Nothing makes the "Whole Foods, whole paycheck" stereotype ring truer than realizing you went overboard on the hot bar and racked up a pretty serious bill. It's easy to be lured in to the plethora of options and keep piling on the meat, pasta salads, and veggies, and before you know it, you've got a box packed to the brim and a price tag to match (reminder: the bar is priced at $8.99 per pound!). But there are a few tips and tricks that, when put in practice, can help shed some of the unwanted expense of the beloved self-serve area. If you're like me, you have no shame in stopping by Whole Foods for dinner in a pinch, but you don't want to spend a fortune. Here's what you can keep in mind the next time you find yourself grabbing a box and approaching the seemingly endless array of foods at the hot bar and the salad bar at Whole Foods, and you'll walk out of the store with more of your hard-earned cash intact.
Don't buy bone-in meat.
The fried chicken and ribs sure look good, but the one thing that bone-in meat is sure to do is make your price skyrocket. Avoid wasting any of your box's weight on heavy bones, and opt for the other meats like grilled chicken, baked fish, and pulled pork.
Buy the protein, but skip the sides.
One of the things I like to do when I need dinner ASAP and I don't have enough time to cook a whole meal is buy a protein from the Whole Foods hot bar, but avoid buying any starches or vegetable sides. If you have any frozen vegetables, greens lingering in your fridge, or rice or pasta in your pantry, try combining what you already have with a store-bought protein to complete your dinner. Adding on veggies, rice, or the unexpectedly expensive mashed potatoes will only weigh down your box, and they're worth skipping if you have anything to work with at home. If you do need to buy a vegetable, head out of the self-serve area and buy something like a head of broccoli or bunch of asparagus from the produce section — you'll get way more bang for your buck.
Don't grab the largest container.
You know what they say: your eyes are bigger than your stomach. If you typically reach for the largest container "just in case" you don't think there will be enough room, try downsizing next time. Each container fits more than you think, and unless you're sharing with others and splitting the cost, the largest one will likely leave you with a high price tag and plenty of leftovers. Do yourself a favor and start small, and you've already set yourself up for success.
Go for the leafy greens.
If you're focusing on the salad bar, stick with leafy greens like spinach and arugula that are lighter than other lettuces like romaine. The greens will count for the tiniest percentage of the total weight, so you can free yourself up to go heavier on the toppings.
Weigh as you go.
Don't forget that Whole Foods has scales in the produce section, and you can totally weigh your box of food there. Before you've overdone it, see how much weight you're working with and then decide if you really need to add more. Each scoop adds up quickly, so this guarantees you will stick to your intended price range and won't be shocked at the register.