Ah, Whole Foods. Home to overpriced kombucha, yummy mummies, carrying the invariable yoga mats and salad bars so appetizing you could eat there for days.
There's a lot to love about Whole Foods. The variety is amazing, you feel healthy and virtuous and the sales assistants are actually pretty helpful. (Verging on super smug and annoying, but let's ignore that for now.)
Walking around can be a fun, if somewhat daunting experience.
The real downside, of course, is the price. It is worryingly easy to leave with a $150 bill, to realize you've bought hummus, crackers and some almonds.
And yet, like the masochists and suckers for gluten-free kale chips that we are, we keep going back.
Whole Foods fell into a bit of trouble recently when it was caught overcharging customers in California. Un-cool. You could even argue it DESERVES to have its system cheated.
The struggle is real. Our bikini bodies need raw, unfiltered coconut water, our bank balances need to be less depleted and, trust me, you can absolutely win at this.
Here's how to keep the Whole Foods obsession alive, while beating the system.
1. Free Samples.
This is possibly the ultimate way to hack Whole Foods. It is entirely feasible to make a meal out of samples. More than a meal, in fact, it's possible to feel nauseated from samples alone. There is nothing we love more than the combination of free food and the element of surprise.
It's always exciting not to know what your “meal” will comprise of. It could be two chunks of a new whey protein bar, a little sip of a green power juice and three samples of lavender-infused cheese. You could get lucky and find the bakery section is sampling its new chocolate and matcha cookies.
The rules are simple: Be nice to the people working the sample table, take ample amounts of everything, and come back for more, exactly five and a half minutes later. Also, always approach a crowded table. You'll never be seen and can stuff about eight samples into your purse.
2. Stealing from the bins.
This is a little more ethically questionable, but I'm here to help you justify. The bins of cereals, granolas and dried fruit are so open and accessible, they're almost begging to be stolen from. A surreptitious look around, a quick hand into the sesame sticks and you're away.
If there's no staff around, you're golden. If there's a woman with children who looks like she's judging you, remember you will never see this woman again and really don't care what she thinks of your non-existent moral compass.
Also, it's known that Whole Foods is overpriced, and one of the reasons for this (probably) is to account for this kind of stealing. They know you don't pay for every apple-juice infused strawberry and chia-granola piece, and subsequently mark up other, harder-to-steal items.
It's what makes the world go round, and really, you'd be putting their yearly figures out of kilter if you didn't steal from the bins.
3. The salad bar.
The salad bar is a bit of a con, and charging by weight means it's hard to spend under $15. When putting together your salad container, be strategic. First, learn to like lighter toppings, like onions and shredded carrot. Learn to hate heavier vegetables like cucumber and sweet potato. (God, I love sweet potato.)
Also, the salad bar contains items that are sold in other, separate places in the store, but some of these items are more expensive on the salad bar. Remember, they charge by the pound.
So put together your salad container with basic, light essentials, like lettuce and kale. Then, buy other store items. At home, you can add avocado and nuts and whatever else you bought separately. Same salad, for less.
4. Don't do all your shopping at Whole Foods.
Learn which products are cheaper there than at other stores. This article highlights the products that are less expensive at Whole Foods than Safeway, like organic milk, pretzels, peanut butter and paper towels. Winning.
Also take tips from a former employee, who says the items you should be buying elsewhere include meat, pies and butter.
5. Devious measures.
Try to distract/flirt with the assistant weighing your salad at the end. If you can slide the edge of the container off the scale, your final total will be significantly less.
This is actually pretty easy to do, like at the airport when you know your luggage is overweight.
6. Stealing, Part Two.
This one may be even more morally questionable, but entirely do-able and highly satisfying. Walk around the store in a calm and orderly fashion, putting whatever items you feel like eating at that very moment in your basket.
Don't worry about the price, you won't be paying. As you shop, start to eat the items. You don't need to hide that you're doing this; just smile reassuringly at each person you pass, in a way that totally implies you'll be saving the wrapper to pay for your cardamom-scented, dairy-free chocolate bar. (You won't.)
When you get to an empty aisle or dark corner, simply drop the wrapper or core from your organic non-genetically modified apple, and keep walking. No one will see you do so, and no one cares enough to accuse you anyway. The ultimate win.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It