The Top 16: Trader Joe’s Survival Guide

April 13, 2014

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I know people who rarely shop at Trader Joe’s because they don’t know where to begin processing the unfamiliar products and they aren’t sure if they’re getting a good deal.  I completely understand how this store can feel overwhelming, particularly if you’re unaccustomed to the Trader Joe’s private labels, but this shop is FAR too fabulous NOT to explore.

So, to get you started, I’ve put together a list of my top 16 items (I couldn’t cut it off at 15…)  This barely is a beginning on what I buy, but you can almost always find these things in my home.

In case you’re new to TJ’s (we’re on close, personal terms), I’m going to start from the start of the store.

Flowers

Do you know the old expression, “if you only have a dollar left, use fifty cents to buy flowers and fifty cents to buy bread.”  Dave Ramsey may not approve of this financial advice, but I regularly splurge on a small bouquet.  If you buy your flowers at TJ’s, you won’t feel the pinch since the prices are reasonable.

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Crumpets

I used to think there was nothing better than a perfectly toasted English Muffin, but that’s before I had crumpets.  LOVE the version from Trader Joe’s.  However, you have to eat them FAST or freeze them because they mold quickly after opening the vacuum seal.

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Fruits & Veggies

There’s SO much to love about the produce section at TJ’s,; however, if the goodness feels overwhelming, I’ve narrowed the “must have” items to two.

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Pineapples

I’m NOT a huge comparison shopper, but I never ever see cheaper pineapples than the ones at TJ’s.  Publix and Kroger usually price theirs at $4.99 while Trader Joe’s pineapples hold steady at $2.99.  Sold!

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Avocados

If you like guacamole or eat tacos as much as I do, you have to grab the avocados! I pick up a bag of TJ’s version almost every week.

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Tri-tip

You can’t always find this delicious cut of meat, but at TJ’s you can find tri-tip either plain, or in a Carne Asada marinade.  Throw this on the grill as the package directs and then top with some diced avocados. Deeeeelish.

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Eggs

The brown eggs from TJ’s are routinely more flavorful than the ones I pick up at the normal grocery stores.  It’s not a 100% sure thing, and I wish I knew WHY this happens, but I pick up a dozen when I’m in the store regardless.

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Nuts

TJ’s is where I pick up nuts for snacking or my spiced nuts recipe, but the show stopper is the candied pecans.  Toss these into any salad to go from zzzzz to Wow!

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Cereal

If you’ve ever made “White Trash” the TJ puffin cereal is a great option for the mix instead of Chex.  Not bad with milk either!

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Lemon Pepper

I realize it’s random to recommend pepper, but TJ’s has a number of unique pepper mixes.  Most are really good, but nothing touches the lemon pepper.  My favorite…

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Curry Sauce

Across the aisle from the pepper are assorted sauces. This is an experimenter’s paradise.  Go crazy in this section because there’s very little risk of failure.  If you like mellow curries, this red or yellow version will serve you well!

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Coffee

Sooooooo, I don’t drink coffee, but Billy loves his TJ coffee.  I enjoy the fancy, in-store grinder which means we don’t have coffee grounds. So, if you’re into caffeine, give this a shot!

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Naan

In the freezer section, you hit the jackpot with the frozen Naan.  You can count on finding this in my freezer — quick to heat and oh so delicious, especially with the curry sauce above! The garlic is great if you’re game, but we usually opt for plain in an effort to keep friends.

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Mochi

Further up the freezer aisle you will find beautiful circles of Japanese ice cream. I can’t overstate how much I love these ice cream bites.  Ridiculously tasty!

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Salsa Verde

I discovered TJ’s version of salsa verde when I was making chilaquiles, but now I throw it on top of anything needing an extra kick.

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Corn Salsa

Not to be outdone by the salsa verde, the corn salsa brings on the flavor AND heat.  I stir a tablespoon or two with diced avocados and put on top of my freshly grilled tri-tip and presto! dinner is ready.

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Cheese

There’s enough cheese in TJ’s to make everyone happy, but I particularly love the hard cheese which is a Syrah-soaked Parmesan.  I could eat my weight of this wedge, but if you want something more mellow, there’s plenty of goat cheese options.

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Now it’s your turn to tell me what YOU always buy at Trader Joe’s.

Go!

25 Responses to “The Top 16: Trader Joe’s Survival Guide”

  1. Dana Lindsay Says:

    Speaking of TJ’s cheese section, they have my favorite Dublinwer cheese at a fraction of price at other grocery stores! The kids love TJ’s kettle corn (okay I do, too). I love going to the fruit/nut section to see what new trail-style mixes they’ve come up with. My current fave is cashews and dried cranberries. Finally, my grilling son puts Island Soyaki marinade on everything and it’s fantastic! Now I’m hungry…

    Reply

    • Joy Phenix Says:

      I have no natural stopping point when it comes to trail mix which is why I’ve never purchased TJ’s version. I’m all about finding your favorite cheese and marinade!

      Reply

  2. Beth Says:

    Thanks for the pineapple idea! I get none of the things you mentioned, different taste-buds!!

    My favs!
    1. Black bean and quinoa tortilla chips! Yum!
    2. Frozen fruit, much cheaper than Publix. I make smoothies every day, so it’s nice to always have berries on hand!
    3. Chocolate coconut milk ice cream- duh!
    4. Flowers- just like you, they are perfect and reasonably priced.
    5. Olive oil popcorn. I keep it at work for snacking. Surprisingly good.

    I could go on…..

    I use their beauty products too….

    I love TJs!

    Reply

    • Joy Phenix Says:

      1. LOVE!
      2. Good to know, especially with sangria season coming up ; )
      3. I don’t do coconut unless I can’t taste it — odd, I know.
      4. Can’t wait for gladiola season!
      5. I’ve never seen this, but will look now.

      Which beauty products?

      Reply

  3. Katie P. Says:

    Love this list! Here’s three of my Trader Joe’s favorites:

    1. Spinach Kale Greek Yogurt Dip – I’m not a huge fan of kale or of Greek yogurt, but all mixed together – whew, this stuff is somehow delicious & a pretty healthy snack!
    2. Peanut butter chocolate cupcakes – they’re located on the little table of baked goods in the front & come in a 4-pack that I struggle with not consuming in one sitting.
    3. S’more ice cream sandwiches – like crack in a box. They used to be seasonal but I’ve seen them more frequently over the past year. Just go ahead and buy several boxes in case they are actually still seasonal.

    Reply

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Love your favs and like you, have a 100 more:
    1. Soy Ginger Cod- follow the pan cooked directions! (cook with the rice and green beans below)
    2. Frozen brown rice packets
    3. Frozen French Green Beans (staple in my freezer)
    4. Individual kettle corn popcorn bags (pkg of 6 or 8- great for school snack)
    5. frozen Turkey meetballs (great all by themselves or in a spaghetti dish)
    6. Any and all cheeeez! 🙂
    The list goes on…

    Reply

    • Joy Phenix Says:

      You’re the second person to mention the kettle corn, so I’m intrigued. Also haven’t ever tried the turkey meatballs, so that’s on the list!

      Reply

  5. Kimberly Says:

    Can’t wait to try the cheese and the lemon pepper you mentioned. I completely agree about the candied pecans. My additions to your list:
    a) birthday greeting cards – beautiful and only one dollar!
    b) hummus
    c) peanut butter filled pretzels – pretty much always buy three bags when getting a special treat for my fam
    d) when you need a quick, delish, appetizer that you don’t want to make – frozen section = little pastry shells with carmelized onions and goat cheese. Everyone loves these. I often keep on hand in case someone drops by.

    Reply

    • Joy Phenix Says:

      I’ve never even NOTICED the birthday cards! I love this idea. I’m mildly afraid of the peanut butter filled pretzels. I don’t seem to have the willpower to avoid peanut butter anything…

      Reply

  6. Connie Says:

    1. TJ 70% cocoa chocolate bars. Very reasonably priced and pass my husband’s high standards for dark chocolate.

    2. Unsalted, natural peanut butter (green label). So much more reasonable than grinding your own at Harry’s!

    Can’t wait to try the tri-tip and corn salsa!

    Reply

  7. Marie Says:

    My TJ staples:

    1. Two Buck Chuck.
    2. French frozen green beans.
    3. Coffee.

    Reply

  8. Fiona G Says:

    “Lemon pepper Padapelle Pasta” (something like that) cooked, add a “can of Tuna in Olive oil”, add a few Tbs “capers”.
    DONE! my kids and hubby gobble this down, hot or cold!! perfect for dinner and school lunch the next day 🙂
    and I love their Edamame, microwave for 4 minutes, add a little coarse salt and a drizzle of Olive Oil … yummmmm!
    and of course all the belgian chocolates <3
    🙂

    Reply

    • Joy Phenix Says:

      I ALMOST put on edamame, but since it’s only MY favorite (not a hit with the fam) I skipped it. Good call Fiona!

      Reply

  9. Sarah Paxton Says:

    I’m really late to this party- I noticed your list on the side bar reading today’s blog post! 🙂

    I love several things on your list and you’ve given me some new ones to try!

    Some on my list that are not on yours:

    1. Frozen pizza crusts – these are pretty new! They come 2 in a pkg for $2.49 and bake perfectly crispy and even. I’ve piled the toppings on heavy and the crust held up wonderfully. Great time saver from having to roll out your own crust, too.
    a.) TJ’s shredded mozzarella cheese
    b.) TJ’s pizza sauce
    2. The 85% chocolate dark chocolate bar. 2 come in a box for I think $1.99 or maybe even less. This is a staple!
    3. I second the quinoa with black bean tortilla chips. These are divine. Quite possibly my favorite tortilla chip of all time.
    4. For a summery white wine, I love the Honey Moon Viogner. Delicious!
    5. I just discovered these- but if you want a twist on your typical hamburger bun, the pretzel rolls in the fresh bread section are killer! #nomnom
    6. For an occasional fatty splurge on a “grownup” version of a childhood favorite, the pastry pups (pigs in a blanket) are to die for. They’re in the frozen appetizer section.
    7. The olive oil popcorn!

    I could go on and on, but my grandmother always loved the number 7, so I will stop there. Happy shopping! 🙂

    Reply

  10. Heather Bazal Says:

    If you enjoy the tri tip get the Cabernet pot roast. I throw it in the crockpot with TJ assorted potatoes, cauliflower, onions, and garlic. It is a delicious one pot TJ masterpiece. Also their single serving of Butter Chicken(freezer section) is delicious as are the frozen garlic Parmesan potatoes. 5 minutes in the microwave and you have an amazing side dish everyone will rave about.

    Reply

  11. Toni Brown Says:

    Joy,
    I love Trader Joe’s for the not only the inexpensively priced flowers but they have a great selection of kosher meat and kosher wines. I love that they have something for everyone there. It is a wonder I haven’t run into you there.

    Toni

    Reply

  12. Ryan Says:

    We just had Trader Joe’s open yesterday near us and I have been scouring to find this list! Just spent the last 15 minutes writing all of the suggestions down…. thank you to everyone who commented, too – can’t wait to try all of these delicious-sounding items from TJ’s!!

    Reply

  13. Beth Says:

    The closest TD is an hour and a half away from me , but I love this store so much, I don’t care. I get so excited when I walk in this store. My husband thinks I’m crazy. I’m addicted to the crumpets and the other thing I wanted to suggest to you is the TD Hot and Sweet Pepper Jelly. To die for. Spread over cream cheese and you’ve got an amazing appetizer served with crackers. I usually but 6 jars at a time. Thank you for all the other suggestions… I’m making my list for the next TD trip!

    Reply

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