There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love Trader Joe’s, and those who haven’t been there yet.
It takes me about 30 minutes to get from my home in Kaysville, Utah to my nearest Trader Joe’s in Salt Lake City, but it’s worth the trip. I load my kids and a cooler full of ice in the car 2 or 3 times a month to stock up on our favorite things. Since Trader Joe’s is relatively new here in Utah, a lot of people see me toting around my reusable TJ bags and ask me (1) if Trader Joe’s is really all that and (2) what I like to buy there.
The answer to #1 is YES! The products are amazing, the atmosphere is fun for kids and adults alike, and going there makes me feel all-around positive about eating well and feeding my family quality, nutritious food.
And the answer to #2? Read on for my list of the 20 best things at Trader Joe’s. (Side note: these are in no particular order. They are all amazing!)
1. Salsa Authentica
This is my ultimate go-to salsa. It has exactly the right blend of chunkiness and heat. It is a little strong for my kids, but my husband and I dump it on everything from burritos to eggs to nachos. Better still, it’s only slightly more expensive than your standard store-brand salsa (yet tastes about 10 times more fresh and delicious!). At any given time I have a stash of 5 or 6 jars of this stuff in my pantry. It’s that good.
2. Coconut Oil
I hardly ever use coconut oil in my cooking. That’s still on my bucket list. But I do use it as a beauty product! I have long, long hair that I use heat on often. Part of how I keep my ends from looking totally fried is to leave coconut oil in the ends of my damp hair just after a shower once a week. Too much oil all over your head is hard to wash out, but just a bit on the ends keeps my hair growing strong, long, and healthy. It’s also a great moisturizer for skin (again, if not used TOO liberally). You can buy massive tubs of coconut oil at wholesale places like Costco, but if you’re like me and don’t use mass quantities, the TJ coconut oil is your best option because the ounce-for-ounce cost is about the same as the Costco price, but you don’t end up wasting any of it.
3. Parmesan Ranch Salad Dressing
I’ll be honest: if you asked me if I like this or full-fat buttermilk Ranch dressing better, I’d pick the fatty stuff. But for day-to-day eating and snacking, this is a great way to get tasty Ranch taste without as many fat and calories. It’s a delicious dip for veggies as well as an awesome go-to dressing for salads.
4. Sweet Potatoes
I like baking up sweet potatoes to eat as a side with some kind of protein and veggies. Sprinkle on just a a bit of brown sugar and melted butter and you’ve got yourself one indulgent-tasting source of quality carbs. However, it seems like my local grocery store only carries sweet potatoes the size of my head. Trader Joe’s carries bags of awesome LITTLE sweet potatoes that are just the right size for one person to eat as a side dish. Unless I’m chopping and peeling a ton of sweet potatoes when cooking for a crowd, these little guys are the exact size I want.
5. Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies
Move over, cardboard animal crackers. This little snack is one I buy for my kids but totally munch on myself! They are hard and crunchy yet have a cinnamony taste reminiscent of my mom’s homemade snickerdoodles. Delish! Now, I don’t get too worked up over high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors in the food I feed to my kids, but I’m all about snacks that steer clear of those things when I find them at a reasonable price. Because of this, TJ’s Schoolbook Cookies are a snack I feel really good about feeding to my kids. Added bonus: because the cookies are shaped like letters and numbers, it’s good for my girls to shout out which letter or number they see before eating each one. They think it’s fun and I’m happy to see them reinforcing the things they’re working on in preschool. 🙂
6. Gnocchis Alla Sorellina
My husband, Mark, lived in Argentina for two years. Down there he ate a lot of Italian food, thanks to the huge influence of Italian immigrants to Argentina in the past century. I’d never tried gnocchis until he introduced me to them. Basically, they’re like a soft and squishy ball of potatoey pasta. The freezer section of Trader Joe’s carries three kinds of gnocchis packaged to be dumped straight into a skillet, complete with tasty sauces and seasonings. The sweet potato sage and gorgonzola ones are tasty but a bit high in fat, but the Gnocchis Alla Sorentina are both healthy enough to eat day-to-day and delicious too. At my house we eat them at least once a week as a lunch or a quick-cooking dinner. My kids have even been known to choose these over Kraft macaroni and cheese.
7. Random Seasonal Awesomeness
Trader Joe’s carries amazing seasonal items. Their huge variety of pumpkin products in autumn are delicious, for example, as are their mango goodies in early summer. They also have other quirky products for holidays and seasons, like this build-your-own-Whitehouse I saw last time. Who says gingerbread houses are only for December? It’s products like this that make Trader Joe’s so fun. I’ve never been to a store with such distinct personality as TJ’s.
8. Sea Salt & Butterscotch Caramels
I shop Trader Joe’s primarily to get healthy foods for my family, but I occasionally get some of their sugary goodies too. I’ve not been crazy about some of the bakery-type items, but in general, their candy is really tasty. These little guys are absolutely decadent. Mini balls of gooey caramel topped with thick grains of salt, all enveloped in rich, delicious dark chocolate? HECK YES! Honestly, these guys make a mere Twix or Snickers look simply pathetic. As you guys know, when I eat a treat, I make sure it is a GOOD one, and these are definitely on my list of Splurge-worthy candies.
9. Mango Taffy
And while I’m on the topic of Splurge-worthy candy, you need to try Trader Joe’s Mango Taffy. YUM. It showed up this summer along with the rest of their scrumptious mango products. Because it is seasonal, you’ll want to stock up on it whenever you see it since it won’t be back until the next year. Of course, if you live in the Salt Lake area, you’ll have to hurry extra because I will swoop in and buy it all up before the rest of you get a chance. 😉
10. Chile Lime Chicken Burgers
Here’s another winner from the freezer section. These thin, tasty patties of ground chicken and spices are quick to broil up in the oven or toss on the grill. At 150 calories a pop, I don’t feel one smudge of guilt tossing it on a big whole-grain bun and slathering it in fresh guacamole. These do have a bit of a kick to them, but they’re mild enough that my daughters (ages 2 and 5) eat them happily.
11. Fresh Basil Plants
I have craved tomatoes and basil like a crazy person this pregnancy. But even non-pregnant, I love the color and freshness basil leaves can add to a dish. These are the biggest, leafiest, hardiest basil plants I’ve found (as compared to buying others at local grocery stores).
12. Greeting Cards
This sounds like an odd one, but it’s one of Trader Joe’s best-kept secrets. They have amazing cards! Birthday cards. New baby cards. Thank you cards. Congratulations cards. Thinking of you cards. Simply blank cards. Basically, they have a huge variety of cards, all with gorgeous artwork or fun designs. They cost just .99 apiece but look like something Hallmark would charge you several dollars for.
13. Thai Red Curry Sauce
One of my favorite freezer meals is crockpot curry. I dump chicken and a bunch of veggies in my crockpot, pour a bottle of this yummy stuff over it all, and let it go for a few hours. At the end, I shred up the chicken and mix in a can of coconut milk. It’s to die for! This is hands-down the yummiest red curry sauce I’ve found.
14. Sweet Potato Fries
Obviously, it’d be hard to feel good and meet most fitness goals if fries were a part of your daily regimen. So whenever I find a baked fry that tastes as good as its deep-fried counterpart, I’m thrilled to be able to enjoy a slightly healthier version of the real deal that doesn’t feel like a sacrifice on the taste front. These little guys are absolutely scrumptious. They are the best freezer fries I’ve tasted, period. In fact, my Sophia turned five last week, and for her birthday dinner she requested these fries. So whether you are a little kid or just a kid at heart, you’ll love these.
15. 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
If my husband reads this post, he’s going to feel a little bit lied to at this point. 😉 I do stick to regular white flour for most outright treats, like cookies and brownies, but whenever I bake things like pancakes, bread, and rolls for the family, I like to sneak in this flour. My kids don’t see or taste any difference, but it adds a huge hit of fiber and protein that regular white flour lacks.
16. Enchilada Sauce
This sauce is so good. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to sauces, because most that come canned TASTE like a can, in my opinion. This bottled stuff tastes fresh and authentic. It makes my at-home Mexican dishes taste a million times tastier than they would with a store-brand sauce.
17. Hold the Cone Ice Cream Cones
My husband makes fun of me for liking any food that’s tiny. Well, he’s right. If something is miniature and cute, I’m there. These adorable little chocolate-dipped mini cones are maybe 4 inches tall. More than for the cute factor, though, I like that these are the perfect size for my kids. Honestly, if I scoop them a big dish of ice cream, they rarely finish it. These small cones are perfect for small kids. Also, at 70 calories apiece, I don’t feel bad about joining in and having one here and there. They come in both chocolate and vanilla, but my kids and I prefer the vanilla flavor.
Like the greeting cards, this isn’t something you’d expect. But Trader Joe’s has amazing flowers. They are both fresher and cheaper than flowers I find anywhere else. I often plan my TJ’s runs for days when I’m in the mood to buy pretty flowers, because getting them at Trader Joe’s is the best and most budget-friendly way to go.
19. Trader Joe’s Shells and White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
My kids are kids, and they still like the neon-orange variety of mac and cheese better than anything that isn’t a frightening and unearthly color. But in my book, no other macaroni even holds a candle to this stuff. It tastes rich, creamy, cheesy, and decadent, even if you add less butter than the package recommends (which I typically do). I often make up a box of this for lunch and split it three ways with my daughters. Yum!
20. Beef Steak Burritos
You may notice I like a lot of things from the freezer section. 🙂 I don’t mind cooking, but as a mom of two little kids I’m a fan of quick-to-make lunches I can throw together during nap time. These burritos are wonderful. If you, like me, ate a lot of those cheap El Monterey burritos in college, fear not: these are nothing like those sad, tasteless little things. I especially like these topped with the Salsa Authentic I mentioned earlier.
So there you go! This list, in my opinion, is the guide to getting all the best things at Trader Joe’s.
What do YOU like at Trader Joe’s? Let me know in the comments if there’s anything amazing that I’ve missed!