Eating Healthy for the Lazy Person at Costco!
Disclaimer: Are you easily offended by food in packages? Do you believe that edible food should only contain one ingredient? Or only be purchased at overpriced stores that start with whole and end with foods? If so, please read no further. But if you are like me, super busy, sometimes a little lazy in the cooking department, but still committed to eating healthfully and not going broke while doing so, please read on!
Full disclosure: one of my favorite guilty pleasures is walking around Costco. I don't necessarily go for anything. I just like to meander, checking out the office supplies (I have a love affair with Post-Its and Command products), browsing through the bargain books, oh yeah, and trying pretty much all the samples. I am completely unable to leave without spending at least $40 on Oxi-Clean that will last me a decade and a three-pack of pastel scissors that I probably don't need. I contemplate whether I should purchase a 3-year supply of emergency freeze-dried food in case of apocalypse. (Aside: if you've never seen the Costco-inspired movie Employee of the Month, you are truly missing out.)
On my more leisurely jaunts, I love to do a little sociology observation - watching throngs of observably well-fed people flock to the sample ladies like unfed jungle animals. Upon further thought, I realize that I, at times, might be one of these lemmings myself. I'm even on a first-name basis with one of the sample ladies, Vilma. We engage in lighthearted banter about the quality of the samples that particular day (free tip: the day before Super Bowl is pretty much the pinnacle of Costco sampling). She convinces me to try a Chewy Vitamin C tablet; I'm surprisingly smitten. But I'm okay with this. In fact, I was having so much fun and reached such a state of flow on my most recent trip (today) that I decided, I should do a blog post about all the awesome and healthy things you can buy at Costco!
So here we are! I backtracked (picking up a second helping of chicken skewers and hummus on the way, of course) and broke out my iPhone to start photographing various food finds. People likely looked on wondering, why is that woman attempting to artfully photograph packages of Greek yogurt and oats? It's all in the name of fitness!
Can you eat healthfully at Costco? Unequivocally YES! Can you find tons of single-ingredient, organic, pasture-raised, ethically-raised, cage-free, hormone-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, free-range stuff? Absolutely! But if you are like me, and just wondering, what can I make that won't require every minute of the few free minutes I have when I finally get home after training/working/etc for the past 12-14 hours, then Costco is a certifiable mecca of options!
This is not to say I don't enjoy cooking, it's just that I don't have a ton of time, I hate making messes in the kitchen, I much prefer baking, and well, sometimes my creations just don't live up to my expectations:
Is there a catch? Of course - there always is. And here it is: any time you purchase prepared foods, you are sacrificing convenience for some health benefits - these are typically sodium content and sometimes preservatives. As you will see in my photo montage below, the sodium content of some of these foods can be a little on the higher side. So what's a lazy (er, busy) health-conscious person to do? (1) Keep track of your blood pressure. (2) Exercise. (3) Balance higher sodium, processed items with less-processed, lower sodium options throughout the day. (4) Look for items that won't break the sodium bank (common recommendations are to stay under 2000 mg per day).
So on my most recent trip, here were some of the groovy finds that caught my eye. I have not tried every single one (I will comment on those that I have), but I have had pretty good luck at Costco with stuff not sucking (and if it does, Costco has pretty much the best return policy ever - no questions asked, not even on food). If you happen to try one of these finds, I would love to know what you think. I know I already have my next Costco grocery list!
The Costco Vegetable Tray
This is seriously one of my favorite finds because with vegetables, I can't even say busy, I am straight-up lazy! I wander into Meijer's produce section, picking up beautiful red and yellow peppers, gigantic boxes of spinach, and crisp celery that I can't wait to chop and dip. I place it all in the crisper until, lo and behold! A week has passed and I have nothing but limp, yellowish celery and a pool of greenish-brown liquid where my beautiful spinach once sat. Drats. Enter the Costo Veggie Tray. It is beautiful - I simply snap back the top and start eating. I undoubtedly triple my vegetable consumption to the tune of $7.99. Am I paying for convenience? Absolutely. But considering that I wear rubber gloves to throw out the uneaten pile of mush from my fridge, I consider this a win. Bonus: The low-fat dip is delicious and not even a huge calorie splurge.
How to use it: Raw veggies are awesome any time of day! I personally like them with lunch, but depending on the dinner option, they go great. Additionally, the are terrific to keep around when the late-afternoon snack itch attacks (in direct contrast to my "What to Avoid" below).
Costco Frozen Vegetables
Please never shun frozen veggies. If you have ever suffered from the aforementioned refrigerator problem, you will understand the beauty of ready-when-you-are veggies. Not to mention, many of these veggies are organic, cook beautifully in the microwave, and are far more attractive than many of the other bagged vegetables I've tried.
How to use it: These are a super side for any warm dish. They can be microwaved in mere minutes and are so high-quality that they don't need any adornment.
Grilled Frontega Chicken Fajita
These were a sample on my most recent Costco expedition. I patiently waited while the sampler placed out one solo cup at a time, reminding me three times how hot it was, but I was pleasantly surprised! They were filled with flavor and, upon further inspection, surprisingly low-cal! I was excited that there was a pan-free option (seriously, I am not actually lazy, I just hate making messes).
How to use it: These could easily be paired with a tortilla or even a Flat-out Wrap (also sold at Costco in the bread department), along with some of the aforementioned frozen veggies for a super easy dinner option.
Grilled Mediterranean-Style Chicken Skewers with Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
These were phenomenal! They served this sample together and I must have been so visibly happy that the lady offered me seconds (I obliged). I bought both without thinking twice and "made" them for dinner. They are moist and tender and very nicely seasoned! The hummus tasted awesome with them!
How to use it: These are fantastic together. I microwaved the skewers about a minute per side and then added a healthy glob of hummus, along with some of the aforementioned raw veggies (which I also dipped in the hummus). This would make a great dinner, but could also be eaten for lunch, even on a salad or wrap!
Kirkland Grilled Chicken Breast Strips
This is another super versatile and super low-cal protein option that can be morphed into tons of meal choices. It comes in a huge two-pack, and the strips can be eaten cold or heated.
How to use it: These strips could easily be added to tons of dishes that require chicken strips, but my favorite options would be on a wrap with veggies and maybe some more of that hummus, or on top of a salad.
Spinach & Tomato Veggie Patty and Sandwich Thin
I like lots of Costco's vegetarian/vegan options. While I am in no way an official vegetarian or vegan (I love dairy way too much as you will see in a moment), I do find that I personally feel a little better with less meat in my system. This is just me and what I've learned about myself, so I've tried quite a few different veggie patties in my day and these are tasty. Another good option is Costco's Black Bean Burgers (my store carries two varieties; both are tasty). My meat-loving boyfriend even thought that the black bean patties actually had some type of meat in them. As for the sandwich rounds, while I was skeptical at first, I was pleasantly surprised. They also have tons of fiber!
How to use it: While you could easily make a traditional burger with a little ketchup and mustard (yes, I said it, ketchup and mustard...gasp!), you could also glam them up a bit with a few slices of avocado or even some more of that hummus (have you seen how big that tub is??? You better start finding stuff to put that on!). I pair this with - you guessed it! - more of those raw veggies! You could easily place these patties on a salad, though, for even more veggie power.
Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
Hold the presses! Did you seriously put ravioli on a list of healthy things to buy at Costco? Have you lost your marbles??? Oh yes I did! First of all, ravioli is delicious! Second of all, look at the nutrition label. 230 calories for a cup of these? Why not? By now, you should have the idea that I am in no way anti-carb. Can this strategy work for some folks? Absolutely, in fact, I did a whole blog post on different ways of eating, which you can check out here. But for the average person, carbs are not bad. In fact, they can actually help some people to feel more satisfied both physiologically and emotionally. That's a decision you will need to make, but if you are a fellow carb lover, ravioli like these are a quick and delicious option that can work with a healthy eating plan.
How to use it: Top with a small amount of marinara sauce and serve with some of the frozen veggies from earlier. Done!
Vegetable Minestrone Soup
I got this, surprise!, after another sample offering. It was a cold February day and this hit the spot. While it's no longer winter, some days soup just takes good!
How to use it: This could be eaten by itself, perhaps with some veggies on the side for a smaller meal when you're not as hungry or for a late night dinner, or you could serve it as a side to make a heartier meal for veggie burger or one of the salads below.
Costco Quinoa Salad
This stuff is straight-up delicious! It reminds me a little of tabulleh (a favorite of mine), but as you can see from the ingredient list, it is chock-full of whole-grains and veggies.
How to use it: This could be served by itself with some extra veggies for a light meal, or along with a veggie burger or soup for a heartier meal.
These come on the recommendation of the chicken skewer sample lady. I have never tried them (they're on my list!), but I was pretty impressed with the collection of grains and two minute cook time!
How to use it: These could, again, be served by themselves as a light vegetarian dish, or as a side alongside a veggie burger, chicken skewer, or soup. Add some frozen or raw veggies.
Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats and Ground Flax Seed
This is one of the best finds at Costco. Oats offer a plethora of health benefits. People often shy away from the "old-fashioned" variety, perceiving a longer cook time, opting instead for those sugary packets (like the ones that snuck in on the left). I'm not saying that the packets are bad (I rarely say this about foods), but I do think that the old-fashioned ones will keep you full longer, are less processed, and cook in a mere 2.5 minutes.
How to use it: Here's where you can get a little creative! An easy fix is to add a bit of your own stevia (also available at Costco!) and a tablespoon or two of ground flax seed for a little hit of omega-3 fats (the "good" kind) and additional fiber. You could of course go crazy and try lots of other options - check out sites like Pinterest for more ideas - but the bottom line is OF oats are a better value for your wallet and your body!
Kirkland Greek Yogurt
The people who popularized Greek yogurt must be throwing a party right now because this stuff is hot! Everywhere you look, conventional yogurt has been shunned in favor of the Greek variety, in large part due to the higher protein content and creamier texture. I personally like both, and can eat either depending on my mood.
How to use it: Greek yogurt can be eaten as-is, or made into a "parfait" or sorts, with a couple tablespoons of granola or other crunchy cereal, or perhaps a tablespoon of nuts, and a few berries. It's great for breakfast, of course, but don't be so quick to shun traditional breakfast foods like this for other meals. They are fantastic when you are truly feeling lazy - as in too lazy to microwave - or perhaps your other main meal was/will be larger and you just want something a little lighter. Try turning it into a parfait as described above for a satisfying sweet meal.
Vega Protein & Greens
Costco is known for carrying quality name brands and this is certainly one example. Vega protein can be quite pricey, so it's nice to see Costco carrying it. I was a little skeptical of the greenish tint, but it was pleasingly sweet and tasty.
How to use it: I like to mix my protein into unsweetened almond milk (available at Costco); cashew milk is really good, too, but I've yet to see it there. Like the Greek yogurt, this is an obvious breakfast choice (I typically pair mine with some kind of carb, such as a piece of whole wheat bread with a little peanut butter), but could also be used for a super-speedy lunch or dinner. Substituting well-rounded protein smoothies (read: filled with oats, flax, and a little fruit) for a regular meal can be a great way to healthfully jumpstart a weight loss program or get back on track after a period of undesired weight gain or unfettered eating.
These are a hidden gem! I absolutely LOVE chocolate and so when I saw these on the frozen aisle, I had to try them. They are an excellent value at less than $1 per muffin and taste amazing, despite being made with veggies and lots of fiber.
How to use it: The obvious choice is breakfast (I had mine with a protein shake), but this would also make a great low-cal snack for late a night (double points for filling fiber!), or even as part of a light meal at another time of day. They can be thawed in the microwave for a delicious melty chocolate morsel, or simply thawed by removing from the counter. Super lazy points for throwing in your bag on the way out the door and eating when thawed! :)
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars
I have seen these on several occasions and finally buckled and bought the cookies 'n cream variety. (I have also seen mint chocolate chip in the past.) They are light and creamy and don't taste like you're just eating Greek yogurt on a stick.
How to use it: These are a great option for a light snack when the late-night munchies hit.
Healthy Choice Fudge Bars
These are another low-cal snack that I am itching to try. They are low in fat and sugar, and even have a decent amount of fiber in them. People might say, well they have sugar! Yes, they do. Despite what the media and some "holistic gurus" might have us believe, sugar is not, in fact, the root of all world evil. It is simply a form of easily digested carbohydrate. Should you eat copious amounts? Nope, of course not. Will it make you gain tremendous amounts of fat just by looking at it? Absolutely not! In fact, studies have shown that having a sweet treat each day that is part of your caloric allowance (if this is something you are minding) can actually promote weight loss, since it helps to keep you satisfied and sane. Aside: Do not give money to "gurus" who categorically eliminate whole food groups.
How to use it: These would make another great snack option!
Sheila G's Brownie Brittle
Damn you, Sheila G! This brilliant woman has somehow figured out how to make brownies into crack-like crispy wafers of chocolatey goodness. It's like a chip made of brownies.
How to use it: If weight loss is in your stars, put on your horse blinders and push that oversized Costco cart right past these little ditties. If you're just focused on staying healthy and are at an ideal weight, take it easy - she lures you in with "organic" and "120 calories per serving," but that's just a cruel joke. I managed to finish this puppy in about 4 days. Needless to say, I don't keep these in the house.
Popcornopolis Zebra Popcorn
On first inspection, I casually walked past this sample. Popcorn, eh, I don't even like popcorn, but why not? This was like kettle corn, but with little stripes of milk and white chocolate. Hmm, surprisingly tasty, I thought. I'm ashamed to say, but I lapped back around for a second. And then I stupidly picked up a bag. Only $4.99, what a bargain! No, not a bargain when this stuff keeps you coming back for more. See, just because I'm a trainer doesn't mean that I don't sometimes do something really stupid - like buy something that I should not even keep in the house, and this was definitely one of those circumstances.
How to use it: Don't - this is food crack. Keep going.
Dream Home by the Property Brothers
Ha, just kidding. I couldn't help myself from checking out this one on my latest Costco run. But seriously, I love the Property Brothers. I binge watch them on Netflix whenever I get a chance (bonus: this is my favorite way to get my cardio done!).
How to use it: A delicious treat for any time, calorie-free! ;)
In all seriousness, I hope you come to find that eating healthfully doesn't have to be a mega-pain or insanely expensive. With some smart shopping, you can find items that are easy to eat and taste delicious. And if all else fails, enjoy the craziness of Costco and make sure to chat up that sample lady - you might just find yourself with an extra Vitamin C chew!
In good health,