Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trader Joe's Greatest Hits

A new Trader Joe’s store recently opened a few blocks from Foodtrainers. I headed over a few weeks ago to scope it out. The check-out line snaked around the store and it was very crowded. I walked around a little and left. To be honest, I have never grasped just what makes people rave about Trader Joes. I asked Melissa, aka Market Melissa, to fill me in.

What’s the Trader Joe’s craze about? I don’t always get it, is it price? Prepared food? Help!
One great thing about Trader Joe’s is that they have standardized pricing, which means that just because you live in a city you won’t pay more than at a store in the suburbs. Also, most of their products are Trader Joe’s brand, which helps keep the prices down. You can also find many single serve, portion-controlled foods and pre-cut fresh veggies and fruit. Some may argue this produces extra waste due to packaging; on the other hand it can be great for those who are busy and looking for shortcuts. Frozen food is abundant at Trader Joe’s and some are great finds (but many are loaded with sodium so always remember to read the food label and skip anything that contains more than 500mg of sodium per serving). Speaking of servings, many contain 2-3 servings per package, another important fact not to overlook when shopping.

What are your top Traders’ items? Clients like the single server brown rice, how’s that?
Below you will find some of my favorite items at Trader Joe’s. While there are many more than make this list, I tried to give you the MVPs that always seem to make my own weekly shopping list. As far as the brown rice goes, TJ offers a frozen organic brown rice – ingredients are: brown rice. Plastic single serve bags can be great, just empty the contents in a microwave safe bowl and cook it that way, rather than in the plastic pouch it comes in.

1. Trader Joe’s Lite Kettle Corn – individual sized bags. Perfect combination of sweet and salty offering up a generous portion for only 110 calories plus 3g fiber.

2. Trader Joe’s just a handful of almonds – portion controlled bags of almonds. Great for the on the go and the snacker who can’t be left alone with a full bag of nuts.

3. Trader Joe’s edamame hummus – For a different spin on traditional hummus.

4. Trader Joe’s Super Seeded Tortilla Chips (made with organic flax, chia and hemp seeds) – Everyone needs a go to tortilla chip, why not get some nutrients while you’re at it?

5. Trader Joe’s Organic Split Pea soup – While I always like recommending making your own, a prepared one is always good to have on hand and this one is delicious.

6. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds – Sometimes I just need a taste of something sweet. 2-3 of these does the trick.

7. Trader Joe’s Frozen Steal Cut Oatmeal – In a hurry in the morning? Pop this in the microwave in the morning and you get a serving of oats sweetened with just a bit of maple syrup and brown sugar. Not bad for 150 calories.

8. Trader Joe’s Almond Butter – Great alternative to peanut butter and cheaper than other brands I have seen.

9. Trader Joe’s Organic High Protein Tofu – Great to add to salads or over Quinoa for a quick meal.

10. Trader Joe’s whole wheat pretzels – You won’t usually find pretzels on my clients’ food sheets, but these stood out to me due to their 100% whole wheat flour content and therefore fiber. If you have a pretzel craving, these would be the ones to choose.

11. Trader Joe’s High Fiber cereal

12. Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Cranberry Bran muffins – For 100 calories and 14g of fiber this can really get your system “going” if you know what I mean.

13. Trader Joe’s grilled chicken ready to heat and eat. Balsamic vinegar and rosemary or lemon pepper are both good choices.

14. Trader Joe’s steamed lentils – ready to eat warm or cold as a side dish or on top of salad.

15. Trader Joe’s black bean and roasted corn salsa – delicious topping to grilled chicken or fish.

16. Trader Joe’s ready to eat shelled edamame – there is a little salt added, which may be why they are so good. I like adding them to salads or mixing them into quinoa.

Great list, it seems as though there are a lot of snacks. If you were getting a day’s worth of Trader Joe’s food what would your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks be?

Breakfast: TJ’s steel cut oatmeal

Snack: Organic Fuji apple

Lunch: TJ’s has many prepared salads – the southwest one is my favorites, but I suggest swapping out the dressing that they provide with olive oil and lemon juice.

Snack: One package of just a handful of almonds.

Dinner: Balsamic vinegar and rosemary chicken breast (ready to hear and eat) with a side dish of TJ’s steamed lentils.

Thank you  Melissa. You mentioned a few items I now want to try. If you’d like to contact Melissa O’shea, here email is Melissa leads our Market Foodtraining tours at various NYC markets.
Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? If so, what are your MVP’s?


  1. Trader Joe's is my favorite! Nothing beats their Peanut Butter cups Trax Mix and their frozen chicken cilantro mini wontons! They have a great organic selection and their chocolate JoJo cookies are delish!

  2. I miss a lot about San Diego, but TJ's is way up there on the list. Their dried fruits are delicious, and the thai lime chili peanuts are yummy. At the holidays, the peppermint Jo-Jo's are a great treat and we used to mail them to friends around the country for holiday gifts. And Two Buck Chuck is a great cooking wine.

  3. Trader Joes does a prepared Lentil [it is in a light blue box in the vegetable section] that is amazing. I literally could be the sales person for these lentils since I am always buying them for people and I find Lentils really difficult to cook. I have converted many a non-lentil lover.

  4. I love Trader Joes! Their prices are unbeatable. I love that they make good food accessible. My kitchen is stocked solely from Trader Joes and the farmer's market.

  5. I love Trader Joes but sadly they do over package some things....

    I'd recommend the horseradish hummus too.

  6. Love:
    The Dark Chocolate Nutty Bits
    Spicy Hummus
    The pizzas (frozen and refrigerated)
    Quality of produce
    The prices!

  7. The best for nuts (either the low salt blend of almonds,pistachios, cashews and macademias, or the just a handful bags of almonds, great decaf coffee, hummus and edamame hummus. Also high fiber high protien "Joe O's" cereal. The prices are great and so is the quality, but I rarely buy produce there, since I am not big on processed and packaged vegetables. The rack of lamb (which I cook but don't eat) is said to be delicious, and half the price of buying it elsewhere.

  8. I've never been to a Trader Joes, but there is one opening a couple of hours away - right on the way to grandma and grandpa's....I've heard about their dark chocolate almonds, but I'm thrilled to have the above suggestions. The rice and lentils sound perfect. However, the extra packaging is a huge bummer and would possibly steer me away. (I've heard that before, Margery.)

  9. Thanks to everyone for chiming in. I heard from others about almond and peanut flour. The packaging and the plastic used is a slight drawback at Trader Joes. While a cart full of packaged food may be too much, an item here (lentils?) and there may be the way to go. It seems as though the snacks (nuts, dips, sweets) are very popular.

  10. I recently found peanut flour at Trader Joe's! It's great to throw in smoothies and soups to get some extra protein.

  11. I shop almost exclusively at Trader Joe's, Costco and farmer's markets, and I could not live without my TJ's. I recently read a great article about how TJ's goes against typical supermarket conventions and how well it works(

    About 2 weeks ago I was in a pinch and had to run to a chain grocery store, one I haven't been to for at least 6 months. I was so overwhelmed by the choices that a 15 minute trip turned into 30 minutes deciding what salad to pick back and forth between different sections in the store. I have come to trust the organic, natural and wholesome choices the buyers at TJ's make. They cull through products and choose what I would, and I'm VERY picky! Plus, they're prices are extremely reasonable, especially in comparison to Whole Foods. Additionally, I appreciate that I can understand every single ingredient of the foods I buy there. When I pick up the kettle corn it has a few ingredients: popcorn, sunflower oil, sugar and salt. That's it! Frozen veggies are even better, just the veggies.

    My faves include:

    Marcona almonds with rosemary
    Frozen quinoa duo
    Pumpkin bread & muffin mix
    Rice crackers (multiseed with soy sauce)
    Sesame sticks
    Kettle corn
    Edamame (shelled)

  12. I'm a TJ's fan. I try and shop there every week, or at least every other week. My freezer currently has 3 boxes of the organic brown rice. Other staples from TJ's include :
    -Fair Trade Organic coffee
    -Frozen fish and scallops
    -Frozen organic fruit for smoothies
    -Organic pomegranate juice to mix with Pelligrino for Pomegranate Sparklers
    -Dark chocolate truffle bar
    -Steamed and peeled baby beets ( makes a great, easy salad combined with arugala, goat cheese, toasted walnuts and vinegarette)
    -Sesame Honey Cashews (for a sweet treat)
    I agree that the packaging can be excessive on some items (I tend not to buy a lot of produce at TJ's if it's excessively packaged), but I find that most of the prices can't be beat, and that the staff is always super friendly.

  13. love love love the almond butter, along with the corn salsa - it's a tomato-free salsa that is super sweet and a little spicy. yum!

  14. Now that it has opened across the street, almost all my meals are based on Trader Joe's ingredients!
    For a quick post run meal, I love their frozen Mahi Mahi burgers with some fresh veggies. I also love their chopped veggies like broccoli & mushrooms- perfect for homemade veggie pizza.

  15. I am just catching up on reading everyone's feedback and I am so excited to see all of your recommendations that I can now add to my own list. I agree the packaging sometimes can seem a bit wasteful, but I guess we have to choose our battles and opt for the less "packaged" items. Keep us posted on new finds!!