By Molly Atchison | Print Managing Editor
For many college students, grocery shopping can be difficult, and without a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in Waco, Baylor students may find healthy options to be a bit sparse.
While on the surface Waco may seem to be lacking in opportunities to eat healthy, there are several under-the-radar options that can be outlets for students looking to dive into the world of clean eating. I explored three different Waco food suppliers, and evaluated the prices, the customer service and the quality of the food at H-E-B, Aldi and Drug Emporium.
The most common and perhaps the most plentiful option for grocery shopping in Waco is H-E-B. Frequented by college students at all times of day, H-E-B is the obvious choice for finding healthy options. Looking at five different types of food –– fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and dry food –– there are plenty of fresh and healthy options present at H-E-B. In the fruit section, fresh, ripe bananas were on sale for 44 cents per pound. Perfect as a healthy breakfast or mid-day snack, these bananas can be a staple for clean eating.
Nearby, a display of spinach was priced at $5.98, which appeard lush and ready for mixing with other ingredients. A package of four chicken breasts were priced at $8.29, but they did appear slightly over-frozen. The majority of the dry food section, including the pasta, was stocked well and reasonably priced at $1.28 per box. Healthier choices at H-E-B are well complimented by a wide selection of desserts, including some low fat ice cream options like Halo Top ice cream.
With such a wide variety, H-E-B definitely lives up to the hype, and as an eight-year veteran employee, Natalie* said, “We get fresh trucks of food every day, and we constantly rotate produce to provide customers with the best possible options.”
A less recognized grocery store name is the international brand Aldi, which is a small food mart located on Valley Mills drive. While Aldi does not offer the same brand names as H-E-B, Aldi has low prices and an assortment of health foods that a large store like H-E-B may not carry.
Aldi cashier Brandi had plenty to say about Aldi’s uniqueness as a store. “Because there’s no name brands, we’re able to offer quality product for a much lower price,” she said. “Aldi products come in fresher everyday off the truck, and we don’t leave it out on the stand for days on end like other stores.”
In terms of products, the Aldi bananas were slightly more aged than the fruit at H-E-B, but they were one cent less than the price of those at H-E-B. The spinach, on the other hand, looked much more appetizing than even the H-E-B brand, and was at a much more affordable price of $2.49. Likewise, the chicken and other meat was much more affordable, cashing in at $5.98 for three chicken breasts, as opposed to H-E-B’s $8.29, and the chicken appeared much less freezer-burned. Aldi carried only one brand of pasta, but had nearly every variety of it, and it was a few dollars cheaper. Similarly, they only carried three brands of ice cream, but the low fat option, Belmont, was also significantly less expensive than any of the brands at H-E-B, ringing up at only $1.99 a pint. Aldi’s products are fresh, their shelves are full and they offer low prices that can’t be beat.
While Aldi offers the staples of a college student’s diet for cost-effective prices, there is another nondescript store that offers unique products for students searching for healthy alternatives to everyday products. For those looking to supplement their diets with all natural vitamins and gluten free food replacements, grocery necessities can be found at Drug Emporium, just a short five-minute drive from Aldi. While Drug Emporium didn’t have all of the food staples I sought for in the other stores, it did have the low fat dessert option at a relatively similar price. They also stocked a spinach-based spaghetti on their shelves, which can serve as a healthy and gluten free alternative for those looking for a pasta fix.
What set Drug Emporium apart was the stellar customer service. Lisa, a nine-year veteran employee and manager of the health foods section, shared her pride in Drug Emporium’s selection. “Our prices and selection… is amazing, especially because we’re the gluten free headquarters for Waco.” she said. “We offer plenty of sports nutrition options, and we also have the best selection of essential oils. Drug Emporium consistently has great products, and its a place that should definitely be on student’s radars.”
Whether a student is looking for simple, budget-friendly staples, hoping to get a guilt-free sugar fix, or to exploring all-natural options to enhance their lifestyle, stepping outside of the H-E-B bubble can not only be enlightening, but can help you save money too. Aldi and Drug Emporium offer plenty of quality options that can transform a meal into a cheap but delicious culinary experience.
*Last names omitted due to company policy.