The Healthiest Foods at Trader Joes

healthy picks at trader joes

My top healthy picks at TJs

I tend to talk about grocery shopping a lot.  Sometimes it's about making a Kitchen Inventory List or a Meal Plan and sometimes its chatting about alternative methods of getting ingredients like a CSA).  That's because when it comes to healthy eating, cooking is only half of the equation.  It's also important to be able to fit the timing and logistics of buying your food into your week in order to maintain healthy eating habits with ease.   

Because I do my best to stick to a whole foods-based diet, I try to buy as few packaged and processed foods as possible.  (Because we all know that if they are in in the house, they WILL get eaten.)  As a small time food entrepreneur, I also like to support small and local producers and growers when possible.  For those 2 reasons, big grocery store chains aren't often in my weekly rotation.

However, I know for many of you, the big grocery chains are the most convenient--if not the only--methods of shopping available to you, so I thought I'd do a series on healthy picks from some national grocery chains.  A lot of exciting innovation is happening in the grocery world right now and often really healthy items and mixed in with some of the traditional junk that we've trained our brains to skip.   

This week, I visited Early 20s Alia's favorite grocery store: Trader Joe's.  I always loved the affordability and sense of whimsy that this store had.  It always seemed perfect for picking up items for entertaining, and I still think it has some of the most innovative and cutting edge products on the market.  You'll find global flavors and products that you won't find in other chains even 5 years later.   

Keep reading to check out my favorite picks in 5 categories in the store: pantry staples, refrigerated foods, beverages, snacks, and frozen.  Trader Joe's also has a produce section that I'd definitely shop at if I needed to get all my groceries in one fell swoop, but it's not my favorite part of the store.  You typically need to buy things in bundles (ex: 6 heads of garlic instead of one.)  and I prefer to buy just what I need.  (Check out these suggestions for my favorite stores for produce.)

Pantry Staples

Although TJs is know for a lot of its fun ready-to-eat meals and frozen staples (that by nature include a lot of additives), they have a surprising amount of basic staples.  Here are a few things that you could stock up on:

  • Salsa. They have a wide variety of flavors and most that I saw had no preservatives added.  Most likely, the acidic nature of salsa helps preserve it naturally.  I like to keep salsa around for a no-cook sauce to top burrito bowls, scrambled eggs, and of course, tacos.
  • Canned sardines.  I'm usually pretty picky about my fish sourcing but sardines are often a fish that you can feel pretty good about sourcing just about anywhere because they are so tiny and naturally abundant, they rarely make the charts for poor sustainability or mercury.  Try them in my Scallion Sardine Cakes.
  • Peanut Butter. TJ's peanut butter has a cult following.  It's less than $2 and you can find a natural version (just peanuts) both with salt and without.  I find that natural peanut butters are harder and harder to find, even at health food stores, as most have both sugar and palm oil added.
  • Eziekiel Bread.  This sprouted grain bread digests slower than flour-based bread, although let's be really, it definitely doesn't taste as good.  Most grocery stores store it in the freezer for freshness but at TJ's you'll find it in the bread aisle.  I pop it in the freezer at home and then toast before eating.

Refrigerated Foods

There's a lot going on in the refigerated aisles at Trader Joe's.  It's probably the most interesting to me in terms of getting inspiration.  Here are some of the items I picked up this week:

  • Zhoug Sauce.  This was probably my favorite item that I bought!  Zhoug is a Yemeni cilantro sauce that has spices and chiles added to it.  For those of you familiar with Indian food, it tastes a lot like green chutney.  It's packaged like hummus so I'm expecting it to last for a while, but I've already dolloped it on a bunch of dishes like a pizza, scrambled eggs, and sauteed vegetables.
  • Perfect Bar.  This is a protein bar with a pretty good (but long) ingredient list that's stored in the refrigerated section.  While most bars like this are high in sugar (hey, people want them sweet), there's a reason for it: this bar tastes really good.  
  • Riced Cauliflower.  I mentioned I don't often buy produce at TJ's but they have a pretty big selection of prepped veggies like this one.  I thought the riced cauliflower was fresh and the pieces were nice and even too.
  • Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon.  This is the same brand I buy at Whole Foods but a few dollars cheaper. 

Beverages

You guys know that I pretty much only drink water and tea so I tend to skip the huge beverage aisle of the grocery store.  Here's what I like at TJ's:

  • GT's Kombucha.  They have the gingerade flavor as well as trilogy which have less sugar added than some of the other flavors.
  • Herbal Teas.  Some of the teas have "natural flavors" added which bugs me (just tell me what's in it!) but this turmeric and ginger one just contains the spices and is naturally caffeine-free.
  • Spindrift sparking waters.  Spindrift is like LaCroix but made with small amounts of juice instead of "natural flavors".  At TJ's I like that you can buy one individually to try it instead of buying a 4-pack.
  • Shell House Hard Seltzer.  In the mood for sparking water but also booze?  I've been seeing lots of hard seltzers hit the shelf so I picked these up, although I haven't tried them yet.  Depending on your state laws, you can also buy these individually.  

Snacks

Snacks are where you can really go HAM at Trader Joe's.  If you want it covered it chocolate, they probably sell it.  Here are my basic snacking picks:

  • Toasted Coconut Chips.  Lightly sweetened coconut flakes--these are delicious and only a few ingredients.
  • Almond, Cashew, and Dark Chocolate Trail Mix.  They have a huge variety of trail mixes but why get any of those when you can get one with just these 3 ingredients?  This is also packaged in individual portions which is convenient (although a little wasteful).
  • Plantain Chips.  Not necessarily healthier than potato chips but I think they are more interesting and go better with a Caribbean or South American menu.

Frozen

The freezer aisle is where most people zoom to at Trader Joes but I tend to not buy too many frozen foods.  Here's what I picked up.

  • Cauliflower Pizza Crust.  This crust is good for GF and vegans since there is no egg (a common ingredient in home recipes).  It's held together with corn flour, corn starch and potato starch so I'm not sure it's really anything healthier than other pizza crusts for those who can have wheat.  But it was pretty tasty!  We made a pizza with loads of sauteed spinach, goat cheese, and zhoug.
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberries.  Most frozen treats are additive and sugar bombs but these just have berries, chocolate and coconut oil as the ingredients.  (FYI there is dairy in the chocolate.)
  • Cauliflower Gnocchi.  I haven't tried this yet, but it seems like a really cool product!  This one is held together with cassava flour so good for anyone who is vegan or paleo.  Follow my Instagram to see when I cook this one.
  • Frozen Coconut Chunks.  Not to be confused with coconut milk, these are actually chunks of coconut ready to blend into smoothies. I've never seen these outside of an Indian store, so thought it was kind of cool.

That's it for my TJ's highlights.  Let me know your favorite products there in the comments!