Trader Joe's

I buy many processed foods at Trader Joe’s. The prices are low and ingredient lists short. I’m not a fan of the prepared fresh or frozen meals, but in a pinch you can do worse.

TJ’s is good for stocking up on nonperishables and freezer friendly foods like meat, cheese, and bread. There's an array of nitrate free meats (careful, some do list them), lower sodium items, and ones you’ll find at Whole Foods at higher prices (i.e. Applegate, Environkids cereals). Beware of the produce. Though many of my cohorts buy produce at TJ’s without incident, I think their vegetables don’t last long or taste as good as Whole Foods or Farmer’s Market produce. But I’m super picky (great ingredients equal great results). So I only buy TJ’s produce in a pinch. Bananas, apples and oranges are usually pretty good. Study the bags of lettuce well. Look for expiration dates and slimy looking leaves. If that bag of mini carrots has too much water in it the carrots may be slimy. RETURN bad tasting food. Save receipts at least a week.

Resist shopping last minutes of the weekend. The shelves will be bare and your favorite turkey may be gone, causing you to blow off packing a sack lunch. Then you'll end up eating greasy pizza the next day from the joint across from your office and suffer late afternoon regret. Monday’s are not much better, particularly in the morning. They are often restocking. Get there Saturday or Sunday morning, or, if you don't work 9 to 5, wait until Tuesday.

Shopping List

I couldn't possibly list every item I ever bought at TJ's, so I listed some I buy regularly and really like. All are TJ's house brand unless otherwise stated.
  • Applegate Farms hot dogs
  • Applegate Farms turkey/bologna
  • Fully cooked bacon (in a box)
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • String cheese, regular fat content, mozzarella and cheddar
  • Tillamook cheddar cheese
  • Veggie chips
  • Sweet potato and root veggie chips
  • Hibiscus cranberry juice
  • Yellowfin tuna in olive oil (yeah, I grew up on tuna in water too, but trust me on this one, recipe coming soon)
  • Canned salmon, Alaskan Pink (wild), no salt added
  • Plain rice cakes
  • Whole wheat crackers (like triscuits)
  • Frozen artichoke hearts
  • Organic creamy salted peanut butter made with Valencia peanuts
  • Rice spaghetti pasta
  • Regular pastas
  • Precooked polenta
  • Whole wheat hot dog/hamburger buns
  • Organic honey whole wheat bread
  • English muffins
  • Frozen fish: tilapia, swordfish, tuna

**Extra! Extra!**

For unfortunate souls who do not live within 30 minutes of a Trader Joe’s (shout out to Florida) your regular grocery store probably has cordoned off a teeny tiny bit of shelf space in various aisles for nonevil processed food. Watch the prices. Whole Foods sells many of those items cheaper, by a lot.

You may notice elderly folk throughout the aisles, a clue this place is all about convenience and value. If you hit it when the bus from the home pulls up, you’ll get to see your future. My grandmother actually introduced me to Trader Joe’s “years ago” when I was a shiny new college graduate visiting her in California. She used a walker at the time, but at TJ's she'd throw it in the cart, lay her forearms on the handle, one on top the other like a genie, and push slowly down the aisles stopping unexpectedly. Now when I see a blue haired at TJ's, I cry a little and fight the urge to hug her, particularly if she’s less than 5 feet tall and has 3 items in her cart. If she's wearing cataract sunglasses even better.