Eating Healthy on a Budget: Aldi

by Rayne DeVivo

Today I’m admitting something embarrassing to Chambanamoms readers.

Credit: Retail Mania, Flickr

Credit: Retail Mania, Flickr

My whole adult life I’ve heard tales of the great deals to be had at Aldi, but I’ve been too anxious to shop there. I tried to go there a decade ago and was flummoxed by the shopping carts and left without stepping foot in the store.

Earlier this year I sought out an Aldi mentor to prepare for my maiden shopping trip.

A round of applause goes to Sally in Chatham who held my hand via Facebook and armed me with the knowledge to be successful. There are serious deals on food at Aldi without clipping a single coupon.

What you need to know to successfully shop at Aldi:

• Don’t be anxious about the quality of the food. It’s good and if you don’t like it, return the food or EVEN the EMPTY packaging with your receipt and Aldi will refund you money AND replace the product. My family has taste-tested a lot of Aldi food this year and it always tastes like name brand. The packaging is a cheaper quality though. The plastic bags for pretzels and crackers shred easily after they are opened.

• Aldi and Trader Joe’s are owned by the same company, and some Aldi products are identical to the products Champaign-Urbana folks drive to Indy, Chicago or *ahem* Nashville to purchase at Trader Joe’s.

• Bring a quarter to rent the shopping cart. Use the quarter to unlock the cart and when you return the cart to the store, your quarter pops out.

• Bring shopping bags with you. Aldi does not provide free bags and employees do not bag your groceries. After you pay, you are able to bag your food at the counter near the front doors.

• Choice is limited. There is only one size of any given product.

• Aldi only accepts cash, debit cards, and SNAP. I urge you to bring cash because I have found their debit card scanners to be unreliable. It is unpleasant to stand at the register with a toddler shrieking “boobies” at the top of his lungs while your debit card won’t scan, you only have $15 in cash for $50 in groceries, and they won’t take a check or key in the debit card information.

What you gain by all these unusual choices is that most of the products are at or close to the “Great Buy” price ALL THE TIME.

The blocks of cheese are $1.49 per 8-ounces without a sale price or a coupon. Six packs of granola bars that retail at other stores for almost $4 are $1.89. There are also rotating deals that change weekly. Pineapples were a special buy last week and were priced at $0.99 each.

I am careful about high fructose corn syrup at Aldi. Same as other supermarkets, it’s in a lot of products it doesn’t need to be in. But at Aldi, the limited choice means that if you find HFCS in the applesauce, which I did, there is no HFCS-free option.

Good luck! I hope these tips give you the confidence to try Aldi and not turn back before you even get in the door.

Photo by Bob Devivo

Rayne DeVivo is an attorney and a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law.  A Hoosier by birth, Rayne has lived in central Illinois for 15 years.  She currently stays home with her two sons, Henry and Quinn. Rayne’s hysterical tale of taking her sons grocery shopping is one of the most popular articles of 2011.

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  1. We shop at Aldi’s every week. There are some things that I just don’t like there, like their American cheese, and some things I just can’t get so I always make 2 stops with groceries but the price difference is so worth it. Even with coupons, the other store usually have higher prices. The lower prices at Aldi’s allows us to have, and stick to, a $300 a month grocery budget for a family of 4!

  2. I have come to love Aldi too. Your being “flummoxed” by the shopping cart made me laugh outloud; it is interesting to be swapping quarters with someone that is walking up just as you are returning yours.

    My Aldi favs are Gorgonzola and fresh mozzarella. I check the produce there before I go anywhere else, and fish & shrimp are usually good deals.

    FYI, the Crofton kitchen appliances there are always fantastic.

  3. Can you give some examples of products at Aldi that are identical to those available at Trader Joe’s?

  4. I shop there almost weekly, since it’s just a block away from my house in Urbana. I just wanted to say, for the benefit of other readers, that I have never had a problem swiping my debit card at my Aldi’s, and I NEVER have cash on me. In fact, I often use Aldi’s as my personal ATM and get cash back from them when I shop there. So hopefully that was just a onetime bad experience for you, Rayne.

  5. In the reading I did for putting this together, rumor has it that frozen veggies are TJ, catsup is Heinz, chicken is Tyson.

  6. And if you forget your grocery bags… fret not! You can pillage the store for empty or nearly-empty boxes and use those to pack up your grocery haul. But then, of course, you’ll have a mountain of corrugated cardboard to recycle…. and around here, that’s no small feat.

    Glad you had a positive experience!

    I just wish the one here carried yeast. Alas. We can’t have it all.

  7. We get staples at Aldi- frozen fruit, frozen veggies, right now I have a box of corn flakes on my counter from aldi, sugar, flour, I’ve even had *really* good luck with the dishwashing detergent. Our grocery budget is $400/month for 4 people. And their spices are very basic, but cheaper. I’ve found Amy’s pizzas and other frozen goodies of hers, Laughing Cow cheese, and the garlic lovers hummus is incredible.

    However. I *hate* their fresh veggies. I will get potatoes or onions or bananas, but that’s it.

  8. Most of their special buys in the frozen food section are very similar to Trader Joe’s. They have delicious marinated seafood and specialty pastas, and every year during the superbowl they have a football-shaped Carvel ice cream cake that is out of this world.

    I especially love their Fit and Active brand (low-fat items). When visiting my sister in Carbondale, we stopped at a winery and decided to get cheese and crackers. The crackers they were trying to sell (at $4 a box)? Fit and Active brand from Aldis. Aldi’s charges $1-2 for the same thing, although I bet none of the patrons at the winery had a clue they were eating over-priced Aldi’s-brand crackers (which were delicious and basically wheat thins).

  9. Dannette says:

    I love Aldi’s especially the double seated carts great for my twins. Only have two problems the first is switching the carts at check out ugh what a hassle to switch them over and dig out my money (but worth it for the savings) and number two: DO NOT eat the tomato products like their spagehtti o’s and spagehtti sauce it makes every one in my family and everyone I know sick plus it tastes terrible. I buy those products name brand at my local walmart. My family LOVE their cheese and milk. My twins go through a gallon a day alone not to mention what I and my older daughter drink and thats a lot for a single mom to handle alone. (Kids father passed away 2 days after birth) My family does not drink soda but we do drink some juice and mainly milk. Take advantage of the prices and stock up!

  10. The place has nothing but junk food. That’s why everyone in there is fat. Don’t go to Aldi’s. Thier Fit & Active brand is a joke. It’s terrible for you. It’s full of sugar. You may save money but you’ll die young eating at Aldi’s.

  11. I only buy fresh produce there and only if I don’t find a better buy at my usual store.
    I believe they are owned by two brothers actually, one who owns Trader Joe’s and the other Aldi but both are their own separate company.I don’t agree with Don on the dying young part—not any different then shopping everywhere else—you always need to read labels!