30 Day Whole Foods Challenge Recap

Whole Foods Market had a grand opening in Huntington Beach that I was able to attend in October.  Here is a little recap of my thoughts and why I decided to challenge myself to shop at Whole Foods for 30 days.
Now if you are reading this and thinking; "Yeah, I love Whole Foods and it would be great to shop there but I just can't afford it." You're in good company because I was actually thinking the same thing during the tour but then I realized that I have never given Whole Foods a fair chance. I've bought into all the hype about the store being too pricey without really shopping there on a regular basis. During the tour I fell in love with everything that Whole Foods stands for. Their food principles and visions are directly in line with what I believe about food. 
The challenge:

Is it possible to shop at Whole Foods and stay within your normal grocery budget? 

  • shop at Whole Foods Market for the month of November
  • stay within my normal grocery budget
  • take one or two of their classes at the Health Starts Here desk
  • of course share my menu plans that I create using the food offered at their store
I tried to stay within my goals but was unable to attend a class at the Health Starts Here desk. November was a busy month filled with a little traveling, a school play and Thanksgiving. I was just happy to make to the grocery store each week!

I'm not even sure where to start but I suppose I will start with my numbers and disclaimers. My normal grocery budget for the month is around $650.00 for our family of four. I shop weekly and average $162 per week. I buy organic and/or grass-fed meat. Organic milk, juice, butter, eggs and yogurt. I only buy the "dirty dozen" organic for produce.

For the month of November I ended up shopping only 3 of the 4 weeks at Whole Foods exclusively. The third week was hard because it was Thanksgiving week and I shopped both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for that week. My total for that week was abnormally high because of the holiday so I am not including that week into the calculations. 

Whole Foods Market weekly totals:

  • $166.04 --> Menu plan for this trip
  • $127.79--> I didn't plan this week because we were out of town, I just winged it. :)
  • $123.78--> Menu plan for this trip
  • Total: $417.61

As you can see by the numbers I was right in line with my budget. Actually I was a little under budget I still had about $230 left to spend (which is right around what I spent on Thanksgiving week). 

I bought the majority of what I normally buy during a week so that I could have a good comparison of cost. I mainly bought Whole Foods 365 brand because other brands offered were considerably higher priced than I normally spend. I liked the 365 brand, it actually made the shopping a little easier because I just started looking for that label instead of trying to pick out of the vast options available. 

My first week at Whole Foods was hard. I felt a little overwhelmed, their stores are huge. I went on a Saturday which I knew it would be busy but I needed to shop without the distraction of kids for the first week. I came home and felt like I wanted to throw in the towel on this challenge. 

I did love that they have butchers there. It was very nice to order exactly the amount of meat I needed, which helped me save money and waste less. For example I needed two Italian sausages for the spaghetti squash marinara and Italian sausage recipe normally I would have to buy a pack of four. Plus the recipe instructs you to remove the sausage from the casing so I decided to get the ground Italian sausage without any casing to skip that step. The guy at the counter was super helpful I told him I needed two links worth of ground sausage (girl measurements), he grabbed two linked sausages weighed them and then weighed out the same amount in ground. Smart. 

Since it seems that most grocery stores have backed away from having butchers I would have never had this kind of service anywhere else. It was nice. The downside to the butcher was that my meat was wrapped in butcher paper and then stored in my fridge. By the end of my week some of the meat didn't look as fresh. I actually thought I lost a couple pork chops. I'm not sure if this means you just need to get the meat you will use in a day or two and then go back for the rest at the end of the week. Hmm...I don't plan on shopping more than once a week. But the meat was delicious so it may be worth the extra trip.

By the second week I felt a little better in the store. I started to learn how the layout worked and was able to navigate easier. By the third week it was much easier to shop there. The second and third week I made sure to go during the morning hours which seem to be a great time with very little foot traffic. My kiddos love shopping at whole foods because of all the yummy samples, every corner you turn there are samples. 

Some of the tricks I learned to stay on budget at Whole Foods Market:

Buying from the bulk bins: not just to buy a large amount but to by small amounts, just enough for a recipe. I had to buy cinnamon sticks for the turkey stew recipe normally a jar would cost 4-8 dollars. I was able to buy two sticks for 8 cents in the bulk area. That is a huge savings! 

Case discount: for anything in their store. This is a great deal! I have seen case discounts for wine (they offer this too) but not for everything else. This worked out nicely since I buy my husband Cliff bars every week so I bought a case instead of individual bars and received 10% off the price.

"Off the hook" sales: this is their seafood sale items. They run Friday through Monday. A great way to get good seafood at it's lowest price.

Butcher buys: this is their butcher deals and it's what I planned my meals around. Every Thursday the flier is updated. 

Cheese department: You know when you need a specialty cheese and you go over to the area and start picking up chunks of cheese and checking the back for the smallest and lowest priced one. Well you don't need to do this you can just hand a chunk to the cheese clerk and ask them to cut you the amount you need; no more no less. This makes trying a new cheese or recipe less expensive because you buy only what you need.

Three wishes wine and 365 wine: these are Whole Foods budget friendly wine labels. Three wishes is $1.99 a bottle! 365 is under $5 and price varies. There is also an in house sommelier to help you pick which wine will go better with your food, even if you are just choosing from the budget friendly labels.

"Whole Deal" guide: this is a great guide you can pick up right outside their stores. They come out once a month. This guide has great budget friendly recipes and spotlights new items in their store. It also has a bunch of store coupons.

If you have an iphone you can download The Whole Foods Market apps. They have a couple the two I downloaded were the Huntington beach app and the Whole Foods Market recipes. The Huntington beach app has weekly deals and coupons they even had a $10 coupon available! Whole Foods Market recipe app is fun because you can type in what you have on hand and it will search their database for recipes that match up. It will also generate a grocery list from those recipes. Both apps are free. 

You can also go to the Whole Foods Market website and check your location for weekly specials and coupons. You can even download their Whole Deals flier which has great budget friendly recipes and a bunch of store coupons.

So in the end I really thought that shopping at Whole Foods Market was pretty budget friendly more than I thought it would be. I plan to shop at Whole Foods more often. I probably won't shop there exclusively because I still have an active love affair with Trader Joe's. I can't go cold turkey. :) 
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