I am somewhat flabbergasted how I have not yet been approached by Aldi to be put on their payroll. I’ve been their biggest evangelist since this German import started their slow colonization of American shopping centers, extolling their virtues across the internet, and have found myself in more than one Facebook argument with insufferable snobs who think they’re “too good” for Aldi.
If you like a supermarket that coddles you with smoked turkey samples and inoffensive soft rock, Aldi is not for you. Aldi is for people like me who do not mess around—we want our groceries good, fast, and cheap. Who better to give this to us than the Germans? Do you think Angela Merkel has the time to be standing around trying to figure out the differences between 26 types of mustard? Aldi knows she’s got the free world to run, and gives her one type of mustard so she can get in, out, and back to kicking ass. There is no time for silly shenanigans in the canned vegetable aisle when there is important work to be done.
What can make things potentially dangerous is feeling that, because things are so cheap, you need all the things. That will probably happen on your first visit, and I’m not going to stop you, because that initial rush of walking out with an overflowing cart of groceries for less than $200 is positively wondrous. Subsequent visits, though, should be planned—not just for budget, but to prevent you from dropping your entire paycheck on candy. That is not a joke. Below is how I typically spend $100 at Aldi, candy first.
Though it's commonly assumed that one's willpower will break down at checkout, leading to impulse buys, the opposite is true at Aldi. Take their European chocolates, which make their home in a large display several feet from the entrance. What makes them so enticing? Europeans do not see the need screw around with chocolate, so even their shittiest brands are head and shoulders better than American candy bars. Once you’ve stopped squealing like a literal kid in a candy store, you’ll impulsively throw one of each bar into the cart, telling yourself that you’ll come to your senses later on and put them back. Alas, their tiny, slender bodies disappear from view as you steadily fill your cart with more items, and you only remember you have amassed this bounty of candy once it’s time to checkout. Then you’ll have a confluence of high pressure moments: You have to decide if you want to bring it all back and be that person who holds up the line, but if you do decide to go this route, you quickly need to decide the chocolates you love the most, but then everyone online will think you’re not in control of your emotions and the cashier is looking at you wondering what you’re doing and fine I’ll buy $90 worth of candy and I totally meant to do this the entire time so nothing to see here.
Snacks and Crackers: $10
Every little nip and tuck made to trim the overhead of Aldi is worth it solely for the fact that I can get store brand Triscuits for two bucks, which means you can have five 9PM second dinners (I call them “winners”) of crackers, cheese, and red wine. It’s classy!
Aldi has cheap steel cut oats for healthful, delicious overnight oats to wake up to, as well as plenty of dried fruits and nuts. I, however, always forget to do this the night before, which is why I buy two boxes of cornflakes.
Always leave a bit in your budget to replenish these as needed, as they are truly the spice of life. And keep yourself to that five bucks, because I, too, understand the excitement over getting a bottle of mustard for 39 cents (Editor's Note: This was on sale, but still), and how easy it is to get carried away.
Eggs & Dairy: $20
I have eggs for dinner several times a week, because I am far too tired to be cooking anything else on a Tuesday night. Plus eggs are a far cheaper source of protein than meat, meaning I have more money to put toward my cheese habit. Treat yourself to at least one of the fancy cheeses they carry there, because you’re worth it (and because you have a lot of fake Triscuits that need to be eaten).
Pantry Goods: $20
This is a pretty broad category, but because Aldi only carries an abbreviated list of products in the hundreds, (as opposed to the thousands at a traditional supermarket), it's easier to streamline your shopping list and keep your costs way down. You should already have a basic pantry inventory list at home (right?) so you can make sure to always have something to make on the fly: beans, pasta, flour, and canned tomatoes are some of my standbys. Every time you go to Aldi you should be picking stuff up to keep that replenished, and know a few basic pantry recipes (like pasta fagioli) to keep yourself from starving when you’ve run out of cheese and Triscuits.
Aldi doesn’t have the best prices on their meat, but their Never Any! Line is a great value for the quality: no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal byproducts. My personal preference is whatever is on sale, because I'm terrible at making decisions. Also, more money for candy.
I’m not always thrilled with their produce—I normally try to buy stuff at the local veggie market—but they’re great for staple vegetables like potatoes and onions. They also have avocados for crazy cheap, but good luck actually getting your hands on them. Avocados have become the most competitive item in grocery shopping right now; a case of perfectly ripe ones is the edible equivalent of a big screen tv on Black Friday.
Frozen Foods: $10
Aldi has take a cue from it’s cousin company Trader Joe’s and upped their frozen food game significantly. This is has become a major pitfall for me in the past—I was normally able to waltz out the door on budget, but now they’re tempting me with things like artisan pigs in a blanket. Try to be strong and stick to important things, like frozen pizza.
Have a favorite item at Aldi? Tell us in the comments
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now