how to beat the whole foods salad bar

how to beat the whole foods salad bar

It’s been well documented that Whole Foods is expensive. But I’m not here to talk about that. In fact, I’m glad it’s expensive, keeps me from having to look at poor people while I shop for groceries.

I am here, however, to offer a solution to the $20 salads many of us have bludgeoned ourselves with. It seems as though no matter how much you try to cut back, it’s always at least $13.05.

After talking to my accountant last month I learned that I spend an average of $800/month on the Whole Foods salad bar. I realized I had a problem.

But maybe it was a bigger problem.

When asked my favorite restaurant during an interview by a local magazine, my answer was Whole Foods. When friends come to visit from out of town and want a cultural, California experience, I take them to Whole Foods.

Truth is, I don’t care about nice restaurants if I can’t get a drumstick, mac and cheese, and a slice of pizza in the same meal. I also don’t care that much what my friends see when they’re here, as long as I get my green smoothie in every day.

Unlike some of the desperate people, I don’t shop at WF because spending money there makes me feel relevant; I shop there because they have the best selection of fresh and healthy food in my neighborhood.

But I’m not rich and I definitely felt like an asshole when I saw the WF debit on my monthly income statement.

I enjoy a problem like this because it gives me an opportunity to put my neurosis to work and find a solution.

The good news is, I’ve cracked the code on how to beat the Whole Foods salad bar.

I will get you to a salad that hits all your nutritional needs, fills your belly, and gets you out of the door for under $8.

Let’s start with the basic psychology behind the salad bar containers. Nobody wants to put their food on the open paper plates, it’s trashy. Plus the food gets cold, and everyone in line will see the 3 pieces of bacon you’ve hidden under your arugula.

And the small containers are for pussies, right? Not really. It’s just that the large containers are for people who vacation at Disney World and give the little ones a bad name.

whole foods salad bar

Say goodbye to the big containers in your head and heart right now and understand that it’s no longer an option. If this is difficult for you, fill up a big container with salad and then dump it onto a plate and see that it’s the largest, most obnoxious salad you’ve ever seen.

Grab a small container, no matter how you feel about it, and head towards the greens. Lay down a firm bed of greenery before turning the corner to the vegetables.

Get a lot of different colored veggies in your salad because it’s good for you and it’s fun, and your usual salad is depressing.

whole foods salad bar

Understand that it’s $8.49/lb whether you get 1 piece of chicken or 3 handfuls of spring mix. It’s important to identify the items that weigh you down (slam!). This is usually the hot food items. And since no respectable person likes to eat a salad without at least a little warm food mixed in, it gets very expensive.

That’s why players use the brown rice.

whole foods salad bar

WF conveniently forgets to mention (anywhere) that the brown rice is only $3.99/lb, all day, every day.

Grab a scoop or two and put it in a separate, soup container so you don’t confuse the tribe of native hipsters working the cash registers.

We’re almost done in the salad bar section but first we need some dressing to lubricate our greens, because that kale is going to get stuck in your teeth and people will look at you funny all day.

Most of the dressings that WF offers are gross, except the lemon herb. But we’re not even going to mess around with that. Grab a little to-go container from behind prepared foods and mix up a few drops of balsamic with a couple ounces of olive oil.

If you’re like my friend Ian (sorry bro) you would put the dressing in your pocket now. But I don’t support thievery, unless it’s at Walmart.

whole foods salad bar

Don’t fill the container past ¾ or else your salad will tip past the point of no return on the highly volatile salad-to-salad-dressing ratio.

Whatever you do, don’t put your dressing directly on your salad, it will be a soggy mess by the time you’re ready to eat it.

*Optional for Skeletor vegetarians worried about getting enough protein* Grab the packet of 2 hard boiled eggs near the pre-packaged salads. Use one for your salad and give the other one to the awkward teen outside asking if you support gay marriage because those jobs pay like shit and he’s starving.

Now throw your hands up in the air like a G because you’ve just served the salad bar (see You Got Served).

Most people don’t think about using food from the rest of the store to round out their salads, but it’s the secret to “beating the bar.”

It’s time to head over to the bulk foods aisle and get your hands on some nuts.

A salad without some crunch is like a yoga girl without a butt.

My preference is almonds because they are cheap and delicious. But you can really pick any, just make sure they are under $11.99/lb.

Grab the littlest amount of nuts possible, like 6 of them. So few that the cashier will ring you up gently, because she thinks you might be on the spectrum.

whole foods salad bar

Don’t write down the product number on one of the twist ties either, you’ll hold up the whole goddamn aisle. Memorizing it will also keep your brain sharp and delay your Alzheimer’s.

Now head over to the produce and find the avocados that are on sale.

whole foods salad bar

Grab one that is perfectly ripe and head over to check out.

At this moment you’ll want to cockily stare at the person in line behind you whose biceps will be trembling under the weight of their salad.

When doing my research for this article, my particular salad came in at $4.61.

Granted it was on a Wednesday and the salad bar is $2 off every Wednesday at my local store. On any other day, this salad would have cost me $5.11. Take that WF.

whole foods salad bar

It brings me a lot of personal joy to see something weigh in at 0.03 pounds.

She didn’t even charge me for my dressing because it was so small that she felt bad. Sorry John Mackey.

Now you’ll have your ingredients but you’ll need to know the trade secrets to the final steps of salad prep so you don’t get caught eating like an amateur.

You’ll need to grab 1 packet of salt, 2 packets of pepper, a knife, and a fork (chopsticks if you want to be superior to everyone else).

Head on over to a table and begin cutting your avo in half with the knife.

whole foods salad bar

Lay out all the ingredients of your soon-to-be bomb salad and appreciate the utilitarian aesthetic.

whole foods salad bar

Mix it all together in any way you see fit, add the seasonings, and then drizzle on that dressing.

whole foods salad bar

Enjoy a thing of beauty.

whole foods salad bar

And since pinching pennies is only fun if you spend the savings on something else, open up your iPhone and download a few songs with your extra cash.

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Kirk Hensler is the creator of ‘Organizing Inspiration – How to bring your brilliant ideas to the world,’ a course for entrepreneurs and creatives to identify their brand, create a work process, and implement an intuitive working schedule.

Organizing Inspiration Course Trailer: How to Bring Your Brilliant Ideas to the World from kale & cigarettes on Vimeo.


There’s no reason we all can’t be really good at our work and really happy with our lives.

Check out the course outline below!

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81 Replies to “how to beat the whole foods salad bar”

    1. I bow down to you. Seriously. I’ve been doing the avocado thing already but the rest is brilliant. You can also carry your own packs of albacore tuna for protein too.

  1. I don’t know you but I want to marry you. True story: I am applying for a new apartment and had to write a letter explaining why I had so many charges to my bank account from Whole Foods. Also WTF?! Here in the east coast hinterlands our avocados are 2 for $5 for two lumps of coal that may someday ripen into either an avocado or diamond and we have no such brown rice bucket.

  2. Hahaha… You shop at my Whole Foods (I recognize all your photos quite well–and how bout that brown rice?). I bet we have passed each other and not even known it. I’m there every week. IRONICALLY, I used to manage the Salad Bar at Whole Foods in Seattle… By the way you nailed it. Having worked at Whole Foods– during my lunch breaks I only EVER ate the Salad Bar–and since Whole Foods really did use my whole paycheck regardless of my 28% discount–I too had to work many methods to try and get my salad down under $6 (as my goal). I too strategically thought of many interesting methods…but yours are IMPRESSIVE. Excellent, Kirk!! Maybe I’ll see you around? 😉

    1. Hi, How do I get the cash register guys to ring me 3.99/lb for brown rice instead if the salad price at 8.99? I asked the lady at the salad bar and she said rice is same price as rest of the stuff.

  3. You are the bomb and I laughed with my husband while reading this because this is our goal! I bring our dressing so we don;t have the weight and other than that, that was the only thing I did so you schooled us on some great ideas. We have a tiny store where we live but love the atmosphere and the workers there. Will be trying this on a wednesday!

  4. Yay finally! It’s so good to know I’m not a cheap, crazy vegan my friends would say.
    There are actually other people who not only eat exactly like me, but look for strategic, financially efficient methods to do so.
    I think I just need to start surrounding myself with like minded people. This saying has never felt more true: “birds of a feather should flock together ”

    By the way, loved the dance off. Wanna get lunch sometime? 🙂

  5. You have a hipster haircut. Are you a native one? Dear, if you didn’t even notice that you were spending $800 bucks a month on a salad bar, then you’re probably a little richer then you admit. This is a good thing…and you’re probably super rich in non-financial ways as well. Take stock. Beautiful salad idea.

  6. You had me until you said something about yoga girls without butts being unacceptable. Then, I re-read, and recognized you. You’re that guy who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Good luck with that, buddy.

    1. i would suggest that you be even more vague and bitter in your next comment so you can really drive your point home, buddy.

  7. You paid a buck fifty for an avocado? You really got ripped off.

    While cheap, that was a lot of running around WF for lunch. If I did that, I wouldn’t get to eat lunch.

  8. You actually spend time figuring this out? And you wasted time blogging about it, with pictures no less? I guess for some people, going to Whole Foods is quite the struggle. Jeeze.

  9. Hearing the title of this blog I thought I would want to throw up in my mouth if I read another post about WF. But yet again, you deliver. I nearly spit my yogi tea all over my macbook (yup I’m a hipster yuppie) seeing 6 almonds in your bulk food bag. One part informative + One part humor + dash of bitter = One hell of a read.

  10. Well done on cutting the budget. My concern is the use of 3 different containers, and at least one plastic bag for one tiny salad just doesn’t feel very environmentally conscious. I’d be happier to try home made salads in a jar that really stretch creative culinary muscles, the only draw back is not being seen at WF preparing and eating it.

  11. “Keeps me from having to look at poor people while I shop for groceries…”

    “After talking to my accountant last month I learned that I spend an average of $800/month on the Whole Foods salad bar.”

    “But I’m not rich and I definitely felt like an asshole when I saw the WF debit on my monthly income statement.”

    Are you serious? Could you possibly be more pretentious and stereotypical?

      1. I concur. Some of this is fabulous, some arrogant. I visit WF regularly. The first one here out of two bought out a very friendly healthy independent that insisted it retain the peaceful and very happy customer service related vibe. It has changed somewhat, sadly, though still mostly a great vibe and it still offers prepared living raw foods that really rock. The cafe area has all sorts of condiments, hot sauces (not oils) placed to add free of charge after purchase of other things at salad bar, and if you put your dressing from the salad bar in a little plastic condiment container, the cashiers at both WFs here don’t charge for it. I often bring in my own Trader Joe’s organic beans (.99), avocado (.99-1.79 depending on market prices). Back at the salad bar, mushrooms, bean sprouts, watermelon or other radishes are lightweight if your WFs has them and very nutritious. I wish they and all would stop using soy and canola oil in any of their offerings. (Yuck.) Thanks for the positive aspects of your post!

  12. I was sent your site by my friend Shelby. You are hilarious. My husband and I recently went through the same financial exercise. When looking at our CC bill we realized over half of our monthly spending was at Whole Foods! We have been going to WF on Taco Tuesdays ($1 street tacos, anyone?) and Salad bar Wednesdays and reserving the rest of our shopping for Trader joe’s. Going to have to try your salad bar concoction next time!

  13. Geeze Capitan, you get some pretty serious feedback on here. I enjoyed the comments almost as much as the Main read. Love Ya. Peace.

  14. Does your salad bar not offer nuts? B/c at $6.49/lb, it would be cheaper to put the nuts on the salad then get them separate at $7.99/lb. Thus saving a tad more. 🙂

  15. smarts + snark + sarcasm = <3
    I have discovered and use the same 'cheat the system' technique at the local co-op.
    great minds….

    and I have now learned by some of the above comments, that apparently sarcasm is NOT a universal language.
    wow. I tell you…. some people's children….
    a day without humor is like a day without sunshine.

    you're hilarious.
    the haters can take a big ol' piece of kale and…. well….. y'know…

  16. I love whole foods-love spending money there-going there and so do you so this comment probably isn’t too helpful but I think its worth noting..the salad bar is the least healthy thing and the most expensive thing at wf. The products aren’t even organic sooo really you could go to hannafords (or whatever your cheap grocery store is over there) and get your huge salad with pizza on top and spend the same money as the little one at wf and get the same quality of health…anyway- food for thought!

  17. I have a confession to make. I LOVE Whole Foods, it is the place i take myself on a date…not daily but for a special treat weekly….I have recently changed my life 180 degrees in the direction of liberation and happiness, but it comes with cutbacks,..only financial for now. However cutting WF out is not an option…so confession is: I sample. At the salad bar. The delicious variety is there and so are the sampling cups. If you must get strategic then first samples should be “heavy”, like chicken or an egg (whichever came first), or couscous…humus sample to follow, it is filling and nutritious. If you must or if the “meat produce guy” is watching you already, then its time to start filling the SMALL container with some kale and greens to show that you actually will buy something. Also…the secret is in the Soup…2.99$ for a small. Pumpkin of Thai Carrot has good ingredients and few of them but still filling and feeds the soul:)

    If you see a very short haired girl hanging around a little too long near the salad bar, just nod quietly in acknowledgement if you want, but please be discreet..i think they are onto me….

    Also : Jewels- I love your comment, like a weightless arrow right in the heart of idiocy

    Great article:) thank you Kirk

  18. Hey dude – hilarious! But learn to buy a bag of washed organic lettuce, an avocado, and a few cool things in the veggie dept. Yeah, you can do it! you can even get a FREE plate from the salad bar if you want to break into your bag salad and eat in the sotre. It’s washed! It’s organic! It hasn’t been breathed on! Don’t be shy – break some new ground!

  19. Did he really say he’s glad Whole Foods is expensive so he can grocery shop without having to look at poor people? Did I read that right??

    Anyway, basically, buy food from other sources and then make your way to the salad bar.

  20. From one of the dead-eyed employees at Whole Foods, thank you. Customers complain to us every single day about how expensive it is, and it is, but some of it doesn’t have to be. This kind of thing can also be done to make really dope sandwiches.

  21. I loved this so much and have to admit to personally spending more time than I care to admit strategizing about maximizing the value of my WF salads. To those who are offended by the “poor people” remark, I am sad that some people have never heard of satire. Did you know grow up reading Mad magazine people? P.S. I am subscribing to your blog based on this one genius post.

  22. “In fact, I’m glad it’s expensive, keeps me from having to look at poor people while I shop for groceries.” hope this was just a bad joke… if not, then I hope you’ve grown up a little since the day this article was posted.

    1. It is supposed to be SATIRICAL.
      Definition: sarcastic, mocking, ironic, meant to display another’s weaknesses. Seriously, have you been to a whole foods?Unless you walk in with reusable wf brand bags and a prada wallet, people don’t take you seriously. The author wrote an article on how to save money at a ridiculously overpriced market. He’s not being snobbish, albeit he could be a little less open about how much money he “accidentally spent,” in order to avoid censure.

  23. Thank you. This article is a gift. Game changer.
    However my WF (Brooklyn) doesn’t acknowledge a 3.99/lb rice price. They insist – (customer service and every manager and associate) it’s $8.99lb. Super lame.

  24. Whole foods in Oakville Ontario charge for food $22.90 per kg.You can get hot food or salad mix them. I just looked at your receipt and you were charged $6.49. I usually get kale, nuts, dressing and little bit cheese. it usually cost me around $8-$10.

  25. I’m well off too and i would never say it allows me not to look at the “poor people” how dare you. who do you think you are. that is straight up rude and lacking class to say the least. It speaks about the kind of person you truly are. I am embarrassed for you over the opening to this.

  26. Salad bar says $6.49 /lb, while almonds are $7.99 /lb… looks like you wasted 4 and a half cents and a plastic bag by buying your almonds separately. Bummer dude.

  27. That is the most awesome piece of witty writing I have seen in some time! You get my prize for writing for the month! And I am an editor, so that is nothing to brush off lightly!

    1. that is very awesome coming from an editor, thanks 🙂 it’s 50/50 with comments on a post like this. as evidenced by jaci above 😉

    1. Most WF’s don’t have nuts on the salad bar. They are not that dumb. They likewise pulled the plug on the rice price. But if you order it at the asian counter it still is $4 a lb.

  28. Actually if 2 people are eating together, it’s cheaper just to purchase a box of washed baby greens or spinach, a container of grape tomatoes, plus a one-quarter to half pound of organic turkey or grilled salmon — & eat like a bunch of pigs with your own plastic utensils. At least with the packaged veggies, salads, and nuts, you can be assured no one sampled your food before you even placed it into the cardboard container. If you want to know why the plastic utensils are handed out by the cashier at the cash register, it’s because some people were literally eating directly out of the dishes at the salad bar. People took the plastic forks and stood over their favorite dishes — and literally ate their meals for all to see directly from the salad bar. After enough customers complained to the local health department, the Whole Foods Market decided to take away easy access to plastic utensils at the front of the store.

  29. I would have enjoyed this read exponentially more if you hadn’t come off as such a douche. Saying things like ‘not having to look at poor people’, ‘Skeletor vegetarians’, ‘people who vacation at Disney World’… WOW. Eating organic and having mediocre good looks doesn’t entitle you to talk down about others simply because they have different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, interests, and lifestyles. I think you’re giving the people who shop at Whole Foods a worse image than the one you already seem to have of them due to your overgeneralizing–ignorant clichés. It comes off as super naïve and narcissistic. I doubt you like it when people talk negatively about the types of people who smoke, or are walking contradictions. Or perhaps not, as you’d have to care about what anyone else really thought in order to find value in feeling empathy, which I doubt you do.

  30. Heyo! First time on your site. While I in no way believe a person’s entire character is defined by a few thoughtless jokes, I’m going to have to agree with the other comments concerning the ~controversial funnies”. I make what you spent on fancy salads as a paycheck, but would hope that the mere sight of me would not cause you such pain to where you would need to leave the store. Then again maybe I do! Like an anti-asshole super power! Could be fun. Anyway! Let me know if I’m wrong and it’s okay to make fun of impoverished and autistic people in the name of “satire” now! Cuz if so my twitter’s about to get Spicyyy.

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