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, barbecued, sticky 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.