Young and Hungry

Strategies to Make the Most of a Whole Foods Salad Bar

Last night, I popped into Whole Foods to swing by the pay-per-pound salad bar to create a veggie-centric dinner. Since I haven't been spending too much time cooking at home, keeping fresh vegetables around my apartment is generally a bad move for me. So Whole Foods is counting on its convenience factor to lure me in. I know it's more expensive, but the quality is better. What about value?

Last week, The New York Times' Nate Silver dissected the value of the Whole Foods salad bar, noting that for many ingredients, the salad bar price is on average 70 percent more expensive than the same product on the shelves. That's not a huge surprise, necessarily.

But if you're trying to get more bang for your buck, Silver notes some things to stay away from and other items to seek out: Skip the romaine lettuce and get baby spinach or mesclun instead. Beets, one of my favorite vegetables, are among the worst values, unfortunately. Silver instead suggests indulging with sun-dried tomatoes.

What strategies have you used to keep your trip to the Whole Foods salad bar relatively affordable?

Photo of a Whole Foods salad bar by Flickr user taberandrew using an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

  • Southeast Ken

    Whole Foods is too expensive period. Only the wealthy can afford to shop there.

  • chris

    the best 'strategy' to eat affordably is to skip the whole foods salad bar!

  • John B

    I think I will pass on the open air trough at the store that disgusting hippies and housewife's with snotty finger spoiled brats prance around at.

  • George

    I've saved over a thousand dollars since Dec by not going to Whole Foods.

  • Brandi

    The Whole Foods salad bar is expensive, but if you care more about convinience than cost, it is the best value out there. I am very busy with work, volunteering, etc, and sometimes the Whole Foods or Harris Teeter salad bar saves me late evening preparation after I'm starving and exhausted. It also saves me rotting produce in my fridge. On those evenings, it's a great value. It all depends on the consumer's priorities.

  • Scott Ninethes

    Yes, Whole Foods is expensive. You get what you pay for. If you want food without preservatives, chemical additives, HFCS, and pesticides, go to Whole Foods. And no, you don't have to be wealthy to shopt here; just like any other grocery, you have to shop smart and know the good deals. And their '365' store brand is exceptional; generally very well priced and free from a lot of awful chemicals and additives you'll find in your chain brands.

    Everybody in DC wants the nicest clothes, fanciest car, and biggest house...but they all want the cheapest food. Of all things to skimp on quality...what goes in my body is not a place to save a few dollars.

    So yes, my family spends a little more on our food and save it elsewhere by being financially smart. We aren't wealthy, but we like to eat healthy, and choose to purchase quality, local, and responsible food over driving a BMW or getting $12 cocktails at the bar. And shockingly...I'm not a hippe...actually a Republican (take cover!)

  • John

    I'm not wealthy by a long shot yet I get all my groceries from Whole Foods. On the other hand I have no car, cable, or gym membership and I am the last person I know with a square TV. You just have to make room for what's important to you.

  • capitalhils

    I can't believe there's no mention of the multiple quinoa, wheatberry, or tofu salads. Go for the things that you wouldn't make at home. Quinoa is especially a good bang for your buck.

  • anon

    I agree with @capitalhils premise, but quinoa, wheatberry and tofu are not difficult to prepare at home. For me it's the collective mix of interesting whole grains, legumes, veggies. I stay away from heavily weighted items, even ones I enjoy like tomatoes and beets. Also stay away from anything with excess water or sauce, as it adds price. I hope Nate Silver didn't wreck my secret value plan -- I often eat at high end prepared food bars like WF (or work) surprisingly affordably.

  • Michael

    How and why you shop at Whole Foods is important. When I go there I look for items that are better than getting at other chains. The "Dirty Dozen" list is one in which you should lean towards purchasing at WF (like grapes, lettuce, etc.). Items like a box of cereal I might as well get cheaper somewhere else. If you want to eat without cooking/preparing then try the salad bar as opposed to going to a fast food restaurant; you'll spend more but in the long term you will likely spend less on health care and live a lifestyle of healthier eating. Spending $10 dollars at WF will do more for your waistline than at McDonalds.

    In response to John, your comments are a reflection of your character.

  • Chris also

    @Southeast Ken
    We aren't rich (we are the so called middle income people who need Obeezy's help. I stay home with my snotty nosed kids and we own a nice home, 15year old volvos and don't live above our means) we do part of our grocery shopping at WF every 2 weeks. It stuns me how people will be cheap on groceries but have $ for cigarettes and booze. It's all about priorities.
    And yes, another non-hippie, republican here too :)

  • Michael

    - barbecue beef brisket - $15.90 per pound but on the salad bar at least once a week in Chicago. I fill my whole box with just this when it is available - a 50% discount!

    - fish - one of the best deals on the bar. The price for prepared cooked fish on the bar is less than buying it raw and cooking yourself. Again, I fill my whole box with it when available...

    - That's about the only two things i buy off the bar but I will on occasion add the seaweed which is also a pretty good deal.

  • Rudi

    I don't care what you rational is...Whole Foods is over priced. And yes, I DO care about the food I put in my body and eat very minimal processed food. That does not mean I have to shop at over priced grocery stores. I know it may not be an option in every city, by I shop at a co-op. The food is largely from local sources and most of the produce is organic. With my membership, I actually get money back at the end of each year for supporting my local farmers. I would much rather give my money to a local co-op than an over prices "republican" owned corporate chain.

  • Amy

    You don't have to shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy. Mercifully, I live in a town that has 4 other options for organic produce and meats, and a county that has many more. So I don't go to Whole Foods when I am at home. But if you are in a strange city, and can't find the community markets, sometimes Whole Foods is a last desperate option.
    It's better than McDonalds.
    If you do choose to eat at the pricey Whole Foods salad bar, here are some ideas:
    1) Stop by produce and pick up a bag of salad greens, or spinach.
    2) You might also want to grab a can of garbanzos or fava beans. They are heavy and pricey at the salad bar, but anyone can open a can.
    3) Consider the salad bar as a "toppings bar" get a small amount of toppings for the variety, in a big box, then after you check out, mix your own much more affordable greens and beans in with the toppings. Lots of salad, less $$$
    4) Focus on the pricey items in the salad bar. Go for salmon, chicken, exotic veggies.
    5) Take things you like, but haven't had time to cook on your own. (Like complicated grain salads.)
    5) BEWARE! The salad bar is not all organic. Most Whole Foods salad bars have about 1/4 organic, but nothing that is not marked is organic. In my local Whole Foods, not even the eggs are organic. If you care about eating organic, shop very warily, or don't eat here.