What to Buy at Costco

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I am proud to be a card-carrying Costco member, which surprises many people because my husband and I live in a teeny one-bedroom apartment. And it’s true that we don’t buy the expected items at Costco. I have never once bought toilet paper or paper towels at Costco because we have no place to store either (and we hardly use paper towels to begin with). I am also not in the market for packaged foods, frozen meals or any of the store's home items. Most of what I buy at Costco is healthy, whole food that we can actually fit into our limited cabinet and fridge space. Here’s a list of 20 things I buy at Costco regularly:

1 Nuts
I have a family member who owns a small nut farm, who generously sends me big bags of walnuts and almonds each year, but I still need nuts to carry me through a solid 12 months. Costco’s nut prices are unbeatable, especially when it comes to pine nuts!

2 Cheese
Costco has quality cheese at bargain prices--thank goodness! We often buy comte, Parmesean, cheddar, Boursin 3-packs (a guilty pleasure), brie and manchego. The Cabot cheddar blocks are a particularly delicious and good deal that is great to have on-hand.

3 Produce
People don’t think of fresh produce when they think of shopping at Costco, or if they do, they think, I have such a small family I couldn’t possibly eat Costco-sized proportions. Your produce strategy at Costco should be to buy things that are versatile and will last for many days, and much of Costco produce fits the bill: Apples? Check. Citrus fruits? Check. Cherry tomatoes? Check. Bell peppers? Check. For more perishable items, shop smart: Three English cucumbers are going to be hard to eat for a family of two, but a bag of avocados can be stretched over a week or two, if you check their ripeness and refrigerate accordingly. We LOVE the living lettuces.

4 Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is always super-cheap at Costco. Apricots, raisins, craisins, dried cherries, dried apricots and dried figs are all on my Costco shopping list. However, I avoid the mixed dried fruit bags, which are not as handy for cooking, and the dried blueberries, which weirdly taste salty to me.

5 Frozen Shrimp
I always keep a bag of frozen, uncooked shrimp in the freezer. In a pinch, you can defrost some frozen shrimp in about ten minutes and use them as the base for a meal. Costco’s prices are on both uncooked and cooked frozen shrimp are great.

6 Coffee Beans
If you bought nothing but coffee beans at Costco, it would be worth the price of annual membership. Costco has GREAT coffee, and I am lead to believe their beans are ethically-sourced, as well. We prefer the whole bean coffee in the darkest roast available (don't pay extra for the Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks-branded beans, go Kirkland!).

7 Meat
Heavens, meat is so, so cheap at Costco! However, it really is something that you can’t buy for day-to-day consumption with a small family, like my family of two. That said, if you are planning a dinner party, head to Costco! We are particularly fond of the leg of lamb and filet mignon.

8 Grey Poupon Mustard
Giant ketchup? No thanks. Two big jars of Grey Poupon for $6? Yes, please! I personally prefer Maille to Grey Poupon, but the jumbo two-pack of this brand is too good of a deal to pass up: Do it.

9 Olive Oil
They’re practically giving it away: Opt for extra-virgin. Decant it into a smaller vessel. Done.

10 Canned Tomatoes
Costco frequently has organic, diced tomatoes in cases of six cans. I prefer whole San Marzano tomatoes for a serious sauce, but if you have the space to store extra cans, it really can’t hurt to have these on hand, soups and sauces on-the-fly will become a whole lot easier.

11 Broth
Again, this is one of those pantry staples that is just so cheap at Costco: If you have space, buy a case (vegetarian, chicken, broth, stock, whatever suits your fancy) and have it on-hand.

12 Yogurt
Greek yogurt is super-affordable at Costco. I often buy a big tub and a dozen individual yogurts. The individuals are weird flavors like mango-star-fruit, but for the price, you really can’t complain (though Costco, if you’re listening, we’d love to see the basic honey and the cherry flavor appear at stores soon!).

13 Syrup and Honey
Real maple syrup and giant jars of honey are a real bargain at Costco. These are both extra handy if you use them for making granola, as I do.

14 Spices Salt and Pepper
Most spices are too damn big for my tastes at Costco, but if you pick your battles, you can do well. Whole, black peppercorns are on my permanent shopping list, and I keep getting drawn in by the pink, Himalayan salt grinder whenever I visit.

15 Beer
Beer is cheap-tastic at Costco! We love a case of Heineken, but the real gem only appears in summer months: Costco stocks what we call the “Mexican sampler” which is a variety case of south-of-the-border beers, which are a summer staple. (Note: Costco’s margarita mix also won a taste test when we were tasting marg mixes for our wedding).

16 Oatmeal
The huge box of old-fashioned Quaker oats is a must. I eat either oatmeal or homemade granola almost every morning, so we go through these mega-packs of oats at an astonishing clip.

17 Bars
I am not a huge fan of most granola or energy bars, but Costco stocks two brands that I can get behind: Larabar and Kashi bars. Both are made from whole foods and don’t feel too sweet of processed.

18 Baked Goods
Sure, Costco’s pastries and baked goods are not super-sophisticated, but, if you need to feed a crowd on a budget, dive right in. My recommendations are as follows: The croissants are great for a brunch; the ciabatta are more than serviceable; the pies are really pretty darn tasty—anything else, and you’re on your own.

19 Frozen Berry Mix
Costco stocks a giant bag of frozen mixed berries that we keep in the freezer at all times for smoothies and an impromptu pancake topping (heat them in a pan with a little juice).

20 Water
We tend to drink tap water and jazz up seltzer in our SodaStream, but for occasions when you need bottled water, it doesn’t get much cheaper than Costco. Large jugs of plain, flat Poland Springs are super-duper affordable.

Bonus: Rotisserie Chicken
Recently, I picked up my first Costco rotisserie chicken. I think it cost $7. It wasn’t free range or organic or any of the things I value in a chicken, but it was delicious and cheap as heck, and since I’d spent my Monday evening at Costco, I didn’t have time to cook a chicken of my own.

Non-NY Bonus: BOOZE!
We can’t buy wine or liquor at Costco here in New York City, but if we could, we would!


Elizabeth said...

There's booze over here at the LIC Costco!

Laura Fenton said...

It appears that way, but actually, there's a liquor store right next door to that Coscto (the one on 3rd Ave in Brooklyn has the same set-up). The liquor store is a separate entity.

Liz Fenton said...

I buy most of these things too (plus the tp and pts). But also hummus, pita chips, 4-packs of small french bread, lamb chops, tuna. Our Costco has Peets coffee at a grreat price!


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