Trader Joe’s to the Rescue

To be filed under Weird But True: At least once a week I have to field the question “Why do you like Trader Joe’s so much?” To which I answer: “Have you seen the dark chocolate covered raisins? Have you seen the miniscule shopping carts for the kids? Have you seen the price tags?” I love Whole Foods — man do I love Whole Foods — but when we shop there, our entire weekly food budget disappears before I get to aisle two. (Hence its well-chronicled nickname “Whole Paycheck.”)  Last year, I did a little round-up of the staples we always pick up at T-Joes and I thought it might be time for an addendum to fully squelch any remaining skeptics. This time, I’ve included a bunch of combos — instead of just individual items — so you can see how the different ingredients work together in my house to help make breakfast more healthy and after-school snacks less annoying. I know we have a lot of TJos fans out there, so please, feel free to point me in a direction I may not know about.

Friend Bait When I was working full-time I kept two huge mason jars in my office  — one filled with Trader Joe’s dried sour Montmorency cherries, and one filled with TJoes 50% salted almonds — then placed a pretty little guest chair beside the table where they sat. I called the jars “Friend Bait” because coworkers would walk in and out of my office all day long to grab a handful of snacks, check up on me, tell me what was going on, and invariably give me the dirt on Shari in Accounting. Don’t mess around with coconut chips or sunflower seeds or weird carob things you find in gorp. This combination is all the excitement your mouth needs at snacktime.

Afterschool Snack Plate As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of the pre-emptive afternoon snack plate — a sampling of healthy bites and tastes presented before whiny and conflicting requests for Mooommmm! I want something sweet/salty/crunchy/fruity.  Shown above are all the Trader Joe’s items I need to create my new favorite assembly: Seaweed chips (which I have been known to crumble on top of salmon bowls), peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets, and sliced organic Fuji apples, with a drizzle of the Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce. This last item is not exactly the real deal, but remember Andy’s broccoli logic? Feel free to apply that here. And all you need is a drizzle.

Cheap Organic Dinner As you know, if it were up to Abby this website would be Drumsticks: A Love Story. Basic and breaded, barbecuedsticky and gooey, buttermilk “oven-fried”, plain with salt and pepper (her favorite) — doesn’t matter. She is addicted. And I’m gonna enable that addiction as long as she needs me to. We pick up two of TJoes well-priced organic drumsticks every shop.

No-Chop Smoothie This just in: I love dinner! Which means I need to love breakfast and lunch a little less if I’m going to stay healthy and ever have a life outside the kitchen. (Proving difficult these days.) I’m loving my new vegan breakfast: Blueberry smoothies made with Blue Diamond almond milk, frozen blueberries and protein powder — all of which can be procured at TJs. I confess that I like Andy’s morning smoothies better, but the beauty of the Blueberry blitz is that it takes so little time to throw together — there’s no washing or chopping up fruit. Just chuck everything into the blender and press a button. You have to play around with measurements — I like mine kind of slushy so I add a lot of frozen blueberries. Andy likes it milkier so goes with less.

And this is My New Favorite Lunch Mix together: 1/2 an avocado, cubed, one Persian cucumber (they come in packs of five in the produce aisle), a small bowl of TJs cooked brown rice (sorry, not shown) and drizzle with ginger dressing. Trader Joe’s sells a ginger dressing, but I like this one I get at my local Asian grocer better. The avocados at my TJs aren’t usually so great, but I’ve gotten lucky at other locations.

On-the-Go Lunch Sprouted Flourless Whole Wheat Berry Bread, a shmear of lightly salted almond butter and banana slices. (All of which may be picked up at TBros.)

Safety Net Staple The way I feel about these whole wheat tortillas is probably the way most people whose entire family eats pasta feels about pasta. I can always fall back on them for a quick healthy dinner. I’ve tried a lot of versions, and like this particular kind because they are light, slightly nutty and not in the least bit chewy.

For the Snack Bag I was so psyched when these recently showed up in the vitamin section of Trader Joe’s. I never know which ones are going to be on the shelf (my favorite is Almond and Coconut) which makes for half the fun. The girls are huge fans of dark chocolate cherry.

Small Sweet Hit I mean, come on. Look at these All-Natural Fruit Jellies. They’re like jewels! The girls love them, but we love them even more. Mostly because you need just one to satisfy a sweet tooth. (Cannot say the same about those dark chocolate raisins.) There is currently a raging debate in our house over which one is superior: grape vs. mandarin.

Default Dinners I loved it when my parents had Saturday night plans that didn’t include us. Because that usually meant my dad went out to pick up McDonalds for dinner. Our updated version of the kids-must-eat-but-I-must-shower-and-get-dressed meal are these two staples: Chicken Shu-Mai (possibly Abby’s most favorite dinner in the world) and Black Bean Soup. We put a scoop of sour cream on top and chop up an avocado if we have it.

Salsa: Everything You Need to Know About Having Two Kids Phoebe will only eat her chips with the spicy Salsa Autentica on the left, Abby will only eat hers with the roasted tomatillo salsa on the right. I’m pretty much only including these jars in the round-up because it seems to encapsulate everything about cooking for (and living with) kids.

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I am a big fan of TJ’s southern greens blend (mustard, turnip and collard greens plus spinach already washed and chopped); freeze dried bananas (lunch box treat!); canned wild pink shrimp (think fried rice or risotto mix in); and the little ice cubes of herbs (who wants to chop cilantro on a week night after work?)


Alright, alright, alright. I guess I have to go to TJs’ now. I’ve been avoiding it because when one finally opened in our area last fall there was a line of people snaking around the parking lot waiting to get in on the first morning and for weeks afterward the parking lot was the site of many fender benders due to general over crowding and idiocy. The police had to come and direct traffic! It was all such silliness that it just irked me and I refused to go on principal. But I can see there is value and I think the police are no longer on high alert, so perhaps it’s time to give it a try…


Boy, I clearly need to expand my repertoire at TJs – this is a great list! We are huge fans of the raw almonds and dried cranberries combo at home, so why not use it at work as Friend Bait? I have a fruit bowl in my office that repels folks rather than rope them in. Which works for the annoying folks pretty well. 😉

We love the Pound Plus chocolate bar but it is hard to exhibit control with those things sometimes. My son loves their vitamins and if we pull out a frozen pizza from TJs, he does this crazed skippy dance in the kitchen that never seems to happen with other dinners.


A favorite quick-dinner combo of mine is the garlic naan and chana masala (both in the frozen aisle). It’s super quick, delicious, and vegetarian to boot!


have you tried the “soyrizo”–for a $1.99 meatless Monday? (pan cook, pour in a $2 bag of their baby spinach to wilt, and eat on the whole wheat tortillas you mention above.) their no antibiotic hot dogs (musta been on your last year list?). Dried fruit ends and pieces, because i’m cheap. Their zap-in-bag brown rice, topped with their vegan fat-free refried beans, salsa, and a little of the Mexican blend cheese (burrito bowl in about 5 minutes). The tomato chutney, poured over two cans of their organic chickpeas. The “an apple/fig/blueberry walks into a bar” cereal bars, stashed in the console of our car and offered to a cranky toddler. You may have opened a box you now cannot close!


I see a few of our staples on your list (those TJ peanut butter pretzels are addictive!).

Always on our list for the once a month run to Trader Joe’s:

-those peanut butter pretzels
-Chicken potstickers (the 10 yr old loves them)
-masala simmer sauce
-frozen garlic nan
-dried cranberries
-chicken apple sausages
-Trader O’Joes Irish Breakfast tea. If you are a tea fan I urge you to try this. It’s as good as the imported Barry’s Tea and comes in at about 1/3 of the cost. I am about tea the way others are about coffee- very picky.
-TJ’s salsa
-Frozen burrios (chicken, verde, black bean). I often turn these into “burrito casserole” when I’m looking for an easy dinner. Just pop ’em into a casserole dish and cover with salsa and bake. Cover with cheese and broil for last 5 minutes.

The only things I don’t really like at Trader Joe’s is their sliced bread and a lot of the loose produce which doesn’t usually look very good at our local TJs.


See? This is why I faithfully read DALS…even tho I do not have little children at home. I have just one adult son who lives on the opposite coast, and I’ve NO grandchildren. 🙁 But! I have made many of your recipes and ideas and will certainly carry this list to TJs soon. Thank you!


TJs opened up 5 minutes from my house about 2 years ago, and yet, I just don’t love it. I really like a few things like the frozen brown rice, nuts, frozen fish fillets and frozen garlic naan. But the rest generally disappoints.
And don’t get me started on the little kid carts. Yes – my kids love them. But oh my God I can’t turn my back for a second to read a label without one of them charging into some innocent shopper’s legs.


thank you for reminding me that i have some of that fleur de sel caramel sauce in my pantry…

my husband works for tj’s and is constantly bringing home new things to try…my current fave (though not in any healthy categories) is the dark chocolate mints in the little mint green bags at the registers…YUM!


I am so, so sad that we don’t have Trader Joe’s in Texas. My sister in Milwaukee makes me mourn this regularly, but this just pushes it over the edge. Sigh.

Still terrific quick-fix suggestions, though. Thanks!


Well now you’ve done your job well and have me intriqued by Trader Joe’s. I’m new to your blog, find it a great read btw, and just did a Google search for the TJ’s near me…Kansas City, MO…but I can also work in some other shopping on some weekend trip!


Ever since TJ opened 10 minutes from our house, its been my exclusive grocery store! I only shop at regular supermarkets (as the nearest whole foods is about 45 minutes away) when TJ doesn’t carry an item I need. But I noticed that I altered my weekly recipe rotation to include only those recipes where I can get all of the ingredients at TJ. I love the pre-cooked chicken, the frozen veggies and the huge assortment of very reasonably priced cheese. You must try the cioppino (frozen seafood stew) – 10 minutes to goodness!

City Share

Trader Joes is fabulous. It’s hard in the city because the lines are so long, but every once in a while I brave the crowds. I pretty much love everything in the store, but I especially love the Peppermint Joe-joes that they carry at Christmas time. If you are a peppermint candy or ice cream fan, you will adore them.


Personal favorites: Dark Nutty Bits (even better kept in the freezer; they have a bit of salt which makes them insanely good), Rosemary Pecans and Cranberries (great on their own or mixed into tuna salad!), ABC trail mix (for almonds, blueberries and cranberries), and a jar of Giant Beans over TJ’s polenta (best with lemon and parsley on top). Also we’ve recently discovered their Dark Chocolate Pretzels, Banana Chips (the reduced guilt ones), and Lundberg Brown Rice Cakes. And it’s worth mentioning that one of the best parts of shopping at TJ’s is the samples!


We go to TJs because the meat/dairy/staples are better and cheaper than at other stores in our area. I buy fresh herbs, dried beans and a few other things at a regular store, but it’s TJs for everything else. At our local TJs we get in and out in 30 minutes once a week!


Kind relatives bring us tortillas, salsa, dried fruit, and pb pretzels whenever they visit. Thank goodness!


Love your list! To add to that, some favorites in our house (in no particular order) include: TJ’s graham crackers, dark chocolate covered soy beans, vacuum fried pineapple chips (have gone through entire bags of these by myself), mini edamame crackers, raw whole cashews, organic broccoli slaw, corn crackers (esp good w/their Iberico cheese), chicken or pork potstickers, and shrimp gyoza….now, excuse me while I go and get myself a snack…!


I love the chocolate covered espresso beans, and the steamer clams in garlic sauce. I just cook those up and toss them with spagetti. Yum! Also really enjoying the blood oranges they have this type of year. I have made a blood orange cake and blood orange margaritas.

Momma L

So much of what you and everyone else has mentioned are household favorites around here … but I noticed the chocolate croissants were never brought up. One day I may teach myself to make a light, flaky croissant – but in the meantime there are TJ’s and oh are they delectable! =)


Although there’s a TJ’s only one town over, I never find myself there. And now that Fairway has opened up in Stamford, I can get the same TJ experience for the same TJ prices. Inexpensive organic chicken? Check. Funky frozen Asian food? Check. Mix & match nuts & dried fruit for snacks? Double check! Persian cukes? Love!


I love TJ’s.

I have had some bad experiences with the chicken and gr.beef, though – bought the free range, antibiotic free, natural, grass-fed, etc., but…. four times now, it has gone bad despite the expiration date indicated. And…. usually…. I only buy the meat there when I am in rush – grabbing something to make that night’s dinner so I don’t buy it there often.

Anyway – love those fruit jellies and the organic lollis. A non-healthy favorite in this house is the mini peanut butter cups – oh …. and the frozen, rise overnight chocolate croissants.

A friend of mine swears by their kid-friendly fishsticks, and … my teen was happy to discover a lower fat version of the mac and cheese – though… I have to say….. it’s not great…. tiny, tiny portion despite the same size box and weird cheese (though the fatty stuff is great).

My kids and I both love their tomato soup – the organic corn flakes – and the chewy granola bars. Their greek yogurt with fruit is great too and cheaper than most other brands.


The frozen steel cut oatmeal is fantastic- comes in a single serving packet- 3 mins in microwave as good as any steel cut oatmeal you’ve had. Also frozen french toast is great especially on school days. Pre-cooked lentils in fresh produce (quick easy dinner with their frozen organic brown rice), Frozen chocolate covered banans- delicious and pretty healthy. Lara bars and Luna bars- cheaper than anywhere else. “Just Mango” slices unsweetened. I could go on forever….


wow! these are great suggestions — I only hope I can find them all! sengler – I admit I got a little teary reading your note….xx


The combination of avocado, brown rice, cucumber and ginger dressing has my mouth watering. YUM! I ‘m going to pick up those ingredients on the way home from work and have it for dinner!! Thanks for the great idea.



Love me some TJs. We have one a 5 min freeway drive away, but they are opening up one about 2 min from my house on April 1st – heaven!

We’re also big fans of their bags of the cut-off portions of the fruit strips. I think it’s called “Bits and Pieces” or something and it’s all the random bits that they cut off of the fruit leathers in order to make them a uniform shape. What a brilliant idea to sell these scraps! A mix of flavors and perfectly snack-sized.


This would be a cruel and unusual post were it not for the rumor (factual, we are hoping) that a TJ’s is about to open not too far away in Spokane. Until now we have had to rely on our rare trips to Portland for our fix.


trader joe’s staples at our house:

*edamame hummus (this is like crack to my 20 month old)
*frozen green chili & cheese tamales (such a great “oh shoot, i forgot to eat lunch” afternoon snack. i like to add a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of verde salsa and/or chopped cherry tomatoes)
*verde salsa
*frozen garlic cubes
*frozen brown rice

and pretty much everything on your own list. 🙂


Have you tried the chili spiced dried mango and/or pineapple? LOVE! I can’t decide which I prefer, these days probably the pineapple. Although …
Anyway sweet and chewy with a bit of a bite. And with an iced tea … whoa.


That is so funny…I looked at the seaweed snack the other day and thought, “Who buys that!” Now I know.

I love their small packages of almonds. A couple in my purse are great on the go for my little snackers. And the organic corn chips are really good. But my all time, favorite Trader Joes item is the Salsa Especial. It’s a bit spicy but so delicious. We really love just about anything they have though and I find new items to supplement into my routine or my food storage every month.


I also am a fan of the dark choc raisins…. Other favorites:

McCann’s Steel-cut Oatmeal
Marcona almonds w/ rosemary (haven’t seen these lately, think they were a winter thing..boohoo)
peach salsa
orange cranberry scones


LOVE T-Joe’s. Just went this morning. Our favorite is their popcorn in sea salt and olive oil. Also, their frozen chocolate covered sliced bananas! Also, there $.99 pizza dough, shall I go on?


Love, love, love the blog! And your recent post, even though we don’t have a TBros near Safety Harbor/Tampa FL.
I have to point out though that I don’t think your breakfast is vegan… Whey protein comes from milk right? Like “eating her curds and whey?” But props to you on having a healthy smoothie!
Please pick me for the Knock, Knock pads. So funny!

Vanessa G.

I love love love their mini peanut butter cups and smashing s’mores! Also, the frozen Indian masala vegetable burgers are great with pita bread for a quick dinner. The big conrainer of European style non-fat yogurt is so cheap and great for smoothies.


I’m a first time reader today, from AnnieBlog’s site, but had to weigh in on TJ’s. LOVE THAT PLACE!! I have so many favorites, but one that I didn’t see mentioned are the frozen pepper blends (either fire roasted with onions, or just plain green-red-yellow). If you look at the cost of fresh peppers, these are a great deal! I make my eggs in the morning with them and it’s great since I’m the only one in my family that likes them – I only use what I need and none go to waste!
Looking forward to reading more of your blog. 😉


The cherries and 50% salt almonds are exactly my two favorite snacks from Trader Joe’s! Now I want to find a way to get to one ASAP! Thanks for a great post 🙂


I was wondering about the seaweed, too, as I saw a woman CLEAR THE SHELF last time I was there! I’ll have to try it!

And nobody has mentioned the mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups. YUM!


Another Dallas-Fort Worthian here sharing in the disappointment and dismay of not being in the TJ’s club–booooo, I’m disgruntled.

Erin @ Small Types

If I had a food blog it would be TJ’s: A Love Story! Now I’m loaded with inspiration for my next trip. Thanks! I especially love your afterschool snack ideas.
We never miss the dark chocolate covered pretzels, orange mango juice and applesauce squeezers, just to name a few..


Frozen halved mangos. We go through 3 bags a week! Also hummus, everything pretel crisps, and cinnamon raisin english muffins. Oh and lemon sorbet….and their cereal and granola bars are awesome and……


LOVE this post. Love it.

I always have a TJ Asian takeout night in my freezer pantry. Mandarin Chicken, potstickers, green beans and brown rice.

And, how about the organic brown basmati rice! I make it with my chicken stock and TJs frozen peas.

One more pantry staple, portobellos with a smear of TJs roasted walnut and blue cheese spread, a TJs roasted red peppers and topped with provolone cheese. I baked it for 10-12 minutes – its better than pizza!

Latest craze around here – marsala simmer sauce. Fabulous with browned chicken thighs in the slowcooker. really yummy.

I could go on and on and on…love TJs. They have so many ‘real food’ products.

One gripe – perishables are HIGHLY perishable. So very maddening.


What a fantastic ode to TJs….lots of new items (for us) on your list and some faves. We particularly love the salsa autentica it passes the no chunks please test. We also lurv the salt and pepper rice chips dipped in the white bean tuscan hummus.
Have you tried the (frozen) mahi mahi burgers? We grill them and put some blackening seasoning in our mayo. The kids eat them too which is a double fist pump.
My weakness is the dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Have mercy.


What is this? no love for the frozen edamame in a bag? I can no longer order edamame at restaurants, because I’m like, this is exactly the same as the snack I make for about 60 cents from trader joes. Takes no time at all! Also the pita crackers! it’s a pita and a cracker! My boyfriend eats almost an entire hummus container in one sitting with these babies. I also love the wine, there is currently this $3.99 bottle of sparkling portuguese wine that I am buying every week and I don’t buy wine in general. pretty bottle and I am blanking on the name. The price comparison is really shocking here in SF. I bought the reed’s ginger beer four pack at trader joes: $3.49. EXACT same product at our local Safeway: $6.49! No comparison. I think I would have a really hard time moving to a city where there was no Trader Joes. I love it that much. Customer service is good too, I love that they say thank you when you help bag your own groceries.


I love our Trader Joe’s. Sometimes I’m there more than once a week because I always run out of bread and cheese. Our Trader Joe’s kids carts were stolen shortly after the store opened. They got it on camera too. So sad.


I’d be sitting in your friend chair all day. The 1/2 salted almonds and cherries are probably my favorite grab and go snack already!! Thanks for more great ideas.

Brooke Reynolds

We love the corn salsa, the pico de gallo (which doesn’t seem to have the weird chemical taste of other brands..), their banana/strawberry yogurt packs for the kids, and have you tried the apple blossoms in the frozen section? Our new favorite dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sarah's Fab Day

The Montgomery Sour cherries are my answer to sour patch kids or gummy bears. When I told my son that they tasted like gummy bears he actually tried one and agreed. TJ’s is our go-to for all things snacky/school lunch fillers. All flavors of hummus and the vanilla yogurt are things that we have to get every single time.


I miss Trader Joe’s. I spent most of the last decade of my life in LA. We had 5 different TJs within 15 minutes. A cross country move later and the nearest one is not in the same state (but we’re getting one…this summer…finally) My must buy list will change when i see what the currently offerings are but I’m saddened to learn that the lemon-artichoke pesto has been discontinued. I must figure out how to reverse engineer that one.


The best part about TJ’s brand of products is that they’re free of genetically modified (GM) ingredients. Do you know that about 80% of processed foods has some GM ingredients in them and they’re not labeled? Unless a product is labeled as organic or GMO-free, they usually have GM ingredients in them. Let’s continue to support TJ for the amazing work they’re doing!


I devoted a whole post to our Trader Joe staples because it’s saving our sanity while we’re in the midst of new parenthood. Your site has inspired me to re-think dinner time, or rather make it a priority again (!) but for now, we are making do with TJ frozen pizzas from Italy which has a pretty good crust and has even been “approved” by Italian friends and family. They also have good pre-marinated meats, chicken lasagne, frozen cod, frozen artichoke hearts and so much more.


Their homemade flour tortillas are a staple in my house and as close to the real deal as you can get in a NYC supermarket. Oh, and this Christmas I sampled their chocolate covered Panettone… I don’t even like Panettone, but tried the sample and LOVED it (note: I wasn’t even hungry at the time, so it wasn’t the hungry girl talking–it was *that* good).


I realize I am late to the game here, but having grown up in California, where TJ’s originated, I consider myself something of an authority on their products.

My faves, in no particular order: the organic, low sugar fruit preserves (strawberry and blueberry are best); multigrain waffles; chocolate soy ice cream sandwiches (we get 4-5 boxes every time we go); frozen haricot verts; frozen sweet corn; frozen chicken enchiladas; mango granola cereal; honey and sesame cashews (these are new, i think); kale (packaged, cleaned and cut); turkey meatballs; and, yes, those fruit jellies!

Their canned marinara sauce is also awesome (and only $1.99)–tastes like it was freshly made–though we recently switched to the jarred tomato/basil marinara (not as good but still tasty) because we were eating so much of the canned stuff I began to worry about BPA!

So there you have it, in a nutshell (as it were)…


I love TJs as well my current go tos are the chicken meatballs, chicken shu mai, edamame, salmon burgers, and of course chocolate covered cranberries (so dangerous to have in my house). I have to say I think I’m going to steal your friend bait idea for work, as I think it is genius