Shopping for Real Food: Costco

Shopping for Real Food at Costco

Find my updated 2015 guide, plus a printable shopping list, here!

For years I heard amazing stories from friends about a magical store called “Costco.” About 6 months ago, I finally decided to check out the wonder myself. Let me tell you, I was skeptical, extremely skeptical. Having previous experiences with Sam’s Club, I fully expected to find aisle upon aisle of junk food.


I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was impressed at the amount of real food I found. Real food I was already buying at my local health food store, but in bulk and at fabulous bulk prices.

I was so impressed I bought a membership. The $55 a year it cost to be a member was completely worth it.

I drank the Kool-Aid, or in real food lingo, the green juice.

After a few shopping trips, I got talked into upgrading to the $110 a year “Executive Membership” which pays 2% back on every shopping trip (there are a couple of exclusions) at the end of the year.  I am well on my way to getting my membership for free with the amount I will be getting back.

Before I share all the great finds I buy at Costco, let me tell you that there is a lot of junk sold at Costco. There are the usual suspects: candy, chips, and cookies. There are also lots of glorified food-like products. You know the stuff with a million and one health claims (and ingredients) found in packages labeled “organic” and “natural” that will last for years without rotting.

I love Costco and am happy to have a resource that stocks real food in bulk, but just because it comes from Costco does not mean it is good.

As a real foodie you must always be skeptical, question and read ingredients!

What do I buy at Costco?

Here are the items I regularly purchase from Costco. Each Costco is a little different in what they stock and pricing can vary. They also stock some items seasonally and often rotate products.


Wild Planet Tuna: This brand of Tuna is one of the few I feel good about feeding my family. This tuna is pole-caught and contains only wild tuna and sea salt. I used to pay $4.99 a can at my health food store. At Costco I pay $15 for 5 cans. A significant savings.

Tomato paste

Organic Tomato Paste: I use a can of tomato paste weekly to make homemade spaghetti/pizza sauce.  At only $6 for 12 cans, I can happily make as much sauce as my heart desires. You can also find organic diced tomatoes, however, I do not recommend them. They may be organic, but they also contain ingredients other than tomatoes which are questionable.

Organic Salsa: Each year a local farm discounts their tomatoes $1/ 5 gallon bucket. Of course, like mad people our family loads up with hundreds of pounds! A few hundred pounds of tomatoes = days and days of endless canning. Last year I had just given birth to our second child.  Between a two year old and a new baby, canning just was not going to happen. This also meant we did not have rows of homemade salsa lining the pantry. While it is not anywhere near as good as my homemade salsa (I know, I am biased) it does the job. I pay around $8 for a pack of 2 big jars.

maple syrup

Organic Pure Maple Syrup: I usually purchase a gallon of pure maple syrup from either the farmer we buy our meat from or my food co-op, however, there are times when I run out. Running out of maple syrup could pose a serious problem in this house. What’s Banana-Walnut French Toast without maple syrup? Costco to the rescue. $14 for 1 liter of Grade A pure maple syrup is a great deal compared to $25 at my health food store.

Raw Nuts: Nuts have always been one of my biggest expenses. Raw nuts are plain old expensive. Costco makes raw nuts affordable. They offer big bags of unsalted, raw cashews, walnuts, almonds, and pecans.  I use nuts for everything from granola to homemade Lara Bars to just snacking.

s Gone Crackers

Mary’s Gone Crackers: Okay, yes these are crackers in a box with an extended shelf life. So yes, they are processed. They are also one of the cleanest crackers I can find on the market. Ak Mack and Mary Gone Crackers are the only two crackers you will find stocked in my pantry. Here are the ingredients: Organic Short Grain Brown Rice, Organic Whole Quinoa, Organic Brown Flax Seeds, Organic Brown Sesame Seeds, Filtered Water, Sea Salt, Organic Wheat-Free Tamari (Water, Whole Organic Soybeans, Salt, Organic Alcohol). I pay $6 for a large box containing two bags full of crackers.

Wyman Organic Wild Blueberries and Cascadian Farms Organic Mixed Berries: I try to stock our freezer as much as possible with local seasonal produce including blueberries, but somehow everything gets consumed before the next picking season begins. Costco sells huge bags of frozen berries, blueberries and mixed berries, which means I can afford to restock. I pay around $11 for a huge bag of berries.


Kerrygold Grass Fed Butter and Dubliner Cheese: Here the real reason I joined Costco. Our family goes through a lot of butter. I practically wet my pants (which is totally acceptable with two kids, one being potty-“trained” and the other one in diapers) when I found Kerrygold boxes with 3 bars of butter tucked inside for only $6. A few months later all of those boxes went missing. I, of course, panicked.  When I inquired, after calming down, where my precious butter went I was informed my Costco location only carries it seasonally which means I stock up when it is in.  Even when I can not find butter I can always find 2lb blocks of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese for only $12!

Update: My Costco now sells Kerrygold Butter year round. Hooray!

Coconut oil

Organic, Cold Pressed, Unrefined Coconut Oil: I always have coconut oil stocked in our pantry. I usually buy coconut oil a gallon at a time from Wilderness Family Naturals, but just like Maple Syrup and frozen berries, I sometimes run out. Costco sells 54oz jars of coconut oil for $16, an amazing price. Bring on the granola bars.

Other items I purchase at Costco: Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil from Italy, big bags of organic brown rice and quinoa, pure coconut water (great in the summer), dried figs and dried fruit (check the ingredients), pure vanilla extract, medjool dates, and spices.

Costco also sells many other organic foods such as fruits and veggies, beef, chicken, broths, milk, eggs, and their own brand of butter. I know others who purchase these items, however, I choose to find other sources through my local food co-op and a farm who supplies our meat.

Are you a member of Costco? What are your favorite buys?

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  • Lisa says:

    I was going to message you regarding this very topic! I am headed to Costco tonight, and wanted to find out what you regularly purchase from there so it would make it easier for me to find the”good stuff”! What a pleasant surprise to find this in my email this morning! God is so good! Thanks Kristin.

  • Hannah says:

    Thank you for this post! I have debated about joining Costco, but had the same question…is it just a bunch of junk and flat screen TV’s? Now that I am staying home with our daughter I need to find ways to whittle down our food budget, this post was very helpful! Thanks, Hannah

    • Kristin says:

      I always wondered the same thing about Costco! I was so impressed to find it was so much more than junk and TV’s. So glad the post was helpful! Thank you for sharing!

  • We”ve been debating whether to join again. I remember the thing that really got me going was yeast. The membership paid for itself in what I saved in yeast. 🙂
    Neighbors About Town Blog

    • Kristin says:

      I get my yeast through a grain co-op locally, however, have run out in the past. I will be keeping my eyes open next time I am Costco! Thanks for the tip!

  • Kim says:

    We have made our own vanilla extract before. Basically it is vanilla beans split lengthwise in a bottle with vodka. I imagine this would work in your real food life? It is some of the best vanilla extract I have ever used. My aunt bought a “kit” and it has lasted forever. We need to replenish it soon though…. I found this website that talks about it too.

    • Kristin says:

      Thank you for sharing! We usually make our own vanilla too! When we are out and a new batch is still brewing Costco to the rescue! Great savings tip!

  • I think I just read this to torture myself. We only have Sam’s. I do okay there, but Costco knocks it out of the water. 🙁 Sad.
    Thanks for linking up at Trim Healthy Tuesday!!!

  • MIchele says:

    We live in the Pacific NW, basically blueberry land, but our Costco doesn’t carry them! I used to be able to find them at the Costco stores in Colorado. I bought 20lbs at a u-pick no-spray place nearby and ran out quite a while ago. I think 50 would work well for the year. 🙂

    What is seasonal for the Kerrygold butter at Costco? I have a bunch stocked up in the freezer but maybe I need to stock more. I almost cried when our TJs was out of the unsalted variety as it’s the only kind DH uses.

    I’ll have to see if our Costco has the tuna.

    Ours had organic flax seed in the fall, but it’s no longer there.

    I really dislike the organic chicken they carry. Sometimes they have nice GF sausages that are pork free, so I buy those sometimes if they happen to have them.

    • Kristin says:

      Thank you for sharing! Sounds like you find a lot of great items at your local Costco!

    • Ann says:

      Dubliner cheese turns up in the Christmas season so maybe Kerrygold butter will too. The Costco rule is: if you see it and you want it, buy it NOW. It may not be there next week. I can’t find those big jars of capers anymore and I am grieving. Don’t forget to leave a note in the suggestion box if you can’t find an item you want.

  • Marsha says:

    what about meat prices, veal chops, lamp chops ?

    • Kristin says:

      I haven’t purchased meat from Costco, as I purchase it direct from a farm. I know a few people are really like their meat (some organic selection) and the prices they offer.

  • Greg says:

    You forgot the raw cheeses, buffalo ground beef, sea salt kalamata olives, hawaiian macadamia nuts, organic carrots, San Pelligrino water, $15 avocado trees, generic seconds Le Cuiset roasting pans, vacuum sealing machines and great wages paid to their employees. Love CostCo!

  • I love when Costco has the 20lbs of Organic Unbleached flour.. At 10.00 it’s a much better buy then the 5lbs for $7 at the grocery store. They have only carried this around the holidays so far but I’m hoping it will become a staple! We also always get out Peanut Butter there!

  • Lynn Y says:

    Organic chicken is hard to find by us for a reasonable price except at Costco. Organic ground beef is also a plus. The buffalo is corn fed so we skip it. One of my favorite items is white vinegar. We use it for so much at home and a giant bottle is $3.19. Organic strawberries are also a good price in season so we buy a ton and freeze them. Organic cotton PJs are well priced and perfect for my son with severe eczema. Love Costco!

  • girly says:

    I’ve been buying their organic sugar (they also have raw sugar), and their chocolate chips. They also have the Silk almond milk in both original and unsweetened vanilla.

  • Trish says:

    Where-oh-where are the large tubs of coconut oil? Typically in the cooking oil area? I’ve read that the quality is good but can never find locally.

    I’m very excited to know about the Kerrygold butter – I’ll be looking for that next time! The place is so overwhelming – and usually crowded – that it’s easy to miss things.

    • Kristin Marr says:

      Hi Trish, I totally get the overwhelming and crowded part. It’s amazing how busy our Costco gets. Usually the coconut oil (at my store) is on an end-cap of the aisle, near the oils. The Kerrygold butter is usually found near the specialty cheese section.

  • Linda says:

    I bought the frozen organic vegetables until I read that the product was from China. Read labels closely. Also organic beef & poultry does not necessarily mean responsibly raised or pasture raised.

  • Stephanie says:

    I used to buy their organic canned tomato products, but came to discover they use BPA lined cans! So I check once in awhile to see if they’ve changed that, but not yet. They also sell organic eggs, the price cannot be beat! I wish they’d offer more, though I’m thankful for what they do offer. Every time I’m in there I think, wouldn’t it be great if there was a Costco that was strictly organic items? Just once I’d like my massive grocery cart to be overflowing like I see all around me!

    • Kristin Marr says:

      Hi Stephanie, I’ve noticed that about their tomatoes recently too. I already get in so much “trouble” at Costco. lol, I can’t imagine if they had an all-organic Costco–that would be double trouble ;).

  • leslie says:

    i found 369g of himalayan pink salt for 3.99 which i have seen at other stores for $13 or so.. so i considered this a steal for sure!

  • natalie rivera says:

    I have a few questions. First why do you not recommend the diced tomatos? I dont do farmers market and co-ops because my husband works mon thru fri so no farmers market. I dont have a license or drive. Secondly, I feel too over whelmed with a co-op, actually dont know how to find one or how that works. I buy Melt butter which is vegan, sweetened vanilla diamond breeze almond milk which they never carry at costco. We do more vegan/vegetarian foods. Everyone here has diff tastes and its so hard to meal plan. Im vegan, husband isnt and will do ground beef and forget the chicken. My two older girls will eat whatever I make. My son whos 4 wont eat anything anymore and wants to eat sandwhichs all day!

  • Elizabeth Vargas says:

    Is the coconut oil raw?

  • Elizabeth Vargas says:

    Thanks for your reply. I am glad I have found your blog:)

  • Heidi says:

    Great post. Great blog! I just stumbled across it not long ago and I’ve been “catching up”.

    I saw someone commented about the frozen organic veggies being from China. I had a mini heart attack because I know my husband would not be pleased but I checked ours and the green beans, corn, and peas at our Costco are all grown in the USA. Whew! I guess it may depend on what area you are in.

    We buy all of our frozen fruit and veggies at Costco(the things we aren’t growing yet anyway) and a good majority of our fresh produce there as well. I LOVE Dubliner cheese! Still balking at the price of the grass fed butter though. I may be able to get cream from the same people we get our raw milk from and make my own for cheaper.

    We get pretty much the same things as everyone has listed here I just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying your blog.

    • Kristin Marr says:

      Thank you so much, Heidi!

      I’m so glad to hear about the frozen veggies. I’ll have to check the frozen veggies at my Costco next time I’m there. The raw cream from my farm source is pretty pricey ($12 for a quart). I wish it was a bit cheaper so I could make butter regularly at home. There’s nothing like fresh homemade butter.

      Welcome to Live Simply!!

  • Elizabeth A says:

    We love the organic roasted tomatoes in olive oil. We go through them quickly, as they get added to salads, eggs (especially good sauteed up with mushrooms and garlic for omelet innards), and sandwiches.

    Also, the big jars of water-packed or marinated artichokes. And Salsa Lisa. And blocks of Vermont cheddar.

    • Kristin Marr says:

      Yum, Elizabeth! You’re making me hungry!! Thank you for sharing your finds. I can’t wait to look for the roasted tomatoes in olive oil next time I visit my Costco.

  • Kristy says:

    I recently found out that Costco’s Kirkland brand nuts are pasteurized with PPO. Just thought you’d like to know. We need to flood them with requests to only source nuts that are steam pasteurized!

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