A Trip to Trader Joe’s

Posted 25 June, 2016 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 34 Comments



Trader Joe's

Trader Joe’s has a bit of a cult-like following, it seems. People, especially on the west coast, are quite fanatical about the chain. If you’re not familiar (and I’m not an expert), it’s a small grocery store that specializes in it’s own food brand which keeps costs low.

We didn’t get our first Trader Joe’s until a year or so ago, and before then all I really knew of them was the low prices and their famous Two Buck Chuck (wine). It’s possible I may have stepped foot inside a store during a visit to California years ago, but sometimes I wonder if I just imagined it. I do know that I sampled Two Buck Chuck during a California visit.

Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck

Oh and Peppermint Jojos. A friend brought some into the office after a trip out west and my life was changed.

Going to Trader Joe’s isn’t overly convenient for me–ever since moving from the small town where I had to drive 45 minutes to get to a real grocery store, I’m reluctant to drive more than 5 minutes to buy groceries these days. Especially at a store that feels so incredibly foreign. But…it’s not that far out of the way and since I was in the area I decided to drop by.

Trader Joe's Flowers

I headed into Trader Joe’s for the peonies I keep seeing on Instagram. Since it was midday during the week and I just had Cara, I was able to browse up and down all of the aisles of the relatively small store. I felt a bit like a creeper–analyzing all of the products but not pulling a whole lot off the shelves.

I find Trader Joe’s to be a little overwhelming and quite a bit intimidating. Everything feels so different. And so much variety! So many choices! So much novelty! In trips past I’ve felt a bit paralyzed and walked out with very little. I see people with full carts and wonder how the heck they know what they want?! When I grocery shop I tend to get mostly staples, but hardly anything at Trader Joe’s feels like a true staple item.

Trader Joe's Selection

It was a lot of fun walking around and looking at all of the different items. OMG all that cheese! (Yes, I’m still limiting my dairy for nursing). In the end I came home with very little. Two bouquets of flowers (they really are so cheap!), riced cauliflower (which I’ve heard is a great alternative to fried rice), a salad for lunch, a bottle of wine, and coconut oil (which came highly recommended…though I’m not sure how I’ll use it yet). I’m trying to stay away from sweets and snacks otherwise I could have done some major damage.

Trader Joe's Goodies

I’m not sure that I feel any more comfortable with Trader Joe’s after my visit, but at least I was able to slowly browse and get a better idea of what I can get there. Still overwhelmed? Yes! A little less reluctant to visit? Absolutely.

Now…if it were only 5 minutes closer to home.

The whole point of this post is to ask YOU what you love to buy from Trader Joe’s. For those who frequent TJ’s, do you do most of your shopping there or only stop by for specialty items? What crazy and unique items do I need to pick up on my next visit?






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34 Responses to “A Trip to Trader Joe’s”

  1. I’ve been seeing all sorts of recipes that use ‘riced cauliflower”, but it seems like a lot of work to rice it myself. There is a Trader Joe’s about 5 minutes beyond Wegmans (which is about 25min away), but I never shop there. Maybe I’ll stop in for that cauliflower now!

  2. Diane

    I love Trader Joes but, like you, our closest one is 40 min away so I go about once a month. I love how small the store is and yet now much variety there is.

    I always come home with their olive oil popcorn, TD coconut and raspberry yogurts, fruits, teas, scallion pancakes, various condiments and unique cheeses. Of course I also need to grab flowers or a plant as well.

  3. We have a Trader Joe’s about a half hour away and we’d stop on the way home. Grab wine and cheese and crunch rolls, they have some of the best eggs I have found around these parts. The yolks are so orangey yellow and better than the grocery store. We also get this little round of goat cheese Brie that is only $2.79.
    I don’t know how they make a profit on that but it’s wonderful. Not all the wines are good, we’ve had some real stinkers (we call them drain wines bus they’ve the dumped) but they do have so good wine at a great price.

  4. I really like TJ’s too, but the closest one to me is also a bit out of the way, so I don’t go very often. Once every few months, right now. I always stock up on their frozen tamales and especially the handmade tortillas. They are the only authentic-tasting handmade tortillas I have ever found in a store (and I’ve eaten some made in latino homes, from scratch!) I always buy as many as I can- literally a few dozen- and freeze them because I know I won’t go there again in quite a while! Sometimes the checkout person asks me why I’m getting so many packages of tortillas.

  5. Interesting… Here in the north east (Boston), TJs is sort of known as the hippy-dippy, health/specialty food type grocery store – priced three times as much!

  6. People around here are Trader Joe’s fanatics too but I rarely go there. To me, it seems like a place for people who don’t actually cook. One member of my book club goes there all the time and usually brings something from there to our meetings and, to be honest, she usually ends up taking most of it home with her. We do love their frozen croissants but you have to remember to take them out the night before.

  7. THANK YOU for this post. I too was so excited when they opened our TJ a couple of years ago, but we never seem to know what to buy, especially because I don’t buy a lot of frozen dinners or processed foods. They make a couple of salsas we like, a kale yogurt dip, hummus, cheeses, and organic (no-salt) tortilla chips. That about sums up what we buy there. SOOOOOO I’m going to haunt this post for ideas.

  8. Missy

    I love their garlic olive oil and use it in place of plain olive oil for everything. I use their coconut oil to make a salt scrub for the shower :-) My kids LOVE their pickle popcorn. When you’re back to dairy, their frozen gnocchi is good – I mix on bag of the tomato based one with a bag of the Gorgonzola version. The whole family will eat it. Their frozen fried rice is good too. They also have cheap tomato paste in a tube so you don’t have to figure out how to use a whole can at once. I don’t go to TJs regularly, but those are items I always get when I do go.

  9. I have yet to visit a Trader Joe’s, they aren’t in Canada. We are often in the States and it is on my list. I wanted to go when we were in Palm Springs in October but everyone thought I was crazy.

  10. There’s a TJ about 5 minutes fr my house (and in a mall where Target is) so I go pretty often. What do I get? Milk. Yoghurt. Cheeses. Dried fruits. Frozen vegetables. And sometimes fresh produce like Persian cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, baby jazz apples. I prob should add that other than TJ I shop at Asian supermarkets which tend not to have Persian cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes and fancy cheeses! So TJ is like my regular “American” supermarket as I don’t go to places like Safeway or Lucky.

  11. Andrea ( aka rokinrev)

    Our TJs in Syracuse is almost two now. Since I can’t drive anymore, changing buses twice doesn’t make it an easy place to go. I love their potato bread and the biscoff butter. And those cheeses! Their yougurt is a bit overrated but I like some of their boxed cereals….however, COSTCOs Ancient Grains is still my favorite. Being in an immigrant neighborhood, I’d rather buy my vegetables and other fresh stuff down the street. The TJs is just another store…no biggie

  12. We have a TJ’s about 10 minutes from home and it’s fun to go there occasionally just to see what’s there and maybe try a few new things. With a Whole Foods and Wegmans equally close by, it’s tempting to spend all my time grocery shopping, so I have to limit myself. :)

  13. I used to dislike TJ’s. But we have one 10 minutes from the house. I’ve learned to love it. I like to buy our dairy there. It’s cheaper than other stores. I really like their produce but I have heard that some stores have better produce than others. Great snacks. Their nuts and fried fruit selection is fantastic.

  14. The closest Trader Joe’s is in Nashville which is just over an hour away so I’ve only been a few times. There are constant rumors that one’s coming here but I suspect it’s mostly wishful thinking. To be honest I’m not sure how often I’d go if we had one here because it doesn’t seem like there are many staples and I don’t like to buy too much prepackaged stuff because I will eat it ALL!

  15. I don’t go to my local Trader Joe’s often, even though it’s a few minutes away. I only go if I want something that’s a little different than what I’d find at Ralph’s or Vons. I’m a fan of their pumpkin butter (when they have it in the fall) and their cookie butter! And their cheese is really good too, and they always have a really good variety. The chocolate cheddar sounds weird, but is really good, for when you’re back to dairy. Their prepared foods section is pretty good, and I’ve really liked all of the snacks I’ve tried.

  16. mae

    You’ll probably get hooked on Trader Joe’s eventually! The local one for me is closer to my house than any other market, and if I didn’t always buy too much to carry home, I could very easily walk there. I try not to buy the snacks unless I’m serving them to a crowd, but they actually have a lot of less-processed foods that are appealing. Example: frozen salmon filets. I end up blogging about it all the time, so much that I even have the posts tagged… if you’re curious, check this link:

    And happy shopping!
    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  17. We don’t have Trader Joe’s here, but an American friend took me to one in Minneapolis and I bought a great brown rice medley with daikon radish seeds in it. Now I ask people to pick some up for me whenever they go to an American city with a Trader Joe’s.

  18. I do a lot of my wine shopping there – they have very nice wines at a midrange price, I love it for unique snacks and desserts if I’m having people over and don’t have time (or the inclination) to bake, their dried fruits are a good buy, I like some of their breads (the little pretzel breads are so yummy!), of course the cheeses, and then I always make a list of the seasonal things when the flyer arrives in the mail. Oh so many yummy pumpkin things!

  19. I’m a huge fan of TJ’s! It helps that it’s in the same outdoor mall where I work, so I just pop over once or twice a week after work. I’ve compared prices and it’s cheaper than my regular grocery store and MUCH cheaper than Whole Foods (which overwhelms me!). I rarely ever by flowers, but I love their .99 greeting cards, which are so unique and pretty. OK, I took some pictures but can’t share them here, so I’ll tell ya what I love and maybe I’ll post the pictures on my blog on Wednesday.

    I buy a lot of produce at TJ’s. Spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocados, onions, berries, seedless grapes, bananas, potatoes, etc. Oh, and sugar snap peas and persian cucumbers.

    Here’s some more items:

    Edamame humus, Vanilla Almond (Just the Clusters) granola and Honey Nut O’s. Coffee filters. Olive Oil. Dried apricots. Quinoa and Black Bean tortilla chips. Shredded mozarella and string cheese. Fage yogurt. Eggs. Milk. Half & Half. Pita bite crackers.

    From the frozen section:

    Tandori Naan, hash brown patties, Mahi Mahi Burgers (super good as long as you bake them), Italian style meatballs (great in spaghetti or crumbled up on a homemade pizza), frozen mango chunks and pineapple for smoothies, roasted corn for soups or salads (or a side), mac & cheese.

    The only treats I get there are the occasional chocolate (dark) covered almonds with sea salt or ice cream. They used to have awesome chocolate covered graham crackers, but they stopped carrying them. :(

    I don’t buy the two buck chuck, but they have Dark Horse (cab) for $7.99, although now my local grocery store carries it. And, I’ve discovered box wine, so I rarely buy wine at TJ’s unless it’s for a party.

    What I don’t buy is household stuff or toiletries. Just never had experimented with their brands. And I rarely ever buy any of their meat/chicken/pork products. I just prefer getting that stuff at my regular grocery store.

    I think if you went there on a regular basis, you’d discover a lot of favorites. Some of the frozen meals are good the first couple of times, but then they loose their appeal, at least for me.

    The main thing I like about TJ’s is that I can run in and grab some milk or eggs or whatever I need that I’ve run out of and be in and out in 5 minutes. No long lines and not a big footprint of a store to make my way through. I rarely ever go on the weekend, though.

    Sorry for the long comment! :)

  20. Nan

    I’ve never been in one, but it sounds great. I think I would be overwhelmed, too. Mostly, I would rather pay a bit more and shop in a smaller, homier atmosphere. But the choice sounds amazing there. Organic offerings??

    • Nan, my local TJ’s is quite small. Just 4 1/2 aisles across (the half is for the beer and some wine). It feels very homey and the checkers remember who you are and ask about your family members by name. I posted a picture here if you’re interested. That dairy case is about 1/3 of the width of the store.

  21. We don’t have a TJ’s in Canada, but I have been in one in Virginia Beach. Not sure I’d do all my shopping there, but it was a fun visit.

  22. Jenny

    I like Trader Joes and am happy one finally came to my State. It’s still a drive but I’ll make it for some dried mangoes. Yum!

  23. When I go to Trader Joe’s, I always buy as many boxes of Heart Healthy Blueberry Oatmeal as I can get, plus olive oil, diced tomatoes and other canned goods. The staple pantry stuff is so much cheaper there than in other NYC grocery stores.

  24. Maureen

    My family loves us some TJ’s! Some of our faves: bags of small apples (Gala and Honeycrisp), hummus, crumpets, frozen battered cod filets, frozen turkey meatballs, frozen turkey corn dogs, eggs, frozen organic peas, frozen broccoli, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, rocket chips (cheese snack crackers), Indian sauces, and cinnamon pear cider (available in the Fall). Oh, and olive oil and their 21 seasoning blend.

  25. I love Trader Joes, but it is for extra stuff and treats, not every-day groceries. We get JoJos, dried fruit, frozen mango (and other frozen fruit that our NH supermarket doesn’t carry) an excellent green salsa, pesto sauce, roquefort cheese crackers and nuts.

  26. I love Trader Joe’s too, but I still live 40-50 minutes from one. I hope to be moving to town shortly and TJ’s will be so much closer.

  27. We don’t have a TJ’s here, and from what I’ve been just reading – yours and the comments, probably wouldn’t go anyway. Too much prepared, processed, and generally unnecessary stuff.

  28. Trader Joe’s doesn’t operate in Canada, although Pirate Joe’s is a specialty grocery store in Vancouver whose inventory consists entirely of store brand products resold from locations of Trader Joe’s. (I didn’t know this until I googled Trader Joe’s in Canada). But that’s the other side of this big ol’ continent.

    The nearest US store to me is in Portland Maine – a full day’s drive away (and a terrible exchange rate). Maybe some day . . .

  29. I am a fan of TJ’s but I don’t do major grocery shopping there since it’s kind of out of the way for me. I find their produce to be high-quality and relatively inexpensive, same with their cheeses – someone mentioned their goat cheese in the comments, and I TOTALLY agree. I don’t buy a ton of prepared or frozen meals, but I like to have a few on hand for those super busy days/late nights, so I’ll grab a few when I’m there (their frozen mac and cheese is really good but SO indulgent), and I like their frozen chicken, turkey, and veggie burgers. I like their trail mixes and mixed nut options and you can’t go wrong with the cookie butter (but it’s totally of the snack/treat variety). I also have tried several of the wines that they sell and have been impressed with what I find to be good quality for an exceptionally low price.

    The one thing that I ALWAYS buy when I go, and I highly recommend, is frozen minced garlic. It comes in these tiny squares, and each square is I think two cloves? Maybe one. Anyway, it’s incredibly easy to pop the squares out and use it in whatever you’re cooking instead of garlic you mince yourself. Same taste, no messy, garlicy-smelling hands.

  30. I long for a TJs in Hawaii but probably never… ;-) I stop whenever I am on the mainland and near one and my family brings me my favorites of the non-perishables. It’s true that there is lots of processed food there but there are some really great buys for healthy ingredients as well and fruits and veggies. Some of my faves are: cans of smoke trout–if you like smoked fish it cheaper than I can find and is so good in salads or dips, on crackers…, Their little jars of saffron are a better price and the quality is good as are the chia seeds, pine nuts, and actually any nut or seed–they have a huge selection–salted/unsalted, raw, toasted, trail mixes and dried fruit–perfect for baking or making healthy snack bars, my picky cat adores the holistic cat treats ;-) he will choose them over any other cat treat, the bags of 10-minute farro and pearl barley are great for soups or side dishes, good salt or pepper mixes and grinder bottles for cheap–I liked the smoked salt, pink Himalayan salt and the lemon pepper, red rooibos tea bags or they often have a seasonal tea that is good. Whew! That’s all I can think of at the moment since you said you were staying away from snack/chocolate. I could give you another list there. I get mostly non-perishables for travel to Hawaii but the hummus is good as is the naan bread to dip into it and lots of their frozen stuff is good and a good price. Just try to go when you can wander and on off hours. Also, they will open up most anything you want to sample before you buy–if you aren’t sure whether you want to buy something without tasting it.

  31. Oh I’m totally going to try the riced cauliflower now. We’re big fans of the frozen turkey meatballs for an easy dinner and the frozen orange chicken. And the wine. Always the wine.