Let’s just get one thing out in the open: I shop at Aldi and I am not ashamed.
My first encounter with an Aldi store was some years ago when I lived in Arkansas. I drove past one almost daily for 6 years but never mustered the courage to stop. It was located in one of those strip-mall type places that sometimes induce fear and misconceptions so I chalked it up as being one of those scratch and dent/bargain bin/food-on-the-brink-of-death stores. When I relocated to Charlotte, I saw even more Aldi stores again located in strip-malls with although not too questionable neighbors, but businesses that I’d just never frequent. I continued to pass them by without a second thought.
It wasn’t until about two years ago when I took notice of the newly razed patch of ground a few miles from my house proudly displaying an Aldi “Coming Soon!” sign that I began to wonder about the store. It occurred to me that if they were truly a cheap food store, they would not be building a brand new store on a prime piece of Mecklenburg County real estate. Visiting an Aldi became top of my list of things to do and I soon found that my opinion of them was undeserved.
Aldi is a German owned and operated company that was founded in 1913 to initially appeal to the working class. They were able to deeply discount items by keeping their stores small, selling no fresh produce, having few offerings within a product line and removing from inventory any items that did not sell. With the exception of now selling fresh produce, they still stand by many of those same practices – you won’t find fancy shelves and displays and you won’t find 10 different choices of an item. You’ll pay a quarter to release the cart from the chain gang (and I guarantee you won’t find any loose carts in the parking lot.) They don’t accept credit cards (cash, debit or EBT only) and you’ll bag your items using your own bags or carry items out balanced precariously in your arms.
What you will find at Aldi is privately branded staple items and inexpensive household items. The U.S. division of Aldi has been around since the late 1970’s and also operates Trader Joe’s. If you look closely, you’ll see similarities in a lot of products, just different packaging. I’ve spent a lot of money at Aldi since my discovery and in return received excellent quality and value – I’ve never been disappointed in their products and even if I were, they have a double money back guarantee meaning if you aren’t happy you not only get your money back but they’ll also replace the item if you wish.
Before making the move to real and organic foods, nearly all of my shopping was done at Aldi but since then I do have to supplement some items from other places. I’ve recently noticed that my store is carrying more organic items so a larger portion of my grocery budget is going into Aldi’s pocket once again. The chain has also just recently announced that they will now carry several gluten-free items on a permanent basis. So many people argue that eating real and/or organic food is expensive, but Aldi is living proof that the lifestyle can be budget-friendly.
If you are looking to trim your grocery expenses and still eat quality ingredients, run to your nearest Aldi store and check them out! Here are some items that I buy at Aldi on a regular basis to support my real food lifestyle. Remember it is still important to be a food label reader no matter where you shop.
Dairy and cheese: You’ll find an excellent variety of cheeses at Aldi – especially during the holiday season. Goat cheese always goes home with me and I’ll occasionally pick up one or two other imported selections. I normally purchase organic whole milk but if Aldi is my only shopping stop, I’ll concede to their organic 2%. I use it for smoothies and along with their plain Greek yogurt for my breakfast oatmeal during the week.
Nuts and dried fruits: I buy a lot of nuts and dried fruits here since they are more reasonably priced than other stores. Whole almonds and cashews are my go-to snacks and dried cherries, cranberries, apricots and pineapples are used for homemade granola or mix-ins for my breakfast oatmeal. I also stock up on walnuts during the holiday baking season.
Fruits and vegetables: I can’t always afford organic fruits and vegetables but if Aldi offers them, I do choose them over conventional produce. Their regular organic offerings include lettuce, carrots, cherry tomatoes and apples. Bell peppers, asparagus, lemons, limes, avocados and fresh pineapple are also significantly cheaper here. All of these items, along with any other fresh fruits and veggies like cucumbers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower usually go home with me on a weekly basis. Do the best you can with what you can afford and be mindful of the “dirty dozen” if you have to make a choice between organic and conventional.
Pastas and canned goods: I’ve started noticing more whole wheat pastas and some organic canned goods being offered, so I always grab a few boxes and cans to replenish the pantry.
Frozen foods: I stock up on frozen organic blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for smoothies and occasionally pick up a bag of frozen peas to toss into salads or soups. I also buy their jumbo uncooked shrimp to keep on hand for quick and easy meals. On my last trip I picked up a box of both strawberry and blueberry organic frozen yogurt bars that were really tasty.
Crackers and snacks: Almond butter and cashew butter have recently made an appearance on Aldi shelves and make great protein rich snacks when paired with an apple or crackers or added to smoothies. Organic honey and “real” maple syrup are pantry staples and are used to sweeten my oatmeal and smoothies. I also occasionally buy Aldi’s version of Triscuits and always pick up my one indulgence – chocolate.
They distribute a German brand of chocolate bar called Moser Roth in several different varieties but I always go for the 85% cocoa. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it pairs so well with a glass of wine in the evenings for dessert. They are very reasonably priced and despite the fact that they do contain soy lecithin as an ingredient, it’s the best I can do for the money. It is hard to find chocolate without this emulsifying ingredient and when you do, the bars are usually upwards of $4. The Moser Roth packages contain 5 individually wrapped bars that are the perfect serving size.
Among the multitudes of bags of chips, you’ll find Blue Corn Tortilla chips made with organic corn masa and I also love the multi-grain flaxseed chips and they carry organic salsa as well.
Convenience items: I’m not going to lie. Even on a real food lifestyle, I do sometimes cop out to convenience/fast food/junk food just like most everyone else. There are days where I just do not feel like cooking or there just isn’t enough time. Again, I try to do the best that I can with my selections. My freezer almost always has one of Aldi’s “Specially Select” frozen pizza varieties. Containing minimally processed ingredients, uncured pepperoni with no nitrates and sometimes organic ingredients, again it is the best choice I can make with my money.
Meats: Other than a very occasional package of prosciutto to add to an antipasti platter, I do not purchase meat items from Aldi or any other grocery store. Instead, I belong to a CSA and pick up my monthly meat allowance from a local North Carolina farm called Windy Hill.
I could ramble on and on about my love of Aldi but I think you get the idea that if you aren’t familiar with the store, you should be. It isn’t a one-stop-get-all-your-shopping-done kind of store and among the real and organic items there is alot of processed food and junk food, but just like any store it can be as healthy and real as you make it. If you’re still curious about Aldi but not brave enough to go in just yet, check out this three-part series about the store written by Ali, a Kansas City blogger.