My favorite things to buy at Trader Joe’s.

My favorite things to buy at Trader Joe’s.

(I enjoyed this post about Trader Joe’s on Joanna Goddard’s blog, but was miffed that so many of my personal favorites weren’t on the list. Making amends for that today.)

We haven’t always had a Trader Joe’s in our neighborhood.

Until fairly recently—just a couple of years ago—Trader Joe’s was a place we visited like tourists more than anything. We’d visit friends in Seattle, visit their local store, and stock up on enough snacks and drinks to last the week. We’d spend a weekend Chicago and come back with our memories—and enough wine, crackers, and thai lime and chile cashews from their State Street store to last for months. We’d visit my inlaws in Cincinnati and drive miles out of the way to hit up their TJ’s.

Now we have a Trader Joe’s practically in our neighborhood, and I don’t take it for granted, even though I’m there at least once a week. It’s not a perfect store, and it’s not the only place we shop, but there is no better place to knock out a week’s worth of grocery shopping (for a family of 6!) in 15 minutes.

We can’t get everything at Trader Joe’s: the average grocery store carries 50,000 items, but Trader Joe’s stocks just 4000. This is not a drawback in my book: the story is tiny, and I love it that way.

We buy a ton of staples at Trader Joe’s: salad, baby carrots, avocado, eggs. But Trader Joe’s is famous (and rightly so) for doing specialty products, really well, and for cheap.

These are a few of my favorites. (I’d love to hear yours in comments!)

21 offbeat favorites to buy at Trader Joe's.

Fresh flowers. Trader Joe’s has a consistently great selection of blooms at budget prices.

Nuts and snacks:

• Freeze-dried strawberries. We always use these as a healthy road trip bribe for the kids.
• Coconut chips. Sweet, crunchy, addictive.
• Thai lime and chile almonds. Tasty enough that you’ll want to eat the whole bag, spicy enough that you can’t. The cashews are also fantastic.

Dairy: Trader Joe’s has a terrific cheese section, stocking their house products and popular brands like Cabot, Kerrygold, Boursin, and Baby Bells. These are our offbeat favorites:

• Creamy toscano with black peppercorns. Yum. The toscano with syrah is equally delicious.
• Quattro formagio. My favorite shredded cheese blend.
• Blueberry chevre. Lucy and I went to Trader Joe’s the other day on a mother-daughter adventure. I told her she could pick out whatever she wanted. I expected her to choose chocolate, or sushi. She chose this.

Pizza dough: we used to make our own, but now we pay $1.29 so we don’t have to wash the mixing bowl. (We like the garlic and herb variety.) Hot tip: this freezes well.

Sweet stuff: 

• Pound plus bars. Massive 17.6 ounce chocolate bars (for $5), available in a variety of flavors. We keep these on hand for baking and occasional snacking. The bars are thick enough that you need a knife to hack off a snack-size portion, which keeps me from snitching it every time I go in the kitchen. (A good thing!)
• Macarons. Available in the freezer section, $5 for a package of twelve. We like to keep these in the freezer for impromptu guests or special occasions.
• French vanilla ice cream. It’s just vanilla ice cream, but it’s really good vanilla ice cream.

21 offbeat favorites to buy at Trader Joe's

Crackers: we rarely buy crackers, so when we do we want them to be good.  

• Mini brioche toasts. A fantastic (and adorable) holder for dips and spreads of all stripes.
• Savory thin mini crackers. (Gluten-free.)
• Raisin rosemary crisps. These are great with tangy cheese. The fig and olive variety is also pretty tasty.

Pantry:

• Hot and sweet cherry peppers. I adore these. I love to slice them thin and add them to salads, or stuff them with creamy cheese (feta, goat, boursin) and top them off with slivered almonds for a snack or appetizer.
• Pesto. We keep finding new ways to use this, most recently on pizza with goat cheese. YUM.
• Cornichons. Trader Joe’s has a great variety of antipasto-type snacks in jars. The kids love these tiny tart pickles.
• Coconut cream. This is what you’d see labeled as “coconut milk” everywhere else, but for much less than you’ll see anywhere else.

Frozen:

• Sockeye salmon. Trader Joe’s has a great price on filets. Occasionally we’ll bake or grill it, but usually we cure it like this. My 5-year-old begs for this, on brioche toasts with cream cheese, or in an omelet.
• Lasagna. We rarely eat pasta, but I bought this once so the kids could have a nice dinner with the babysitter and now they’re obsessed. On the plus side, it’s great quality at a great price.
• Tamales. These are fun and fast for ball game nights, or a quick lunch.
• Frozen berries: they have great prices on the basics, and we love their Very Cherry mix.

What are YOUR favorite things to buy at Trader Joe’s?

21 offbeat favorites to buy at Trader Joe's

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117 comments

  1. Not trying to correct you Anne, but the coconut enthusiast in me has to point out that the coconut cream at TJ’s is that that… the CREAM. It’s the stuff that is thick and white that floats on top of the coconut milk, which is even better than coconut milk because you can do the coolest stuff with it.

    My daughter loves to whip it just like heavy whipping cream, adding a touch of vanilla, to make a healthy icing or anywhere else you would use whipped cream (on top of puddings, fruit, etc). It’s amazing in coffee for people sensitive to dairy or on a low carb diet. Hello paleo. 🙂

    My TJ shopping list includes: leeks, kumquats, those presliced frozen sweet peppers (honestly having those in the freezer makes omelets and fritattas a total no-brainer), the frozen almond and chocolate croissants (the closest thing to a Paris breakfast I’ll experience stateside), baguette, roobios tea (naturally decaf and great for kids or upset tummies), Bronner’s castille, *whole milk* yogurt, powdered laundry detergent.

  2. jennifer l. says:

    I Highly recommend:
    Soy & Ginger Vinaigrette,
    Chocolate Covered Coconut Almonds,
    Garlic Naan, &
    Bran Muffins
    (just to name a few favs).

  3. Meg says:

    I don’t think anyone mentioned the coconut oil spray–I use instead of cooking spray in muffin pans, and even on air popped popcorn! The small whole milk yogurts (packs of six I think?) are great for the kiddos just starting to eat dairy (and moms too!). I also like several of their individual frozen meals to keep in the office freezer for emergency lunches. Yum!

  4. Kim j says:

    Have only seen one other comment on their olive oil…a large bottle with a spout & only $7. You can’t beat it. Also, their Olive Oil Popcorn is delish. As others have said, we love their nuts, cheeses, beer selection & spices. Can’t wait to try all of these new suggestions!

  5. Wendy says:

    French salted caramels–for $2.99 you get a whole lotta caramel.
    Garlic salt (comes in a little grinder).
    Frozen latkes.
    Salted caramel gelato–yes, I am a little obsessed. I don’t do pumpkin spiced anything, but I am totally on board with the salted caramel fad.

    I hadn’t bothered with Trader Joe’s, because I thought it was just some chi-chi grocery store, and I was annoyed that their veggies are so shrink-wrapped and not locally sourced. Then a friend was telling me she gets healthier meats there for a much better price than Whole Foods or New Seasons, so I stopped by to check that out. She was right. Plus, they’ve freed many of their veggies from the shrink wrap in the past few years.

  6. I love reading what others like at TJ’s…although there are fewer items than a regular store, I still don’t notice some of these items until someone mentions them 🙂 We always keep their frozen grass fed hamburger meat in the freezer. It’s so good and very inexpensive!

  7. Erica Layne says:

    When they’re in stock I LOVE the frozen mango chunks to go in smoothies. Also, the dark chocolate cookie butter cups! Super yummy, and I pretend that they’re on the healthy side because of the word “dark.” 🙂

  8. Sabrina says:

    Wow!! I had to write these down (and I’m pretty sure it’s the entire store)! I love TJ, ours shares a parking lot with Whole Foods…SO dangerous! I have only gone in for the specialty items I’m craving (inside out carrot cake cookies!!) or to use for a special event (typically the crackers, cheese selection, and sparking water), but this makes me so excited to shop there and really get to know the store! They are always SO friendly and I tend to take forever grocery shopping, so once I learn what and where things are this should speed things up!

  9. Jessi says:

    We love TJ’s for so many things! I can’t believe no one has mentioned the appetizer section in the frozen department. Every dinner party in San Francisco starts with an array of TJ’s appetizers, the feta and carmelized onion pastry bites and black truffle flatbread are two of my absolute faves. My son loves their organic banana chips and their vanana yogurt. Their italian truffle cheese is to die for and the old Amsterdam cheese is one of my husband’s absolute favorites. The prices for crumbled goat and burrata cannot be beat. My husband and I both take their multi vitamins too. But the ultimate dangerous yummy treat are their peanut butter filled, chocolate covered pretzels…

  10. Alissa says:

    As for a quick snack that my little ladies can eat… they love cheese puffs, but so many have orange dyes and are so unhealthy! Trader Joe’s has a healthier option of those addictive things, and they are cheaper than the name brands with orange dyes!!! And they carry different types of Rooibos tea! I fell in love with this tea in 2003 when I lived in South Africa and was so excited when stored here started selling it! But Trader Joe’s carries a small variety and usually has a delicious pumpkin one in the fall!!!

  11. Kristina says:

    We just got a TJ’s close to us a couple months ago. I used to shop there all the time in CA, and missed them when we moved to TX. I love TJ’s gluten free bread and unsweetened vanilla almond milk. I also tried there tomato basil pasta sauce and the family really liked it! Heard they have GF pancake mix that is good, but haven’t tried it yet.

    • Anne says:

      I keep looking at it in the freezer case but the memory of a particularly horrible TJs key lime cheesecake from 10 years ago has kept me from buying one. But hey, I’ve just been looking for an excuse to give it a try. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

  12. Stephanie says:

    Some of our very favorites that (I think) weren’t mentioned:

    -Cocobon (best red wine just about ever, and it’s $5.99! 2012 was a better year, they are on to 2013, but still good!)
    -Reduced sugar strawberry jam and organic strawberry jam
    -Fruity O’s (yeah, they’re fruit loops!)
    -Toasted Oatmeal Flakes (my kids are currently burned out on this, but it was a long-time fave)
    -Pecan Praline Granola
    -Nonfat Greek Yogurt
    -Fleur de sel caramel sauce (ok, you see these three items, the granola/yogurt/caramel? Layer them. SWOON!)
    -bag of organic lemons
    -lemon curd (better than any tea room in England, and I’ve been to many!)
    -salami (the solid paper-wrapped stick)
    -dry cheese tortellini, in pasta section (it’s a fraction of the cost of any grocery store variety like Barilla, we use it in soup!)
    -boxed mac & cheese (tastes better than Kraft and much healthier! Cheap kid lunch!)
    -Hard taco shells (non-gmo!!)
    -Brie (use this with the leeks, fresh thyme, and the bacon ends to make an amazing quiche)
    -Candied pecans (makes your salads dreamy!)
    -Hot pepper jelly (spread on crackers with cream cheese)
    -Canned cannellini beans (an ingredient in the soup we use the tortellini for, add chicken sausage, chicken broth, canned tomatoes and a bag of power greens)
    -black hawaiian sea salted dark caramel chocolate bar (that really doesn’t need an explanation, now does it? But just so you know, there are chunks of salt visible in the bottom of the chocolate bar. Yes.)
    -GUMMY BEARS (no artificial colors or flavors! Rejoice, moms of spectrum kiddos!)
    -canned organic black beans
    -hummus (this was mentioned, but I’ll say it again, BECAUSE IT’S AMAZING)
    -wensleydale with apricots (oh yum!)
    -crumbled gorgonzola cheese
    -organic heavy cream (great price!)
    -Maple syrup
    -yogurt covered raisins
    -multigrain pita chips (better than the plain)
    -Trader Ming’s General Tso’s Stir Fry Sauce
    -Thai Yellow Curry Sauce (we make something called “Indian Chicken” with this by adding chicken, raisins, apples and a little coconut milk and serve over rice with a side of the frozen naan)
    -gluten free chocolate cupcakes (delicious!)
    -lemon tart (great to bring to a party!)
    -the frozen chocolate croissants! (these needed another mention)
    -sushi (not preferable to a nice sushi place, but a great lunch to grab on the go)
    -cute hand soap
    -best price on lara bars
    -prosciutto (regular and wrapped around mozzarella)
    -woven wheats (these are basically triscuits)

  13. Lisa says:

    Frozen Risoto!!! Butternut squash is my FAV!!!! Mushroom one is a bit salty so add more shrooms to cut it. And asparagus pretty good too! Minutes and a great meal or side!!!

  14. Kristi S says:

    I love the nuts, particularly the Go Raw Trek Nuts. They are a great snack anytime–especially when you add some dark choc chips! Speaking of dark chocolate, that’s another item I never leave TJs without. Love it!!

  15. Nicole says:

    Gluten free jojos
    gluten free oatmeal
    Frozen brown rice
    Goat cheese
    Rosé
    Mini beef tacos
    Vitamins
    Hand wash
    The list is long.

  16. Sue says:

    I love their Gazpacho. I can eat an entire container in one meal. I love their pizza skins, cheese cracker sticks, pre-made salads, Hummus wraps, vegetables which are so fresh, and vegetarian/vegan foods.

  17. Shari Cavin says:

    Here are some things I like at TJ’s:
    1. Kona coffee
    2. Frozen croissants (these are frozen dough. You put them in a pan in the over the night before and then bake them in the morning. They taste just like the ones in France. Flaky and buttery!)
    3. Black Bean Dip
    4. Quinoa Chips
    5. Slivered Almonds (great price)
    6. Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
    7. Toscano Cheese with Blk Pepper
    8. Water Crackers (great price!)
    9. Feta Salad Dressing. (The Asian Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette is great too).
    10. Sparkling Water (Great price, excellent fizziness!)

  18. Colleen says:

    My boys love the frozen Japanese fried rice. We also like the honey wheat pretzel sticks and the almond butter. The little tins of dark chocolate they sell at the front helps me portion out a chocolate treat without going overboard. I also really like the chicken sausage and the jarred beets. Be sure and get the ginger beer when they have it next holiday season.

  19. Beryllium says:

    I had the misfortune of discovering TJ ‘s salted caramel gelato not long ago (I consider myself somewhat of an aficionado since eating the world’s best gelato in Florence back in ’97 and have eaten ONLY gelato since, trying every brand I come across with varying degrees of pleasure). TJ’s one and only flavor blew me away, and now I can’t recall which of the 3 stores in my area stocked it. I have looked extensively on line and saw one customer comment that suggested it has been discontinued for lack of public interest. Could this be true???? Does anyone out there know??? Btw, I live in L.A. if that helps. Thanks. BL

  20. Amy says:

    I am a TJ’s superfan! I was so excited when we got one in our neighboring neighborhood (say that three times fast! 😉 )!!! I always grab a couple of bags of the frozen pot stickers, and the chicken lemongrass sticks to have on hand for those nights where you feel more like a snack than dinner! Their produce is ALWAYS wonderful…and the cheese….ohhhh the cheese! I make sure that we always have that Syrah soaked Toscano cheese on hand…so delicious! And their bacon ends and pieces are definitely something to stock up on! No nitrates or nitrites….and, even though it’s ends and pieces, you tend to get a decent amount of just regular strips of bacon crammed into that little pack!

    I am loving everyone’s suggestions, though! It helps to branch out!

  21. Danielle says:

    I love their chicken friend rice. It has chopped green onions which takes the flavor up to the next level. I also love their ginger snaps during thanksgiving season. I have a cream cheese dip that it goes well with 🙂 I make homemade pesto and their prices are unbelievable during the winter time for a pack of basil.

  22. Vegyogini says:

    Hi Anne! Trader Joe’s is my #1 market and I was fortunate enough to grow up with one nearby. It’s my main grocery store and I love their plethora of well-priced organic produce (hooray for organic, pre-chopped, pre-washed kale!), the enormous amount of vegan products that are labeled as such, fresh flowers (like you!) (they currently have 9-stem bouquets of roses for $3.99!), and I could go on for ages. I occasionally need to hit Whole Foods for a thing or two that TJ’s doesn’t carry, but that’s not even once a month. One note: The canned coconut cream is actually not the same as what is labeled as canned “coconut milk” elsewhere. Canned coconut milk is only coconut milk and water. TJ’s canned coconut cream is coconut extracted, sodium carboxy methyl cellulose, xanthan gum, and water. Coconut cream can be achieved by refrigerating a can of coconut milk and skimming off the solids at the top, but TJ’s canned coconut cream is coconut treated with other ingredients so the entire can is cream without refrigeration. I hope that’s helpful! Thanks for the fun post; I always enjoy knowing what other people appreciate about TJ’s.

  23. Kendra says:

    To me, the BEST thing at TJs is something nobody has mentioned. Y’all, you must get the dark chocolate almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar! Please, for me, you must. They are above the frozen food and have a yellow label. I keep a few on hand for happy gifts!!

  24. Michelle says:

    Hi Anne! Our TJ’s isn’t close by but is on my hubbys commute so every few months I have him stop. We love their Tea Tree Oil Shampoo. The entire family uses it. It is excellent for your scalp and doesn’t have all the stuff that builds up and weighs your hair down. I’m obsessed with the chili-lime cashews, the price ($8/bag) keeps me in check. We also love the honey roasted peanuts for peanut butter in the vitamix. The honey roasted sliced almonds are phenomenal in granola. Someone else mentioned their maple syrup. They have the absolute best price by far on grade b, hands down. My son is crazy about the organic strawberry banana juice. All my guys are nuts for the PB&J bars they have at the checkout. I wish they were closer, I’m afraid to get attached to anything I’d want more often.

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