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10 Things I *Never* Buy at Whole Foods (and Where to Go Instead)

Danielle Centoni
June 24, 2021

Whole Foods is a wonderland for eating well. The majority of products are organic and you won’t find anything with high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors and flavors; meats and fish are responsibly raised and sustainably sourced; and the company has pledged to use sustainably sourced palm oil in its store-brand products. That said, there are a few things you should never buy at Whole Foods — and the big reason is price.

Although Whole Foods has mostly lost its “Whole Paycheck” nickname since it was acquired by Amazon (those Prime member deals are hard to beat), there are definitely a few budget-busters still out there. Here are 10 of the worst offenders.

pre-cut butternut squash

Photo Credit: Danielle Centoni

1. Pre-Cut Vegetables

Those clamshells of pre-cut veggies might seem like a great meal-prep shortcut, but you’ll be paying far more than if you bought the item whole and took a few minutes to cut it yourself. Plus, you’ll avoid the plastic waste.

Do the math: An organic whole butternut squash costs about $4.17 for a 3-pounder at most stores, while 21 ounces of cubed squash costs $6.99 at Whole Foods. Sure, cutting a butternut squash can require some muscle (microwave it for a few minutes and it’ll be far easier to cut), but is it worth paying nearly $3 more to skip the chore?  

2. Boxed Mac and Cheese

Kids aren’t the only ones who crave the quick comfort of boxed mac and cheese, and Annie’s is the gold standard of the organic options. But if you want to stock up on this pantry staple, shop elsewhere.

Do the math: At Whole Foods, a box costs $2.19, which is almost a dollar more than most other stores, including Target, which sells it for $1.29 a box.  

3. Quinoa

Versatile and packed with protein and fiber, quinoa is one of those grains that everyone should have on hand — and you should buy it in bulk at Costco. 

Do the math: At Whole Foods, a pound of store-brand quinoa costs $5.39; at Costco, it’s closer to just $2 per pound for a 4.5-pound bag. 

rao's tomato sauce

Photo Credit: Danielle Centoni

4. Rao’s Homemade Pasta Sauce

Rao’s marinara sauce wins just about every taste test and it’s easy to see why. Made in small batches with wholesome ingredients and no added sugar, it really does taste just like homemade. But if you’re a fan, skip grabbing it at Whole Foods.

Do the math: A 32-ounce jar costs $10.49 at Whole Foods; you can find it for $2 cheaper at Target.

5. Vanilla Beans

From puddings and custards to fruit compotes and homemade ice cream, some things really are miles better when infused with the lush flavor of a vanilla bean — not to mention all the lovely little specks it imparts. There’s no doubt that vanilla beans are pricey no matter where you get them, but at Whole Foods they’re priced like jewelry.

Do the math: A package of three Madagascar vanilla beans costs $25. That’s just over $8 per bean. At Kroger, you can get a package of two organic Madagascar vanilla beans for $8.19.

strawberry preserves

Photo Credit: Danielle Centoni

6. Strawberry Preserves

Strawberry is America’s most popular flavor of jam, but strawberries are also one of those fruits that often end up contaminated with pesticides. That’s why it’s extra important to buy organic strawberries, even in jam form — and you can find the best bang for your buck at Costco.

Do the math: At Costco, you can get a 42-ounce jar of Kirkland brand organic strawberry jam for $7.50. Compare that to Whole Foods 365 Everyday non-organic strawberry jam, which costs $5.29 for 23 ounces.

7. Honey

If you love baking with honey, you know how quickly you can blow through an entire jar in just a couple recipes, which is why Costco is your best bet.

Do the math: At Whole Foods, the most affordable honey is the store brand at $7.99 for 24 ounces. It’s organic, but it’s not raw and unfiltered. Your best bet is Costco’s Kirkland organic raw and unfiltered honey at $10.92 for a whopping 3 pounds.

8. Fresh Ravioli

Tender raviolis stuffed with soft cheese or pureed squash can turn an ordinary dinner into something special. But skip the offerings at Whole Foods, in favor of Trader Joe’s or Target.

Do the math: At Whole Foods, ravioli cost nearly $1 per ounce ($7.99 for 8 ounces). Not only is the selection at TJ’s much bigger and often changes seasonally, it’s far cheaper — $3 to $3.50 for an 8-ounce package. Even Target is cheaper, offering Good and Gather burrata and lemon zest raviolis for $4.29 for 9 ounces.

what not to buy at whole foods: butter

Photo Credit: Danielle Centoni

9. Butter

The butter selection at Whole Foods is like its cheese case — fancy. Most of the butter is cultured or imported, which is great for slathering on baguettes, but not the most affordable option for baking.

Do the math: If you want organic, you’ll have to shell out $7.99 for Organic Valley. But over at Trader Joe’s, you can get organic butter for about $5 a pound.

10. Terra Chips

When you’re feeling snacky, Terra root vegetable chips are a great way to get your crispy-salty chip fix while getting the health benefits of root vegetables like beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes. Those 5-ounce bags go quick, so you want to make sure you’re not overspending. 

Do the math: At Whole Foods they cost $4.99; head to Target instead where they’re a dollar cheaper.

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