Plus, learn how I make sure the large portions don’t go to waste.

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A Costco storefront with a designed treatment
Credit: Getty Images / Tim Boyle

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

If you've ever been to Costco, it's no surprise that they have large portions. For a family of four, it's practically a miracle to find so much good stuff at wholesale prices. But for a person who lives alone, it can be overkill to get so many servings of anything perishable. There are plenty of healthy foods worth stocking up on at Costco, but things like spinach and Greek yogurt don't make sense for me. That said, I am on a budget so I do still shop at Costco because the deals are undeniable. Instead of perishable items like produce and dairy, I usually stick to shelf-stable and freezer items. Here are some things that are always on my Costco list. 

1. Meat

Meat is usually the most expensive item on my grocery list each week. That's why I turn to Costco for high-quality proteins at a discounted per-pound price compared to a typical grocery store (case and point, lamb chops are $11 per pound at Costco compared to $16 per pound at Walmart). I usually always choose chicken thighs, ground turkey, ground beef and salmon, and the sizes at Costco last me close to a month. To keep anything from going bad, I will cut up and portion the meat, then freeze it so I can thaw only what I need for dinner that night. If I am hosting, I turn to Costco for larger or more specialty cuts of meat, too, as they often have a wider selection than a typical grocery store. 

2. Frozen Berries

Besides the occasional farmers market treat, berries are a food I always buy frozen. They are just as nutritious and last for months longer than super-perishable fresh berries. My go-to mix is their Kirkland Signature Three Berry Blend. At $18.65 for a four-pound bag, it costs only $1.17 per pint compared to over $5 or more per pint of fresh berries. My stash of berries makes it easy to make smoothies, overnight oats or a yogurt parfait, so I can always have a nutritious breakfast or snack ready.

3. Canned Beans 

I love legumes. They are environmentally-friendly, super affordable and packed with health benefits. While I try to make dried beans when I have time, I often turn to canned beans for a healthy, filling protein in a pinch. Canned chickpeas and canned black beans are always on my list. They can be easily stored in my pantry for whenever I need them, and getting 12 cans at a time helps me know that I will always have some on hand. From Black Bean Tacos to Classic Hummus, beans can make everything from snacks to dinner. I also add them to dishes like curry or shakshuka for a protein and fiber boost. 

4. Canned Tuna 

Fish and seafood are super healthy foods I am trying to eat more of, but they can be really expensive to buy fresh, even with Costco's discounts. To help me eat more fish on a budget, I make sure I always have canned tuna in my kitchen. At Costco, I can buy six cans of my favorite brand (Wild Caught Tuna) for less than $20. I use canned tuna in recipes like Tuna & White Bean Salad for a quick lunch and Tuna Casserole with Peas for a healthy, filling meal. 

5. Diced Tomatoes 

Diced tomatoes are the building blocks for so many dishes—pasta, soup, casserole, chili, you name it! To me, it feels like a no-brainer to buy them in bulk because it feels like I use them every other night. At Costco, I can buy 12 cans and store them right next to my canned beans. That way, even if I don't have much in the fridge, I know I can probably whip up our Chickpea Curry (Chhole) recipe. If you're looking to keep your sodium intake in check, look for the no-salt-added canned tomatoes.

6. Seltzer 

I have never really been a soda drinker, but sometimes I do like to have something bubbly as an afternoon pick-me-up. Seltzer has no added sugar and no calories, and research has found that it can be just as hydrating as regular water. To have a well-stocked supply, I buy my seltzers at Costco. Though they come in a huge package, they fit snugly on top of my fridge so they are out of the way, yet easily accessible. They even have my favorite brand—Waterloo Sparkling Water.

7. Mixed Nuts

Nuts are packed with healthy fats, proteins and fiber, making them a perfect snack for when midday hunger strikes. Plus, they can be stored at room temperature so they don't take up precious fridge space. I love the Kirkland Signature Mixed Nuts, and if I want to splurge, I'll even get the Extra Fancy pack. Similar to diced tomatoes, opt for the unsalted variety. If you want, you can flavor your nuts at home with our healthy spiced nut recipes

8. Household Items

While these are not foods, I always try to buy household items like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and household cleaners at Costco. These things have virtually no expiration date and can get expensive at the store. But at Costco, I can stock up at a discounted price. It's an easy addition to my cart and saves me money in the long run. 

Bottom Line 

I love Costco's prices and the impressive quality they maintain while being a wholesale store. But for me, it doesn't make sense to do the bulk of my grocery shopping there. Instead, I stick to things that last a long time, like frozen and shelf-stable foods. Plus, it's a great place to get household items in bulk at an affordable price. If you live alone or are on a budget, you can shop at Costco, too. Just focus on items that will save longer than a few days so you avoid wasting food.