Who doesn't love Trader Joe's? Hawaiin shirts, free coffee, amazing customer service, and great food choices for excellent prices. But, not everything at Trader Joe's is a good buy when it comes to health. Sometimes people think of Trader Joe's as an alternative to shopping at Whole Foods or other natural food stores and that's just not the case. You need to read labels carefully everywhere you go, but a great deal of packaged food at TJ's should be left alone. Lots of their stuff is filled with a long list of ingredients, many of which won't support your health. That being said, I love shopping there and wanted to tell you about my favorites!
As always, hit the produce section (after picking up some inexpensive flowers that last longer than most!). There are some great finds here that eating healthy quick and easy. Can't always do organic? Consult the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen to know how to prioritize buying organic. You can't go wrong in this area of the store and it should always make up the majority of your cart. I personally buy as much produce as I can at the Farmer's Market to source locally and fill in with others at TJ's or my local health food store.
1. Greens. While the selection varies slightly from store to store, there are plenty of bags of organic greens at TJ's that make putting together a quick salad, stir fry, soup, etc very easy. Some of my favorites include the Spicy Spinach Blend, the Tuscan Kale (perfect for a massaged kale salad), Arugula and chopped Romaine.
2. Precut veggies. You'll find celery, carrots, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, butternut squash and a ton more that make prep that much easier.
3. Fruit. Whether precut fruit or the apples, pears, and bananas, the selection is typically good on the organic front. Bags of oranges are usually a great deal and fun to have on hand.
4. Others I always pick up:
- Mushrooms. Their organic Crimini mushrooms always a go-to. The delicious cream of mushroom soup from Against All Grain (no dairy needed!) is a staple for us using these mushrooms. I also throw them in simple brothy soups, stir fry them up, and slice and put in miso soup.
- English cucumber- for salads, homemade sushi bowls, and slices in my water.
- Avocados- usually a great spot to pick up a few ripe ones.
- Bell peppers in a bag- organic bell peppers are always so expensive! TJ's typically has a good price for the tri-color. I snack on these sweet treats.
Personally I do not buy my meats, chicken, etc at Trader Joe's. We always do a lot of research wherever we live to source the best we possibly can. The animals you eat should live the most natural lives with the best diet possible. As I (awkwardly) say: You are what you eat and you are what you eat ate. Try to say that 3 times fast! But, seriously, the diet and living conditions of an animal have a huge impact on the health of that animal, much as they do with us. When we lived in NYC, we sourced our meet from an amazing food club that delivered once per month to various locations from Amish farms in Pennsylvania. Living in Western Massachusetts, there was no shortage of land and great farms. We would go to farms once every few months and fill our chest freezer. Now, living in Southern California, it's harder to come by animal foods at a good price because of pasture and water issues, but we have found a great source at a farm near Paso Robles, CA that delivers frozen meat on dry ice. We get chicken and other meat from the farmer's market. If you start asking around, you will find great sources too. But there are a few staples for us in this section:
1. Kerrygold Butter: This is a good quality butter from grassfed cows. You can get both salted and unsalted at TJ's.
2. Whole milk plain yogurt. This one is simple, creamy and is great for sweet or savory preps. When it comes to yogurt, always go for the most simple yogurt and then add what you want to it. If you need sweeter, avoid sweetened yogurts with refined sugar and add your own fruit, raw honey or good maple syrup. And always full-fat. No fractionated foods. When you remove fat from a food that naturally has fat, you aren't eating a whole food.
3. Cheese. I am always impressed by the cheese selection here. There are a number or raw, aged, and grassfed choices. I don't eat much dairy because I don't digest it well and it causes mucous and allergy symptoms for me, but if you handle dairy well, you can source some good cheeses here.
1. Frozen fruit. Always a good selection here. The Wild Maine Blueberries are a personal favorite for smoothies and other frozen treats.
2. Frozen meals. I am not a huge advocate for these in general as I've always found them to be not filling enough and very salty, but there are some simple ones that you can add to other parts of your meal to make a great whole meal. This pilaf mix is great to have on hand to add to a meal for quick prep:
Dried Fruits and Nuts
The selection varies as to organic nuts here, but I always get what they do have because thr prices are good. I also usually have a pack of the sundried tomatoes, unsweetened cherries for baking and salads, the dried pineapple, and dried mango on hand. These are great treats.
As part of my effort to maintain my 80/20 (80% highest quality, best sourced real food and 20% the other stuff), I have a list of goodies from Trader Joe's that are my favorite.
1. Unsweetened Apple Sauce. The one here is the best price and a great one to have on hand. More and more recipes are calling for apple sauce instead of other binders to handle allergies. The pectin in the apples works well for this. These breakfast cookies (I heve them with tea in the afternoon) call for apples sauce.
I also mix some with almond butter as a snack for our baby.
2. Peanut Butter. The organic peanut butter is great here. I buy more expesnive ones sometimes and feel they are all the same.
3. Vegetable Root Chips. If you've ever bought Terra chips, you know how delicious, but pricey they can be. The veggie root chips from TJ's are the same thing and less expensive. I love these with guacamole or the Trader Joe's Eggplant Hummus.
4. Dark Chocolate Honey Mints. I used to eat York Peppermint Patties. I loved them and always kept them in the freezer. Now I can't really handle that refiined sugar and love having one of these mints out of the freezer as a snack in the evening. They have three ingredients: honey, chocolate liquer and oil of peppermint.
5. Crispy Crunchy Gluten Free Chocolate Chips Coookies. No, these are in no way healthy, but if you want a good crispy chocolate chip cookie sans gluten and don't feel like baking my go-to better-for-you version, these do the trick. They are quite sweet.
6. Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds (seeing a theme here?): Trader Joe's has at least 2 different containers of chocolate covered almonds. Do yourself a favor and splurge on the smaller container that's more expensive and has 73% cocoa. They are far superior.