12 Grocery Items You Shouldn’t Splurge, According to Chefs

12 Grocery Items You Shouldn’t Splurge, According to Chefs – The grocery store is the indecisive person’s worst nightmare. Many choices await at every turn and decisions have to be made about what to buy for food, which brand and variety of produce you should choose, and what price you are willing to pay.

Luckily, there’s plenty of advice out there about the best grocery items to buy in the freezer section or in bulk, products you shouldn’t pick up in the cleanup section, the most convincing store-brand alternatives, and more. The chef has even recently opened up about foods you’re always allowed to spend a little more money on, like fresh, grass-fed beef and premium olive oil.

But, what about the other side of this? We’ve reached out to trusted, experienced chefs once again to answer questions about what items you should make Never splurge at the grocery store. Read on to find out which foods made it to the list and make sure you’re not wasting money on your next grocery shopping spree.

close-up woman pouring a cup of blueberries into hand, food for burning belly fat

With decades of culinary experience working as a private chef for top celebrities and public figures from Michael Jackson to former US President Barack Obama, chef Chase Kai know a thing or two about how to allocate funds in a grocery store. And, while she says many of the recipes she makes for her celebrity clients and even herself are rooted in fresh, seasonal produce, there are many items in this category that she says just aren’t worth the extra moola.

“I would never splurge on fruit and vegetables categorized on a ‘Dirty Dozen’ product list,” he said, referring to the non-profit Environmental Working Group’s annual ranking of non-organic fruit and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues. “These include peaches, nectarines, kale, strawberries, blueberries and more. Instead, I prefer to shop for these items at my local farmers market, where they are available organically and most likely at their freshest.”

Tomatoes in the produce section of a supermarket
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Chase’s specialty also highlights only the freshest fruit and vegetables in its dishes. So, he always goes through anything that’s out of season. He says these foods are not only more expensive out of season, but also less flavorful and less nutrient-dense overall. “I prefer to prioritize seasonal produce in my recipes to get a taste of fruit and vegetables!” he added.

Costco Bakery cakes and pastries

While the heavenly aromas wafting from the grocery store’s baked goods section can be tempting, Chase suggests staying strong and saying “no thanks” to these sweet treats. “Making baked goods at home always tastes better, and you have more control over the quality of the ingredients that make up the final product,” he says. It can also help you avoid unhealthy preservatives commonly found in store-bought baked goods that help extend their shelf life, notes Chase.

salad dressing

Last on Chase’s list is another item he thinks is always better made at home: salad dressing. Longtime chefs note that not only are homemade sauces more economical and easier to make, but they’re also more flavorful, free of unnecessary artificial ingredients and preservatives, and typically lower in calories than store-bought varieties.

For the same reason, chef Jasmine Golden, creator of the Golden Truffle recipe blog, adding ready-made salad dressing to her grocery store shopping list, too. She suggests making your own with healthier ingredients like olive oil and vinegar.

Frozen dinners on display at the local grocery store.
Picture Party/Shutterstock

In the freezer aisle, Golden skips packaged frozen foods, which he says “can be expensive and often contain unhealthy ingredients like added sugar, salt, and preservatives.” These unwanted additives tend to make these choices higher in calories and they also provide almost no nutritional value. As a healthier alternative that doesn’t break the bank, she recommends cooking your own meals at home from fresh, whole ingredients.

soda aisle with soda cans and bottles

“Sweet drinks like soda, juice, sports drinks, and energy drinks are full of empty calories that provide no nutritional benefit,” Golden continues. “They can also cause weight gain and dental problems because of their high sugar content. In addition, these drinks can be expensive and may not even quench thirst the way water does.” To help protect your health and your wallet, choose something like an herbal tea or just plain water—a much more economical option.

energy bar type
Courtesy of KIND

Evidently, energy comes at a premium when you buy it in bar form. Golden says these products may masquerade as convenient and healthy snack options, but they are often too expensive and “many of them contain added sugars and unhealthy fats that can contribute to weight gain.” He offers raw foods like nuts, fruits, or vegetables as smarter substitutes.

Processed deli cold cuts

Processed meat is meat that has been altered through methods such as smoking, salting or pickling to extend its shelf life. And, according to Golden, it’s best to avoid this meat when you find it in the grocery store. “Processed meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs can be high in calories and fat,” she explains. “On top of that, they often contain sodium and artificial preservatives, which can increase your risk of certain diseases. For this reason, it is best to avoid overspending on processed meats and choose healthier sources of protein such as fish, nuts or eggs instead.”

spice seeds and seasonings in matching spice jars

As creator of food blog YummyTasteFood and an established pastry chef with experience working at some of the world’s largest hotel chains including Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, Norah Clark has some important advice when it comes to grocery shopping. Most importantly, he says, “it’s wise to focus on quality and value when shopping for groceries and avoid overspending on items that don’t offer significant benefits in terms of taste or nutrition.”

Because of this, she mentions brand-name spices as something to avoid in stores. He explains that “store-brand condiments are often just as flavorful and high-quality as their brand-name counterparts, but at a fraction of the cost.”

As Golden previously pointed out, swapping sugary drinks like soda and juice for water is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. But, not if you’re grabbing store-bought bottled water, according to Clark. He says drinking tap water is much cheaper (you may already be paying your water bill), it’s more environmentally friendly because it eliminates the need for single-use plastic, and it’s just as good as bottled water unless you happen to live in an area with water quality problems.

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Rao's homemade marinara sauce
Courtesy of Costco

Most grocery stores carry a ton of fancy-looking pasta sauces from marinara to pesto. It might be fun to treat yourself to one of these particular options, but Clark cautions that the price can be inflated and unnecessarily. “High-quality, homemade pasta sauce is often more flavorful and affordable than store-bought,” she admits. “You can make a delicious sauce tailored to your taste preferences with just a few simple ingredients.”

various types of salt

To round out her list of don’t-splurge items, Clark sprinkles her with some gourmet salt. “Most people can’t tell the difference between gourmet table salt and regular table salt, so save yourself a buck and stick to the latter for everyday cooking,” she says. Be sure to follow his advice so you don’t end up “salty” looking at your grocery bill.