I went to Trader Joe’s for the first time when we lived in Charlotte many moons ago. My friend Mishelle took me, and it was love at first shopping trip – but it was also kind of overwhelming. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I didn’t come with a shopping list, and I just bought a few random things that looked interesting. And several of those random things quickly became Things I Needed on a regular basis…and then I found myself becoming a person who Needed Things from Costco, a regular grocery store, AND Trader Joe’s…every week. And that was too many stores.
Shortly after that, a new TJ’s popped up that was super close to where I worked, and I decided to see if I could convert to doing most of my shopping there, and eliminate the “regular” grocery store. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since (for over 7 years)! I still go to another grocery store on occasion – maybe once or twice a month – but Trader Joe’s is the store I hit weekly. Since I obviously don’t wander around with no list buying things that look interesting anymore (umm, cuz that’s really dangerous at Trader Joe’s, because they have ALL THE INTERESTING THINGS), I thought I would share some of my favorite must-haves that I always, always have at my house!
1.//Tomato paste in a tube, y’all! I love this for recipes that only call for a little bit of tomato paste (like spaghettios!) I used to freeze glops of it on waxed paper and then put them in a bag when I had only used a partial can, but this is so.much.better.
2.//Fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles. Like Ro-tel, but with yummy roasted flavor. I use them in chili and any recipe that calls for Ro-tel.
3.//Whole wheat pasta. I love this curly shape for kids, since it stays on a spoon more easily than long noodles for my four-year-old and is an easy-to-pick-up finger food for my baby! I’m partial to Nana’s spaghetti sauce, obviously, but I also serve them with…
5.//Almond butter. I admit the weirdness of this, but I often have a jar for eating and a jar for
baking breakfast cookies or flourless chocolate chip zucchini snack cake at my house, since you use exactly half a jar for the either of those recipes and then you don’t have to measure it the next time! #solazy
6.//Unsweetened coconut flakes. I JUST discovered this at TJ’s, and was super pumped because it used to be something I had to buy at a regular grocery store. I use it for chocolate chip granola bars and those breakfast cookies!
7.//Raisins. I know it’s not logical to buy organic raisins and regular grapes, but that’s what I do and who I am. Ugh, it’s just so confusing! Trader Joe’s has both conventional and organic raisins, and it’s only like 20 cents more for organic, so I get them since I feel like that’s a lotta grapes in that bag..? Anyway, these are really juicy and we use them all the time in oatmeal and for baking (have you had apple cake yet??).
8.//Coconut oil. I go through this pretty fast, so I usually have a back-up jar around. #prepper #hoarder (In case of apocalypse, I’ll be using my Costco package of oats to make granola and granola bars and We Will Survive.) Also makes roasted sweet potato bites extra good!
9.//Joe’s O’s are a major staple around here. There are about 3,457 of them in my car. We make quick trail mixes with nuts, raisins, and the O’s and I dole out handfuls to starving children when dinner is taking too long…like when I have to take pictures of it before we can eat it!
10.//Whole wheat pitas. Another must-have for pita pizzas, homemade cinnamon sugar pita chips (with apple pie dip…please, please make yourself this amazing snack), and a low-cal alternative to a burger bun! (Speaking of which, have you had a smothered maple turkey burger with your fall apples??) Sometimes I just separate one so it’s really thin and toast it for cheater pita chips to dip in hummus! A half a pita is great for stuffing with lots of veggies for a sandwich, too.
11.//Whole wheat English muffins were the first must-have I encountered at Trader Joe’s and I’ve probably bought a pack every time I’ve been in the store. #creatureofhabitmuch? They cost about half what a package of Thomas’s do and they have the best crunchy texture! Toasting them in a pan is pretty life-changing, too.
12.//Crackers. The “woven wheats” are like Triscuits, and they’re 100% whole wheat. The multigrain crackers aren’t, but they’re super tasty! We have peanut butter cracker sandwiches for lunch when we’re out of bread, and I like them crumbled in tomato soup (see below)!
13.//Macaroni and cheese. I usually have a box around for a quick dinner for the girls (or, fine, lunch for the 3 of us).
14.//Frozen pizza. I know, I know, I yammered on and on about making your own frozen pizza, and I DO, I do, but I still buy them sometimes. And I LOVE this one – it has a super thin, flaky, buttery crust with little bits of ham and caramelized onions and cheese. It’s SO good.
15.//Hot dogs. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the “I don’t feel like cooking” category. I like these hot dogs because of the ingredient list – it’s all things I can pronounce, with no MSG, nitrates/nitrites, preservatives, or scary-sounding “parts”. They make a turkey variety, too.
16.//Tomato soup. I LOVE this soup and so does my older daughter! Paired with a grilled cheese sandwich or just some crackers, it’s one of my favorite lunches or quick dinner options.
17.//Candied pecans. You guys…my love for these is extreme. We buy lots of nuts at Trader Joe’s, and I used to be perfectly content to toast up a few raw pecans to throw on a salad, but I’ve been ruined forever by the perfection of these candied pecans. They make any salad exciting. My favorite salad this fall had baby greens, goat cheese, a little bit of super thinly sliced red onion, apple slices, balsamic vinaigrette, and a very generous helping of these babies. YUM.
18.//Tortilla chips. I mean…these chips are practically a super food, with whole grain corn, quinoa, and black beans. I like how thick they are – you can scoop a lotta salsa on each one. :o)
19.//Lemon hand soap. This is really nice soap and I always have it in my kitchen!
20.//Whole milk yogurt. Whole milk yogurt (which is an especially great baby food!) can be hard to find. I like to mix the plain and sweetened/flavored kinds together so that it’s not as tart as the plain by itself but there’s not as much added sugar.
21.//Frozen yogurt tubes. I usually have some of these yogurt tubes in the freezer – my older daughter loves to have them for a snack!
22.//Whole milk mozzarella. I always have a few kinds of cheese on hand, and we use this for pita pizzas and homemade pizzas. I love the way the whole milk mozzarella melts, and it’s still lower in calories than some other cheeses!
Now. I would never discourage anyone from trying all the interesting things at Trader Joe’s. I have some favorite treats – dark chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar, triple gingersnaps, iced pumpkin scone cookies, peppermint Joe-Joe’s…to, um, name a few or five. I don’t have the budget or the self-control to buy them very often, though! I thought about getting them all at once (for the blog, for pictures, because of my love for you) for this post but I reined it in. I have to have all my willpower at the store since I don’t have it at home!
That was a lot of words from me – what do YOU love at Trader Joe’s? Do we have any of the same favorites? Where do you do the bulk of your shopping? Did I convince you to try something new? I’d love to hear from you!