What to buy at Trader Joe’s
I am not a hardcore couponer. I still pull and file coupon inserts by date for some reason, but it’s rare those pieces of paper actually make it into a grocery store these days. My brand of frugal living involves buying less, cooking more, growing food, ignoring trends. That kind of stuff. I also have four children under the age of five. When my husband and I collapse on the couch at the end of the day, it involves a pint of ice cream + 2 spoons. No scissors or coupons or talk of groceries.
So while I occasionally miss my coupon glory days, grocery shopping is more of a survival skill/sprint event for me now. 90% of my grocery time is spent between Costco and Trader Joe’s. I shamelessly adore both of these stores. Costco, with their carts the size of a small country and their samples the size of small mouths, will always have my heart. (Check out should you shop at Costco for reasons & price comparisons.)
But Trader Joe’s is quickly moving to the top of my list. While their carts are ridiculously small (This isn’t Europe, people! I can’t shop everyday!), I can forgive them this oversight because they are friendly and hide an octopus and give my children suckers and stickers and stock products that I just really, really like to buy.
And Trader Joe’s didn’t give me a single dark chocolate peanut butter cup to say that.
The first time I walked into a Trader Joe’s, I wandered around, thought What do people buy here?! and walked out with two bags of raisins. So many choices! And this was at the height of my couponing days so the weight of Is it a good deal?! was always on my mind.
While many of these items are slightly cheaper at the big W’s (WinCo / Walmart), Trader Joe’s really is competitively priced. Actually many of the products they carry are a better price and quality! Plus, it’s just a pleasant, enjoyable shopping experience. By the time I hit the dairy section at WinCo, I start to feel panicky, like I might not make it out alive. So, pleasant + enjoyable is worth something to me.
Here are a few of my favorite Trader Joe’s products:
The cheese selection at Trader Joe’s is like a happy dream. Feta, Brie, Gouda, and goat cheese almost always make it into my cart. And the English cheddar with caramelized onions (learn how to make your own caramelized onions here). Oh man, so good. My husband and I consider a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and roasted garlic a respectable meal, but cheese is also a nice way to take a simple meal or side dish from plain to something special. Sprinkle goat cheese on roasted beets or feta cheese over a Greek pizza. Add some Gouda to your ham sandwich or cubes of Brie to hot pasta.
And the Quattro Formaggio is my favorite shredded cheese blend. Add a handful to No-Knead Bread dough, sprinkle it in your lasagna, pile it on your pizza. All good. Serious foodies will say never buy shredded cheese! Always buy the blocks and shred them yourself! I would be willing to bet these same foodies do not make pizza with a howling one-year old wrapped around their leg and a three-year old “helping” spread sauce. Think about that, Foodies, and back away from my cheese.
I define “convenience food” as anything I could prep or make myself. While I try and prefer to make food from scratch, when life gets busy shortcuts in the kitchen are a huge help in getting a good meal on the table. My favorite go-to convenient items are canned beans ($.99-1.19/each), frozen pie crusts ($3.99 for a double crust that people will think is homemade), and bottled salad dressing ($1.99).
At $1.99, this is a good place to buy cartons of chicken stock (organic! free range!) when you run out of your holiday stockpile. (Of course, you can always make homemade chicken stock here.) I also always have a bottle of Soyaki on hand for quick stir fries or Rice Bowls with Teriyaki Chicken & Ginger Slaw.
And chopped kale is pretty much the best invention since sliced bread. Depending on how fresh and bug-free it is, washing kale can take forevah. This ten ounce bag costs $1.99 which is honestly a great deal. $2 is a normal sale price for a bunch of kale, and the work is already done here. Kale is great for everything from fresh salads to healthy soups to green juices.
NUTS & DRIED FRUIT
Quite possibly my favorite section, there is a crazy variety of nuts and dried fruit to choose from at Trader Joe’s. I love their raw and reduced-salt nuts, perfect for making Roasted Almonds, Sweet & Spicy Roasted Nuts, or Maple Cluster Granola.
They also have a great selection of dried fruit. My preference is anything that doesn’t have added sugar. At TJ’s, this includes raisins, sweet cherries, pitted prunes, mango, apricots, and figs. While my kids aren’t 100% convinced, I call these “fruit snacks.”
Pay attention to the condiments like mustard, mayonnaise, vinegars, oils, etc. They have a wide selection of great products. I also love their coconut milk (.99), coconut cream ($1.49), and shredded coconut ($1.99) for cooking, baking, or just making repeated batches of Coconut Whipped Cream. Our family eats pancakes or granola like it’s our job each morning so maple syrup is often on the grocery list. TJ’s Grade-B Maple Syrup (32 fl. oz.) is $16.99.
And the Automatic Dishwashing Detergent might seem like a strange thing to throw in there, but this stuff is great. I hate cleaners that smell like some overpowering combination of lemons and chemicals. And yet, many of the “environmentally-friendly” detergent brands I have tried might be dye/fragrance-free, but they don’t actually get dishes clean. This detergent, on the other hand, consistently gets everything sparkly clean without using crazy chemicals.
I don’t buy snack food often, but Trader Joe’s is my go-to place for camping trips, birthday parties, or special treats. It’s easy to stock up on junk food that isn’t totally junky. I’m under no illusion that slapping an organic label on something transforms it into something healthy, but I do appreciate that all Trader Joe’s brand products have no synthetic colors, artificial flavors or preservatives, MSG, added Trans Fats, or genetically modified ingredients.
Trader Joe’s also carries inexpensive flowers or plants, greeting cards ($.99), or small gifts (think hostess or housewarming).
And there you have it. One shopping trip (stickers and suckers not pictured).
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