There’s no debating it: Food is expensive. In fact, a family of four can expect to spend about $130 to $300 per week on food, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates from May 2017. (But that’s still much less than nightly takeout orders or going out to dinner all the time.)
Even if you’re interested in saving money on groceries, there are some things worth a little extra cash. Whether it’s the ingredients, health factors, or just because a little splurge every now and again is good for you, read on for the top foods totally worth the higher prices.
You might have noticed honey prices on your grocery store shelf can be dramatically different — and there’s a reason for it. Although you might have picture-perfect visions of honey being sourced straight from the hive, chances are the bear-shaped plastic bottle you’re eyeing is really imported from China, and it might be diluted with cheap additives, such as high-fructose corn syrup.
When it comes to honey, local is best. So get yours from a local farm stand. Or read the grocery store label carefully, and choose only honeys made in the U.S. from 100% pure ingredients. The taste and quality is well worth the few extra bucks.
2. Greek yogurt
Thick and creamy Greek yogurt can often cost double the price of regular yogurt, but it also has a much higher protein content and keeps you fuller for longer. The increased acidity makes it easier for your body to absorb all the nutrients. In other words, it has a lot of bang for the buck.
To be even healthier, opt for sugar-free plain Greek yogurt, and mix in your own toppings, such as fresh fruit and (real) honey. If you need to save some money, check out the store brand instead of name brand, and stock up during sales.
3. Balsamic vinegar
A good bottle of balsamic isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. Balsamic vinegar can range in price from $200 per ounce to a few dollars for a 16-ounce bottle. So why is there such a difference? The answer lies in what’s in it — and what’s not.
Traditional balsamic is made in Italy using a complex multi-barrel process that produces a dark, glossy liquid that’s a similar consistency to syrup. It’s made with grapes and only grapes — no sulfites. Meanwhile, imitation balsamic is produced all over the world and contains multiple, lower-quality ingredients, such as vinegars that dilute the delicate flavor. These industrially produced imitations mimic the consistency and appearance but don’t come anywhere close to the taste of the real thing.
Do yourself a favor, and splurge a little bit on a good bottle of balsamic. It’ll last for a really long time, and your salads will taste fantastic.
When it comes to chocolate, more isn’t better — better is better. This small indulgence can actually be good for you, helping to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, control blood sugar, and slash stress — but only when you choose the good stuff.
When shopping for chocolate, be sure cocoa is the first ingredient and that the percentage of cocoa is at least 60%. Look for a dark, well-sealed wrapper, which helps to protect freshness.
5. Olive oil
Olive oil fraud has been rampant for years now and has even been the subject matter of class-action lawsuits for mislabeling. Eventually, the USDA stepped in and introduced strict labeling guidelines for extra-virgin olive oil. Now, it can’t be called “extra virgin” unless that’s really true.
But even with these regulations, many olive oils on your grocery store shelves are diluted with cheap fillers, such as sunflower oil, that are made to look like the real thing. Sub-par olive oil is likely to spoil faster, which can end up wasting you money even if you spent less up front.
One way to make sure you’re buying the best? Check out Truth in Olive Oil before you head to the store. A little research goes a long way to choosing the right olive oil.
6. Maple syrup
Quick question: Are you really using maple syrup? If your bottle is labeled as “pancake syrup” or “breakfast syrup,” then there’s a good chance you’re not. Most cheap imitations don’t contain real maple syrup at all but are made from high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives. The good news is these imitations are easy to spot because they can’t legally be called maple syrup unless they were sourced from the sap of maple trees.
Real maple syrup is thick and naturally sweet, meaning you actually need less. And a small bottle should last for quite a while in the fridge. One taste will tell you the extra cost is so, so worth it.
7. Organic meat
There’s been a fair amount of debate over meat quality and farm conditions for livestock. One thing that’s not really a question: Organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free meat products are a lot pricier. But they are also tastier, better for the environment, and more humane. According to The Washington Post, studies show organic meat is also higher in omega-3s, so it’s better for you, too.
If you’re on a budget, try shopping for about-to-expire organic meat that’s been discounted by the store, and then freeze it. You can also shop at discount retailers, such as Aldi, to find high-quality meat for less.
8. Single-origin coffee
About 54% of Americans over age 18 drink coffee every day. For those brewing at home, the options are dizzying. And the range in price is significant.
Single-origin coffee offers several benefits. It simply tastes better, according to the coffee connoisseurs anyway. The beans are individually picked by hand and usually come from farms in countries close to the equator. At $15 or more per 12-ounce bag, it might not be the best choice for every day, but it’s certainly worth it if you want to treat yourself to a small morning indulgence.
9. Wild-caught salmon
When it comes to nutrients, you can’t beat wild-caught salmon. Most cheap and readily available salmon is actually farm-raised. Thousands of salmon are crowded into giant tanks and generally contain higher levels of chemical toxins.
While both farm-raised and wild-caught salmon contain their fair share of vitamins and minerals, wild-caught has more omega-3s, omega-6s, and nutrients, such as potassium and selenium. Plus — you guessed it — wild-caught is said to taste better.
Rice is cheap, and quinoa is healthier. According to Business Insider, imports of this gluten-free grain grew by 519% over a three-year period, thanks to the fact that the seed is cholesterol-free and has more protein and fiber than regular white rice. It’s an easy substitute for most dishes usually made with rice. And it can also be used in unexpected ways, such as in salads or mixed with nuts for a filling snack.
11. Coconut water
It might seem like a gimmick, but in reality this super-hydrating beverage is worth the extra cost. Instead of stocking up on cheap sugary sports drinks, try coconut water instead. It’s naturally high in potassium and helps to replenish minerals lost during physical activity. Just be sure to read the labels to make sure your choice doesn’t have any unnecessary additives.
12. Almond butter
Peanut allergies are rampant. Enter: almond butter. Although they’re definitely more expensive than peanut butter, almond and other nut butters (hazelnut, sunflower, and cashew are all popular) are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. And almond butter has twice the fiber and almost seven times more calcium compared to peanut butter. Plus, did we mention it’s delicious?
You might have heard of this popular superfood, which has been showing up on the health food radar with increasing frequency. And even though chia seeds can cost as much as five times as much as flax, they’re incredibly nutritious, offering more calcium, fiber, and omega-3s with less calories and fat.
14. Organic produce
You don’t have to buy everything organic, but some fruits and veggies are full of icky toxins that can be detrimental to your health. When you’re trying to decide where to splurge and where to save, consult the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen and clean 15 lists, which break down which produce is likely to have pesticide residue and which is generally considered safe.
15. Whole-grain bread
Whole-grain bread can cost up to $1 more than white bread, but the expense is worth it. That extra buck buys you a whole lot of extra nutrients. Be sure to read the label, and look for 100% whole grains, which might include barley, brown rice, whole oats, or rolled oats. All are packed with fiber and are a heck of a lot healthier than nutrient-devoid white bread.