Grocery

How I Like to Spend $100 at Trader Joe's

March 15, 2017

I willingly make grocery shopping harder on myself by visiting at least four different places every week: the farmers market (for local, seasonal produce), Zingerman's (for cheese and bread and coffee), a higher-end grocery store (for any non-seasonal produce needs or specialty ingredients), and Trader Joe’s (for dairy products, pantry staples, and, well, you’ll see).

I do this not out of a love for running errands, but rather to support my local economy; to shop at places I enjoy (sorry big-box grocery stores, but your never-ending aisles and fluorescent lighting are soul-sucking, not joy-inducing); to buy food I feel good about eating; and to balance my love of luxury ingredients with reasonably-priced (but high-quality!) ones. And that last point is where Trader Joe’s comes in. I turn to TJ’s (we’re on a nickname basis), for many of my staples, but also for a lot of fun, maybe-you-haven’t-tried-it-before-but-you-should products—what I’m focusing on today.

Here’s how I’d spend $100 on (mostly fun) stuff at Trader Joe’s:

Prime example of why I am not a food stylist.

Breads/Refrigerated/Produce — $15

Fun: The Raw Sauerkraut with Persian Cucumbers is a must-buy. It's great on sandwiches and anywhere else you like sauerkraut, but I also recommend it straight-up as a side. Grab a tub of hummus—I usually go for the Original, and then doctor it up—along with a tub of Cilantro & Chive Yogurt Dip; you can use both as a dip or on sandwiches or wraps (better grab a pack of Truly Handmade Flour Tortillas while you're at it).

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Top Comment:
“Trader Joe's ice cream is the best. Frozen cherries, slightly thawed are a healthy dessert-like a cherry sorbet. The dried, sweetened tangerine slices are incredible. The sliced brioche loaf is absolutely delicious and convenient for bread puddings. The (frozen) chocolate and vanilla maccarons are delicious. The $4 Cherry Blossom pinot noir is delicious, as well as the $20 Calvados-available during the holidays-buy 2. The French mustard is not quite as good as Maille, but a great substitute. Their Papparadelle and linguine are substantial. Their dried fruit is excellent-I like the dried Montmorency in oatmeal/cookies. The dried prunes don't melt away in dishes as other brands do. Their nuts are fresh and don't have preservatives added. Their ww honey and or rye pretzels are delicious. I love the olive oil potato chips-less salty as well. Dark yolk eggs, the French Cultured Butter-OMG! Their handmade tamales are super. I also buy their pine cat litter and organic cat food. What would I do without them!!!”
— Barbara R.
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A few more: I generally avoid the produce section, since for the most part I'm getting it elsewhere, but I am a fan of the bags of Meyer lemons, shishito peppers, and Stokes Purple sweet potatoes when they're in season. The Soy Chorizo and Steamed Lentils (these lentils are fully cooked, which is why they're in the refrigerated section) are convenient, tasty, meal building blocks.

This looks amazinggggg 🙌👅 @tiffanynickroo

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Cheese Case — $15

Fun: Even though I told you that I buy cheese at Zingerman's, I'm still telling you to get cheese at Trader Joe's—it's so reasonably priced that you'd be crazy not to. Life is better with more cheese! Two of my recent favorites have been the Cheddar Cheese with Caramelized Onions and the Unexpected Cheddar Cheese (the latter of which I was turned onto by a former intern, thanks Joy!). What makes a cheddar unexpected? I'll let Trader Joe's explain:

At first bite, it tastes like an aged Cheddar. And then something entirely unexpected happens. The smooth creaminess of the Cheddar gives way to a tangy flavor and slightly crumbly texture, a subtle hint of salt crystallization is discovered, and it begins to taste like an aged Parmesan. Unexpected indeed!

Also take a peek at the Spotlight Cheese of the Month and get one of those too.

A few more: I am never without a block of Wisconsin Extra Sharp Cheddar in my fridge (or the enormous block of Cabot if it's around holiday time #allofthecheddar). And TJ's has every other cheese need covered, too (and it's almost certainly cheaper than anywhere else): burrata, Grana Padano, feta, Brie—yes, yes, yes, yes, and then some.

PSA: If you take nothing else away from this post, buy the baby bananas.

Nuts/Fruits/Home — $25

Fun: All of them. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but you could easily spend your $100 entirely in this aisle. For nuts, I recommend starting with Roasted & Salted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary and Salt and Pepper Pistachios. Then add a few bags of fruit: I especially like the Unsweetened, Unsulfured Dried Bing Cherries, the Freeze Dried Strawberries, and the Dried Baby Bananas. Don't be put off when you open the bag of baby bananas: They look like mummified fingers, but they taste like slightly chewy banana bread (because they are just very ripe dried bananas).

A few more: This is the place to buy seeds and nuts, so stock up: sunflower seeds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, pine nuts, etc. Considering grabbing a pack of Pop-Up Sponges and a few RxBars, which I discovered thanks to an ill-fated decision to try Whole30. That discovery was the best thing to come out of the whole thing (all 17 days of it that I lasted): They're so much tastier than cereal or protein bars for breakfasts on the go (and are handy to stash in your bag for hangry moments), and they're free from gluten, soy, dairy, and added sugar.

Sample station — Free!

Take a minute and try something new! And for future shopping adventures, follow the self-explanatory blog, What's Good at Trader Joe's, to help you decide if it's worth it or not to pick up a new-to-you product.

Salty and sweet treats.

Freezer/Candy/Chocolate — $20

Fun: I like the Scandinavian Swimmers and Ts & Js Sour Gummies, both of which are vegetarian-friendly (hard to come by in gummy candies). If you prefer chocolate over fruity candies, TJ's has you covered, too: Try the Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels (or Peanut Butter Cups). Their frozen croissants (chocolate, almond, or mini) are shockingly good, as are the Mochi Ice Cream balls (when you don't have time to make your own). If it's holiday time, Peppermint Joe-Joe's are not to be missed, and if you have kids, keep your eyes peeled for Gingerbread House Kits, which are available at multiple times throughout the year (they're themed for different holidays, like Halloween and Fourth of July).

A few more: Not particularly exciting, but I almost always grab bags of frozen edamame, organic peas, artichoke hearts, and cauliflower rice. I like to have a bag of frozen Thai Vegetable Gyoza on hand for an easy dinner, as well as frozen Tandoori Naan for making individual pizza/flatbreads.

New Stuff — $9

Fun: Somewhere in the store, likely on an endcap, you find the new products. Stop and pick a couple up: It's how I discovered the Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets (these are made of mochi paste that's dried, fried, and tossed in sea salt, so they're savory, not sweet) and Restaurant Style White Corn Tortilla Chips (which have a hint of lime and sea salt), both pictured earlier). My most favorite recent find from this section is the Yuzu Hot Sauce, which you too will enjoy if you like citrus and hot sauce.

Greeting Cards — $1

Fun: I mean, they’re all only one dollar. For 99 cents (plus a stamp) and 5 minutes you can make someone’s day.

Food in cans. And jars.

Pantry/Baking — $15

Fun: I always grab a can of Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), as they make an easy, last-minute appetizer—especially paired with the hummus you already picked up. Same story for the Giant Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce. This is also the spot to get hot sauces, like the yuzu one I just mentioned, or maybe Green Dragon Hot Sauce. I also love their Cornichons—you never know when you're going to want to whip up a batch of Sauce Gribiche. I'm partial to the Unsweetened Cashew Butter and Unsweetened Almond Butter, but if you like your spreads sweet, this is also the spot to pick up a jar of Cookie Butter.

A few more: I like to stock up on other staples from this aisle, like olives of every variety, mustards, coconut cream (and milk), and rolled oats.

What are your favorite products at Trader Joe's?

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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58 Comments

Anja June 27, 2017
Yes, all of those delicious things!<br />But I agree with the previous comment about getting you hooked on something and the not carrying it anymore. They used to have ginger jo-jos, which were incredible. Now you can only get them at Christmas time in a package of several different kinds of jo-jos :( <br />And I fondly remember the lovely rosemary scones...
 
LisaD April 7, 2017
Sweet & spicy pecans. I buy 10 bags (I live far away) and keep them in the freezer for an easy nibble with a martini. In general, all of the nuts are a good bargain and usually organic, ditto the dried fruit, so I keep well stocked. Old Amsterdam cheese is a standby. I have a weakness for these green-tea flavored mints at the checkout counter.
 
girlwithaknife April 1, 2017
On my grocery list:<br />Chai latte mix<br />Goat cheese ravioli <br />Greek yogurt <br />Wine <br />Shelf stable whipping cream <br />Fig bars<br />And ginger cookies of course
 
Luna March 30, 2017
Speaking of cheese, I love the Basque sheep cheese. I can't wait to try the unexpected cheddar.
 
Helenegordon March 21, 2017
How about the flowers at Trader Joe's? Purchased 20 tulips for $9.99 at the Austin store last month and they lasted for almost a week! Can't wait to stock up on peonies later this spring.
 
AntoniaJames March 21, 2017
The chocolate cat cookies and vanilla "schoolhouse" cookies are perfect for making rum / bourbon balls. The chocolate is something like 4+ more cost effective than the Nabisco chocolate wafers, while the schoolhouse cookies are less sweet than vanilla wafers. Both also produce a superior crumb crust - nice and firm, and a little dry. ;o)
 
Jaye B. March 21, 2017
So many things to enjoy from Trader Joe's but I really love that I can buy Ghee and not have to make it myself.
 
Barbara R. March 20, 2017
Trader Joe's ice cream is the best. Frozen cherries, slightly thawed are a healthy dessert-like a cherry sorbet. The dried, sweetened tangerine slices are incredible. The sliced brioche loaf is absolutely delicious and convenient for bread puddings. The (frozen) chocolate and vanilla maccarons are delicious. The $4 Cherry Blossom pinot noir is delicious, as well as the $20 Calvados-available during the holidays-buy 2. The French mustard is not quite as good as Maille, but a great substitute. Their Papparadelle and linguine are substantial. Their dried fruit is excellent-I like the dried Montmorency in oatmeal/cookies. The dried prunes don't melt away in dishes as other brands do. Their nuts are fresh and don't have preservatives added. Their ww honey and or rye pretzels are delicious. I love the olive oil potato chips-less salty as well. Dark yolk eggs, the French Cultured Butter-OMG! Their handmade tamales are super. I also buy their pine cat litter and organic cat food. What would I do without them!!!
 
Rosemary R. March 19, 2017
The blue cheese crumbles are great for salad or making blue cheese dressing. Love the English truffle cheddar cheese for snacks and the whole milk mozzarella for pizza. The triple ginger snaps in the clear box and the vanilla wafers are great for snacks if you don't have time to make your own. Also use them for cheesecake crust. Smoked trout (love to make smoked trout dip) is very good. When they have apricots in season, they are fabulous. Like the pomegranate and coconut body butters, especially for hands in the winter. And flowers!
 
Amy March 19, 2017
Thanks, Lindsay-Jean. I'm an Ann Arborite, and I frequent your haunts as well! TJs new product shelf is my favorite spot in the store :)
 
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Lindsay-Jean H. March 20, 2017
Greetings fellow Ann Arborite!
 
Noreen F. March 19, 2017
I live about 70 miles from the nearest TJ's, so I don't get there as often as I like. I always check the produce section for bagged greens (love the Southern braising greens), see if they've got Delice de Bourgogne in the cheese case, and stock up on nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate. The shelf-stable cartons of whipping cream are great and I adore the tomato-less salsa, a sweet-spicy concoction of corn kernels, onion and red pepper that really zips up a hog dog.
 
Barbara R. March 20, 2017
Take a cooler along with you and/or ice packs!
 
Noreen F. March 21, 2017
Oh, I do! In fact there's a little cooler that lives in the back of my car.
 
Ellen March 19, 2017
The salsa verde is GREAT! We always get: frozen Thai veg. dumplings, arugula, ciabatta rolls or pumpernickel, peanut butter, almond butter, bourbon vanilla, cocoa powder, nuts & seeds, Joe's Os cereal. We were in love with the rice pudding but had to quit; I can't even look at it as I pass by. My husband shops the dairy section so I'm not tempted.
 
beezus March 19, 2017
Chili Pepper Sauce! Nice heat with a cumin flavor. On my last visit, picked up dark chocolate almond lace cookies. Best cookie I've ever eaten. Unfortunately, the closest TJ is an hour away, so don't get there often. :(
 
Janet R. March 19, 2017
I like the frozen leeks, so much easier than trying to get all the grit out of leeks yourself, and the frozen roasted corn. The two together can make a fantastic corn chowder.
 
BC March 19, 2017
Love, love, love the Unexpected Cheddar. But has no one else tried the Dill Pickle Popcorn; I don't usually like the flavored popcorn, mainly just chemical flavored but this one tastes just like pickles. Also, I have this thing where everytime I go to TJ's I have to buy my son one new food, something that I would never imagine him eating. Funny thing with the quality of TJ's product most of them have a stable; that's how I know about the dill pickle popcorn. Try this, it's a good way to find good food.
 
AntoniaJames March 19, 2017
Maple syrup in 750ml bottles, excellent quality, is available at a great price. ;o)
 
Joy B. March 18, 2017
YAY glad you liked the unexpected cheddar!!!! It's seriously the best. Thanks for the shoutout!! XO
 
scruz March 18, 2017
fruit frenzy popsicles. the ones with lemon and raspberry...very tart . the other type is too sweet. lime popsicles are good too.
 
SeeSaveSavor March 16, 2017
Bagged, regular carrots are tasty raw or cooked and only .89. I'm also into the fresh croissants, grits, bottled olives, milk chocolate peanuts, rosemary ham and Inner Peas.
 
Barbara R. March 20, 2017
I miss the madeleines-still. And I buy the frozen croissants-jst in case I crave one!
 
Mary A. March 16, 2017
Did anyone mention the goyza's at TJ'S. They have several chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetable. I also like the domas, a very large can for I think $3.00 and change. I don't usually buy their produce except for the packaged baby spinach which is very clean and a good buy. I also like their high fiber bread and occasionally I'll get a some baked goods. Did I mention they have great cottage cheese and their frozen string beans and peas are always in the freezer. My husband loves their nut selection. For myself, I like the cheese selection at Costco which has an incredible selection at unbelievable prices.<br />Happy food shopping --- the best.