tell myself I’m actually “saving” money by only going to the health food store where I can get anything I need, but I really do need to start branching out to other stores! It’s probably worth that extra gas! 🙂

  21. I shop at ALDI all the time. I get all my frozen fish, shrimp, and scallops there. I also love their veggies. Just check country of origin as some comes from Chili, and Mexico, which still use DDT.

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