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Do You Love Trader Joe’s? Let’s Make A Shopping List!

by Meg · 36 comments

Trader Joe’s is an amazing place. Fact.

But before you start telling us the greatest items that we have to buy, you need to understand why I am writing about it and how Tony could only now have been going to his first one…

Trader Joe's

Our Trader Joe’s Story

As you are well aware, Tony and I are big foodies and much of our RTW this past year was dictated by our bellies.

But what, how, and where did we eat prior to our RTW trip?

Tony and I have always been health nuts and ever since we got married, one of our most cherished activities is cooking together. We would occasionally enjoy a nice meal out, but when we lived in Miami for two years together before our trip around the world, most of our meals were cooked from scratch over a glass of wine in our apartment’s tiny kitchen.

Trader Joe's Fridge

But to dig a little deeper into our pre-RTW eating habits, we both held solid jobs as a banker (Tony) and business consultant (me) and for us DINKs (you know, Double Income, No Kid folks), we never once worried about our food budget when stocking the fridge.

In Miami, our only grocery options within a 15 mile radius of our apartment included Publix and Whole Foods… And being health nuts, we focused our bellies on the latter – Whole Foods.

But our shopping habits have changed (and needed to change) DRASTICALLY when we returned from our trip around the world… and became NINKs (No Income, No Kids… Obvi)!

Now that we are back in the states, we are trying to start up our own businesses so we can fulfill our dreams to become entrepreneurs and digital nomads. I recently started up a social media marketing company, Sticky Marketing, with my business partner (and travel bud), Caroline, of Traveling9to5, while Tony is working on starting up a premium petsitting business.

But as we are trying to start up our own business ventures, money is tighter than usual. We are trying everything we can and getting creative to slow down the burn rate on our savings account.

As a way to save money, we took a petsitting job in beautiful Taylorsville, CA where we will be on a 20 acre farm looking after 4 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 wild horses in the Sierra Nevadas for the next 6 months.

Pet Sitting Taylorsville

Caroline and her husband, Josh, connected us with the homeowners to secure this amazing petsitting job. They have spent the past three months as the petsitters In Taylorsville, but need to be back in Indiana for the summer… And that’s why we’re taking over!

But what does this all have to do with Trader Joes?

Well, before we take over the pet sitting job, we wanted to spend some time at the property in Taylorsville to learn all the duties on the farm and to bond with the pets. Caroline and Josh graciously invited us to come stay with them for a couple weeks so they could show us the ropes. We had an amazing time with Josh and Caroline at the farm…

Once again, what does this all have to do with Trader Joes?

Well, seeing as how the farm is out in the middle of nowhere and Josh and Caroline have also been on a tight budget trying to start up their own location-independent lifestyle (check out Josh’s web development biz at josheaton.org), every meal we had with them was cooked family-style in the home’s charming country kitchen. Every meal was healthy, economical, and almost every meal had one secret ingredient:

Food from Trader Joes!

Growing up in a family of only Whole Foods-eaters (and after our lavish grocery trips in Miami), Tony has NEVER experienced Trader Joes… And I have only been several times in my post-college years.

As such, Caroline and Josh had a blast introducing us to all their favorite foods from TJ’s… In fact, most of our family meals spent together over countless glasses of wine involved heated conversations on all things wonderful and tasty about Trader Joe’s.

As you can imagine, when Tony and I first stepped into a Trader Joe’s store, our expectations were HIGH! But within the first 5 minutes of browsing the aisles, these great expectations were exceeded.

Grocery List

Not only did all of their tasty and prepared organic foods look healthy and scrumptious, but they were all brands/labels unique to Trader Joe’s… and, most importantly, everything was DIRT CHEAP.

Trader Joe’s is Whole Foods for the poor!

$2 bottles of wine? We penny pinchers were in heaven.

With a Trader Joe’s in Reno being only 2 hours from our housesitting gig in Taylorsville, I have no doubt in my mind that we will make several trips to this fabulous store to stock up on goodies.

But this is where we need your help. Josh and Caroline provided us with an initial roadmap of their favorite Trader Joe’s foods, but from the looks of the store, we have A LOT more to discover!

In fact, just this past week I tried their dark chocolate pretzel thins for the first time… my lord, these are sinfully good…

But back on topic, we need your advice on what else we should try from this incredibly marvelous store. We will making some BIG grocery runs to Traders over the next few months and us TJ virgins need the help from you to make each trip to the store EPIC.

So, I now ask you: Ever been to Trader Joe’s? What are your favorite foods/drinks/items at Trader Joe’s? Please share your picks below in the Comments section… Your help is greatly appreciated!

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Adventurous Kate May 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

I LOVE YOU TRADER JOE’S!! I used to shop at the tiny one in Back Bay — as soon as I started saving my money and realized I couldn’t afford to keep shopping at Whole Foods (or even Shaw’s!).

I love their horseradish hummus — buy lots, as you will go through a ton of it. My mom recently bought their edamame hummus, though, and it is the single most addictive substance I’ve tried in the past few months….except for the most addicting substance of all: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter. It’s like peanut butter, but super-thick and tastes like gingersnaps.

I actually ate half a jar of cookie butter when I stayed at my sister’s apartment in New York. I spread it on tortillas and just wrapped it up. I apologized and told her I’d buy her a new jar — her eyes got wide and she said, “You went through half a jar of cookie butter in three days? It takes me months to get through a jar!”

Your petsitting gig sounds awesome. :-) Can’t wait to hear more about life in the country with all those animals!

Meg May 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm

TJ’s is the perfect grocery store for anyone on a travelers budget!

WOW I didn’t know they had horseradish hummus. We just bought the Mediterranean hummus yesterday and we are almost finished with the tub. We love horseradish though, so we will have to give it a try next time we stock up. We also are addicted to edamame… It looks like we will have to do an entire TJ’s hummus sampler!

Oh my LORD did you say Cookie Butter?! I am getting my car keys (and stretchy pants) now!!! SERIOUSLY though, that sounds amazing! Your story at your sister’s apartment in priceless :-)

We’re doing great out in Cali – thanks for thinking of us! You should totally come visit us in Tahoe/the Sierra Nevadas…. The photography opps alone are worth the trip. Plus we will be sure to stock the fridge with plenty of TJ’s and Tony can watch us polish off the Cookie Butter in one sitting 😉

Joscelyn May 29, 2013 at 7:59 am

1. Vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt- you can see the specks of vanilla! (Mango is also good) only 99cents. See my blog for a muesli recipe, cheap and healthy breakfast option and all the ingredients from TJs!
2. Frozen hash browns- I make my own version of tortilla espanola or a frittata with potatoes by browning the hash browns, sauteeing whatever veggies and adding beaten and seasoned eggs. Another cheap and easy meal idea!
3. IMPORTANT: during christmastime they have candy cane JOJOs. Think Oreos with the filling mixed with crushed candy canes. I get 4 boxes once they come out (I think in November..) I know it’s early but it’s very important for you to know.

Meg May 29, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Yes! Send me the link to your muesli recipe!! I am dying to try out some new dishes and I love me some mus!

OMG so funny you mention the hash browns – A friend of ours just had us try them last night and they tasted just like the ones from McDonalds, which I was a HUGE fan of as a kid… And I am sure the TJ ones are MUCH healthier. Your recipe sounds amaze!

I feel like I had JoJo’s at your holiday party last year and LOVED them – This is definitely an important food to know!!!

Thanks for all your great insights Joscelyn… We are true food soul mates!

Joscelyn June 4, 2013 at 9:50 am
Jen May 29, 2013 at 9:54 am

TJ’s is one of my favorite places to shop! As a travel nurse, I secretly hope there is one in each location I travel to for work.

A few of my favorite items: canned coconut milk, dried mango no sugar added, Ends & Pieces (cutoffs of their whole fruit strip bars in a bag), plantain chips, thin crust pizza/tart with arugula, prosciutto & cheese, guacamole kit, and sunflower butter. I follow a paleo lifestyle, so most of the items I listed are paleo-friendly, except for the pizza tart, from my former life.

I hope you enjoy TJ’s as much as I do!

Meg May 29, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Hi Jen! My husband and I eat mostly Paleo too so these are great suggestions we will have to try out – the thin crust arugula pizza with prosciutto will definitely have to be one of our splurges!! When we were browsing Trader Joe’s this past week, I saw the plantain chips and they look wonderful – I will have to grab ’em next time!

Joscelyn June 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

I second the plantain chips!

Meg June 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm


Cyndi Cashman May 29, 2013 at 11:21 am

This is my favorite super easy recipe from the best nutritioist around
She has all gluten and sugar free recipes. She just released a new crockpot cookbook last week.

Meg May 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

I would love to see the recipe Cindy – I think you forgot to attach it :-)

Cyndi Cashman May 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm


Sorry…did this from my phone…guess it didn’t come thru so I will try this way! Tim even ate it….said…just don’t tell me what’s in it…a guy who does not eat veggis:) His favorite Trader Joe’s item is the peanut butter pretzels. I love their peanut butter!!

Meg June 1, 2013 at 12:09 am

Wow I am officially hooked on this blog. The pizza casserole alone looks phenom. Thanks so much for sharing Cyndi!

Cyndi Cashman June 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

When I make the hotdish I use a kitchen scissors and cut the artichokes in half or more…it fools those not liking veggis:)

Kath May 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Mmm, TJs! Seriously the BEST grocery store on earth. In no particular order, here are a few TJ favorites in our household: freeze-dried mango, any of their nut and dried fruit blends (great for yogurt toppings!), TJs beer, their proscuitto-stuffed sacchettini pasta (OMG), their vodka sauce, everything-but-the fig bars, and their sun-dried totatoes (which are perfectly julienne-sliced and tender right out of the bag). I also second Joscelyn’s comments on candy cane jojo’s… they’re heavenly. Jojo ice cream is also amazing. Have fun Rullis!

Meg May 29, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Seriously! All you suggestions sound amazing… you had me at proscuitto-stuffed!!! And what are the everything but the fig bars?!?

I will HAVE to try the jojo’s out!! Nomers!

JR May 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm

As a dedicated WF shopper you have me convinced. I need to try TJ’s. I will be on the hunt this weekend.

Meg May 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Do it JR! you would LOVE the dark chocolate covered pretzel thins in the purple bag… I hear their ice cream is pretty epic too!!

Ali May 30, 2013 at 12:24 am

Oh how I miss The Joe!

I second the Greek Yogurt comments, I love the goat cheese that comes in little individual servings, the galic naan in the freezer section always I repeat always goes in my cart, if feeling decadent the gnocchi with Gorgonzola also in the freezer section is superb, I stretch it out by adding sautéed zucchini or other veggies into it, there are these peanut butter filled pretzel snacks (can you send me a bag in India?) that I have a feeling Meg will love, peppered turkey (oh how I would love a turkey and avo sandwich) slices, there is a really thin crust pizza type thing with onions and some sort of ham that is quite tasty, try all the cheap wines you can, strawberry field cereal, there is an artichoke dip that is by the hummus which you should also try, there is a trail mix with chocolate and dried cranberries that I love as well, I could go on and on basically always throw a new item in the cart each visit 😉

Meg May 30, 2013 at 11:48 am

It sounds like I got my shopping list cut out for me! All these foods sound delicious. some things that caught my eye in particular are the Gorgonzola gnocchi with sauteed veggies added annnnnd the peanut butter filled pretzels. I recently became obsessed with their dark chocolate covered pretzel thins, but I will also have to add these to the mix – I can only imagine how much you miss them travelling. I was dying to get my hands on PB any chance I could abroad – Whats your address in India?!? haha.

I like your challenge also of putting something new in the cart each time… We’re ON it!

Kipp May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

But do they have someone playing a piano behind the registers?

Meg May 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

bahhhhaha absolutely not. #shame You and Lydia have it made in Chicago!

Kipp May 30, 2013 at 1:43 pm

In all seriousness I am a TJ’s fan. As a trail mixamagician, I got there for peanuts and cashews because it’s tough to find unsalted ones anywhere else (there’s a salty nuts joke in there somewhere). Also if you think their dried chile spiced mango doesn’t make an appearance in my trail mix you’re crazy (along with all the other dried fruits they offer).

Wine is a food right? All of them are good but they distribute a Rioja named Darien and since I’m from Darien I always stop off before I go home for Thanksgiving and pick up at least a few bottles. It’s always a conversation starter/crowd pleaser. It would be like if you crashed a wedding rehearsal dinner and brought a gift card for the bride and groom to their favorite restaurant. Man that would be cool.

Meg May 31, 2013 at 11:59 pm

There’s always room for a salty nuts joke… But in all seriousness, we also like out nuts sans-salt… And the dried chile spiced mango sounds stupid good.

We will definitely have to try out the Darien wine! As far as your wedding rehearsal crashing goes, way to upstage the actual guests of the wedding 😉

Bethany ~ twoOregonians May 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I welled up with serious waves of emotion when I stepped back into Trader Joe’s for the first time after getting home. Oh my word. Love their stores.

Two of our closest couple friends moved shortly before we left on our RTW – one family to Denver and one to Chicago. Denver = TJ’s. Chicago = nope. I can’t imagine living without one… 😉 Thankfully, the Chicago friends are returning to Portland in a few weeks, and we’ll all be one happy Trader Joe’s supporting family again.

My favorite on the TJ shopping list: cheese. Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. In fact, we took a Kiwi/Canadian friend to Trader Joe’s one year when she visited, and she filled three bags with beer and cheese to take back over the border. She was like a kid in a candy shop…

Have fun, guys!

Meg June 1, 2013 at 12:03 am

Well after travelling with us on and off for 2012, you know what tony and I LOVE our cheese – You will have to let us know your favorite kinds! We just bought there Toscano with Black Pepper but haven’t tried it yet… stay tuned! Anyways, hope all is well and we miss ya!

Maggie May 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Hi Meg and Tony!

I haven’t been following you as dedicated as I should but I shop at Trader Joes and as a RGWNCE (Recent Grad With No Cooking Experience) I might have a different shopping list than you (namely snacks/ frozen) but I figured I’d share my normal shopping list.

First of all, if you wanted to know HOW trader joes is so cheap: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/05/trader-joes-brands_n_2807742.html


They did a taste test twice with some of their favorite brands.

I have to say some of my favorite stuff is on those lists.

– White Cheddar Popcorn Puffs – I can’t buy them because I’ll eat the entire bag in one sitting.
– Snap pea Crisps – They used to have the main brand and then they had a TJ Brand but I haven’t seen it at my local TJ recently so I’m not sure what happened to it.
– Chocolate Soy Milk – I actually love their chocolate soy milk (in the boxes)

– Orange Chicken – I was told this is their top selling item. I’ve had it and also think it’s pretty delicious. It’s not super healthy but it’s easy which I like. For you guys it might be good to stash with some rice so in case you find yourselves without food you can just throw it in.
– Little Pizzas – It’s like TJ’s bagel bites.

– They actually also have really good pre-made pizza dough. They even have one with like garlic and herbs that’s really good. I sometimes get that with their sauce/ cheese for a make your own pizza night.
– Their wine. The TJ near here has tastings all the time. It’s super cheap and amazing.
– Their challah bread. I also can’t buy it because I’ll eat the entire loaf. It is amazing and fantastic for french toast.

I skimmed through the other posts so I hope nothing here was a re-post. As you know, I’m a picky eater so I don’t have too much of adventurous stuff but I hope this helps!

Love you both and it sounds like you guys are doing awesome.

Meg June 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Maggie – This is an AWESOME post. Thanks so much for sharing your insider tips!

I didn’t know TJ’s has the same food as the big-brand manufacturers. After watching the slideshow comparing the products, I MUST try the TJ’s frozen Mac. And you’re right, some of the stuff (like the orange chicken and mac) probably isn’t the healthiest but we are an hour away from the nearest grocery, so its nice to have some freezer staples if we are ever in a pinch!

Okay some highlights from your grocery list that I think Tony and I will love:

~White cheddar puffs. I will try my BEST not to finish the whole bag in one sitting… But I can’t speak for Tony! We love our popcorn.
~Pizza dough. I saw this the other day at the store and the herb infused doughs looked awesome. We have so much fun doing pizza nights, so we will definitely have to get these next time!
~Their CHALLAH BREAD for french toast!!!! OMG that would be so good! YES.
~ Chocolate Soymilk – Not a huge soy person, but I’m curious. Have you tried their regular chocolate milk? Now that I am running more, I hear chocolate milk is a good sports recovery drink… and any excuse to drink chocolate milk, right?!?!

Cyndi Cashman May 30, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I also like their Chicken sausage…use it in the pizza casserole I told you about or on Pizza or just like a brat too…many varieties to choose from.

Meg June 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

We just bought a TON of the chicken sausage and since they come in so many flavors, we did a little sampling of different packages. So far we have only tried the Jalapeno, but love it!

Andrea May 30, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I loved this place when I lived in San Fran. Have to find one nearby our new place as we just moved back to the US.

Meg June 1, 2013 at 12:10 am

Seriously. Having a Trader Joe’s around is now a requirement for wherever we move!

Caz Makepeace May 31, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Oh my how I miss Trader Joe’s. My all time favourite super market. Kalyra and I would shop every Saturday together and it was one of our favourite outings. They had baby trolleys that she loved to push around. She’d fill it with lots of things and then get a balloon at the end. You have no idea how this trolley saved me from going insane shopping with a toddler. Now I’m back Down Under I detest shopping with the girls as they run muck.
We’d love the tasting counter and always stop for a coffee, a food test and a chat.

We loved the vegetarian buffalo wings and meatballs- I am always craving for them. You cannot beat their $2 bottle of wine and their beer was always cheap and good too.

Meg June 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hi Caz!

That is such an adorable story about Kalyra. TJ’s really is such a great place. I love there tasting tables…. We haven’t tried their coffee in store yet, but bought some bags of it the other day to brew up this week. But next time we go, we will have to make more of a day/experience out of it.

We just bought their turkey meatballs but I we will try their veg ones next! And yes, we are ALWAYS fans of $2 wine!

Callie June 10, 2013 at 4:50 am

I LOVE Trader Joe’s and miss it like crazy! I suppose the next best thing to going is to vicariously enjoy shelled edamame, sea salt chocolate bars, and the Joe’s pizza dough through you two…

Meg June 10, 2013 at 12:04 pm

You had me at sea salt chocolate bars… yum! I currently am obsessed with their HUGE 1 lb 70% dark chocolate bricks. I obviously don’t eat them all in one sitting but one square of chocolate a day curbs my chocolate craving and is the perfect night cap treat! I will have to give the sea salt chocolate a try next though!

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